Bishop’s Homily on Feast of the Holy Name-Cologne, Germany; Transcribed by Deacon Andrew Gossage
A mystery and a messenger of hope
A mystery is something God does which we do not understand now, but which one day He will reveal. Humanity had long sought a Messiah and Saviour, but it was the greatest surprise when God Himself came down and became human like us.
The Jewish people thought He had come only for them; but we celebrate the Epiphany that He came for the whole world – the Gentiles had also been longing for Him. There are not two separate Christs for the Jews and the Gentiles, but one.
The mystery of the Church
The creation of the Church is a mystery: although unrelated biologically, we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is a bond between those who are baptised and receive the new creation.
The Church – not the building, but all the people – is the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. She is the new Eve, a new creation formed from our Lord’s side when water and blood poured out. The Church is mystically the embodiment of Christ on earth. It is through us that people will know God’s presence.
The Church is characterised by contrasts: human and finite, yet divine; imperfect, yet holy; sinners, yet recipients of God’s grace. The Patriarch said that there are sinners in the Church, including bishops, because God could not find anyone else. We are all sinners: I come to church not because I am holy but because I am a sinner who needs a Saviour. It is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.
The only Jesus people will see
The Judaeo-Christian tradition has shaped the West for 2000 years. However, in the 20th century there were two World Wars and 200 million people were killed. Many Europeans questioned why God would allow this, and became cold towards Christianity. There is a need for healing. Yet God did not invent the atomic bomb – man did.
The Church will remain
People are celebrating the isolation of Christianity from the public square – it seems not to have any place in modern society. But in 2018 Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist, warned that if a “relatively benign religion” has shaped Europe for 2000 years, we should be careful lest it be replaced with something much worse. Stalin was paranoid that someone would kill him, and he killed 20 million of his own people; but if he had had Jesus in his heart he would not have killed anyone. Some people want to be rid of Europe’s Christian heritage, but what will they replace it with?
The Church is troubled by internal difficulties, and struggling to find its relevance to modern society; yet this does not change Jesus’ saying that we are in this world but not of it. We can integrate some new things, such as technology, but we cannot change the essentials of the Faith. The world is changing constantly, but there are certain things that will not change.
As the embodiment of Christ on earth, we are the only Jesus that some people will see. Our identity as the Church does not come from ourselves, nor from our surroundings, but from Jesus Himself. He is the Head; we are the body. In the midst of the challenges we must continue to become the Church:
1) Continue to eat the body of Christ. Regardless of the circumstances, we must continue to proclaim every Sunday that God is present, and that He is with us until the end of the age.
2) Continue to drink the living water: allow the constant work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that our faith does not become stagnant.
3) Walk in and become the light to the world. Let us rely on Christ as our light and be a light to the world.
4) Abide and remain in Jesus and His Word.
The Church is a messenger of hope
Someone suggested selling the Vatican and all the churches to feed the poor. But sooner or later the proceeds would all be gone, and so would the message of hope. The Church is always the messenger of hope to the world. As people take their lives because of depression at an even younger age, it is all the more important to go out and share hope.
Hope is not wishful thinking, but it is founded upon the promise of God, who will never lie. We hope in Jesus’ coming. When God says something, He will fulfil it in His time. The Church collectively must be an icon of Christ to the poor, the widows and orphans, and those who are less fortunate around us. They will only know that God loves them when we love them.
Know God and make Him known
Some evangelicals have declared 2020 the year of the Bible. The Bible is God’s self-revelation to us; why not read it this year, from cover to cover. Let us pursue our vision to know God and make Him known to others – make known His love, hope, peace and joy, because God loves us. Inviting people to the church no longer works. Before we bring people to Christ, let us bring Christ to them – let that be our goal and purpose.
We have hope. Sometimes we question our identity and our place, but there is always a place for us. God is always with us. Our relationship with God is not only for us, but also for others. Let us seek to know God and make Him known. Let us bring Christ to people.