Thursday 20 May 2010

50th Anniversary of the Southern African Church Development Trust

Sermon preached at St Martin in the Fields, London, at a service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Southern African Church Development Trust.

1 Peter 2: 4-9, Gospel Luke 4: 16-21

May I speak in the name of God, the Father who sends his Spirit upon us, so that we may proclaim the Good News of the gospel of his Son, our Lord and Saviour.

Dear friends, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, thank you for your invitation to address you on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the Southern African Church Development Trust. It is a great privilege, as well as a great joy, to be with you today – as well as being Patron of the Trust. As Patron, I want to give thanks for all that you have done, even as we gather together to give thanks for God’s faithfulness to us over the last fifty years.

We give thanks to God for the vision that was first implanted in the hearts and minds of Arthur Spencer-Payne and Harold Wilson, and we give thanks for the way that it has been nurtured and sustained through the subsequent decades. May I personally express my thanks, and those of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to you, their families and friends, here today.

We also give thanks that today, in very changed circumstances, the Trust continues to make a tangible and lasting difference to the lives of countless individuals. So thank you – thank you to all of you, for your involvement with the Trust. And special thanks to (Revd) Jack Mulder, as the Trust’s Director.

Thank you also to Revd Nick Holtam and for all at St Martin’s in the Fields, both for hosting us today, and for the partnership in the gospel that we share with you, particularly with your link to St Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg – where I served my curacy. This link has always meant that somehow I feel particularly at home here, even if it has just been sliding into a pew anonymously for a service, when I have been in London. Indeed, in 1991 I preached my very first sermon outside of South Africa from this pulpit where I now stand! Well, I would never have guessed then that I would be back here today, on such an occasion as this!

The Southern African Church Development Trust may be only a small body, in the grander scheme of things – but what you do has an impact far greater than one might at first imagine. Through reliance on the transformative power of God – which is exercised through the possibilities of partnership that we enjoy within the body of Christ – it is fair to say that you have achieved far more than the founders could ever ‘ask or think’, to misquote St Paul somewhat!

This is the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ – that, as our first reading says, turns stumbling blocks into stepping stones. It might be easy to look around and see challenges, and more than challenges – difficult and even intractable problems. But the eyes of faith allow us to look with optimism.

We know that it is the unfailing habit of our God to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind. And so, wherever we see poverty and impoverishment, whether material or otherwise; wherever we see oppression and limitation – well, we can expect that our blind eyes will be opened to look beyond the surface problems and difficulties, and instead to find opportunity, to find expectation.

For the transformative power of God will delight to be at work, if only we are ready to play our part too. The part which we are called to play is one that changes, with the changing of the years. The challenges that we face today are very different from half a century ago. Yet, at the same time, the vision of the prophet Isaiah, the vision of Christ’s gospel, still burns within us, and finds fresh expression. And God continues to fulfil his promises among his people – especially when we work together as the body of Christ.

I am sure that it is this partnership in the gospel that allows us to achieve so much with so little, relatively speaking. We not only build with bricks and mortar – in establishing schools and hostels and churches and community centres and parish halls. More than this, we lay the foundations for many lives to be touched and changed, to be nurtured and grown – and, in turn, to bear fruit of their own. The bursaries and health care projects, the clinics and crèches and educare centres, are all in the business of multiplying the investment for a rich harvest – just like the sower of Jesus’ parable.

There are important lessons for the wider Anglican Communion, and the wider world, to learn from the way we have learnt to walk together – in mutual respect, in mutual learning, in mutual support, in mutual sharing together of the abundant life that is ours in Jesus Christ our Saviour. This abiding, and vibrant relationship is one of trust – and it is trust, it seems to me, that makes all the difference.

In baptism, in confirmation, we speak about believing and trusting in God. Within the body of Christ, we need also to believe and trust in the relationship that we have with everyone else who is ‘in Christ’ with us. When we have such a deeply rooted relationship, it supplies the courage to give and keep on giving, even sacrificially.

But more than this, it supplies the courage to give of our very selves. And it may be that this is the area on which we need to concentrate in the future – building links, as Jack has done, with individual bishops and parishes, and then allowing these relationships to develop substance in all manner of ways, not only our financial giving. I would like to hope that these relationships in Christ are part of the fabric that binds us together within the Anglican Communion.

On the face of it, an orphan in Lesotho may not seem to have much in common with many of you here today. But the Trust is a vehicle for us discovering one another, and finding that we are one in Christ. For our experience is this – when we stand together, under the umbrella of the words of the one who came to bring good news to the poor and proclaim the Lord’s favour – when our common ground is the ground we share in him – then, we will know that we are indeed members together of the same chosen race, and royal priesthood, and holy nation.

In Christ, sharing together in spreading his gospel good news wherever there is impoverishment, oppression, blindness – then we truly recognise one another as God’s own people. More than this, it is when we stand together that we are best able, as St Peter wrote, to ‘proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’

So, today, we give thanks for this – we give thanks that the Southern African Church Development Trust is a way of shedding God’s marvellous light in the darkness of this world. We give thanks to the God, who makes this possible. And we ask him to continue to pour his grace, and – in this week as we await the feast of Pentecost – his Spirit, upon us to that we in our turn may continue to share this light, this good news, this abundant life, with those around us who are in greatest need. So thank you – thank you again.

However, I must sound one final note of caution about our relationship, and the partnership we share: and that is to say that next month, I will most definitely be praying for Bafana Bafana to win the World Cup; while I really have my doubts about England!

And second, more seriously, in the light of today’s gospel passage, let me say that though I offer my congratulations to the new British Government, it is my hope and prayer that in tackling the budget deficit, they will not cut back on overseas aid and other assistance to the poorest of the poor. And you, as God’s church, have a responsibility to ensure that your voices are heard in this regard.

So, may God bless you, and continue to make you a blessing to others – so that the promises of God may indeed be fulfilled in our lives, and the lives of others around us. Amen

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