Archbishop of Canterbury: New Orleans Sermon on Gratitude

Every city, every community at one point or another has to ask itself what do we owe to one another? What do we owe to one another? People speak don't they about the contract between people and government and they notice it when it's noted there.

People speak about the recognition of dignity owed to one another. About the respect that we owe to one another.

But I wonder whether or not we're not missing some thing? When I say to a friend, I owe you one, it's away of saying thank you.

And perhaps the bottom line is that what we owe to one another most deeply of all, is gratitude. Not even respect. Not even the recognition of dignity so much as gratitude.

We are indebted to one another. I am indebted for your existence. Because I would not be myself without you.

And a society, a community, a city that can get to that level of recognition, is one that lives from a deeper place than one that simply talks about contract or even respect.

And it's this perspective which I believe, this perspective above all that the church brings to bare. Because the church is a community which lives from and in gratitude.

And if the church does not live by thanksgiving, I don't know what the church lives by. And when the church fails as it so often does to live from thanksgiving, I wonder whether it lives at all.

Why is it that the most central and important action we do as christians is called the thanksgiving? That's the well spring of who we are and what we are.

So as christians we recognize our indebtedness to one another. My indebtedness to you for just being there. Never mind anything else.

And the gospel reading opens up that further and deeper dimensions which says that what we owe to one another is exactly what we owe to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who gives us life, Jesus Christ has given us a new creation, the humanity renewed, restored and reset that we are celebrating tonight.

Jesus Christ gives us hope. Who gives us the capacity to move away from our fears. Who gives us the strength and the joy to (inaudible).

We owe Christ big time as they say.

And the gospel tells us that it's that level of owing, that level of indebtedness that we have to try to introduce into our relations with one another.

Because the other who waits for us, especially in the stranger, in the naked, in the sick, in the imprisoned, the stranger who waits for us, the neighbour who waits for us, waits for us with a gift of life given within them. Without them we will not live.

And that is why of course in this city at the moment the absences are so painful.

It's not just a matter of filling up the space. It's not just a matter of rebuilding the houses, it's a matter of those people to whom the city is indebted for it's life not being there.

That's the wound, that's the reality. People are not having the opportunity to live into it, express the gratitude of the indebtedness that they owe.

So, in the work that is done for the reconstruction of this city's life, for the renewal and restoration and recentering in God for the life of these people of this great city, let's pray that gratitude will be a part of it.

So that we feel the absences for what they are. An absence of that unique reflection of Christ's face, which each absent person could be giving to us, could be ministering into our lives.

I said a little while ago, my indebtedness for you is really just because you're there. Not entirely because you're all wonderful, but I'm sure you all are.

Not because you're all successful. Not because you're all like me, thank God. It's just that you are there.

And that gets me back to our first reading of this evening and to a wonderful, invocative image there. That tells us some thing of biblical idea of the healthy city; the living community. Thus says the Lord of Host. Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hands because of their great age and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

What in biblical terms makes a great city a Godly city? Is it businesses? It's arts? It's educational system? It's social welfare? It's commercial services? No, not really.

What makes a great and Godly city is that it's a safe place for old people to sit and children to play in the streets. What a long way we are from that great and Godly city in most of the cities we in habit in our present day world.

That's the biblical mission. That's what the city of God is like. Because when we start asking about profit and success in the city, we're saying our fellow citizens are there to be celebrated, they are there for our gratitude. They are there for our life.

And to see the old and the young, the people who are not necessarily part of the system of profit the people are not going to be useful to us for any particular reason to see them, there secure in the city. Isn't that a side of the health, the life and the Godliness of a community?

So let our second prayer be that in the renewal and restoration and recentering of this human community, that will be part of the goal.

That will be a part of what we seek and pray for and work for. A place where the old and the young are valued for what they are.

The old and the young very often in our modern society are seen as outside the main stream of real life. Real anxious, overworked, life.

The children who have time to play and the old who have time to sit. There are many forces in our modern society which would quite like to see them relegated out of site.

So we wouldn't have to think about that terrible frightening fact that leisure, enjoying who we are and who each other is in the presence of God, is all being well what we should be spending eternity doing.

And the old and the young will help us remember that. And help us get used to it. However frightening it is.

A humility renewed, restored, recentered in God, is a humanity where we know how to pay our debts to one another joyfully and gratefully.

Not in the spirit of I see duty. And so often that's how we use the duty owe, isn't it?

But in that deeper sense, I owe you because I am grateful. Because I have a gift from you, that some how I need to better myself absorb, so that I maybe by God's grace able to give it to you as well.

That is what we pray for and we pray for it's manifestation in a civic life, which is peaceful and welcoming for those, the old and the young who remind us what we're here for as human beings.

For gratitude, for joy. For contemplation. For that life giving idleness dare I say it, perhaps the big easy is a place in which I am allowed to say that. That life giving idleness that reminds us about a pentence on a giving, active God, the stillness is at the same time ever lasting over flow of imagining.

Thus says the Lord of Host even though it seems impossible to the remnants of his people in these days should if also seem impossible to me says the Lord of Host.

Well, let us say no, all things are possible with God.

And let us pray for God ever lasting stillness, ever lasting giving. Let us pray that we maybe worthy debtors to him and to one another, as we seek to renew the life of this city.

Let us pray to see again the streets of the city full of boys and girls playing.

In the name of God, amen.

(c) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams