Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


The Suffering Servant in China

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a sermon yesterday at Chaoyang Church in Beijing, China. He used (of course) the same readings we had at King of Peace yesterday. He spoke of how we are to be servants as we follow the suffering servant, Jesus. Here is some of what he preached:
Jesus walks with children on the Great WallSo now let us think of some of the problems that arise when we let Jesus be our servant. Perhaps we imagine that if Jesus is our servant, Jesus does exactly what we want. This is what James and John say at the very beginning of the Gospel reading. 'We want you to do exactly what we want'. Sometimes we should like to use God for our own purposes. And all though human history, human beings have tried to use God to prove themselves right - to use God to bless wants; use God to bless persecutions - they have used God for their personal pride.

But this is not he way in which God in Jesus Christ serves us. God does not do what we want, God gives us what we need and perhaps this is why we are shocked and afraid when the idea arises that God is our servant.

Perhaps we don't want to recognise what it is that we mean - we would much prefer it if we could say to God 'Do what we want'. But God says 'No, I will do what you need.' Because God is God, he knows what our hearts are like; he knows the truth about us; about us as individuals about our nations and about our world. And he comes in the person of Jesus Christ as a human being to show us that he knows our world from the inside. God does not look at us or our world through a telescope - he looks at our hearts and minds from within. Jesus Christ has the knowledge and compassion of God and the heart and soul of a human being.
And so it is in Jesus Christ above all that we see how God knows us, knows our needs and serves what we truly need.
He went on to lay out four principles which he sees flowing from this servant ministry. The first of which was identification:

Chinese Christian artist He Qui's painting which hangs at King of PeaceThe church here has worked hard to make itself understood as part of China, its culture, its history, its hopes. It is no longer true, if it ever was true, that to be a Christian is to stop being really Chinese.

And so we are encouraged to see a church that is trying to find its own way forward honestly - find a language that really belongs in this place. It is no kind of imposed Christianity, whether conservative or Liberal, that will answer the questions of China. It is the Gospel itself in its glory, taking root here. So there is the first principle - service begins with identification.

The other principles are
  • Christians must develop an inner freedom - a freedom that allows them to see the truth about themselves and the truth about the society they live in.
  • Jesus calls others into his world of service. And,
  • The Church has the vision and the capacity to work with so many different kinds of groups - to work for a harmony that is real and inclusive of all.

The archbishop also said, "As this grows and develops, it will of course bring with it difficulties and risks - service in the name of God always brings risks. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is never to be safe - it is to be loved, it is to be endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit; it is to be given dignity - that is much more important than just being safe."

The full text of the sermon is online here: Sermon preached at Chaoyang Church, Beijing.

the archbishop leaves Chaoyang Church, Beijing


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