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Hallo again to all.

'Wherefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith'... Joyful obedience: the phrase almost italicised itself when we heard it this morning during the baptismal liturgy. Why this time it stood out, we've no idea.

It's one of those lovely-to-say-hard-to-do paradoxes that roll off the tongue, such as 'whose service is perfect freedom'. Long after church, we found 'joyful obedience' rattling round our head. Confess: How many people do you know in our beloved but near-to-broken Anglican Communion who are running about in joyful obedience?

Of course the phrase prompts the question: Obedient to whom? The catechetical response is: Our Lord Jesus Christ. But then, as they have through the ages, a host of questions (and schisms) can arise. One can say that the current sad state of the Communion is owing to differences amongst those being obedient to Christ. Obedience for us modern-day folk is often an alien concept. Not surprisingly we resist any effort to call us to heel, to remind us of our baptismal pledges or our ordination vows. And if we do promise obedience in formal contexts, most of us surely hope that we're not held to it. We'd like those whom we've pledged to obey to see things just as we do. No obedience required there. But alas, take Anglicans, add degrees of difference, heat to boiling, and ... throw in a pinch of joy? Not a common recipe.

If we disagree deeply with those who have some claim on our obedience—if our conscience so demands—then surely we must be willing to bear, also with joy, the consequences of that. For in such situations, we are choosing to be joyfully obedient to what we understand to be the teachings of Christ.

'There is something nobler than reluctant obedience: and that is joyful obedience', wrote the American cleric Henry van Dyke*. 'The rank of virtue is not measured by its disagreeableness, but by its sweetness to the heart that loves it. The real test of character is joy. For what you rejoice in, that you love. And what you love, that you are like'.

We're missing much sense of joy these days in our beloved church, rather seeing much distrust, much carping, much that approaches despair. If many of our disagreements have to do with what each of us determines Christ demands of us, surely we should see and sense far more of 'understanding sadness' than bitterness. If separation comes—if ever, whenever and however it comes—it should come because each of us (person, parish, or province) is following what we understand to be obedience to Christ. That should make us be regretfully resigned to the consequences, not acrimonious.

So often we see a possible disintegration of the Anglican Communion in terms of property and power. We often find the unredeemed sides of our nature (yes, that's us here at AO as well) attributing unworthy motives to those with whom we disagree. In an attempt to wrench ourselves at the beginning of this secular new year to a more Christian place, we'll do our level best to put the noblest possible construction on the motives of deeply differing Anglicans. Not as some disgustingly cheerful and naive code of behaviour, but rather a response to the high requirement of the First and Second Great Commandments. Those commandments stir us to commit once again to joyful obedience to our Lord and to feel ashamed when we forget His and their high requirements and, forgetting, stumble and fall. As we know, all but the damned get up and start again. So, with God's grace, will we: this year and every year.

As Dag Hammarskjöld wrote: 'Night is drawing nigh. For all that has been—Thanks! For all that will be—Yes!'

See you next week.

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Last updated: 7 January 2007

*Henry van Dyke, Joy and Power (1903)

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