I listened to the Royal Wedding (Harry and Meghan, obviously) on the drive to Glasgow yesterday. Marvellous. The soporific opening belied what was to follow: joy, colour, surprise, excitement and love.

Then I began to pick up on the social media bitching and snide commenting by the joyless, unsurprisable, under-excited, colourless, miserable observers who always know better. Always observers, never participants.

One story about Michael Curry, the preacher, who, if the British media had not filtered him out of any interest before the event – after all, how could a sermon be of any interest or enjoyment? – was well-known everywhere except London.

I sat next to him during the consecration of Mark Bourlakas as Bishop of Southwestern Virginia several years ago. During the service the choir launched into Parry’s ‘I was glad’ – written for a coronation in England. I whispered to Michael: “I thought you guys shed blood to get rid of this sort of thing?” He replied: “We won the War of Independence; you won the culture war!”

Wonderful man, wonderful wedding, wonderful music.

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This is the text of an article published on Friday 18 May (pre-Pentecost) in the Yorkshire Post:

Does Teresa May speak French? Or German? Or any other foreign European language?

I dont know the answer, but the question is not merely academic. As the UK finds itself at a point in its modern history where we need more than ever to understand and speak with our neighbours, not to be able to do so in their language is problematic.

Every other European leader speaks more than their own language. Recently Emmanuel Macron addressed the US Congress in English, a language in which he comfortably subjects himself to political and media interviews. Angela Merkel speaks English and Russian as well as German. Our senior EU negotiators and administrators all operate in several languages without problem. But, the British?

Well, I ask this question as the UK approaches Brexit and the Christian Church approaches the celebration of Pentecost, and there is a connection between the two.

Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter and marks the intrusion of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the first followers of Jesus. They had been scared to death by the crucifixion of their messiah (messiahs are not supposed to end like this); they had been confused beyond imagination by their experiences of the risen Jesus; and they were terrified that they might be next for the chop at the hands of the Roman occupying forces.

At Pentecost these weak and fragile disciples became empowered to go public with all they had experienced and what they understood it to mean. They left their hidden rooms and went onto the streets to speak about Jesus. And, according to the account of this in the Acts of the Apostles, people on the streets of this cosmopolitan place were able to hear and understand in their own language.

Now, put to one side the actual mechanics of this (this was about what people heard, not the languages that were being spoken). Original witnesses of these events would immediately have thought of the story in Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel. Here the hubris of people led to the collapse of mutual comprehension as a multiplicity of languages confused the people. No wonder it fell apart. Pentecost sees intelligibility and mutual comprehension restored.

And this is the point. Pentecost is seen as good, Babel as bad. When people look purely after their own interests, their own internal conversations and their own isolated concerns, the confusion that follows an inability to communicate becomes serious. This is why it is so important for those committed to any religion or none to learn each others’ ‘languages’ … in order to understand clearly before thinking to speak. Christians who differ must measure their language and their conduct against this Pentecostal demand.

After all, it cannot be a coincidence that we have one mouth, but two ears.

To bring this back to some of the challenges facing us as Brexit approaches, the language problem says more than we might think.

We live on an island. We dont have borders to cross where cultures are so different and languages are so diverse that language learning becomes a practical necessity for basic living. We still easily speak of going to Europewhen we are actually firmly part of it (not the same as belonging to the EU institutions, of course). So, with statistics for foreign language learning at school and universities in rapid decline, and with the UK being unable to supply adequate professional linguists for work in business, politics and institutions, it is not too dramatic to claim that the UK faces a crisis.

I once met some English businessmen in a hotel in Germany where they were doing trade deals. They laughed about my language concerns and said they didnt need to know any German as the Germans all speak great English and the negotiations are always done in English. Then one of the Germans said: But, you dont know what we are saying behind your back and that is where the dealing gets done.

Yet, look within many of our UK communities and we see young children moving easily between two or three languages. Many of our minority communities operate clearly in English, but speak a different language at home and a different one still with friends where language facilitates communication and social belonging. If young Asian children can do this, why are the Brits so reluctant to make the effort?

It is common to use the language of conflict resolution, social cohesion, diplomacy, national security, and so on, without ever making reference to language. Yet, language knowledge is essential to all these areas of life. And the advantage always lies with the multilingual partners, not the monolinguals.

Furthermore, as I have mentioned many times, Helmut Schmidt (former Chancellor of Germany) wrote a book in which he offered his advice to Germans thinking of entering politics. He warned that they should not contemplate this unless they spoke at least two foreign languages to a competent degree. Why? Because, he says, you can only understand your own culture if you look at it through the lens of another culture and for that you need to know language.

I agree with him, but on a wider level than the political. Failure to understand (let alone speak) a foreign language leaves us impoverished culturally, weakened economically, shallow intellectually, and vulnerable politically.

On Sunday, as we celebrate Pentecost and the challenge to Babel, I will be reflecting more widely on language and communication. Not only about how we do politics, but also how we enable others to hear good news in ways they can understand.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show (in Mental Health Week):

It seems to me that some people are better at talking than others. I don’t mean just driving everyone else witless by endless rambling – the classic pub bore. What I mean is that some people find ways to open a valve and let the pressure out by putting into words what’s going on deep down inside them.

Remember that great REM song ‘Everybody hurts’? “Everybody hurts, sometimes, everybody cries.” There’s even a line about “Cause everybody hurts, take comfort in your friends.” It reminds me of that line in Crocodile Dundee when the Ozzie Outbacker responds to an explanation of New York ‘therapy’ with, “Haven’t you got any mates?”

Well, friends are important, but even the most gregarious people sometimes find themselves in a place best described as dark. And it’s easy then to think that you’re the only one who hurts – the only one who cries.

Now, I would say this, wouldn’t I, but anyone who reads the Bible will find utter realism here. People are portrayed as they are and stories are told that reveal a deep empathy with raw human experience – including what we now would call mental health challenges. Look at the Psalmists – poets writing three thousand years ago – who cry out of the depths and give us a vocabulary for pain and suffering. “How long, O Lord, how long” must we endure this suffering? “I feel like I am being hunted and there is no escape – who can I trust in this world?” These songs and poems are ripped from the heart of the sort of experiences many of us endure today.

But, the Psalmists also offer a different take. They shine a different light on this experience. “Where can I go from your presence?” one of them asks. “If I go up to the highest heights or down to the deepest depths, you are there. I go to the farthest east and the remotest west, and you are there, too.”

In other words, if you don’t find the words to express your own anguish, these guys have given you some. Everybody hurts, everybody cries, everybody bleeds. Just don’t believe the ones who say they don’t. And you are not alone. Everybody hurts. Sometimes.

This is the text of my speech moving Amendment 93 to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on the last day of Report Stage in the House of Lords. It might not make immediate sense without knowledge of the detail, but I post it for the record.

My Lords, I move this amendment for two principle reasons: first, in order to assist the government in its shaping of its case for the UK’s future relationship with the European Union post-Brexit; secondly, because it is consistent with Amendment 49 which was passed earlier in this Report Stage.

Speakers in these debates have repeatedly suggested that anyone who moves an amendment is a hypocritical Remoaner intent on sabotaging the Bill and trying to prevent Brexit from ever happening. I regret the referendum result, but I accept that the UK is to leave – even on this 73rd anniversary of VE Day. My concern, along with many in your Lordships’ House is to ask the government seriously to consider improvements to the Bill … in order both that the people should be clear about the how as well as the what of Brexit and that the transition to a final arrangement might be as good as we can get it. It is my understanding that this is both the role and the responsibility of this House.

I remain concerned that a deeply divided country is being offered two stark alternatives which, if you will bear with me, I will put in biblical terms. Like the people of Israel in the desert, we too easily romanticise the past and yearn to return to Egypt; or, on the other hand, we promise on the other side of the mountain a land flowing with milk and honey (ignoring the challenges that go with it not actually being our land to do with as we will).

I mean it seriously when I suggest that we should be honest in our discourse on Brexit and acknowledge that we shall be spending some years in the wilderness as we begin to work out the consequences of the decisions we have taken and the implications of the relationships we must now begin to establish. Wilderness time is not necessarily negative time – simply a time of waiting and wishing and hoping (or recriminating), but a time for stripping away the clutter, identifying and owning our values and priorities as a nation, and actively bringing together a people divided by their varying apprehensions of events that have befallen them. That serious need for a concrete unifying strategy has yet to be addressed seriously in either House of this Parliament – slogans and wishful thinking are not enough.

With this in mind, then, I come to the substance of the amendment standing in my name and to which, I am sure, the Prime Minister would give her consent as it rests on commitments already articulated by her.

In her Mansion House speech of 2 March 2018 the Prime Minister confirmed for the first time that the UK will seek to maintain a formal relationship with certain EU agencies after Brexit. She further acknowledged that the terms of the future UK-EU relationship may see the UK Parliament take the step of replicating certain provisions of EU law. She put it like this (and forgive me for quoting at length in order to obtain clarity):

Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes. In some cases Parliament might choose to pass an identical law – businesses who export to the EU tell us that it is strongly in their interest to have a single set of regulatory standards that mean they can sell into the UK and EU markets.

If the Parliament of the day decided not to achieve the same outcomes as EU law, it would be in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access.

And there will need to be an independent mechanism to oversee these arrangements.

We will also want to explore with the EU, the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries: the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

We would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution.

She then went on to set out what the mutual benefits of such an approach might be. These include firstly, that such membership (however described) is the only way to ensure that products only need to undergo one series of approvals in one country; secondly, that such membership would enable the UK to contribute its technical expertise in setting and enforcing appropriate rules; and thirdly, that this might then allow UK firms to resolve certain challenges related to the agencies through UK courts rather than the ECJ.

That is enough for now to demonstrate the Prime Minister’s case. She concluded with a further statement about the sovereignty of Parliament and the acknowledged costs of rejecting agency rules for membership of the relevant agency and linked market access rights.

Now, it is important to remember that these decentralised agencies were originally established following a proposal from the European Commission and agreement by both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Which, if I am correct, means that the establishment of over 40 bodies was achieved with the support of the UK.

Surely it makes sense, then, to be consistent and retain access to them.

As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech, there will be consequences of not doing so. For example – and to take just one, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA): Our international reporting and monitoring obligations on maritime safety are currently handled via EMSA and there are shared EU rules on seafarer working conditions, which enables the UK to maintain its status as a ‘quality flag state’ under international law. The complexities involved in replicating this would appear to be immense. Furthermore, establishing a domestic equivalent to the EMSA will inevitably put a huge strain on the civil service, take many years to negotiate, and will be enormously expensive. (Yet another uncosted consequence of Brexit?)

I could equally cite the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, Europol, the European Medicines Agency, and others.

My Lords, is it not probable that any future UK-EU trading relationship might demand replication of certain EU measures – product safety regulations, for example? As other regulations continue to evolve in Brussels in the years to come, is it not probable (if not inevitable) that the UK might have to keep pace, if reciprocal arrangements with the EU27 are to continue? (For example, those covering matrimonial and parental judgments.)

My Lords, this amendment does not in any way place an additional burden on the government, nor does it ask the government to change its stated policy stance. It formalises and reinforces those commitments made by the Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech.

Furthermore, with phase two of the negotiations now well underway, the addition of this Clause would demonstrate Parliament’s wish for the UK to maintain a close relationship with the EU – and, in this sense, it is consistent with the role envisaged for Parliament in amendment 49.

I think it is fair to say that although amendments relating to EU agencies were rejected in the House of Commons, this was possibly because the Government had not at that point announced its policy position. Now that the policy position is clear, sending this amendment back to the Commons would simply give an opportunity for further debate on future UK-EU cooperation.

My Lords, I hope I have given a clear rationale for this amendment and its inclusion on the face of the bill. I hope the Minister in responding will recognise the constructive nature of it and its attempt to give some idea as to what sort of milk and honey might lie over the mountain once we have negotiated the wilderness journey. It does no one any favours to pretend we are where we are not; it does everybody a favour to attend to a detail that at least has the virtue of acknowledging the uncertainties ahead, the size and potential costs of the journey upon which we have now embarked, and gives one element of shape to what to many looks, to quote another biblical line, somewhat “formless and void”.

I commend it for debate and I beg to move.

(I tested the opinion of the House and the amendment was passed by 298 votes to 227. It now goes back to the House of Commons.)

This is the basic text of my sermon in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, on Sunday 6 May 2018, based on Colossians 4:2-6:

Seid beharrlich im Gebet und wacht in ihm mit Danksagung! Betet zugleich auch für uns, auf dass Gott uns eine Tür für das Wort auftue und wir vom Geheimnis Christi reden können, um dessentwillen ich auch in Fesseln bin, auf dass ich es so offenbar mache, wie ich es soll. Verhaltet euch weise gegenüber denen, die draußen sind, und kauft die Zeit aus. Eure Rede sei allezeit wohlklingend und mit Salz gewürzt, dass ihr wisst, wie ihr einem jeden antworten sollt. (Kolosserbrief 4:2-6)

Herzliche Grüße aus England und aus meiner Diözese in Leeds. Ich habe 656 Gemeinden und die schönste Landschaft in England.

Danke für die Einladung, noch einmal hier in dieser wunderschönen Kirche in Dresden eine Predigt zu halten. Ich war am Kirchentag in 2011 zum ersten Mal hier, und habe damals in der Frauenkirche eine Bibelarbeit gemacht. Ich erinnere mich klar an das Gefühl, das ich an einem Ort hatte, den die Briten erst vor einer Generation zerstört hatten. Seitdem hat sich die Welt verändert. Deutschland hat sich verändert. Und Großbritannien hat sich auch verändert.

Zuerst möchte ich etwas wichtiges erklären: Brexit – es tut mir wirklich leid. In Großbritannien herrscht momentan ein sehr unangenehmes Klima. Wir verlassen die EU – das ist klar. Ich habe am Montag letzter Woche im House of Lords in einer guten Debatte über den Austritt aus der EU gesprochen – dann am Dienstag sind mehrere Redner auf den Titelseiten einer Zeitung erschienen, die als Verräter und Feinde des Volkes gebrandmarkt wurden. Das ist furchtbar.

Natürlich darf Frieden niemals als selbstverständlich vorausgesetzt werden. Gesellschaften können sich sehr schnell in etwas schreckliches verwandeln, in dem die Sprache über andere Menschen korrumpiert wird. Es ist immer gefährlich, wenn man andere Menschen als Kategorien (und nicht mehr als Menschen) bezeichnet. Und das Gespräch über Brexit in Großbritannien ist tatsächlich schlecht.

Natürlich ist das nicht neu. Als Jesus seinen Freunden das beibrachte, was wir das Vaterunser nennen, ging er durch eine bedrohte Gesellschaft und durch ein gefährliches Land. Die Römer besetzten das Land und erniedrigten das Volk. Die Juden sehnten sich nach und beteten für ihre Befreiung von dieser Unterdrückung durch das mächtige militärische heidnische Reich. Aber diese schwierige Situation dauerte schon seit einigen Jahrhunderten. Wann würde Gott ihre Gebete erhören? Warum war Gott, angesichts dieser Grausamkeit und Ungerechtigkeit, so still und schweigend?

Der Apostel Paulus lebte auch in einer Welt des Konflikts – immer noch vom römischen Reich dominiert. Als er seine Briefe schrieb – diejenigen, die wir im Neuen Testament haben – schrieb er bewusst an Menschen (Christen), die jeden Tag entdeckten, dass das alltägliche Leben oft durch Leiden, Unterdrückung und Angst geprägt ist … aber auch, dass Christen auch hier im Herz dieser komplizierten und oft schwierigen Welt die Gegenwart Gottes spüren dürfen. Auch hier in der Tiefe der realen Welt lernen wir zu beten. Das heißt, wir beten in der wirklichen Welt; wir beten nicht primär dafür, dass wir von dieser Welt befreit werden müssen.

Als die Freunde Jesu ihre eigenen Schriften lasen, entdeckten sie ein Vokabular der Hoffnung im Mund gewöhnlicher Menschen, die in der realen Welt darum kämpften, Gottes Ruf treu zu bleiben. Wie der Psalmist vor dreitausend Jahren sagte: “Wie können wir das Lied des Herrn in einem fremden Land singen?” Mit anderen Worten, wie können wir Lieder über Gott, den Schöpfer, Liebhaber und Erhalter aller Welt singen, wenn alles was wir sehen – alle Beweise unserer Augen – uns sagen, dass dieser Gott uns unserem Schicksal überlassen hat?

Diese Frage, durchzieht die ganze biblische Erzählung – die ganze biblische Geschichte. Genau diese Frage wird ständig aus dem Herzen der Christen und anderer gerissen, die sich nach Erlösung sehnen, nach Frieden schreien und um Heilung und Rettung beten. “Wie lange, o Herr, wie lange?”

Und hier kommen wir zum Kern dessen, worum es im Gebet geht. Es geht nicht darum, dass wir Gott um Dinge bitten, die all unsere Probleme im Hier und Jetzt lösen. Es geht auch nicht darum, Gott zu bitten, uns aus dem weltlichem Leben herauszuheben. Ja, wie die Psalmisten und Jesus selbst, sollten wir immer ehrlich mit Gott sein, und ihm sagen, was wir wirklich denken und wünschen. Es geht nicht darum, dass wir aus der Welt in ein beschütztes und reines Heiligtum flüchten möchten, in dem wir sicher und unbeschmutzt leben können. Das Vertrauen in diesen Gott bedeutet, dass wir dem Jesus nachfolgen, den wir in den Evangelien sehen. Inkarnation heißt: bewusst in die Welt einzutauchen, wie sie ist, und uns nicht davon zu befreien. Denkt an Weihnachten? Und an Ostern? Und an all das, was dazwischen weiterging?

Also, was ist Gebet für dich? Wie betest du? Was betest du? Und was erwartest du vom Gebet?

Lasst mich Ihnen eine kurze Geschichte erzählen.

Drei Männer wanderten in den Bergen. Sie kämpften sich ihren Weg durch die Bäume und versuchten, ihre Hütte vor dem Einbruch der Nacht zu erreichen. Plötzlich stießen sie auf einen reißenden Fluss. Das Wasser lief den Berg hinunter und die Männer hatten keine Ahnung, wie sie den Fluß überqueren sollten. Aber es gab keine Alternative – sie mussten unbedingt diesen Fluss überqueren, aber sie wussten nicht wie.

Der erste Mann betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker. Dann warf er sich in den Fluss hinein und schwamm auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer. Er brauchte zwei Stunden. Ein paar Mal ist er untergegangen und wäre fast ertrunken. Aber, endlich, ist es ihm gelungen, das Ufer zu erreichen, und er schleppte sich total erschöpft an Land.

Der zweite Mann beobachtete den ersten Mann und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft und die Mittel, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker; und ein Kanu tauchte vor ihm auf. Er paddelte eine lange Stunde durch das Wasser und schließlich, total erschöpft und nachdem er zweimal gekentert war, schleppte er sich aus dem Wasser und auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer.

Der dritte Mann hatte die zwei Freunde beobachtet und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, die Mittel… und die Intelligenz, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich verwandelte ihn Gott in eine Frau! Er schaute in seine Handtasche, holte eine Karte heraus, ging hundert Meter das Ufer entlang, und überquerte die Brücke.

Sind wir bereit im Gebet von Gott überrascht zu werden? Neue Einsichten zu spüren? Im Gebet geht es grundlegend darum, dass wir uns selbst öffnen – Körper, Geist und Seele – zu dem Gott, der uns schafft, uns liebt, uns erlöst und uns gestaltet. Zu dem Gott, der uns nicht von allem befreit, was die Welt auf uns werfen kann. Aber zu dem Gott, der uns immer noch ruft, unser Leben für seine Welt und sein Volk niederzulegen. Im Gebet bringen wir uns und unsere Welt – zu dieser besonderen Zeit und an diesem besonderen Ort – zu Gott und finden uns verändert, wenn wir beginnen, durch seine Augen auf das zu schauen, was wir sehen und was wir erfahren.

In seinem Brief an Timotheus lesen wir, wie Paulus den jungen Gemeindevorsteher Timotheus anweist, ständig für die Mächtigen zu beten. Mit anderen Worten, nimm nicht nur an deinem eigenen kleinen Leben teil, sondern richte deine Augen auf die weitere Welt, die eigene Gesellschaft und andere Gesellschaften und diejenigen, die sie formen und führen. Du wirst irgendwo hineinpassen; aber widerstehe diesen kleinen heutigen Göttern des Narzissmus, der Selbstverwirklichung und der Selbstzufriedenheit.

In unserem heutigen Evangelium (Joh 16, 23ff) hörten wir die Worte von Jesus – gerade bevor er zu seinem eigenen frühen und ungerechten Tod ging. Er versprach seinen Freunden, dass ihre Gebeten in seinem Namen erhört werden. Aber was bedeutet es, in seinem Namen zu beten? Nun, sein Name ist sein Charakter – wer er ist und wie er ist. Also, in seinem Namen zu beten heißt, auf eine Weise zu beten, die dem Charakter von Jesus selbst entspricht. Und er betete, dass er sich dem Willen Gottes anpassen könnte, selbst wenn das bedeutet, dass er den Weg an das Kreuz gehen muss und nicht dem Schmerz entgehen kann, den das Leben ihm auferlegt. Es bedeutet, wenn wir in seinem Namen beten, fangen wir an, so verwandelt zu werden, dass wir wie er aussehen und wie er klingen.

Dieses Thema ist ein konsequentes Thema in der Bibel. Die Menschen Israels wurden gewarnt, niemals Gott für selbstverständlich zu halten, sondern allmählich zu lernen, was es bedeutet, ihre Lebensweise, ihre theologische Weltanschauung und ihre Lebensgewohnheiten der Natur, den Prioritäten und dem Ruf Gottes näher anzupassen. Falls sie versagen, falls sie ihre grundsätzliche Berufung vergessen, werden sie dann alles verlieren, was zu ihnen von ihrer Identität spricht. Sie werden die Warnungen und die Ermahnungen der Propheten nicht mehr hören können oder wollen. Diese Menschen werden glauben, dass die Welt ihnen gehört, und werden dann ihre Fähigkeit verlieren, durch Gottes Augen hinaus zu schauen und sich um die Armen, Ausgegrenzten und Schwachen zu kümmern. Erinnern Sie sich an 5. Mose 26? Lassen Sie zehn Prozent Ihrer Ernten am Rand Ihrer Felder liegen, damit Reisende, Migranten und Enteignete etwas zu essen finden können. Bringen Sie die ersten zehn Prozent der Ernte zum Priester, und denken Sie daran, als du vor ihm ein Glaubensbekenntnis rezitierst und wieder erlebst, dass du auch einst ein Sklave warst, dass du einmal überhaupt nichts hattest, dass du einmal gerettet werden musste – dass du ein neues Leben haben musstest, aber das nicht aus eigener Macht gewinnen konntest.

Die Geschichte ist in der ganzen Bibel konsistent.

Paulus schreibt in seinem Brief an die Kirche in Rom so: “Ich ermahne euch nun, Brüder und Schwestern, durch die Barmherzigkeit Gottes, dass ihr euren Leib hingebt als ein Opfer, das lebendig, heilig und Gott wohlgefällig sei. Das sei euer vernünftiger Gottesdienst. Und stellt euch nicht dieser Welt gleich, sondern ändert euch durch Erneuerung eures Sinnes, auf dass ihr prüfen könnt, was Gottes Wille ist, nämlich das Gute und Wohlgefällige und Vollkommene.”

Wir sehen also, dass das Gebet zuerst dazu dient, uns zu verändern, nicht primär unsere Umstände zu ändern und unsere Wünsche zu erfüllen. Aus diesem Grund werden Christen nicht von Angst getrieben, sondern von Hoffnung angezogen – gezogen von dem Gott, der Christus von den Toten auferweckt und einer verwirrten Welt zugesagt hat, dass Tod, Gewalt und Zerstörung tatsächlich nicht das letzte Wort in dieser Welt haben.

Und das bringt uns zu dem Gebet, das Jesus uns gelehrt hat – das Gebet, das wir jeden Tag beten, und das Gebet, mit dem wir so vertraut sind, dass wir seinen radikalen Kern so schnell übersehen.

Vor Ostern habe ich an meinen Pfarrern – 700 von ihnen – einen Brief geschrieben und sie aufgefordert, ihre Gemeinden zu lehren, dieses Gebet anders zu beten. Ich höre oft, wie die Gemeinden dieses Gebet aussprechen, als würden die Worte bedeutungslos sein. Ich höre zum Beispiel: “Dein Reich komme, dein Wille geschehe …” statt: “DEIN Reich komme, DEIN Wille geschehe, auf Erden, wie im Himmel”. Mit diesen Worten bestätigen wir, das Caesar (der Kaiser) nicht der Herr der Welt ist. Wenn wir beten, dann passen wir unsere Gedanken, unsere Weltanschauungen, unsere Motivationen näher an Gottes Willen an. Das heißt Bekehrung, Konversion, Verwandlung. Es ist ein Prozess, kein Ereignis – deshalb müssen wir dieses Gebet jeden Tag beten. Wir müssen es beten, damit es am Ende anfängt, uns zu beten.

Eine Einladung zum Beten – sei es von Moses, dem Psalmisten, Jesaja, Jesus oder Paulus – bietet immer eine Chance an, überrascht und verändert zu werden – durch die Augen Jesu hinauszuschauen, mit seinen Ohren zu hören, und mit seinen Händen zu berühren. Der Vaterunser ist ein Aufruf zur radikalen Jüngerschaft. Es ist ein Ruf zu einem neuen Leben. Es ist eine Ermutigung, sich auf ein Abenteuer einzulassen. Und es ist eine Herausforderung, “durch die Erneuerung unseres Geistes transformiert zu werden”.

Seid beharrlich im Gebet und wacht in ihm mit Danksagung! Betet zugleich auch für uns…

This is the basic text of my sermon at the Commonwealth Service (with civic and multi faith attendance) at Leeds Minster this afternoon:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

This text from the New Testament begs a question. The Apostle Paul writes to the young and fragile Christian community in Philippi and urges them: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

But, what have they learned and received and head and seen in Paul?

Go back in his letter and he urges these Christians to live and behave in a supremely counter-cultural way. In chapter 2 he eyeballs those Christians who uncritically assume that their Roman citizenship gives them security, privileges and rights that other young Christians do not have. And he says to them that there must not be rankings within the Christian community: they need each other, and they need to recognise Christ in each other – which means the privileged and secure looking out for the interests of their deprived brothers and sisters, even if it means that they have to give up their own rights. First he says this:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Then he goes on to quote a hymn which begins:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” 

I quote this because our reading makes no sense without it. And I believe it enjoins an attitude and behaviour that other faiths will also want to encourage – rooted in selflessness, humility, self-sacrifice and generosity. It means looking after poor and vulnerable people, and it means challenging dominant cultural, social and economic assumptions that place privilege, selfishness and greedy self-fulfilment above all goods.

It doesn’t stop there. Paul’s encouragement recognises the tendency of human beings to lean in the wrong direction; but it also recognises the basic human need for interdependence, mutuality and selfless generosity.

In this context we must recognise the particular challenge of looking to the interests of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the face of the rise in anti-semitism. Half a century ago no one would have believed that we would today be seeing this rise in hatred. We need one another, and we need to look to the best interests of one another.

Unsurprisingly, these are the values and virtues (interdependence, mutuality and selfless generosity) that characterise what we call the Commonwealth of Nations. Unsurprising because, led by Her Majesty the Queen and shaped by a very fallible and complicated Christian history, the Commonwealth was born out of hard-won liberation from colonialism, freedom to choose a new way for nations to belong together, and a generosity of spirit in creating an association of equals in a world of enormous inequalities.

And the purpose of this unique body. The clue is in the title: a commitment to the COMMON good; pursuit of improvement and wealth for all; nations that are independent in polity, but know the need to interdepend with other nations on a small and fragile planet.

The Commonwealth of Nations is a rare and unusual beast. And the Heads of Government who met in London and Windsor this past week consciously belong to an intergovernmental organisation that is probably unique.

Established originally in 1931, it is a voluntary association of 53 sovereign states, most of them former British colonies or dependencies of those colonies. Its developed aim is to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law, individual liberty, free trade, peace, etc. It has a combined population of 2.4 billion people – one third of the world’s population – with 60% of this huge population under the age of 30.

This makes the Commonwealth a future-oriented body: the challenges of tomorrow concern the majority of the population – the young – whose future is at stake. And the decisions made by the Heads of Government this last week address real concerns and opportunities for the future, eschewing complacencies about the present or romanticism about the past.

So, peace, fairness, continuity, stability, mutual respect? Motherhood and apple pie? A gravy train on which politicians can see exotic places around the world and say bland things about the obvious? A club which affords benefits or kudos to small countries who need bigger brothers on whom to lean? Or a unique body of equals who come together to articulate and advocate for a better world – one in which, characterised by realism and mutual respect, nations of different sizes, ethnicities and histories dare to try to look through each others’ eyes and identify common causes and concerns … leading to the formulation of a common vision?

The Commonwealth of Nations is a body that should be proud of its history and constitution: growing out of colonial dominion into independent republics or nation states that recognise the balance between independence and interdependence on a small planet. Bound together by common historical phenomena and relationships, this unique association confers and commits in a way that goes beyond the usual political alliances and stakes a bolder moral claim because of a unique moral interdependence.

Now, some might say this is an idealised representation of a motley group of nations striving with mixed motives to strengthen their own futures. But, I beg to differ. Consider the communique issued yesterday following the meeting of the Heads of Government this last week. It addresses some serious issues under the following headings: a fairer future, a more prosperous future, a more sustainable future, a more secure future.

Fairness, prosperity, sustainability, security.

And what holds these together? There can be no security for me if my neighbour is not also secure. There can be no sustainability if security is compromised by greed, violence or unfairness. Fairness is meaningless without mutual prosperity and mutual security. You get the idea. These virtues – if that is what they are – depend upon mutuality and commonality. They assume that we need each other, and need to look to and to protect the interests of each other.

Look at the communique and we see that the following issues were discussed by the Heads of Government:

A fairer future

Gender equality and inclusion (youth, disability and ICT)

Strengthening democratic institutions and promoting peace

Migration

 

A more prosperous future

Multilateral trading system

Intra-Commonwealth trade and investment

Inclusive and sustainable economic growth

Small and vulnerable states

 

A more sustainable future

Vulnerability and climate change

Natural disasters

Oceans, energy, health, education, sport

 

A more secure future

Cyber

Chemical weapons

Preventing and countering violent extremism

Human trafficking and child exploitation

Serious and transnational organised crime

Urban crime/violence and gun crime

Youth

Commonwealth renewal

 

You see the range of these mutual concerns? And the recognition, both implicit and explicit here, that the big and affluent nations of the world cannot ignore the unique and particular challenges of the small ones: for example, that the industrialised nations, if they ignore their contribution to climate change, are partly responsible for smaller islands disappearing under raised sea levels.

When Her Majesty the Queen ascended the throne and succeeded to the role of Head of the Commonwealth she could not possibly have imagined either the opportunities or challenges of 2018. Cybercrime, for example, belongs to a world inconceivable to the founders of the Commonwealth. The communications revolution has brought the benefits of interconnectivity across the globe and, indeed, the universe; but, it has also led to massive identity issues for children and young people, in too many cases subjecting their self-esteem to the number of likes on Facebook. It could be argued that technological development – our ability to do things – has outpaced our moral capacity to comprehend or cope with new ethical challenges: in other words, just because we can do something does not mean that we should or must do it.

And this demonstrates both the success and importance of the Commonwealth: a community of interconnected and mutually accountable nations that opt into relationships that will stand as the world itself changes. The next meeting of the Heads of Government is scheduled to take place in 2020 in Rwanda – a country that saw the most appalling tribal violence erupt in 1994,  but that has  since then worked its way back into a more civilised world, emerging from a shocking form of hatred into a new relationship that does not ignore the past (or the roots of the genocidal violence), but refuses to be imprisoned by that past and seeks a different future. Of course, the story is not complete, and we should never be complacent in the present about the dangers of some future descent into horror. (Not a challenge simply for Rwanda, but but for any nation that stigmatises certain groups of people, driven by language that dehumanises or simply categorises.)

And the symbol of this continuity, consistency and constancy is the Queen herself. Her own commitment to duty has established a model of leadership that will stand any test of time. And she has used her moral authority, rooted in Christian commitment, to focus attention not on herself or her own virtues, but on what she calls in her letter (at the front of the order of service) the ‘common good’.

The Commonwealth should not be taken for granted. For many nations and peoples it offers hope that there can, indeed, be a future – a future that is not derived simply from the selfishnesses of the past or present, but one that allows for radical newness rooted in mutual dependence.

We celebrate the Commonwealth and the remarkable – probably unique leadership – of the Queen. But, we need today to renew our commitment – as a society, but also as individuals, to a collective ethic of belonging that is planted firmly in a selfless and generous looking to the interests of the other. May God bless us as we face this challenge and invitation today and as we together shape our common future.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (broadcast from Berlin and focusing on the impact on Germany of Brexit):

I was in Vienna recently and saw something that sums up the challenge of Germany in the last century. At one end of the Judenplatz is the haunting Holocaust Memorial by Rachel Whiteread; facing it, twenty metres away, is a statue of the philosopher, poet and Enlightenment hero Johann Gottfried Herder who re-shaped German education and culture. The question that cries out is this: how did Germany go from Herder to Hitler in a mere century?

This is the question that Germany has been unable to escape in the last seventy years or so. Walk around any German city and you will find yourself stepping on small brass plaques in the pavement bearing the name and dates of Jews deported to their deaths from the houses before which you now stand. They are everywhere – and they are called Stolpersteine: stumbling blocks that get in your way and compel you to face responsibility for what happened to your neighbours only a generation or two ago.

Because of its history Germany has had no option but to confront its past and choose its future. Yet, as time moves on and memory becomes history, revisionism becomes easier for some people. Recent changes in the political landscape come on the back of concerns about immigration in general and Islam in particular. Yet this phenomenon was almost inconceivable only a decade ago.

What it demonstrates is that human beings all too easily re-shape their worldview according to the world they now live in. We can accommodate all sorts of challenges to our ethics … until we find their foundation has been undercut and we have given away too much. Perhaps history teaches us that it is not a big step from ‘every human being matters’ to ‘some matter more than others’ to ‘these are not really people of value’.

If you go into Berlin Cathedral and look up at the dome, you will see in gold lettering words from the Lord’s Prayer: “Dein ist das Reich” – “Thine is the Kingdom”. I have sat there and thought of the generations of people – from the Second Reich through Weimar and the Nazis, through the GDR and the now-reunited Germany – and wondered what Christian worshippers thought that meant. And how could they so easily confuse the Kingdom of Caesar with the Kingdom of the Jesus we read about in the gospels? Whose Reich/Kingdom do we really serve?

The question goes to the heart of how human beings make sense of themselves and the world – and whether, when the heat is on, the foundation of our ethical frameworks is as sound as we like to think it is. Humility, generosity, loving your neighbour, protecting the weak – or self-preservation at all costs?

Every generation faces the same question. So does every nation.

 

* I originally wrote two scripts for this. The first I set in Weimar where you can stand by the statue of Herder and look to the hills beyond … and Buchenwald concentration camp. I decided this was not the right introduction, so went to Vienna instead. However, I didn’t change the statue from Herder to Lessing. Only one person pointed this out. It doesn’t change the point, but the error should be noted.