2022 International Prayer Breakfast Remarks

The Right Reverend Andrew Williams – Bishop to the Anglican Diocese in New England September 13, 2022


Thank you, Ambassador Mlynár for your kind words of introduction. It is a great privilege and

joy to join you for this annual Prayer Breakfast – and how good it is to be able to be together in

person. When I was with you in 2019, I recall being struck by the Norman Rockwell mosaic that

hangs in the UN building entitled “Golden Rule.” The work was presented to the UN in 1985 as a

gift on behalf of the United States by then First Lady Nancy Reagan. The mosaic weighs half a

ton and depicts people of different nationalities coming together. And Jesus’ words “Do unto

others as you would have them do unto you” is inscribed on the surface. Speaking at the

rededication ceremony, the former Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said of Rockwell’s

work, “It reflects humanity – the wondrous mix of nationalities, creeds and colors but it also

reflects the very essence of our mission as set out in our Charter. At its core, the work is about

narrowing the gap between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be,” Of this art

piece, Rockwell said, “Once in a while I get an uncontrollable urge to say something serious.”

The golden rule is an intellectual tour de force. In Jesus’ words we have, arguably, the greatest

ethical maxim ever devised. It is breathtakingly brilliant. The only measure Jesus sets up is us.

The golden rule takes our own sense of self-preservation and then redeploys it for the good of

others. Rockwell’s painting bears the truth is that we are all are born with our own cultural

baggage: We are: who we were born as, where we were born, how we were raised. Our

problem is that it is too easy to get stuck inside that person, causing us to focus on how we are

being treated. When we are asked, “How did your day go?” our response is typically formulated

in response to an entirely different question: “How did people treat us?” The golden rule turns

that on its head and asks, “How did you treat others?” The golden rule invites us to crawl inside

another person’s life and see and experience the world through his or her eyes. Martin Luther,

the great German reformer, said of the golden rule, “It was certainly very clever of Christ to

state it this way.” It was and remains so clever. So brilliant! So perfect and so clear . . . so why

don’t we actually do it?!


The golden rule proves the poverty of the argument that says, all you have to do is give people

instruction and tell them what to do –then they will understand and put the rule into practice.

As wise, experienced influential global leaders – let me ask you – seriously - how is that working

out for you? The golden rule has been within the intellectual grasp of humanity for two

thousand years – and the last two hundred years we have taken gargantuan leaps in science and

technology – and still we fail to live by it. And this, then, is the human tragedy—that the

common humanity we share is fundamentally based on the denial of a common shared



And sadly, often what looks like the application of the golden rule is in fact a kind of “fool’s gold”

– it might look shiny but in truth it is plain old vanity, pride and self interest with a coat of

metallic paint. Let me give you an example. I am sure this is common only to me. Consider all

those moments on the freeway, when you are travelling painfully slowly, and cars are seeking to

merge into the lane that you are occupying. I like to think of myself as a generous driver. In that

moment, because I am so generous of heart, I deign to let a vehicle in. “Look children! Pay

attention world – let this be a lesson in how to drive according to the Golden rule! Yes – you –

stranded, pescatarian driver in the Silver Metallic Prius – come enter the freeway through the

gracious archway that is my munificence!” But then, suddenly, the chili pepper Red Tesla

immediately behind the Silver Metallic Prius attempts to scandalously take advantage of my

magnanimous driving and cut in too. “Not you – wretched interloper!” And one has to speed up

a little bit to teach the bounder some manners! For I am indeed a magnanimous practitioner of

the Golden rule (especially when I have an audience) but I am not that magnanimous!

This is a seemingly trivial example, yet it bears out the sad truth that, left to our own devices,

we cannot help but at best be covertly self-centered – even when we want to appear “other

centered.” The apostle Paul may not have driven in New York traffic, but he was personally, very

familiar with this human dilemma. Even he would write, “For I have the desire to do what is

good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want

to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)

Our own moral compass is not enough to trigger the fullness of the golden rule. We short circuit

the golden rule by getting stuck in the mire of our own self-centeredness. In the operation of

this simple moral rule, left to our own devices, we can’t get past the “Me” part.

Up to his neck in the quicksand of his own self-interest Paul recognizes He needs rescuing. He

needs something or someone to pull him out of the mire. He cries out, “What a wretched man I

am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But then he is thrown a line.

With relief, he cries out, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

(Romans 7:25)


Yes, Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” And yes, the rule is

morally perfect, but Jesus knew that in all our moral imperfection, we could not make it. So, he

offers us His lifeline. He says, “As I have loved you, love one another…” (John 13:34). Our

golden rule dilemma is that we are starting at the wrong place. We don’t begin with the

application of the golden rule - we begin with Jesus’ love for you.

Jesus assures us, “As I have loved you….” How does that help me? This sounds like another

impossibly high standard. Paul goes on to tell us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,

it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the

truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”(1

Corinthians 13: 4-7) And that can be difficult to hear because we know that we don’t live up to

that standard. But that is to misunderstand the intention of this passage. First and foremost,

what we find here, is a description of how Jesus loves you. Paul’s words are a tender,

passionate, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary revelation of Jesus' love for you.

Jesus’ love for you is not some sentimentally pious, vanilla, passive aggressive kind of “love” but

a furious love. What I mean by that is not “furious’ in the sense of “wrathful” – but furious in

the sense of a love that is passionate, vehement, unstoppable, tenacious, tremendous,

supreme, tender, compassionate, gentle, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary. This is the love

that, in extraordinary humility, comes to you first. This is the love that knows full well that the

high words on our lips don’t match the low thoughts in our hearts – yet He still comes to us in

love. The love that, in all humility, will ride into our self-deceit and still love us. The love that

knows that we will deny Him and yet still He intervenes in love. Could you believe that? Could

you trust such a love? The love that passionately, vehemently, unstoppably, tenaciously,

tremendously, supremely, tenderly, compassionately, gently, extraordinarily, explosively comes

to you. The love that will literally intervene in your life, again and again and again to save and

rescue you – to bring you back to the power and profundity of His love.

The love that can tell the difference between what you say and what you truly feel and will still

come to you. The love that comes to you not in condemnation but in mercy. The love that laid

down its life that you might be saved and restored to new life. If we are looking for any other

sort of love in Jesus Christ, we will miss it.

And it is not just the knowledge of such a love. Not even the intellectual assent to such a love. It

is our heart’s encounter with Jesus’ radical, scandalous love for us that that suddenly makes the

golden rule a supernatural possibility. Not because we suddenly got nicer – but because the

furious love of God begins to unstoppably flow through us to others. In the profound security of

God’s love for you - you no longer see someone as trying to take some advantage over you. Held

in the power of His love, you can now see someone living in pain and fear, just like you once did.

And as Jesus met you first with love that you did not deserve – His love literally compels you to

bring the same love, mercy and compassion to another. Especially if it is undeserved. So, this is

all very fine sounding – but does it really work?


In a corner of what had been East Germany, I was invited to speak to a gathering of about six

hundred members of a European Gothic (“Goth”) gathering. All of them dressed in black, full

makeup with multiple piercings glistening. These particular Goths were part of a movement that had originated in the clubs of Berlin and

swept across every major European city. They had discovered a shared purpose and affinity that

transcended their cultural identity and they called themselves “The Jesus Freaks!”

I was invited by their leadership team (all of them young, fully fledged Goths) and presented

with their problem. It was explained to me that many of their members, including their leaders,

had fathers, or strong family role models. This was an orphan movement. And their collective

experience of being poorly loved was disabling their capacity to receive and share the love of

God. There were leadership issues. There was fragmentation and disunity. Their own inability to

receive the fullness of God’s love for themselves was short circuiting their capacity to love


So, with a team of twelve Brits (all of us un-pierced, attired in pastel preppy clothes and without

makeup or piercings), I flew to a conference site that was a vast, disused, cotton mill.

Their music was something to behold – full throttled, ear bleeding, chaos in which they

passionately worshipped their Maker. Now, not only were we distinguished by an indecent

display of pastel in a sea of black - we were also the ones who had Kleenex sticking out of our

ears as makeshift ear plugs.

It came to the last night and my text was the parable of The Prodigal Son. I was struck with their

struggle to receive the Father’s love and the Father’s passionate embrace of his son at the end

of the parable. I sensed the Lord’s nudge that we needed to literally take these pierced, broken

souls in our arms, embrace them and speak words of love and blessing over them. I am British

and this idea did not appeal to me. So, I took this idea to the team hoping that they would veto

it. They did not! I climbed onto the platform, taught on the topic, and then nervously made our

offer. If they wanted, and only if they wanted, we would be willing to embrace them as we

prayed the Father’s love and blessing over them. We had men and women on the team – they

could go to whom they liked, or they could not come at all – but our offer was sincere. I stood with the rest of the team in the half-light of the auditorium and waited. After a few

moments (that felt like an eternity), one young man got up from his seat and walked toward

me. Even in the half-light I could see his tears and as he got closer, he crumpled into my arms

and sobbed. As I held him in my arms two things happened. Firstly, his pain pierced my heart. I

held him as tightly as I would hold any of my own children. In my arms he shook with the pain in

his heart, and I found that I could not let him go. Prayers and words of comfort and assurance

unstoppably rose up within me. And I wept as I ministered to him. Secondly, a line began to

emerge in the semi-darkness behind him. A line that became a river of bodies that flowed

toward us. Without any exaggeration, we stood there until 3.00am in the morning and

embraced every pierced and broken soul in that place. By the end of the night my shirt was

drenched in their tears and blackened with mascara.

At about 3.30am, we retreated as a team and, over a cup of tea, began to attempt to process

what we had all just been a part of. As we shared, we were overwhelmed to learn that, as we

held each person in our arms there was one consistent phrase that distinguished all our prayers:

“There is nothing you can do to make the Father love you more, there is nothing you can do to

make the Father love you less – the Father loves you perfectly and unconditionally.”

We slept a few hours and then returned to the warehouse sanctuary for the Sunday morning

session. The atmosphere was so radically changed. The room was now lit with candles and

instead of the usual worship music (which had kind of grown on me) Bach’s St. Matthew’s

Passion was played softly as young people stood together in small groups and prayed for one

another. Tears continued to flow as they ministered to one another. There was a peace in that

place that surpassed all understanding.

And in graffiti, in the largest letters, around the entire perimeter of the vaulted ceiling someone

had written, (in English), “There is nothing you can do to make the Father love you more, there

is nothing you can do to make the Father love you less – the Father loves you perfectly and


What took place that night was the application of the golden rule, but it was unstoppably and

supernaturally carried in the overflow of the love of Jesus, through our hearts to the hearts of

over six hundred young people that we scarcely knew. In my own strength I really could not

have done that, but the Lord entrusted us with His love for six hundred broken, and all we had

to do was open the circuit and let His love be poured out.

6. Final Thought

My hope in speaking to you this morning is that you too can hear Jesus speaking to you with all

the tenderness and force that love can hold. What would your life look like if your identity truly

rested upon God’s relentless, tender, compassionate love for you?

In the heat of battle, in the eye of the storm, God looks you right in the eye and levels with you.

And in the fullness of His perfect and unconditional love, this is what He says, “I will never leave

you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Let me unpack the unusual force of this promise. Not

once and at no point in the future, not ever; never, never, never, in any circumstance

whatsoever, will the love of God in Jesus Christ fail you.

In the encounter of such a great love, here is where the Golden rule ceases to be moral

legislation and becomes instead a spontaneous response that irrepressibly rises up and flows

from us. It will always be in the power of the love of God that we will truly behold the narrowing

of the gap between the world as it is and the world as Jesus wants it to be.



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