My dear brothers, sisters, and indetermined, first let me say a hearty word of felt thanks for the invitation to be here to be part of this wonderful occasion to share fellowship with you, to learn from you. I'm all ears. And now listen to me. Archbishop Ian thank you, and thanks to me for going CAPA in hand for the invitation; Archbishop Henry Orombombibi, thank you for all you have done to welcome us to this jewel of the crown in Africa.
Thank you to Bob Duncan and those fantastic eyebrows in comeptition with my beard. Thank you mum and dad for supporting me as I went up the ecclesiastical greasy pole. And thank you to my literary agent. And let me take the authority upon myself to bring the greetings and the prayers of some of your brothers and sisters of the Church in England, some of whom may be praying alongside us in our days ahead and will wonder if God will do anything regarding this assembly or indeed anything else.
You know that I am obsessed with bishops: bishops and then me in our new worldwide Anglican Church. So I don't really apologise to those seated here who are not bishops because I want to speak this morning about the ministry of the bishop because this is a conference for, after all, those who are in leadership of the Church and they are bishops. Our readings this could have been written just for bishops.
Bishops, bishops, bishops, bishops, bishops.
When we are made bishops, we put on Roman purple, and first strut our stuff. We pray that we may be given the grace, even if we are not, to follow the one Good Shepherd, Our Saviour Iesu Grist, because apparently we have to follow someone in order to be free and help bring about in his world the changes that he desires rather than what we desire. By Iesu Grist I mean the one in Palestine a little while ago, rather than the son of the Welshman William Price a little less while ago who, like me, was also an Archdruid and, let us remember, the pioneer of cremation. What changes Iesu Grist wanted I leave to your reading, but Saint Peter wrote a letter that being the Shepherd means having a good working relationship with a dog and being, at least a bit, free, loving and sustaining life. Now here in Africa you don't have so many sheepdogs, but you do have some sheep, and our focus must be on the lambs of new life and of those changes that God desires, our responsibility as sheepdogs to bring healing, justice, judgement, and hope where there is none, although I'm not quite sure how we can do this from our various gigantic kennel palaces by pontificating. Our responsibility is to show the society we live in that it might get on a little better, with a more fulfilled life both now and after the brain has rotted once the oxygen stops and has been cremated or, in our case, after the dog has been to the vet.
Although people make peace, peace really lies with God alone, just like that Irish priest did when he helped arrange a bit of terrorism. At least he wasn't Anglican. And it does say, after all, that 'Each nation worships and obeys its own god, but we will worship and obey the LORD our God for ever and ever' (Micah 4.5). But do we, in the West, for ever and ever? Perhaps the old dogs are conked out. And although I have never seen God or a dog at a peace conference, the prophet earlier said, 'He will settle disputes among the nations, among the great powers near and far'. The issue is, was the Micah switched on or off at that point? But look, whether audible or not, we are to be as equally loved and treasured by this invisble God announced by an inaudible prophet, and look at each other loved and treasured, whether we are the good, the bad, the ugly or Clint Eastwood. There are no exceptions.
We sheepdog bishops have to say: how precious we all are – including those who are hated or neglected by others, by society at large or by African bishops in their pronouncements. You know better than I do about those you help and those you hinder. The Church here has bravely refused to turn its back on those living with this and other kinds of stigma, so to keep it going, as to say, 'All are not precious in God's sight'. And so it stigmatises the unmentionables who do the naughty things.
There are children living with HIV and AIDS, partly thanks to Roman Catholicism and its influence in stopping governments and people handing out those little rubber things. As our new Sunday cathedral builder Tesco says, 'Every Little Helps'. Too much stigma there, and I've put this heartwarming story about proselytising Christianity to little children on a postcard and sent it off to Archbishop John Sendmehome saying, "Wish you were here" and boy can he crack a joke or two.
It's about what it is that Jesus Christ has done for us. Let's face it - he has given us sheepdogs a secure pay packet in the midst of economic turmoil for everyone else, and we can always tell the faithful that giving reaps rewards when it comes to our own pay.'Whoever comes in by me will be saved', says the Divine Bank Manager in today's gospel (John 10.9-10); 'they will come in and go out and find pasture...I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness'. One can imagine the farmer going into the bank, that his holy money is saved, and he borrows from him who gave, and off he goes to get a field of sheep, and we can be the shepherd's dogs. All this is possible because the Divine Bank Manager died and then was back behind the desk dealing with loans and deposits all over again. The bank manager's door is a door that no one can shut, but the safe door - now that needs securely locking.
See how the Bank Manager loves you! See what you might become! You became a bishop. So have gratitude about this and the transformation. But is it enough? No? Are you reading between the lines at all? Am I mentioning the unmentionable, the actually embarrassing? So we must go a step further, to give our energies to these great goals of justice and healing that we ought to be discussing in the days to come. Yes, I know some of you have little energy left after all your homophobic ranting. Oops did I mention the unmentionable? Is the Divine Bank Manager investing in the grace to draw you into what he is doing? He is the Good Shepherd because he is prepared to give his life for the flock, rather than imprison some of the flock like you would.
I could go on and on, and so does my script. But if you haven't read between the lines by now and got the point you must be really thick. hang on, it's not exaclty between the lines. But don't forget that the institution comes first, that Body in apparent unity and love. The summons to walk in Christ's way should even frighten us like you frighten some of your populations with your nasty religious rhetoric. I never wrote this! Who's had my script? Well, so, when I ordain a new bishop, it moves me that, after he has said he will obey, then I tell him to keep the Church together but he can't do it alone. He'll need the congregation to get into mass action. That'll frighten the minorities all right.
I can keep this going but I won't. Well, actually I will.
Iesu speaks about the sheep following him because they know his voice. Come by, he says, and that means go left a bit. Hah, if you asked John Senmdmehome he'd say that at the sheep dog trials they were all found guilty. And in a way, he is right. We are guilty in assuming that only some of our people can have fullness of life. So the challenge to us who are pastors is, 'Do the people hear what we are really saying?' Perhaps they do. Sometimes it is said that Christian pastors spend their time constructing perfect answers to questions that nobody is asking! Given that I've never given a perfect answer in my life, that doesn't affect me. But clearly there is an elephant in the room. No no at the back. Turn around, eyes on me please. It's a metaphor. No it is not actually an elephant: I suspect that may not be more of a problem in the European churches than it is here. Am I making myself clear?
Jesus speaks their language, the marginalised. Perhaps he doesn't speak ours. Of course he challenges them - like he might say, let's play online chess. But he begins by speaking in such a way that we know he understands us from the inside and so he will win any check mate going. But what if we listen to him? Ah we can then know his moves. So perhaps we ought to first learn to listen to Jesus ourselves, to recognise how he speaks to our own sin and sometimes confusion, and then we might win the odd game. Bishops cannot be allowed to forget, although they do, that they are human and so in need of repentance and renewal - the sheepdogs are like the sheep in that sense. Less of the woof woof and more waiting for the shepherd's whistle perhaps, or his come by.
We must love and attend to their humanity in all its diversity. Did you hear me? Is that elephant still there? No no, not literally. You don't have to be literalistic. What, you are literalistic? Maybe that's the problem. We cannot assume we always know better, that we always have the right answer to any specific question. I know you want to use the Jesus trump card – but this doesn't mean that we are always going to be right on this or that question just because we are pastors or bishops! We need to learn the language of those we serve. For example, "Hiya Peter love you," and, "Hiya Mark love you," so, "We love each other." The best and greatest of the missionaries who carried the Christian faith to new territories made a priority of leaning the language. So how about the language of Betty loves Mabel? But this is never just a matter of learning the words, it is also about learning to listen and respect. So stop screaming at your own people, and frightening them, and encouraging violence and causing people who may need help to hide. So much of our work this week is going to be about this respectful listening to see if we really understand the needs of our people. I could go on, and I will.
The Divine Bank Manager does not abandon his money when he makes a loan: he shares in the danger. This is my second point. It is only the hired man who will run away, but the employer - he's alright. In theological terms, the Good Banker can never abandon his own money, not amongst his own people, purchased with their blood, so his life and theirs are utterly bound up together. He does indeed need to understand them from the inside and so he exposes himself to the full weight of human sin, to violence and rejection, to the cost and the effect of all that is done wrong in the world. But he can always say, "That's it, I want the money back," but the Divine Bank Manager doesn't. He sees that the savings are building the Kingdom, or is it a Republic?
So for us who have got a steady wage with our Christian leadership, who are hired, the message is between the lines. Stop your persecuting. Stop having the arrogance that you think you can tell the West how to behave. Sort your own places out first. Fuck off. Fuck off?
Otherwise what we have is sanctimonious and pointless leadership, and we who are called to lead in the Christian community should stop imaginging that we make the great political decisions like we once did; but how damaging is that influence when for institutional advantage like I and others seek. The clarity of Christian and especially Anglican witness against corruption in political leadership in so many contexts in this continent has been an identifier for what is wrong here, and I bet you all have your fingers in the pie, just as elsewhere another Church's clergy have been molesting children and planning the occasional bomb outrage. The Good Shepherd is one who stands with his flock and never seeks safety or ease at their expense, unlike how I have called for gay and lesbian people to again set themselves aside so that I can build the worldwide Anglican Church. God knows, all our churches throughout the world need this witness, and we are all – myself included – painfully aware of how often we can and do step aside from the risks that our responsibilities bring.
So as we begin this yet another incredibly pointless meeting, where we can all wallow while others ignore us, let us not act as would be sufficient, for a purely humanitarian reason, but do so full of sanctimonious gloss, with the elephant in the room - no, honestly, please turn around - and try and at least stop fightening the horses. No there are no horses either.
If the churches of Africa are going to be for this time a city set on a hill, then stop shouting, and the people in the valley can get on with their lives in peace. I'm sure I didn't write this. Bob Duncan, this didn't come through that website Anglican Average, did it? Anyway, here we are, and to contradict myself, I hope we will be able to speak a word not only for this continent but for all God's people about the fullness of life, but don't hold your breath.