Sermon delivered by The Very Rev’d Dr Jeffrey D. Gibson, Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Michael & All Angels, in the Cathedral on Sunday, April 8, 2018 on the occasion of the Barbados Labour Party’s 80th anniversary, Founders’ Day.
“But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.” Exodus 14:13
The season of Easter is, in my experience, the most exciting period in the Church’s life. It is a celebration of both the sacred and the secular. It was the Incarnation – God becoming human – that so intimately united the two. All other feasts reflect the same mysterious union.
The Old Testament reading, together with that of the Gospel, emphasizes the sacred element of the celebration. There is the appearance of the risen Christ, the offer of the kingdom of peace, the investing with the Spirit, and Thomas’ expression of belief in the utterly transcendent event. The world of the disciples has been caught up in the world of God.
However, it is not an unreal world. There is the ‘pro nobis’ effect here – pray for us we cry! The reality of “down-to-earth” sins is faced; they are to be forgiven and a fullness of life is promised to those who believe. In the Exodus experience, a similar double observance may be noted. The mighty hand of God in bringing deliverance to the people who were once under the bondage of Pharaoh cannot be questioned.
There is the beautiful image of divine guidance and protection, but at the same time the people were mindful of their own limitations against the mighty and more powerful forces of Egypt; the scarcity of the wilderness in contrast to the abundance of the land from which they had fled. Nevertheless, they were reminded that the deliverance was not their doing; instead, it was the work of God who would accomplish what had been started.
The sacred does not destroy the secular; in fact, it only serves to ennoble and consecrate it. Those elements of our world that we more readily recognize as secular, we can speak confidently about because in the Exodus experience and in the Resurrection event, God was doing a good thing. In the former, God brought deliverance from bondage, through the Red Sea, to the land of promise; in the latter, God brought deliverance from sin, through the water of baptism, to the gift of eternal life.
On this second Sunday of Easter, in this celebration, we have an opportunity to affirm God’s active presence in the world: religion and politics, the sacred and the secular come together, as we open ourselves to embrace who God is calling us to be, and what God is calling upon us to do at this critical juncture in our Nation’s history.
We are at the crossroads in both the Anglican Church and in the State; in seventeen days’ time, the Synod of the Diocese of Barbados will meet to elect the fourteenth Bishop of the Diocese. Significantly, in the not too distant future, the electorate in our country will be called upon to select a new administration to govern the affairs of State.
Some may say that this is a happy coincidence. However, people of faith may very well see it as a divine opportunity for faith and politics, the sacred and the secular, to experience God’s liberating presence to bring new life to our nation. Church and State have worked collaboratively over the years to fashion us as a people with a passion for justice and a commitment to each other in the pursuit of the common good.
The relationship today is obviously different since the Legislature passed the Partial Suspension Act, on December 24, 1955. On April 1, 1969, Parliament passed the Church Act for the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Anglican Church. However, these two pillars have formed the bedrock for our country’s development through the years.
On the one hand, the State has provided the social cohesion, balance, and justice; on the other hand, the Anglican Church has set the moral tone – what I have spoken of in terms of providing ‘an integrating moral centre’: love of God and love of neighbour as we develop our beloved country. The State offering justice and the Church, offering love; and together, we work for the fulfilment of each person’s dreams and an integrated society wherein unity would be an actuality in every aspect of social life.
Regrettably, somewhere along the path of our development, ‘we have dropped the baton’. Instead of integration, there is now individualism; instead of cohesion, there is now disintegration; and, instead of the pursuance of the common good, there is now a resurgence of narrow interest groups competing for the goods.
What do I see as the role of the church in its working relationship with the state? It is brilliantly captured in the words of the late US civil rights leader, The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King. He said: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
Certainly, for the Anglican Church going forward, that is the position I would like to see it adopt. So what does this celebration of the sacred and the secular, faith and politics say to us at this Eastertide? Perhaps, it is a call for genuine renewal at both levels as we open ourselves to allow the light of Easter to dispel the darkness which surrounds us, the march to freedom to allow us to leave behind the signs of oppression, and to embrace the symbols of new life and to bury the images of death. Resurrection is about hope, new life and new beginnings.
For there to be hope, new life and new beginnings for both church and country and to enable positive movement beyond the crossroads, there must be, first and foremost, visionary leadership. Visionary leadership which inspires,motivates, and facilitates a search for realistic, relevant and meaningful solutions to the challenges we collectively face.
Visionary leadership is not defined by fancy rhetoric that sounds sweet to the ears but which the brain finds disappointingly lacking in substance. The proof is always found in the results. Both at the level of state and church, visionary leadership is required to produce a clearly thought-out plan or strategy to take us from where we are now, to where we wish to be in the future.
It must promote an inclusive approach that brings our people together, heals divisions, and draws on our strengths so that there is broad-based support and cooperation among the relevant stakeholders for the common good. The changing times in which we live mean we can no longer continue business as usual.
If we do so, we are at great risk of continuing to see the same results which are the source of our current disappointment and frustration. We need to be bold, we need to be courageous, we need to be imaginative, innovative and fearless if we are to open up new frontiers for the continued development of both church and state.
The world of today is not the world of 10 years ago. It is fundamentally different and the forces which are driving this dynamic process of change are the forces of technology and globalization. We ignore these developments to our peril. Adjustment and adaptation to the reality of globalization require a perspective which is global and local at the same time. In other words, how can we effectively pursue our local interests taking into account the changing global environment which will have some inevitable impact?
As a Christian, I believe a great opportunity exists for a true renaissance of both state and church in Barbados. In the text for this sermon, taken from Exodus which I quoted at the beginning, Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.’It is a warning about the negative effects of fear.
There is a lot of fear in Barbados. Fear causes us to have self-doubt. Fear stops us from moving forward. It causes us to settle for mediocrity when, with just a little more effort, we could have easily reached the pinnacle of excellence. Jesus warns us about the danger of becoming captives of fear. He said he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Fear can deny us of the opportunity of attaining this abundant life of which Jesus speaks.
This thanksgiving service coincides with the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Barbados Labour Party. It is noteworthy that Moses was 80 years old when he was called by God and given the assignment of delivering the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Interestingly, your founder leader, the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, was referred to by the oppressed Barbadian masses of the 1930s, 40s and 50s as Moses.
In this the BLP’s 80th year, and on the eve of a general election, the question you must seriously ask yourselves, is this: are we similarly being called to assume national leadership to point the way to a new beginning? Your answer to this question will dictate your response to this historic opportunity.
Eighty years speak to maturity and experience, from which flows wisdom. Without visionary leadership, underpinned by maturity, experience, and wisdom along with a strong track record of achievement, we will remain on the present path and will essentially be gambling with the future. This applies equally to both state and the church at this critical juncture.
We must seize the opportunity for a new beginning. It is clear that the people are asking for it. The challenge to both state and church, certainly the Anglican Church, is to answer the call, move beyond the crossroads and begin a true renaissance journey. In the weeks ahead, may the Spirit of God guide us to make the wise and right decision!
Moses said to the people: ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!