Archbishop Linda Nicholls

New Year’s Day sermon by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada

The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada preached the following sermon—via video link—at the New Year’s Day Choral Morning Prayer for Christmastide at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa. A video of the Livestream can be found here.

Although January 1st is an arbitrary marker in chronological time—it always feels like the beginning of something new. For a few weeks we will work to remember to write 2022 instead of 2021—a new year with new possibilities. It is often marked by the making of resolutions—a chance to begin again. Commitments to: live in a new way that will be healthier, happier, more productive, etc.; quit smoking; exercise more; change diet; save money; or, maybe bigger commitments to relationships and work—change vocations.  Arbitrary or not, the beginning of the year invites reflection on our lives and the opportunity to consider our commitments. You are also in the midst of the 125th Anniversary celebrations for the Diocese of Ottawa. Anniversaries call us to reflect on the past and present and ask how they inform our commitment to the future.

Reflection however requires some way to measure—in order to choose one way over another—to set values and priorities for the future. What is the measure we use to look at the past year or the past 125 years? Whether we like it or not we are deeply influenced by social and cultural values of where we live and these often have shaped our choices and responses. The influence of advertising; the manipulation of social media to cater to our desires—and social pressures to look and be like the successful are strong! However, we are also children of God—baptized followers of Jesus Christ—committed to see ourselves and the world through the lenses of God’s values—and that changes everything.

We have made our commitment to Christ through baptism—through public commitment, with the whole of God’s people, to a way of life summarized in the Baptismal Covenant.

Whenever I meet with baptism or confirmation candidates, I invite them to remember that baptismal covenant—to return to it as the touchstone for reflecting on their lives when they are unsure or need to reaffirm their commitment. That covenant is our commitment to live God’s way in a world which does not—yet—reflect God’s reign. At every baptism or confirmation, the whole congregation renews that covenant—because we need to be reminded and encouraged…

We were all baptized at different times in the year—so maybe January 1st is an appropriate time for everyone together to renew—particularly as it is the time when Jesus, as a babe, was circumcised and named and through that sign entered the covenant of his people with God. So I invite you today to join with me in reflecting on that covenant in the light of the past year; the history of your diocese and the beginning of this new year.

The baptismal covenant begins with the declaration in the Apostle’s Creed of what we believe about God—about Jesus and the Spirit—a brief summary of salvation history. In it we join with centuries of Christians in declaring our commitment to knowing this world as God’s creation; to Jesus as God incarnate, whose life is a witness to faithful living and whose death and resurrection are an eternal promise; and, to the Spirit—comfort, guidance, strength and grace. This is God’s world—created, loved, redeemed. That may be hard to reconcile with the events of the past year, with all of the suffering we have seen or experienced through the pandemic; through natural disasters brought on by climate change; and so much uncertainty in every part of our lives. The power of human sin is strong and the cumulative power of our blindness to the needs of the creation is overwhelming. That is why the creed is followed by the six questions that declare how we will live to witness to what we have just said in the Creed. How will in our lives show what our lips have just declared in the Creed?

In these questions we commit to action and witness interwoven with our relationships with other people—individuals and communities and human systems—and with creation itself. Our entire lives are summed up in these questions—our relationships with others in family and those in our wider community: town, city, province, country and the world. How we live into these questions engages our lifestyle; our financial management; our political choices; our public engagement.

There are some who say religion should be kept strictly separated from other areas of life—especially politics—and kept in a secret, private sphere only. But our faith informs how we believe human communities should live together—treat one another—and govern our communities—because it is all about relationships, beginning with God and extending to all God created and loves.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ must inevitably affect the choices we make for what is good and life-giving for ourselves and others will require discernment. Our faith does not tell us which politicians or political parties are to be followed—it does tell us the principles and values that inform a God-shaped life that serves the common good—for our decisions are meant to promote life for all God’s children—not just the ones who look like us; or follow Jesus like us.

When the Israelites were in exile the prophet Jeremiah reminded them to settle in the cities to which they had been deported and to ‘…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ (Jeremiah 29:7)

In Mark we hear the great commandment that includes, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:30-31).

In Philippians, leading into today’s reading, we hear; ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…’ (Philippians 2:4-5).

And in 1 Corinthians ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ (1 Corinthians 12:7)

John Pierce, an online commentator, wrote: ‘While God loves and cares for each of us, individually, there is no such thing as self-serving Christianity. To follow Jesus is to voluntarily give up one’s self-focus for the common, communal good of all created in the image of God, especially those without power.’

This idea of the ‘common good’ is embedded in the Gospel, a core principle. To be a follower of Jesus is to be turned outward to the well-being of humanity—it is why: we must be concerned for vaccine equity for the globe not just for Canadians; we must care about clean water for all people; we must pay attention to the impact of our waste in other parts of the world; we must care about justice and peace and the dignity of all people; we vote in ways we believe will make that possible; we advocate with governments for social change for the good of all—housing, addiction needs; and, why we take a casserole to a sick neighbour, shovel the driveway of an elderly parishioner and give respite to a harried mother or burdened caregiver.

This week we learned of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Surely in this man—this Christian—we saw someone who embodied his baptismal faith fully and passionately. Always exuding joy in life; attentive to all whom he met—rich or poor, black or white or brown, young or old; challenging to any practice of injustice wherever it was found; and, faith-filled. The Archbishop of Canterbury said this about him: ‘It was Jesus’ love we saw in his eyes, Jesus’ compassion we heard in his voice, Jesus’ joy we heard in his laughter, Jesus’ face we saw in his face. And it was beautiful and brave.’

Every diocese has its own DNA, and the Diocese of Ottawa has been infused with a commitment to the community through ministries that pay attention to the wellbeing of those around you. That commitment to the common good is embedded in your life.  As I read your December Crosstalk—I read the stories of refugee ministry; food and meal programs; pastoral care and counselling; supportive care for the homeless, especially women and children and more. And you take seriously the ongoing work of anti-racism education and training. Living in faith invites continuous discernment as the world around us shifts and changes and new concerns or needs arise. Who is missing in our midst? Whose voice is crying out for justice or compassion? I am grateful that your diocese has a demonstrated capacity to do that—and a new year into the next 125 years will invite more.

I know you are also in the midst of discerning strategic direction for parish ministry as we face radical shifts in engagement with traditional models of Church. Bishop Shane Parker, in his charge to Synod last Fall, desires the diocese to see itself as ‘collectively strong, resilient, and resource-filled’. None of the baptismal promises require a particular model of church structure or building or ministry in order to be fulfilled—the challenge is to release our expectations and open hearts and minds to the creativity of the Spirit! What will a strong, resilient, resource-filled diocese look like in 2022? It will require every member living daily in their baptismal promises—caring for the common good—and living joyfully with God.

We stand on the cusp of a new calendar year; on the day of remembrance of the Naming of Jesus; in a celebration of the 125th Anniversary of this diocese seeking to be faithful as followers of Jesus; and, as those that are marked—by the sign of baptism—to live another year immersed in the Gospel.

I invite you to join with me in renewing your commitment to what you have promised—reflecting on the baptismal questions: How will your life fulfill these promises in 2022? How will the life of your diocese fulfill these promises in 2022? How will your lives—like that of Desmond Tutu—reflect the character and call of God—and let the light of Christ shine through with joy?

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?

People I will, with God’s help.

May God who has granted you the courage to make these promises grant you the strength and resilience to live into them each day in your family, work, parish and diocese! Amen.

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