Bishop Michael Ingham

Easter is a time to focus on the right things, including the true nature of the Church. In the second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes about the dangers of division and a quarrelsome spirit:

"Avoid wrangling over words, which does no good, but only ruins those who are listening. . . Shun youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord with a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies . . . the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness." (2 Tim 2: 14-25)

We can see from Paul's letters that the early church was not a tranquil or peaceful place. There were differences and disputes. Paul himself came under attack as a false teacher and a false prophet. His ministry was not accepted by everyone. We might say there has been 'impaired communion' from the beginning.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul says we must be careful how we conduct ourselves in times of dispute and disagreement. He does not say there should never be differences, even of deeply held convictions, but he says we should behave with charity, patience and gentleness when we find ourselves in the midst of them. He reminds us to avoid simply wrangling about words. He warns us that when we speak we should speak from a pure spirit and not a malicious spirit.

In a church as large as the Anglican Communion, spread over every continent of the world, there will always be cultural differences between member churches and these will lead to different interpretations of the Gospel. This is not because Christians in one part of the world follow the Bible while Christians in another part of the world do not. All faithful Christians accept the authority of Scripture. But we read Scripture from different historical places. We read through different eyes. Even people living in the same place can read the same words through different eyes.

This is not a reason to be afraid or angry. God speaks to the church in many ways. Sometimes God speaks through councils and conventions like our Synod. Sometimes God speaks through a single prophetic voice. Sometimes God speaks from Africa, or Asia, or North America. Sometimes the church is deaf, and God speaks to us through movements of change in the world. The point is, when God speaks we should listen.

We cannot say God speaks only through bishops and archbishops, or even that God speaks only through the majority. Sometimes God speaks also through minorities, through people at the margins, people who are despised and rejected. Remember: in the Bible, the prophets were despised and rejected, and yet they carried the true word of God to their people.

"Woe to you when all people speak well of you" said Jesus (Luke 6:26). "And blessed are you when people revile you and persecute and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:11). God can speak through the reviled as well as the respectable, through the least as well as the greatest.

Jesus reminds us over and over again of the importance of prophecy. The prophet was often a lonely and solitary voice speaking to people who did not want to hear. Jesus himself was loved and worshipped by those who knew their need of God, people who had no other wealth but the riches of God's love in their hearts. Jesus was loved by lepers, by widows, by the sick, by the despised tax collectors, by the blind and the deaf. He was loved by those who had no power and crucified by the powerful. He had strong words to say to those who insisted on the Law and the tradition as more important than the unconditional grace of God.

We must, as a worldwide Anglican Communion, struggle to define the limits of our diversity. We must also be careful not to set limits upon the grace of God and the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

In the Hebrew Bible God speaks through Isaiah the prophet to a people in exile, people who had no land, no homes, no security, and no hope: "Arise, shine, for your light is come" (Isa. 60:1). The darkness that now overwhelms you is already being lifted. You will live again in your own homes and in your own city. To these refugees abandoned in the darkness of exile in a far away land, God gives the vision of the New Jerusalem, which will cover them with the glory of God. And in this city, God says, the gates shall be open to everyone, and no one will be kept out.

In the City of God, the stranger will no longer be feared as an enemy. The light of God will fill each person with glory: "Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut" (Isa 60:11). It is a vision of a church and a world we must strive to build, a church renewed in faith and love, a world where there is no longer any anxiety or fear. This is the mission of Jesus Christ.

We are once again at Easter. And we are called to focus on important things, on the true riches of Jesus Christ, on the proper attitude to strangers and enemies, on the right use of our gifts and resources for the spreading of Christ's Gospel, on purifying our bodies and minds of all bitterness and anger, and the avoiding of senseless controversies.

Above all, let us have courage and humility: courage to still the angry voices, and humility to trust in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Let the light of God shine from our Diocese to fill the hearts of all the weary and broken-hearted with the message of salvation, with the good news of the Risen Christ alive among us today.

+Bishop Michael