This is the sermon preached at the Installation of Revd Duncan McLea in the new position of Parish Rector and Team Leader of the Parish of St John's, Wynberg, on 14 October 2012.
Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 15:21-28
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Dear Duncan; dear Andrew and the rest of the clergy team; dear people of God of St John’s Parish, Wynberg; dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let me say again what a joy it is to be with you this afternoon, and to share in asking God’s rich blessings on this new chapter in all of your lives. Thank you for inviting me to conduct the induction not only of your Wardens, but also of Duncan as your first Parish Rector and Team Leader. (And I’ll try not to embarrass him by calling him ‘Father Duncan’, as I generally do on such occasions!)
This has been a long, careful process, of revising your constitution and your oversight structures, so that they can better serve you as you strive to become more fully the people, the churches, the parish, you believe God is calling you to be. Today is formally the start of this new beginning.
It is about so much more than constitutions and structures and appointments and inductions. For, as the Psalmist puts it, in Psalm 127, verse 1, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labour in vain.’ Today is certainly not about us coming up with our good ideas, and asking God to bless them, and then stand back while we get on with what we think we ought to be doing on his behalf!
No, today is a far more radical new beginning. Today we seek the Lord’s renewing for the whole life and ministry of this parish, for the sake of all the communities he calls you to serve: for the sake of the gospel, the sake of the kingdom, and the sake of the glory and praise of God’s holy name. Only God can bring such renewal; and it is to God that we come today – offering all that we have, all that we are, so that, through his Spirit, and by his grace, we might become all that he calls us to be.
I have been reflecting a lot on renewal in the last ten days. Quite a number of you were, like me, at the Anglicans Ablaze conference. It was an amazing time (and thank you to all of you involved in preparing for, and leading, the conference – and here I have to give special thanks to your music group, who made a wonderful contribution to our worship, and our time together!)
I don’t know what you were expecting from Anglicans Ablaze. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. But I know this: that God did more – far, far, more – than I could have asked or imagined! Well, the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3:20), tells us that doing ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine’ is one of the characteristics of God. But even if we know this in our heads, he still overwhelms and surprises us, again and again, in ways we do not expect. And I have no doubt that he will overwhelm and surprise all of you, in ways you do not expect, as you answer the call of Christ, who says ‘follow me’ into this new phase of the parish’s life.
One thing we can be sure of, though, is that ours is a God of new beginnings, a God of renewal. At Anglicans Ablaze, he challenged us to see renewal with new eyes – and gave us a taste of what his concept of renewal is all about.
It seems to me that genuine renewal is about God’s total love, total compassion, total redemptive desire, for all of creation, all of society, and of the entire human person, heart and soul and mind and body. It is a far greater, far more comprehensive, vision than we sometimes have.
Evangelism, we were reminded, presents a poor shadow of the life of faith, if it does not go hand in hand with discipleship. And discipleship – which is less studying about God, and more about being a community of apprentices of Jesus – is intricately bound up with mission. Bishop Graham Cray, who bravely managed to fit a busy few days in Cape Town between addressing both Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee, and then Anglicans Ablaze 5 days later – Bishop Graham was quoted as saying ‘Mission will never be effective without authentic discipleship; and discipleship will never be taken seriously, unless we engage in mission.’ Bishop Graham also told us that ‘renewal without mission is self-indulgence; while mission without renewal becomes legalistic, or triumphalist, or disillusioned.’
What then, do we mean by mission? Alison Morgan spoke about mission as being sent by God, as Jesus was, through the Spirit coming upon him – as we can read in Luke 4. We are sent by God, to do the things that Jesus did. She also reminded us of the ‘5 Marks of Mission’ of the Anglican Communion, which are:
• To proclaim the good news of the kingdom
• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
• To respond to human need by loving service
• To seek to transform unjust structures of society
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth
Authentic, godly, mission addresses God’s concern for the whole of life, of human individuals, of human society, and of the planet which is our only home. So we cannot pursue mission without pursuing social justice, political integrity, sustainable development, economic equity, and environmental well-being, to name just a few aspects. We have to combat not only material poverty, but emotional and intellectual and spiritual and societal poverty. And we need to be alert to anything that impoverishes, or increases the gulfs of inequality, in all these areas.
Furthermore, just as renewal encompasses all of God’s creation, it also encompasses all of us. So today is not only about Duncan, nor only about the clergy (plus, of course, Craig at The Warehouse). It is about everyone. Duncan is being appointed to lead a team – a team that, though it has clergy and lay leaders, actually includes all of you. For being a Christian means being a member of the body of Christ – and as far as I can tell from Scripture, none of us are called to be an appendix, the only part of the body which seems to have no useful function!
Instead, as St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, ‘to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good’ (1 Cor 12:7). God’s Spirit dwells in every one of us, and enables us all to play a significant role in the life of the Church, and in God’s mission to the world. It may be low-key, it may be behind the scenes – but in God’s greater plans, it is significant, and what you do matters, and makes a difference.
So, when we come to the induction in a few minutes’ time, in each section of commitment, I shall begin by asking you, the people, to make your response. Then I shall ask the parish leadership team to make their response; and only then will I ask Duncan to make his commitment – a commitment to leading you in these paths to which God calls you. He cannot lead, unless he has people to lead! So, you are all in this together – and so is God, who desires to pour newness of life onto you all.
Let me turn now to a second point – what are these paths ahead to which God calls you, and in which Duncan is to lead you? Our two Bible readings have something to teach us here – something that can be summed up in words of Jesus, who said ‘every teacher of the law, who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven, is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old’ (Mt 15:52).
New treasures and Old: let me start with the Old.
The book of the prophet Micah is full of both warnings and encouragement – oracles of judgement and of hope. In this particular passage, he warns the people that if they want to respond rightly to God’s call to repent and turn again to him, God is not interested in overblown public acts of religiosity. He doesn’t want grand gestures that appear to convey vast spiritual devotion. He just wants them to get back to basics, and not forget the foundations of their faith. In other words, they must return to the Old Treasures. So instead of much public ceremony or fancy services, or excessive sacrifices of animals – or even of children – he wants them to do the simple stuff: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.
And yet this is also very challenging – because it is not about our outward acts, it is about our inward attitudes that direct and shape the whole of our lives. It begins with deepening our relationship with God, so that we might increasingly see the world as God sees, and respond with his compassion. For, above all, God is love – and we need to be anchored in his love: so that we, in whatever way we need it, may find his tender touch making us more whole. We need to let God sort us out, so we are better able to share his love with others, without the distortions of our own brokenness, weaknesses, failings and hang-ups.
Being ‘anchored in the love of Christ’ is – as those who are wide awake will have spotted – the first part of the Provincial Vision of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Being anchored in Christ’s love is the starting point for the other two parts of the vision: being Committed to God’s Mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit. Anchored, Committed, Transformed – A, C, T: Anglicans who ‘ACT’!
And what are the basics, the foundations, the Old Treasures, which help us do this? Well, we find them in the commitments we shall make in the induction. We find them in dedication to discipleship, to the Word of God, to daily prayer and reading of the Bible – whether through the discipline of the Offices of Morning or Evening Prayer, or some other systematic reading of, and reflecting on, Scripture. We find them through regularly receiving the bread and wine, as Jesus told us to do ‘in remembrance of him’: we might think of it as
• the Lord’s Supper – the foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world;
• or we might think of it as Communion – our being drawn into intimate closeness with our Lord and Saviour;
• or as Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving’ – a celebration of all Jesus Christ has done for us;
• or even as the Mass – being ‘sent’ into the world, so that having been fed and strengthened by all that Jesus Christ has won for us, we can share all this with the needy world around.
In fact, we probably ought to think of it as a combination of all of these!
We also find ourselves ‘doing the basics’ in what we describe as the life of ‘worship, witness and service’ of which our Confirmation service speaks. Serving others comes not merely through charitable acts, but also through working to change the world so that God’s justice and mercy might be better known and experienced by all.
I am especially glad that, in today’s service, we have added a new section, which picks up on God’s call to pursue justice and mercy. I am hoping that we might adopt this, as a matter of course, in future installations in our Diocese and Province. It is quite something when an Evangelical parish teaches the Province about liturgy!
Today, let me also thank Craig Stewart, who has agreed to take over the leadership of the Micah Challenge in South Africa, and breathe new life into it. This is an important initiative, which Archbishop Njongo helped launch in 2004, to encourage Christians around the world to lend their support to the Millennium Development Goals, and all that they stand for, for the alleviation and eradication of poverty. Governments alone cannot do it. They need all the encouragement – and pressure – they can get, if they are to take the hard decisions that are necessary if we truly are to defeat poverty. Christians standing together lend important weight to these efforts. So, thank you, Craig.
But let me now turn to the New Treasures. For Old Treasures must always find expression in the ever changing circumstances of contemporary life – and, let us face it, our world is changing more rapidly than ever before.
Our reading from St Matthew’s gospel records a step into a whole new way of spreading God’s kingdom. Commentators disagree on Jesus’ motivation and understanding through his dialogue with the Canaanite woman, and I am not going to try to untangle it here. But this is certain: St Matthew records that, as a consequence of this encounter, the old understanding of the role of the Messiah had been completely overturned and rewritten. From now on, Jesus was to be seen as the Messiah not only for the Jews, but also for those who were not Jews, and who had previously been assumed to be excluded from God’s redemptive promises.
The challenge this passage of Scripture presents to you, Duncan, and to the parish, is, I think, this: that as this new chapter opens before you, you should be open to seeing who, or what, might previously have been excluded in some way, from your ministry and mission – and whom God will now challenge you now to include. It is a reminder that we must not only stick with the Old Treasures, but must always have our hearts, our minds, open to the New Treasures that God may put before us, even in unsettling ways. In Morning Prayer, we have been reading through the Acts of the Apostles, and we see there how unsettling it was to the early church to realise that the gospel was also for the Gentiles! Yet we today are the direct beneficiaries of Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite women, St Peter’s vision at Joppa, and St Paul’s call as apostle to the Gentiles.
So, let me sum up: God is in the business of renewal – and this his desire and promise for the Parish of St John’s Wynberg, for the leadership team, and for Duncan as its head. And because I know that parishes like yours are fond of ‘three point sermons’, let me underline three aspects of this promise of renewal!
First, it is all-embracing: God’s renewal is for the sake of all of God’s creation: all of humanity, all human society, our entire planet. And for him to achieve his purposes, his renewal is for all of you – for all the people of all the congregations of all the churches of this parish, and for all the leaders, lay and clergy alike, and for Duncan. And so we seek God’s renewal, on God’s terms, in God’s ways and by God’s strength, for this parish and for all its people, lay and ordained alike.
Second, God’s renewal is about the Old Treasures. It is about building on the firm foundations of Scripture, and two millennia of Christian tradition that attests to the faithfulness of God, through all the changing times and places of our planet. Do not despise the good old ways, the basics: especially not prayer, Bible reading, Holy Communion. May these be the cornerstones of your life, that help you anchor yourselves in Christ’s love.
Third, God’s renewal is also about the New Treasures, where he will take you outside of your comfort zones, as he calls you to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in new places, in new ways, in the unfolding circumstances of our times. As long as you are anchored in Christ’s love, and steeped in the Living Word of God, do not be afraid to go wherever God calls, to live out your commitment to God’s mission, through the transforming power of his Holy Spirit. This is the heart of what I believe is God’s vision for our Province – and I invite you to pray our collect, on a regular basis.
All this is, of course, God’s gift, which he desires to pour on us in abundance. God does not promise us an easy future – but he promises to be with us, every step of the way; to provide all we need to navigate the challenges; to set before us a clear path; to offer us strength and encouragement; and to give us his joy as our strength.
So then, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us in confidence now proceed with the Admittance of the Wardens, and the Induction of your new Parish Rector and Team Leader. And may God bless you all richly, and make you a blessing to others. Amen
Anglican Church of Southern Africa: Vision, Mission Statement and Collect
The Anglican community in Southern Africa seeks to be:
• Anchored in the love of Christ
• Committed to God's Mission
• Transformed by the Holy Spirit
Across our diverse countries and cultures, we seek:
• To honour God in worship that feeds and empowers us for faithful witness and service
• To embody and proclaim the message of God’s redemptive hope and healing for people and creation
• To grow communities of faith that form, inform, and transform those who follow Christ
Almighty God, consuming fire of love
You have given us the vision to be
Anchored in the Love of Christ
Committed to Your mission, and
Transformed by the Holy Spirit;
To honour You in living worship
To embody and proclaim the Good News, and
To grow communities of faith:
Set us ablaze with Your power and love
To build up Your Church,
And serve You in the world
To Your praise and glory,
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen