Tuesday 27 November 2012

Celebration of Anglicans ACT Vision!

This sermon was preached at the Celebration of our Anglicans ACT Vision, on the Feast of Christ the King, 25 November 2012, at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town. You can also watch the service at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5-9b7tWFFw

1 Peter 2:4-5, 9; Matthew 13: 44-52

Scripture says: ‘Come to Christ … and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house … so you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’

May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I greet you in the precious name of Jesus whom today we celebrate as Christ the King. May his kingdom come in your life, whether you are here in the Cathedral, or watching a recording of our service. And a special greeting to all of those who participated earlier this afternoon in the ‘1000 men march’ – the procession of witness in support of the 16 days of Activism for no violence against women and children. Wherever you are, I am delighted to be sharing with you in celebrating the Vision that we believe God has given to the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

In our second reading, Jesus described all who are trained for the kingdom of God as being like those who can bring out of their treasure what is new and what is old. This is, for me, a wonderful description of what our Vision and Mission statement are all about.

First, we have what is old: the great, eternal truths of the gospel, of God’s love for his people, his world, his creation; his promises of salvation and redemption; his call to us, to be living stones, a holy priesthood. And as living stones, we are to build on the legacy of all he has done through his people, in the generations who came before us.

But we also have what is new: learning how to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ loud and clear, in fresh ways that address the particular circumstances we find ourselves in today. Wherever we find ourselves – from big cities to rural villages, from Mozambique to St Helena, from coast to Karoo – God calls us, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and every baptised member, to be his witnesses. Or, to put it in the words of our first reading, God calls us to ‘proclaim the might acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ We believe that God has given us a Vision, to help us do this better – to help us become more fully God’s living stones, his holy priesthood.

Let me say a bit more about how we came to have this Vision – a vision that we should be: Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit – Anchored, Committed, Transformed – A, C, T – in other words, that we should be Anglicans who ACT. And we need to be Anglicans who ACT here, and now – as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, acknowledging our past, but facing the new challenges of the twenty-first century.

For much of the last century, the task of the church was to model and share the good news of Jesus Christ in terrible circumstances of conflict, strife, oppression – even full-blown civil war. And so we did: proclaiming the Scriptures, speaking up for God’s truth, standing for righteousness, opposing oppression, burying the dead, comforting the sorrowing, and – no matter how dark our darkest hours – always holding up the light of Christ, always sharing the hope of the gospel.

When democracy and peace finally came to South Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu famously said ‘Now we can get back to truly being church!’ Well, what does it mean for us to be truly church, in our new circumstances, in all our countries?

This seemed to be the key question that God was asking of us all, as I prepared to become Archbishop. It became the starting point of the Charge which I preached at my Installation, here in St George’s Cathedral, in 2008. Right at the beginning, I said to all of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa ‘Thank you that you are partners with me in the gospel.’ And then I spoke of our need to ‘seek afresh to discover what it is to be the body of Christ in our time, and who God is in Jesus Christ, for us here and now’.

Who is God in Jesus Christ, for us, today, in Angola, in Lesotho, in Mozambique, in Namibia, in South Africa, in Swaziland, even in St Helena and Tristan da Cunha? What is God’s desire for our church, and for our world? What is his message, of judgement, yes, but also of redemptive hope, for all of us and our nations?

To explore this question as comprehensively as possible, I launched a consultative process, led by Ms Glenda Wildschut. We asked Dioceses and Parishes and other bodies to send in their visions and their mission statements. We held consultations with Provincial organisations, from Hope Africa and the Health Care Trust through to the Mothers Union and AWF and Bernard Mizeki and the Provincial Youth Council, and other networks. I also invited comments – and asked for prayers for the process – through my monthly letter To the Laos.

A team drawn from across the Province then sifted and discussed all we had received. The Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee made recommendations for further work. Finally, in 2010, the Vision and Mission statement were presented to Provincial Synod and endorsed.

Let me read them to you again.
Our Vision is that 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
Anchored, Committed, Transformed: A, C, T – so we are Anglicans who ACT!

And our Mission Statement is that, 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

We also identified 8 priorities for action at Provincial level. This is not the same as saying they are the priorities for all of the Province – for we know that each Diocese, each Parish, must preach and live the gospel in its own context; and so must set its own priorities. But some things are best tackled at provincial level, in order to resource, strengthen, and support, Dioceses, Parishes and individuals in whatever God calls you to be and do.

Therefore we identified these priorities:
1. Liturgical renewal for transformative worship
2. Theological education and formation
3. Leadership development
4. Health, including HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis
5. The Environment
6. Women and gender
7. Protection and nurture of children and the young
8. Public advocacy

In addition to these, there are two further, critical, themes, which run through all the priorities. They are
• transforming the legacies of apartheid, and
• holistic mission rooted in a full commitment to evangelism.
Of course there is another common thread – that of resourcing, of financing, all this work.

But now, it is all going ahead. We have coordinators for each missional priority, working with teams, who have developed strategies, and we are beginning to forge ahead! We are finding that the Vision is providing focus and direction to the way we tackle the tasks before us.

In 2010, PSC decided to devote three year cycles to three priorities at a time. In the present cycle, the first of our three particular priorities is theological education and formation: 2013 has been endorsed as our ‘Year of Theological Education’. Second is Leadership Development. We are about to appoint a Leadership Coordinator based at COTT. We’ve also made a start with the Bishops – we already now have training for the newly elected and consecrated, and are developing an on-going programme for us all to follow. Thirdly, Liturgical Renewal for Transformative Worship – a number of initiatives are underway, which include considering whether and how we should revise the 1989 Prayer Book.

So then, what does this mean for you? How can you take ownership of all this for yourselves?

First, for yourself – make a copy of the Vision and Mission Statement, and the special prayers we are using in this service. Paste them in your prayer book. Reflect on them for your own life. Pray to be more anchored, more committed, more transformed.

Second, in your parish – discuss how the Vision and Mission Statement impact on your own life and the challenges you face. Download the Bible Study and sermon resources from the Growing the Church website, and use them together. And think about what sort of resources and encouragement from the Province would most help you – be in touch with the Coordinators, or the PEO’s office. Keep an eye too on the ACSA website (www.anglicanchurchsa.org), where we’ll be posting more information, and resources to download.

Third, in your Dioceses – again, discuss how the Vision and Mission Statement intersect with your own priorities, challenges and concerns. And at this level too, keep the dialogue going with the coordinators and their teams. Some of the teams have reps in dioceses. Make use of them – and in your parishes too!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our two readings this evening were full of optimism and joy, about all that God has done for us, and all that he calls us to be. We are his pearls of great price that he seeks out; we are the buried treasure for which he gives his all, as Jesus did upon the cross. We are his chosen ones, his royal priesthood, his holy nation. He has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light – and we are to be his light-bearers wherever there is darkness in the world.

As St Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, ‘If God is on our side, who can be against us?’ (Rom 8:31). So let us with joy and confidence, strive to be more deeply Anchored in God’s limitless compassionate love. Let us Commit ourselves afresh to his mission. Let us open ourselves more fully, more unreservedly, to the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit.

And let us pray that God might help us keep on discovering what it is to be the body of Christ in our time, so we might declare more clearly, more fully, who God is in Jesus Christ, for us – and for the world around – here and now. May he bless us, and make us a blessing to others. Amen