Pregnant with Expectation

Sermon preached at St Jude’s, Mildmay on Sunday 23rd December 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Del verbo divina
La Virgen preñada
Viene de camino:
Si les dias pousada!

The virgin, pregnant
With the Word of God
Comes down the road:
If only you’ll give her a room!

St John of the Cross

Lord God, as we open our hearts afresh to your Son this Christmas, may we also give room to the mother who carried him into human life. Amen.

In the school nativity, an angelic child announced to the girl Mary that God says, “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will”, Mary immediately replied. “Of course I will”.

We might wonder whether Mary knew to what she was giving her consent. For two reasons, I think she did know.

Firstly, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Malachi and Zechariah, and Micah had long forecast that the Lord would send a messiah to save God’s people – and Mary would have known this teaching as it was passed on down the generations. Also, what Luke has recorded about her subsequent response demonstrates Mary had received a personal revelation from God and knew the purpose of her pregnancy in God’s overall plan.

Mary was pregnant with expectation and our opening hymn ‘Tell out my soul’ shows this as it’s based on her song in Luke’s gospel about magnifying God .

I’d like to explore what we can learn of God’s overall plan from the prophet Micah and the personal revelation of God to Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.

Micah lived in the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah about 700 years before Jesus was born. His name means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’ We might say, or sing, ‘Who is like our God?’ That was his name. He spoke of the birth of a new king in Bethlehem – the messiah of the Jewish people would gather the people into one nation and establish God’s kingdom. Several prophets had spoken of the servant king who was to come, but Micah is the only one to identify where the messiah would be born.

Bethlehem was a small town but famous for being the City of David, the shepherd boy who God called to be king. Micah announced that God will bring another king out of Bethlehem, “whose family line goes back to ancient times”. Whilst he would rule as David’s successor (Isaiah 9.7) his origin would predate David.

The name Bethlehem means House of Bread, and out of Bethlehem was to come Jesus, who said of himself, “I am the bread of life” (John 6.35). By using the divine name I AM, by which the Lord had identified himself to Moses (Exodus 3.14), Jesus associated himself with God. His family line went back to the beginning of time

Micah said that, with the strength and majesty of God, this king coming out of Bethlehem would reunite Jews who were living in exile outside Israel (Micah 5.3b). Some time later, the good news extended to include the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean in the new communities which formed to follow the way of Jesus.

This king would bring peace (Micah 5.5a). Peace. I wonder what we understand by the peace of God, and how we experience it.

I met someone recently who was clearly at peace with the world – and at peace beyond the world in her relationship with God – whilst engaging with issues of justice that constrain God’s people. She spoke of Mary as her inspiration. “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will!”

Perhaps this might show us that seeking to follow what God asks us to do can bring peace and contentment; even if the task is difficult.

Soon after a baby was conceived in Mary, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, at a very old age, was herself six months pregnant with her first child. The angel Gabriel had announced to her husband Zechariah that they would have the son they had long desired and he would be a prophet as mighty as Elijah (Luke 1.17).

We aren’t told whether Mary had sent news in advance to Elizabeth about her own visit from the angel Gabriel, but Luke’s record of the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary contains several revelations about Mary and the child she was carrying. I’ve spotted four:

  1. The baby John moved within Elizabeth (Luke 1.41); he jumped for joy (Luke 1.44). John had not yet been born but this was his first recorded prophetic action, to jump for joy at being in the presence of the Son of God, who at that time would have been very very small inside Mary.
  2. Elizabeth declared Mary as the most blessed of all women (Luke 1.42) and mother of my Lord (Luke 1.43). Mary continues to be known by these two names; some Christians call her the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM); others call her Mother of God (Theotokos) and will be celebrating her response to God today.
  3. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s joy and the faith in God that she demonstrated by believing in the angel’s message (Luke 1.45). Elizabeth herself was carrying a miraculous baby whose birth had been announced by the same angel (Luke 1.5-25), so could confirm her cousin was right to believe what she had heard.
  4. Mary responds with a great song of praise to God (Luke 1.46-55). It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. We sing it or say it wherever Christians meet. It is the gospel before the gospel. It’s all about God and all about revolution. The Magnificat is so revolutionary that it’s been banned by governments who felt threatened by Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor. Including a previous British Government! which prohibited it being said or sung during Evening Prayer in India. When British flags were finally lowered at independence, Mahatma Gandhi requested that this song be read. Mary’ song is revolutionary. It is the gospel.

God was at work in these two women. Elizabeth pregnant at last after hope had gone, and Mary pregnant far sooner than she had expected. They shared a dream, the ancient dream of Israel, that one day the Lord would do what he had promised to their ancestor Abraham: that all nations would be blessed through his family. But for that to be happen, the powers that kept the world in slavery had to be toppled.

But also, God confirmed to Mary through Elizabeth and John that what she thought had happened in her encounter with Gabriel, had indeed happened. When God speaks through multiple people, the Word of God is very clear and affirming. That is a reason why we need each other, so we can help each other hear clearly what God is saying.

Mother and Child
Angolan Mother & Child woodcarving

Three months later John was born, and six months further on Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In their mothers, the two cousins had spiritual teachers who were in tune with God and his mission to love the people of the world, and with the purpose of the lives of their two sons in God’s plan.

The sons were called by God and their mothers were called to be their teachers: to feed them spiritual milk from God, as well as feeding them with their own milk.

This beautiful carving from Angola shows mother and baby. Complete reliance of a baby for food on a human mother contributed to forming them into complete reliance for spiritual food on God who had given them life.

Over time the two boys grew up and came to recognise for themselves what God was calling them to be and to do. They both become agents of God’s long-promised revolution, the victory over the powers of evil. Much of Mary’s song is echoed by Jesus’s teaching as he warns the rich not to trust in their wealth, and promises God’s kingdom to the poor.

This is the kingdom that we are part of. God’s great plan of salvation to reunite all people with Himself through Jesus the messiah of the Jews and the anointed one of God, the Christ. We are called into this relationship of love. Perhaps we already know that, perhaps we have known that for many years, perhaps we are just discovering that God is calling us into a new relationship with Him, or perhaps we are wondering what Christmas is really all about.

Wherever we start from, we’re all invited to #FollowTheStar on a spiritual journey through the 12 Days of Christmas. The Church of England has produced an excellent booklet of reflections. There is one for each day from Christmas Eve throughout the 12 days ending with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. Each one includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and a challenge to reflect or act differently. Together, they form a journey that will help us take the joy and wonder of Christmas into the year ahead.

God of grace,
Wherever we are in the world this Christmas,
Let our hearts and minds draw close to you,
Renew each of us by your loving Holy Spirit and the breath of life,
Restore each of us to be whole again by your coming Saviour and reborn,
Reveal amidst worldly difficulty your true hope for the world in your coming King,
Let us love one another bravely especially all who have no voice or place in this world,
Let us welcome in Mary’s experience of a miracle into our hearts, and welcome in miracles into our lives today,
Be with us God wherever we are in our hearts with you this Christmas, and guide us with a hope as abundant as a radiant galaxy.
Amen.

Sarah Strang

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Ethnicity, Conflict and the Church: Reflections from a Frontline

Shade like night at the height of noon

‘“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. . . . The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow” (Isa 35:1–2, 7). It seems like somewhat of a bizarre strategy, to save the world through planting gardens in the wasteland and growing fruit on the frontlines, but that is exactly the type of work that our God is up to in our world.’1

2018 was the most challenging year so far. Of all the challenges, the toughest came from the political situation in Gambella. In September, several young political activists were killed in Gambella town. This led to a series of revenge attacks and to various vigilante road-blocks throughout the region.

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Review of Roots and Wings: Equipping and Empowering Young Diaspora Africans for Life and Mission By Rev Israel Olofinjana

israelolofinjana

Roots and Wings is a new book written by one of my friends and colleague, Dr Harvey Kwiyani. The book explores issues related to how to effectively engage in discipleship and mission second generation African migrants. These are children born in Britain of African parents.  As a pastor of a Black Multicultural Church (BMC) in London with half of the congregation being second generation Africans, this book excites me and is of paramount interest to me.  As an African Theologian researching in the areas of Diaspora Missiology, I am aware that essays, journal articles and book chapters have been written on the subject. An example of the latter is Caleb Nyanni’s chapter contribution in African Voices: Towards African British Theologies (2017). His contribution, based on his ongoing PhD research, investigated the pneumatology of second generation Africans within the Church of Pentecost. I am equally aware of a current doctoral student…

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Lost in Translation – Speaking in Differing Tongues

Being a multicultural church in Namibia – interesting reflections on the need and the challenge by Bishop David Walker.

ViaMedia.News

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

The Anglican Diocese of Namibia has been twinned with that of Manchester for over 20 years. As part of that link, I accepted an invitation to join them for their triennial Synod, taking place in the historic mission centre of Odibo this week. I preached at their Ascension Day Chrism Mass, presided at an early morning Eucharist, and generally tried to listen hard, observe carefully, and lend a hand. The central theme around our devotions and bible studies has been that of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

It’s not just a theoretical matter, almost all of the Synod delegates have lived through the war of liberation that freed the country from the apartheid regime imposed on it by South Africa during the period when it was treated as a province of the latter. Odibo mission itself was closed down for almost two…

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Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow

Introduction

Sermon preached at St Matthew’s Church, Bayswater on Sunday 2nd April, 2017.

The First Sunday after invoking Article 50.

When I preached here last year it was the First Sunday after the EU Referendum. Today is the First Sunday after invoking Article 50. Perhaps we should pencil in a date for the First Sunday after Brexit!

Let’s start with where we are with Article 50 and ask ourselves in what language was the act of parliament to leave the EU signed into law? Norman French has been used to signify royal assent to a law since 1066 when a certain migration event occurred! So the words “La Reyne le veult” meaning “The Queen wills it” were used. Migration is inherent in the identity of the people of this country, inherent in our culture.

Just as this country is multi-cultural through migration, so was the area around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago. This morning I’d like us to explore how African Christianity is central to the story of the mission of God: in Jerusalem and Antioch, and in Angola, London and Mozambique.[1]

The first missionary era

In our gospel reading (Mark 15.15-24) it’s the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. He’s just had a Roman flogging and then been mocked by a whole company of soldiers. Jesus is too badly beaten to be able to carry his own cross, and so a man who was heading into the city was co-opted. Mark records the man’s name was Simon, that he was from Cyrene, and even named his two sons.

Where is Cyrene? Libya, so Simon and his family were North African Jews coming into Jerusalem for the Passover feast.

Who was Mark? Well, we think he was a young man called John Mark who was living in Jerusalem with his family.  This is recorded by Luke in Acts 12. Other historians of the Early Church record that Mark’s parents had lived in Cyrene where he was born and grew up, and they had only been back in Jerusalem for a few years. I guess that means Mark knew Simon and his two sons, and their mother. They were all North African Jews who had lived and worshipped God in the same city.[2]

Mark’s family were followers of Jesus and the disciples gathered in their house. That’s where they met to pray when Peter was arrested (see Acts 12). Mark and his cousin Barnabas (see Colossians 4) were involved in the missionary work of both Paul and Peter. Mark eventually returned to North Africa to sow the seeds of the Church in Alexandria.

Along with Mark, several other Africans are mentioned in the missionary journeys recorded in Acts and in the NT letters. Our first reading is another story of migration; this time due to the followers of Jesus being persecuted. We’re well north of Jerusalem in Antioch, which was then in Syria and is now in Turkey. And we find African and Cypriot believers in Jesus sharing the good news with Greeks. Their evangelism initiated the translation of the story of Jesus from Jewish culture into Greek culture. The Messiah of the Jews became the Word of the Greeks.

Luke records that African Christian teachers, such as Simeon and Lucius from Cyrene, were part of the missionary team who crossed this cultural boundary with the gospel (see Acts 13.1).

The second missionary era

Many years later, the people of Central and Southern Africa got to hear the story of Jesus through missionaries. In respect of Mozambique and Angola …

In 1861, the Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone brought to Nyasaland Bishop Charles McKenzie and a team of Anglican missionaries from the Universities Mission to Central Africa. They planted the seeds for what grew into the Anglican Churches in Malawi and Niassa in Northern Mozambique.

In 1910, a young man from Toxteth in Liverpool was inspired by the Edinburgh Missionary Conference to become a missionary in Africa. His name was Archibald Patterson. This led to him leading a Mission to the North of Angola. He sowed the seeds for what in 1990 became the Anglican Church in Angola as part of the Diocese of Lebombo in Southern Mozambique.

The third missionary era

Around this time, the Anglican Communion encouraged the Diocese of London to partner with the Anglican Churches of Angola and Mozambique, and this seed led to the ALMA Partnership being formed in 1998. The partnership will be 20 next year.

One of the many seeds Archibald Patterson had planted in Angola some fifty years ago was the baptism of a young boy called André. Years later, he was elected Missionary Bishop of Angola and as Bishop André Soares has led the Anglican Church in planting new congregations in missionary areas across Angola. The church is now large enough to need to consider whether to multiply into two dioceses.

Yesterday, a Mozambican called Vicente Msossa became Bishop of Niassa, and we expect a new missionary diocese to be planted in Northern Mozambique later this year.

Migration continues to be part of life. Here in London, we welcome the presence of sisters and brothers from other countries. African, Caribbean, South American and Asian Christians are helping to revitalise the church in this city and in other Western cities. Here we have Angolans and Mozambicans living amongst us. Our partnership needs to be experienced as being one in Christ here in London just as much as our sisters and brothers in Africa sense our solidarity in the gospel.

In Mozambique, the national refugee camp is home to 16,000 people from Burundi, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. The government has asked for an Anglican church and school in the camp; to lead this new church, Bishop Manuel has appointed a woman priest supported by catechists living in the camp who are from Congo and Burundi.

Mission today is from everywhere to everywhere just as it was in the Early Church.

Providing help for each other

The Church in Antioch heard that life was going to get tough, and in their generosity they responded by collecting gifts to help their fellow Christians in Judea. Luke tells us this was according to each person’s means. He also makes it clear there was accountability in the giving, for Barnabas and Paul were put in charge of delivering the money to the elders in Jerusalem. The elders would then make sure it reached the needy, since they had from the start of meeting together adopted the principle of distributing according to each person’s needs.[3]

So it is for us. Bishop Richard asked that this year’s diocesan Lent appeal be for ALMA. The economic situation in both Angola and Mozambique is dire due to oil prices falling and currencies being devalued. Our partners said what they really needed was help with the costs of educational projects to help them continue to grow the Kingdom of God by investing in people.

FB_20140824_21_05_00_Saved_Picture
I wonder if you know the Indian proverb, “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today”. Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow is the theme of the Diocesan Lent Appeal this year. Seeds can have some amazing flowers packed in them, which emerge bit by bit.

We have explored this morning how the Kingdom of God has grown through African Christianity, and in the video we have seen amazing projects chosen by Churches wanting to transform the lives of the communities they serve.

The mission priority for the Diocese of Angola is primary schools, they have plans to enlarge and build schools in specific places. Do you know what proportion of primary pupils attend Church of England primary schools? 25%. One quarter of primary school children. That’s about the same proportion of primary age children in the whole of Angola who don’t have a place in a primary school.

For the Diocese of Lebombo in Southern Mozambique, their priority is a seminary where both women and men can train to become priests. In the Diocese of Niassa in Northern Mozambique, they really need a training centre for the huge Lurio region.

Thank you for deciding to join in Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow. Our diocesan partnership is a commitment to mutual support and, as with the collection in Antioch, we ensure funds are used for the specific purposes they were given for.

This morning, we have explored how African Christianity is central to the story of the mission of God: in Jerusalem and Antioch through the ministry of North African Jewish followers of Jesus, and in Angola, London and Mozambique today through the Holy Spirit empowering the followers of Jesus to build God’s kingdom of love.

Do talk to me afterwards if you’d like to know more about the ALMA Partnership.

Lent Appeal Prayer

Lord God in times of great uncertainty when the future seems bleak and fragile, inspire us to hope. Give us the courage to plan creatively for tomorrow that we may boldly proclaim your gospel so your kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Bless the church in Angola, London and Mozambique as together this Lent we sow seeds for tomorrow. Amen.

Notes

[1] For inspiration on African Christianity I am indebted to Harvey Kwiyani and his book Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014).

[2] See Severus of Al’Ashmunein, History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria: Saint Mark to Theonas (300AD)¸ (Paris: P.FAGES) and Eusebius, Eusebius: The Church History, ed. Paul L. Meier, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007).  

[3] See Acts 2.45 and Acts 4.34-35.

Handing on the mitre

LIVING GOD

With the Church of England if you do something once it’s a dangerous innovation, if you do it twice its a precious tradition! So when the Archbishop of York handed a beautiful mitre to the newly consecrated Bishop Karowei Dorgu at the end of the service in Southwark Cathedral on Friday was he being wildly innovative or simply responding to a tradition?

Dorgu Bishop Wilfred Wood and Archbishop Sentamu place the mitre on Bishop Karowei

It was a bit of both to be honest. The mitre in question had been given to Bishop Wilfred Wood, a former Bishop of Croydon, now retired.  When he was due to retire he passed this mitre, beautifully embroidered by the sisters of the long gone St Peter’s Convent in Woking, encrusted with precious stones, to Bishop John Sentamu.  Bishop Wilfred was the first black bishop in the Church of England; Bishop, now Archbishop, Sentamu was the…

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