Gracious Magnanimity

Archbishop of York John Sentamu addressed the Canadian General Synod with words about grace and law. In his comments on gracious magnanimity the Archbishop said:

… the basis and the fundamental thing about gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) is that it goes back to God. If God stood on his rights, if God applied to us nothing but the rigid standards of law, where would we be? God is the supreme example of the one who is graciously-magnanimous (epieikes) and who deals with others with gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia). Again and again we have seen congregations torn by strife and reduced to tragic unhappiness because men and women and committees and courts stood on the letter of the law. When a congregation’s governing body meets with a copy of its Church’s book of law prominently displayed on the Chair’s table, trouble is never far away. A new world would arise in Society and in the Church if all of us ceased to base our actions purely on law and legal rights and prayed to God to give us gracious-magnanimity. (epieikeiea).

He continues:

…Jesus was telling his disciples that if you want to meet God face to face, the nearest you are going to come to it on this planet is to look into the faces of your brothers and sisters – and especially your sisters and brothers who have been declared unrighteous, unclean, unacceptable.

It isn’t that we find God there, it’s that God finds us there.

He concludes:

Proper penitence and a readiness to go willingly, and perhaps be lifted up, to suffer whatever sacrifices may be necessary for the visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

For this to happen we must die in order to bear fruit and be messengers of God’s redeeming love. We are called to die to the values of the world — greed for wealth, status and power; as well as our psychological tendencies: our desires and compulsions for success, to be loved, to be held in esteem, to be acclaimed by those in our group, to have, power and control over others. .It’s a call to disarm ourselves, to die to our plans and let God’s plans and ways take hold of us.

I have come to believe that when I shall come face to face with the Wounded Healer who bears the marks of love, he will ask me, “Sentamu, where are your tears for me to wipe away? Where are your wounds of love received through loving and laying down your life for me and my brothers and sisters?”

It’s from the Cross that the life of God’s love shines forth upon the world in its fullest splendour. And, as David Bosch has said (in Transforming Mission), “The Church is an inseparable union of the divine and the dusty.”

The question continues, however, who is going to the cross and will it be through choice or compulsion? The archbishop has evoked distress among the readers of the more conservative blogs and puzzlement in others.

Read the whole speech here.

For more reflection on the meaning of Sentamu’s words click here.

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