Archbishop Michael Jackson's sermon at his enthronement in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, May 8th 2011
Added on 09/05/2011
Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin
Readings: Haggai 1:13-2:9, St John 2:13-22
Haggai 1:4: But now, Zerubbabel, take heart, says the Lord; take heart, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest; take heart, all you people, says the Lord. Begin the work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts, and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid.
Flexibility is the companion of tradition, although it does not often come across like that. We must, of course, show appropriate respect for the good things which become ours through inheritance. Yet we cannot simply maintain those things as if their very maintenance is an end in itself and, therefore, constitutes a job well done. In each generation, it is our responsibility to bring the tradition forward to a new place, to make of it a fresh expression of God’s presence and God’s power, living and working with quite different people and in quite new situations. In this way, the tradition develops the confidence to act in ways appropriate to changed and changing circumstances. This it must do with sure confidence if it is to be a tradition for our time.
In an era of insecurity and instability, of economic challenge and societal anger, this is perhaps not what we want to hear. We might well be looking for a bit of a break from the tradition, feeling ourselves to be somewhat battered by what we see as the inheritance of bad decisions and even worse outcomes. But standing still in the face of new life in Christ – God’s gift to us at Easter - is not an option for us as children of the new dawn, when the light of Christ is shedding its glow on the world. To go further, Biblical prophecy compels us to think otherwise and to discover how the tradition of speaking hopefully into places of fear can transform failure into fruitfulness, rejection into recognition. Because of the exuberant diversity of our religious and theological traditions, because of our urgent need to engage as one in the needs of our common world, it is our duty to use creatively everything which we have inherited. It is our task to discern for ourselves and disclose to others the many ways in which that inheritance has both life and energy today.
Haggai’s prophecies focus on the year 520 BC. Sixty-six years have passed since the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of its people to Babylon. This followed swiftly on the demolition of the Temple in 586 BC. In spite of the central place of the Temple in Jewish self-understanding, the shock and scandal are that the people have rebuilt their own houses while the Temple still lies in ruins. Haggai enters a situation well known to all of us – one of widespread despair where every decision only seems to underwrite the pointlessness of trying to make decisions at all. Suddenly there is a new governor and there is a new high priest to restore the ruined Temple and its worship – and there is hope. It is a story of a succession of fresh starts, the voice of the prophet often speaking beyond where the people are and yet persevering in speaking out, not letting a negative reaction make him cynical and disengaged. Constantly and relentlessly, the encouragement which God offers them is this: they are to set fear to one side. In the middle of despair, they are to look for the presence of the God who has not and will not abandon them.
St John’s Gospel shows us something else, that tradition does not and cannot perpetuate itself on its own terms. It must be subjected to changing circumstances and give an account of itself for the greater good. In the NT Reading, Jesus cleanses the Temple, this Second Temple the building of which the prophet Haggai had made possible. In what I see as a very contemporary idiom, Jesus reasserts the priorities of the Temple over against the triumphant combination of economic self-interest and ritual glass ceilings – You must buy your sacrificial offerings here and only here and from us and only us. Every nation is tempted to economic self-interest. Every religious tradition is tempted to ritual exclusion of others. We are held in a very modern dilemma within a very ancient and symbolic picture of divine righteousness. The world of institutions has come under and remains under tremendous strain and fracture. It is vital that everyone take the authority that is hers or his as a human person and exercize it. Kicking over the tradition indiscriminately and uncritically, however, is far from helpful – to yourself or indeed to anyone else. It leads to repetitive immaturity. In the time of Haggai, the Temple lay in ruins and the people themselves did not have the energy or the morale to build it up. In the time of Jesus, the Temple prospered and yet the cult itself was being used to exploit the very people whom the Temple was designed to serve in approaching God in their day. Power and authority are so often at variance and at loggerheads, in every tradition.
Priorities keep changing. Yet the public role of religions remains one of opening up pathways to God for those who find it difficult to make such a journey for themselves; of opening up dialogue with those who make decisions which affect all segments of society; and, most of all, of opening up and maintaining relationships with people, whoever they and we are. This holds for every Faith represented here this afternoon. It is the role of people of faith to think and to act in hope. The invitation which I have received to be the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin places me along with all of you at the heartbeat of one of Europe’s most fast-moving capital cities.
Within little more than a decade it is reckoned that over half of the world’s population will live in an urban environment. Cities bring an almost limitless choice for those who can make choices. And choice always brings the demand for responsibility –whether it be in finance, politics, education or healthcare. However, cities, as well we know, also tend to confine choice-making in the hands of fewer and fewer people. So, advocacy of those who have no voice is an important job of work for people of Faith in an urban environment. A sense of personal alienation and loneliness is another widespread feature of urban life. The sheer magnitude and pace of the everyday, the cluster of agendas which together make up a decision, along with the scope for corruption and bad faith, pushes to one side people who find themselves devoid of voice or influence. Here again, people of Faith have a strategic role to play, one of challenge and consistency combined, both within their own traditions and across the traditions of all together. It is surely a moment of hope that the Ministry of Healing is one of the works of God which is being developed actively in this cathedral church. This will redefine its community, as the doors of this place open wider and wider through such witness of generosity in the name and the work of Christ.
Within Christianity, a divided witness makes less and less sense to a world where so much can be and is being done together. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year, the bishop of Meath and Kildare, Richard Clarke, posed a question to the Christian traditions in Ireland: Can we please do together three core Christian activities: baptism, the reading of the Scriptures and pastoral care? I am not suggesting that this invitation has gone unheeded. I simply give it fresh voice and underpin its good sense as a common starting-point. What unites is much more important than what divides. We embrace the richness in diversity which is already ours. We make the commitment to live it together for one another. I rejoice at the participation here today of so many members of the Christian tradition with whom we share priorities, practices, worship and witness – and difference. My hope is that togetherness will be our urgent aspiration as God moves us forward. The wonderful thing about recognizing tradition as shared is that it takes us along pathways which we might never have seen before.
We who are members of the Church of Ireland are honoured by the presence here of those of Faiths other than Christianity. Dialogue is one of those words which we can tend to take for granted and which we all too often hear without really listening. Dialogue, however, is essential to good relationships and to appropriate actions. It is not a self-consciously clever way of doing things. The dialogue of life affects us all. It is every bit as real and important as the dialogue of ideas. Pioneering work has been done already in Dublin, and over generations, in the building up of trust and respect in circumstances of openness and generosity ahead of difficulties. And when these difficulties become tangible and dangerous, the underlying respect that has been built up seriously comes into play. The Dublin Faith Forum points an exciting way forward. Again, piece by piece, across the Church of Ireland we are seeking to set up networks of relationships across the World Faiths. Confidence in our own identity is the bedrock of dialogue. This offers a strong and a good challenge for us to explore and articulate to others with confidence who we are. Generosity of spirit and graciousness of engagement underwrite the need for each of us to know and embrace our identity and to keep open the free flow of common action.
For Christian people the transformative power of the person of Jesus Christ is something which we celebrate particularly in the Season of Easter. New life beyond the grave is the grace of God given us at this time. It gives us an identity which places us within a community. It gives us an urgency to engage with people who are our neighbours and whose difference from us we and they celebrate. This cathedral church has an important role to play in this city as a place of welcome, a place of dialogue and a place of experimentation. The monastic tradition is sadly lost to the Church of Ireland but the spirit of welcoming the stranger lives on in cathedrals and in all that they do. The need for dialogue of life as well as dialogue of ideas is urgent in an Ireland where economic downturn and active cynicism about the integrity of any institution is already maximizing disengagement on the part of people whose contribution we urgently need – particularly young people who are the stakeholders of the future. Experimentation is vital to the present and future life of the church and to its response to the life beyond its own doors which is what really matters. We need to be eager for change. We need to embrace the new voices which come from the tradition as it is lived with compassion and integrity today.
Right across these United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, from Arklow to the south to Skerries to the north and to Athy and Donoughmore to the west, there are people committed to a type of church life which is confident and outward-looking. I look forward to meeting all of you and to sharing in the life and work which are ours together. You are all part of bigger and wider communities and I look forward to meeting the members of these communities also. I look forward with my family to making Dublin our home and to meeting new people and making new friends. I wish to thank the people of Clogher Diocese for the ways in which they welcomed and embraced us over the past nine years and to thank them for coming today to Christ Church in such numbers. Finally, I wish to thank you all for your presence today and to offer you my friendship in the years to come.
St John 2:21: But the temple Jesus was speaking of was his body.
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