A new Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, was installed at St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, on September 29. Here is an excerpt from his Installation Sermon, in part on Revelation 12 (“The great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it”):
Where, then, lurk the dragons of our day? What shape do they take? Where is the fire that consumes individuals, that destroys communities, that threatens goodness? Where are we deceived into choices that destroy?
Well, their name is legion!
There is that dragon called materialism which flies in company with its siblings, secularism and consumerism. This seduction would have us believe not only that life consists in the abundance of possessions but also that acquiring ever increasing volumes of things is both actually possible and good. Whereas the truth, according to one assessment, is that for everyone in the world to enjoy the same standard of living as is enjoyed in, say, Mosman in Sydney, we would need 7 planet earths to resource it.
There is that dragon – instrumentalism – which would have us believe that human beings can be used or disposed of to achieve whatever ends seem desirable. This dragon has many lairs in the debates about abortion and euthanasia, reproductive technologies and stem cell research. It takes flight in company with the argument that because science can – it should. Whereas the truth is that careful and deep reflection on the honour due to human life is necessary in all these situations.
The dragons of individualism and hedonism often take flight together. Where each individual becomes the centre, and that one’s pleasure becomes the yardstick, should we be surprised that isolationism and the fracturing of community are the offspring that soon spread their wings?
[The “alternative vision” of Christianity]
In a narcissistic culture we recognize that each person is created in the image of God. In an individualistic culture we recognize that we are called into relationships with God and with each other. In a hedonistic, consumerist culture we see that we find our lives by losing them and discover fulfillment by spending ourselves in service to God and others. In a culture sick from the abuse of power we see humility as virtue. In a fragmented world and church we affirm that we are reconciled across all divisions and boundaries.
Paradoxically, this mature, thoughtful, humble, discerning spirituality is the weapon that pierces the dragons’ apparently impregnable amour.
In fact, it already has. The struggle of the dragon to frustrate what is good and true reaches its climax on the cross. But it does not hold sway.
The manner of Jesus Christ’s life and death, ‘by the blood of the Lamb’ as St John puts it, is the peculiar power by which the dragon has been conquered.
Our vision of humanity born again, born from above, flows from that life. In fact the new vision was made flesh in Jesus Christ, a human life filled to the brim with heavenly life, divine life. This divine and human one fulfilled humanity’s upward reach in God’s downward stoop.
Our part in the outworking of the struggle is to abide in Christ, to grow up into him. That is, to be so united with him and with each other that the shape and character of his life – his humility, reverence and service – flows into ours, making us his healing, reconciling presence in the world.