The Archbishop of York in his inaugural address asks the critical question of our time; Who is Jesus and what does he mean for those who put their trust in him?
Victor Hugo said that, "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is, an idea whose time has come". Corporate-discipleship: fraternal-belonging was Jesus' big idea, and plan for the renewal of society; a catalyst and engine for building God's Kingdom. His idea, which has lasted over the centuries, was simply this: a mixed community of sinners called to be saints, a divine society where the risen Christ in the midst of it is grace and truth, and the Holy Spirit is at work within it.
An inclusive and generous friendship, where each person is affirmed as of infinite worth, dignity and influence. A community of love, overflowing in gratitude and wholehearted surrender, because it participates in the life of God.
This corporate-discipleship, we call the Church, worships God and infects the world with righteousness
Being a Disciple
Canon David Watson, who was Vicar of St Michael-le-Belfry in York, said twenty-four years ago:
"Christians in the West, have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of Western Christians are church-members, pew-fillers, hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again believers or Spirit-filled Charismatics – and we have got some those here this morning - but aren't true disciples of Jesus Christ. If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the Church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering."
This is no idle claim. It happened in the first century when a tiny handful of timid disciples began, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the greatest spiritual revolution the world has ever known. Even the mighty Roman Empire yielded, within three centuries, to the power of the Good News of God in Christ.
"Corporate-discipleship: fraternal-belonging was Jesus' big idea, and plan for the renewal of society; a catalyst and engine for building God's Kingdom."
The Scandal and Glory of The Church
It's a scandal of the Church in England that in the past decades it has tried everything except to stick to Jesus' plan for the world: Corporate -discipleship: fraternal-belonging.
Che Guevara once said, "If our revolution isn't aimed at changing people then I'm not interested." The trouble with virtually all forms of revolution and modernising strategies is that they change everything – except the human heart.
And until that is changed corporately, nothing is significantly different in the long run.
The scandal of the church is that the Christ-event is no longer life-changing, it has become life-enhancing. We've lost the power and joy that makes real disciples, and we've become consumers of religion and not disciples of Jesus Christ.
You see, the call to corporate discipleship is a call to God's promised glory. For Christ did for us that which we couldn't do for ourselves.
God's acceptance of us just as we are, enables us to overcome our alienation and to experience the joy and the fulfilment of personal communion with God.
The Transforming Power of Christ
Through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there came into the world a new power that transforms human character and human communities; and liberates us from anxiety, fear, meaninglessness, transience, evil, ignorance, guilt and shame. Created humanity, in need of salvation, must realise that the culture and institutions they create are also in need of redemption, not simply of modernising.
God's Good News isn't for the chosen few: it is for everyone, whether they hear it or whether they don't; and I shall regard it as the first priority of my ministry, as a 'Watchman for the North', to take a lead by preaching, by public address and by informal discussion, in sharing this Good News of God with the people of England.
For me, the vital issue facing the Church in England and the nation, is the loss of this country's long tradition of Christian wisdom which brought to birth the English nation: the loss of wonder and amazement that Jesus Christ has authority over every aspect of our lives and our nation.
There is nothing more needed by humanity today than the recovery of a sense of 'beyond-ness' in the whole of life to revive the spring of wonder and adoration.
So the call is to live and be good news to everyone. It would be fantastic if people not only said of Jesus Christ, "What sort of man is this?" but said of us, his followers, "What sort of people are they? Their gracious actions, and the language on their lips is of God's goodness and love. Let us get to know them. There is something extraordinarily normal and wonderful about them."
A Vision for England
As a 10-year-old it was Christians like that who created in me a thirst for Christ, the living water. 'I stooped down and drank, new life flooded my whole being'. Forty-six years later, I am still amazed by God's constant love and forgiveness.
For the Church in England must once again be a beacon by which the people of England can orient themselves in an unknown ocean by offering them the Good News of God in Christ in practical and relevant way to their daily lives. Having shed an empire and lost a missionary zeal, has this great nation, and mother of parliamentary democracy, also lost a noble vision for the future?
We are getting richer and richer as a nation, but less and less happy. The Church in England must rediscover her self-confidence and self-esteem that united and energised the English people those many centuries ago when the disparate fighting groups embraced the Gospel.
The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History tells not only of how the English were converted, but how that corporate-discipleship, the Church, played a major socialising and civilising role by uniting the English and conferring nationhood on them.
The history of the See - or Diocese - of York tells a wonderful story of York's part in the conversion and civilisation of the English. In 627 Paulinus converts the King of Northumbria, Edwin, and baptises him on Easter Day. Paulinus is allowed to build a little wooden church, the first church on the site of this Minster. And it wasn't easy country. The Venerable Bede tells us that there were villages in these mountains and forests rarely visited by a Christian minister. The first three archbishops were driven out because of war and revolution.
But the small band of Christians, like a tiny acorn, courageously stood their ground. Aidan, a monk from the monastery in Iona, came to the rescue, and extended the Christian presence in the north of England, which radically transformed the existing social order as well as in the South.
The Impact of Discipleship
In our time, this socialising and transforming power of corporate-discipleship is illustrated further by three Christian men at the University of Oxford: Richard Tawney, William Beveridge and William Temple, who were challenged to go to the East End of London to "find friends among the poor, as well as finding out what poverty is and what can be done about it".
In the East End their consciences were pricked by poverty: visible, audible, smellable. After university, Tawney worked at Toynbee Hall, creating a fraternal community; William Beveridge paved the way for the Welfare State in his report which for the first time set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian ethic in an Act of Parliament. And William Temple, as Archbishop of York, and then Canterbury mobilized the church support for a more just, equal and fraternal Britain. His book Christianity and Social Order is one of the foundation pillars of the welfare state as we know it today.
Responding to Christ
The Jesus who calls us to follow him is saying to us today:
"Hear, O England, the Lord our God is the only Lord,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
With all your soul, with all your mind
And with all your strength
Love your neighbour as yourself".
And the only fitting response for me is this:
Lord take my heart from me,
For I cannot give it to thee
Keep it for thyself,
For I cannot keep it for thee
And save me in spite of myself.
Friends, let us do it and let us do it now! God help and bless us all.
This is an edited extract from the Archbishop's Inauguration Sermon Delivered at York Minster on 30 November 2005