Thursday 17 November 2011

Anglicans in Mission - Here am I, Lord, Send me!

A Sermon preached at St Paul's, Durban, on 13 November 2011, on the theme 'Anglicans in Mission: Here am I, Lord, Send me!'

Isaiah 6:1-8; Colossians 2:6-7; John 20:19-23

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dear people of God of St Paul’s, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear Fellow Bishops – Bishop Reuben, Bishop Tsietsi and Bishop Nkosinathi – let me say again what a great joy it is to share in this morning’s celebration with you. Archdeacon May, I am particularly grateful to you, and to all those who have worked with you on today’s service – everyone involved in preparation, and everyone participating, and all those who work so very hard behind the scenes. Thank you for your ministry.

My theme is ‘Anglicans in Mission: Here am I, send me!’ How often have we heard that rousing passage as Isaiah tells us how God called him to be a prophet. How often do we feel our own hearts and souls rise within, yearning to echo Isaiah’s words, ‘Here am I, send me Lord!’ What we so often fail to do, however, is to read the verses that follow immediately after ‘Here am I, send me Lord’.

The Lord answer’s Isaiah’s cry, and I quote those verses ‘Go, and say to the people, “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; you keep looking, but you do not understand”.’ From the word go, Isaiah discovers that his calling is not going to be an easy one. Neither rulers nor people will listen to his warnings of judgement – and so that judgement will come, as he warns, through exile. Only beyond exile lies the promise of the fuller and greater redemption, which Isaiah did not live to see.

And yet Isaiah words have lived on – the living word of God, spoken through Isaiah, has not returned empty, but instead (as we read in Isaiah chapter 55) ‘the living word of God accomplishes that which God had hoped for, and succeeds in the things for which God sent it’. The words of Isaiah continue to bear fruit among us today, as so many of us can attest, in terms of the impact that this, and other passages, have in our lives. And yet, Isaiah was not to know this.

Last night, at Evening Prayer we read the verses where Jesus tells his disciples, ‘If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their live for my sake will find it’ (Mt 16:24-5). And of course, Jesus himself, sent by the Father, was, as St Paul writes to the Philippians, ‘obedient even to a point of death – even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8).

And So, dear friends, responding to God’s call, saying to God ‘Here am I’ should not to be taken lightly. God rarely takes us where we expect him to lead us. Often our calling comes at a great personal cost. And God’s idea of what constitutes success and reward, as we see from the life of Isaiah, and from the life of Jesus, from the life of St Paul, is different to our contemporary society. It doesn’t say I have joined the church or I have joined the struggle to be rich. We don’t say ‘Here am I, send me God’, if our ambition is to amass wealth!

What then, some people may ask, does it mean to say ‘Yes’ to God’s call – to respond to Jesus who says ‘follow me’, and then, all too often, leads us to places outside our comfort zone. We follow, because, in a way probably far less spectacular than Isaiah, we have nonetheless somehow encountered something of the living God. We have felt our lives touched by Jesus who is King of kings and Lord of lords; the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; that second eternal person of the Trinity, who was born in a stable, and who died on the cross for us. We respond by saying ‘Yes, God, here we are’ because we have met Him; and we have recognised our need of him, of his salvation and redemption, in all our failings and in all our human weaknesses. We say Yes to God because we know that we cannot live without God.

When many of Jesus’ followers turned away, once he began to teach that discipleship is costly, you will recall that he even asked his disciples ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ We stay because we are those whose hearts echo the words of St Peter, ‘Lord, if we go away, to whom else we could go? Lord you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (Jn 6:66-9). We respond to God because we have grasped the fact that, as it says in today’s Gospel, that, as the Father sent Jesus, and so he sends us. And dear friends this for me is mind boggling, that this all-powerful God shares his mission of love and forgiveness, of reconciliation and redemption, to his world, through you and I, warts and all. God chooses to work through you and me, it remains mind boggling.

This is the wonder of it all, that we can make a difference, we can make God’s difference in responding to his call with faithful obedience and we can find that we can make God’s difference; in responding to his call with faithful obedience we will find that the things we say and do make a difference to the world – a difference that might last for centuries, a difference that may have eternal significance.

And if we think of it this way, what better calling could there be? What could be more successful, than changing the course of history, and leaving a mark that matters even in the heavenly realm!

This is the basis for all ministry, for all mission. And I rather suspect that I am today in many ways clearly talking and ‘preaching to the converted’. For I know that over the decades, this particular parish of St Paul’s, through individuals, as a congregation, and in its leaders, has not been afraid to answer the costly call of God’s sending. This parish has followed Christ in ways that have sometimes taken you outside the comfort zones of our churches – but you have been a beacon to many.

And in giving yourselves to the ministry of the Lord, you have put your hands deep into your pockets and you have given with great generosity to the work of the Diocese and to the work of the Province. You have been a great encouragement to many – and let me today, publicly, offer my thanks on behalf of the Province to you, and to the rest of this Diocese. The Diocese of Natal, you may not know, remains the highest giver of any Diocese within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. You continue to support the Diocese of Niassa, you continue to support the College of the Transfiguration (our only Anglican residential college), and you continue to support the Anglican House of Studies – to name but three of the projects that you assist. And I am sure that you are making a godly difference by saying ‘here we are’ through those three examples I have mentioned.

You have lent your resources in other ways too – in people. This particular parish has nurtured many – laity and clergy who have served here, of which there are a number present today! – who have then gone on to serve the church in more demanding positions. I know that the Dean was here also. Thank you, for building up such treasures, and thank you for being able to let them go.

And human resources have been shared in other ways. This Diocese has been ahead of the curve in many areas of management and good governance, and has brought these skills to play within our Province. For example, though Bishop Rubin and Robin Green often ask the most difficult of questions at Provincial Finance Committee, and criticise poor practice without holding back; their contribution has made a vital difference, which both Archbishop Njongo and I have come to value, even as it has stretched us to do better! And for that we are grateful, Bishop Rubin.

And this Diocese – and Bishop Rubin in particular – have not only helped in the formal life of our Province; but also often behind the scenes and outside legal structures, for example, walking with Dioceses that are going through difficult times. So, Thank you – thank you, thank you, particularly to Bishop Rubin and thank you to Rose for allowing Bishop Rubin to exercise that ministry and do what he has done – thank you for all you have done, and for all you continue to do, offering yourselves unreservedly in the service of the Church, despite the personal cost and pains you have suffered. We thank you both, from the bottom of our hearts.

As you all know, gratitude is the heart of mission. Gratitude is in the heart of saying, ‘Here am I Lord, send me’. Today it is my great privilege to express gratitude to you at St Paul’s, and to so many associated with you, and to the wider Diocese, and to your Bishops, for all you do.

Yet gratitude is at the heart of mission in another very profound way. For God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit has done ‘everything’ for us. He has created, he has redeemed, he has sustained, every moment of our very being – how could we not be grateful and respond to the call ‘Whom shall I send?’ And how could we do otherwise, than to share our resources with the overflowing love which we have generously received from God?

The name of doing this, the sharing of the overflowing love is called ‘mission’. People of God are inevitably people of mission – mission is nothing else but a state of being, a state of living responsibly to all that we have received from God; a state of allowing his love to pour through us; of letting ourselves become the people God calls us to be – called and sent in whatever way God chooses.

And I think it is fair to say that doing of mission comes from being. We do mission because it flows from our being. For, if, as we heard in our second lesson, we ‘have received Jesus Christ the Lord’, and he continues to live in our lives, how could we do anything else? Jesus’ whole live was lived in mission. He said ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me’ (Jn 6:38). We too, must be God’s sent people.

God has sent us in many ways – for God is God of mission. Indeed, Mission has been described, in the words of the National Council of Churches of Australia, and I quote, as ‘the creating, reconciling and transforming act of God, which flows from the community of love in Trinity, which is made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, which is entrusted to the faithful and which is witnessed by the people of God, in the power of the Spirit, and it is a foretaste, of the reign of God here on earth.’

That’s quite a mouthful! But all we need to know about mission is signposted here – first it is about the character of God, the God who is Trinity, the God who is made known in Jesus Christ. And second, that mission is entrusted in us – we are empowered by God’s Spirit, so that we can go and act in God’s world in his words and action, and show others that God reigns. In the conduct of mission, we know that the Anglican Communion has identified what we call ‘Five Marks of Mission’. I invite you to use the internet to learn what all those five marks of mission are all about, and be guided by them.

As you seek to proclaim the good news of Christ, as you teach, as you baptise, as you respond to the needs of this world, as you transform unjust structures, as you respect Gods creation, may God indeed help you to respond in whatever way you feel God is calling you. But my plea is this: as you say ‘Here am I, send me’, may God also help you to heal our land, but to always begin with yourself; to heal our nation but always to begin with our communities; to make you compassionate, to make you caring and to make you concerned. And in all this, let yourself be healed, even as you seek to heal others and to make your community caring and compassionate.

This list could go on and on, because mission and being sent are my great passion and so I could keep you here for the next 3 days! But I have realised that I have to go back to Cape Town and so I have a plane to catch. But in whatever way you feel that God is calling you, whether you are a student, a priest, a bishop, a housewife or househusband, a business person … just let God open his love to you, pour his grace on you, dwell in you and continue to send you, as you say ‘Lord here am I, send me – I am prepared to labour for you, I am prepared to make your difference so that this world may actually encounter you as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

As I conclude I want to re echo the words of Jesus. He still says to me and to you, ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’; and to those who respond he says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ In other words, he will never send you alone, he will always empower you. Therefore, let us be open to God as once again he asks us, ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for us?’ Let us confidently say, ‘Here we are God, send us.’

My prayer is, may it be so. Amen

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