Sermon at the SPCK Founder’s Day
Feb 15, 2022, St James-the-Less, Pimlico, London
By Graham Kings
Many thanks for your invitation to preach today.
I love the story of a bishop visiting a residence home for older people. Dressed in his cassock, he bent down to a woman seated in an armchair and asked, “Do you know who I am?” She replied, “No. but if you ask the warden, I’m sure she’ll tell you.”
Identity and resilience, we shall see today, are closely connected.
It is a joy to be with you for your Founder’s Day, celebrating the life and vocation of Thomas Bray. Bray was born in 1658 and founded SPCK in 1698 and SPG, now known as USPG, in 1701. He died on this day in 1730 and we give thanks to God for him. I also give thanks to SPCK and USPG for your support in the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project.
I am delighted we are celebrating in St James-the-Less, Pimlico, and have known and admired the creativity and resilience of your vicar, Lis Goddard, since 2003.
Our theme is “Resilience,” which may be taken to imply “the wherewithal to withstand anything that life throws at you.” When I hear that word, I immediately think of a Kiswahili proverb based on women in the marketplace. It is a favorite of my wife, Alison:
Haba na haba hujaza kibaba — little by little fills the tin.
You just keep on keeping on, bit by bit.
This morning I’m going to be ruminating on resilience in our readings, resilient people, resilience in our archives and finally nurturing resilience.
Resilience in our Readings
With that proverb in mind, let us turn to our readings to contemplate resilience.
I chose Luke’s version of Jesus’s explanation of the parable of the sower because he adds an extra Greek word to Mark’s earlier version, hypomonē. This is translated “patient endurance,” but could also perhaps be translated “resilience”:
But as for the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. (Luke 8:15)
This word hypomonē is also a favorite Paul’s. He builds it into the center of his beautifully rhetorical, cumulative case of character-building behavior, following justification by faith. Having laid the foundation of that doctrine in Romans 1-4, Paul now begins building the structure of it in Romans 5.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And not only that, but we also boast of our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [that is the word hypomonē ] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom. 5:1, 3-5)
Let Paul’s cumulative argument sink in: suffering leads to resilience, which produces character, which produces hope, which comes from God’s love poured into us by the Holy Spirit.
When you are stuck and feel like giving in, remember these knock-on effect links: suffering, resilient endurance, character, hope.
I was involved with others, in the Anglican Inter-Faith Network, in producing the Anglican Communion book, Out of the Depths: Hope in Times of Suffering (Anglican Consultative Council, 2016). The first chapter sets the scene on the Global Context of Persecution, and then there follow three chapters on that theme in Scripture, in Tradition and in Reason before a conclusion with resources for worship.
In the introduction, I set out a “spectrum of persecution” with stages moving from:
‘Harassment’, where people have subtle consistent pressure put upon them; to ‘subjugation’, where they are kept down, as a lower class in law; to ‘persecution’, where they are physically and violently attacked, by individuals or the state; to ‘martyrdom’, where they are killed for their faith or for standing for justice; to ‘annihilation’, where whole peoples are wiped out; and finally to ‘obliteration’, where the original existence of the annihilated peoples is denied, or airbrushed out of the picture – such as the destruction of Armenian churches and artefacts in Turkey. (Out of the Depths, pp.11-12) [/End]
When I hear the word resilience I also think of two people whom we know from living in the foothills of Mount Kenya, at St Andrew’s College Kabare, 1985-91.
I’m delighted that Lion Hudson is now part of SPCK, because each of our students at Kabare received softback copies of the Lion Handbooks to the Bible, to the Christian Church, to Doctrine and to Christianity as a World Faith, as well as all the TEF Study Guides commentaries of SPCK.
Mama Gacoki, the mother of Gacoki who helped us in the garden, is now well into her 90s. Up until last year she still did some basic farming. Amazing. We last saw her in August 2018, after our middle daughter, Miriam, married Munene, a Kikuyu from Kabare. Mama Gacoki is resilient in her farming work, her bringing up of children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. She is also resilient in her faith in Jesus Christ, which she has passed on to them.
Bishop David Gitari, later Archbishop of Kenya, survived an assassination attempt on his life at midnight on 22 April 1989. He had the resilience to preach at a confirmation service the very next day at Embu Cathedral on 2 Tim 1.7: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, love and self control.”
Resilience in Archives
Thomas Bray founded and supported 80 parish libraries in England and Wales and 39 in America.
I have fond memories of October 12, 1998, when the SPCK archives and library were officially opened as a special collection in the Cambridge University Library. At my suggestion Peter Fox, the University Librarian, and his staff, had worked for two years with Paul Chandler, the head of SPCK, concerning this move from Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone Road, London to the University Library.
Last Wednesday, I was studying these SPCK archives in the UL. The Keeper of Rare Books, Dr Suzanne Paul, is kindly beginning work on an exhibition of items from the UL’s special collections of the SPCK, the Bible Society and the Royal Commonwealth Society. This will coincide with the Summer Institute of the Cambridge Centre for Christianity WorldWide, 18-22 July this year, on “Grief, Resilience and Hope Amid the Pandemic.”
In an SPCK minute book of 1717, I found details of significant donors to SPCK. It listed first “Nobility,” then “Gentry,” then “Ladies,” and then others. First in the list of Nobility was, unsurprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury (William Wake) who gave £32. That was a lot of money. I looked up on an online inflation register and that, in today’s money, is worth £7,139. Sam Richardson, how about asking Archbishop Justin for that equivalent of £32 in 1717? Just a fund raising idea…
In 1712, SPCK shipped out to the Danish Lutheran Tranquebar Mission, in South India, a printing press with type, paper, ink, and accompanied by an experienced printer. What an extraordinary moment in ecumenical mission.
This was at the request of Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg, the Lutheran missionary and translator of the New Testament into Tamil. The sheer resilience of Ziegenbalg in learning Tamil, translating the New Testament into it and organizing the publication of the Tamil New Testament, is astounding.
On August 8, 1718, his wife, Mary Dorothy, wrote to Thomas Wooley, Secretary of the East India Company, in “high Dutch,” to accompany some books and linen she was sending to London. In the SPCK archives, the translation of part of her letter reads:
I send four rolls of striped muslin for an apron to Magdalene, because she waited upon my dear Mama in her sickness with great fidelity.
Now, archival nursing resilience was also in the news yesterday. The Times published extracts from the diary of Anthea Allen, a critical care nurse, which she kept during the height of the pandemic last year. The online title is, “Inside the Covid Tsumani” and this is a quotation from January 9, 2021:
Lockdown, Tier 3, Tier 4, Tier 5…and still we keep going. We are running out of everything – we are running out of resilience… The monumental physical and emotional load is hard to bear, and it is getting harder. I spent five minutes I didn’t have chatting with a single mum. She was worried about her young son who was being cared for by a neighbour, as her family all live in Scotland…During our conversation I saw that her ECG monitoring cables were on back to front, and her arterial line had not been calibrated.
So, how do you nurture the “wherewithal to withstand anything that life throws at you”?
When I was vicar of St Mary’s Islington, Alison was a psychotherapist working with the NHS in Newham in the East End of London. She worked especially with Tamil Sri Lankans, who had experienced trauma during the Sri Lankan civil war. She used to ask them about their memories of childhood, before the trauma of war. One remembered the joy of riding a bike in the garden and gradually this nurtured his resilience.
This going back before the trauma is important. As is going back to the Scriptures: especially remembering the Psalms. Try it. Try memorizing a whole Psalm. Perhaps begin with Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down, and when I rise up.
You discern my thoughts from afar.
I began with a Kiswahili proverb and I conclude with a Mexican one:
“They thought they’d buried us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Resilience in the present is rooted in the past of our justifying faith in Jesus Christ and in the future hope, which God assures about by his Holy Spirit. With that rootedness in the past, and that hope in the future, may we continue with resilient, patient endurance.
Our first reading was from Romans 5. In Romans 15:13, Paul writes a beautiful prayer, with which I leave you:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.