Sermon preached at St Matthew’s, Bayswater on Sunday, 26th June 2016
The First Sunday after the EU Referendum.
Come Holy Spirit, may I speak the Word of God, and in the Word may we see a vision of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am the diocesan twinning officer for the ALMA Partnership which links the Anglican Churches of Angola, London and Mozambique. I have the joy of helping parishes and church schools here in London establish mission partnerships with parishes and schools in Angola and Mozambique.
Here in London, partnership is important to us. We value partnership. London is a world city. There are more languages spoken here in London than in any other city in the world. We live here together. We work here together. We worship God here together. We look after each other here together. Here in London, we value partnerships in our communities and we value global relationships. As London is so diverse, we experience global relationships locally through those we live among, as well as through our international connections. Partnerships are important to us.
Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu taught us here in the West about the African concept of Ubuntu which says that we are people through other people. That it is our relationships with others that make us who we are.
This weekend our sense of identity as a people in partnership has been hugely impacted by the results of the EU referendum. As Christians, our sense of partnership is much bigger than our mutual identity as Europeans. We are connected with God and with our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world through our spiritual relationships.
ALMA is one of our spiritual partnerships. Alma is also a Portuguese word which means soul in English. The soul of our partnership is to be one in Christ with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Churches in Angola and Mozambique. Angola, London and Mozambique associate together as partners in the Mission of God.
I wonder how you see the Mission of God. For me it’s all about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through our lives: locally and globally, and our two readings point to these two dimensions of local mission and global mission.
On the Road to Emmaus we meet two devastated disciples feeling they’ve just lost their sense of identity and their hope for the future. Perhaps you can identify with them. They’re sharing their grief when a stranger appears, what’s up? Is he from outside London that he doesn’t know our pain about what’s just happened? Yet he does understands their story, but tells them an even bigger story, and it suddenly all makes sense in a wonderful way they had never imagined before. Not only does he share their cultural background, but he can also teach them more than they ever knew. Come and stay with us, they urge their new friend. “Fica connosco, Senhor” as Christians in Angola and Mozambique would say. Stay with us, Lord.
Hospitality is a wonderful gift to somebody. You give of yourself and often receive much more than you gave. You receive the gift of another in whom the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives. There is often a revelation. A new way of seeing things. The guest becomes the host as they give of themselves to you and then what you experience just has to be shared with others. Visits between mission partners are like this Emmaus experience. They are transformational for everyone who has the privilege of encountering a stranger and getting to know something of their story. Once we’ve experienced Christian life in another context, we end up doing mission in our context in a different way because our eyes have been opened to new possibilities.
The Ethiopian had been on a visit to Jerusalem to worship. Perhaps he had been on a pilgrimage, seeking help from the God of Israel to put his life in context. On his way home this African royal official encountered Philip, a Greek-speaking Jew and minister of the Early Church, who had been sent to him by the Holy Spirit.
This cross-cultural encounter led to the gospel being taken into Ethiopia and to the first African Church being planted.
Nearly two thousand years later, thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans are living here in London. An Ethiopian pastor I know has a vision for Churches doing mission together. Christians from African Churches and Western Churches together, so that the world may know that we are one. Yesterday churches in Islington hosted a festival together: Ethiopians, British, Koreans, West Africans, Latin Americans sharing their faith with those curious about God and Jesus. The vision of this Ethiopian pastor has started to re-invigorate local British churches.
I think there is something quite unique about the transforming effect of cross-cultural encounters. For one London church what they heard on a visit from their Angolan partner parish was a challenging question, “Where are your young people?” They took this challenge on board and developed a youth ministry.
After a church high school had visited their linked school in Mozambique, all the pupils returned with their lives changed in some way; for some, their faith was deepened by the love they had experienced, others changed the subjects they were going to study. The school itself started a gospel choir because the pupils had been so impacted by the music they had heard that they wanted to create it themselves.
Each visit with a mission partner creates communion. Sharing conversations and stories, exploring Scripture together, hospitality, all build our unity and take us into the presence of God.
The disciples rushed back to Jerusalem, they just had to share the good news that Jesus is risen. The Ethiopian official was baptised and went on his way rejoicing. Perhaps it was this joy which overflowed into his Ethiopian brothers and sisters as he shared with them the vision God had given him and his new faith in Jesus.
The ALMA Partnership is a spiritual relationship which parishes can engage with:
- ALMA Sunday – We always have a visit from one of our partner bishops, and next month Bishop André Soares will be visiting us from Angola. You would all be very welcome to meet him at the ALMA Sunday Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday 10th July at 6pm.
- Becoming an ALMA Parish – developing awareness of the life of our partner churches, supporting the Partnership in prayer, worship, and perhaps occasionally money
- Establishing a parish link – partnership in the gospel between parishes (normally two)
- Developing both parish and school links – integrated mission partnerships between parishes that also involve their church schools
Partnership is important to us here in London. I think we get the African philosophy of Ubuntu that we are people through our relationships with other people. Cross-cultural partnerships in the gospel open our eyes to new possibilities where God is to be found.
The ALMA Partnership Prayer by Bishop Dinis Sengulane from Mozambique.
God our Father,
the source of all gifts,
give us humility to receive,
honesty to ask and generosity to give,
in order to bring each other up
to your honour and glory.
We ask this through the merits of
Jesus Christ our Saviour.