Spiritual partnerships post-Brexit

Banner in The Old Cathedral, Luanda
“Stay with us, Lord”

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.

Introduction

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.

Spiritual Partnership

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.

Local 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.

Global Mission

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.

Conclusion

The ALMA Partnership is a spiritual relationship which parishes can engage with:

  1. 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.
  2. Becoming an ALMA Parish – developing awareness of the life of our partner churches, supporting the Partnership in prayer, worship, and perhaps occasionally money
  3. Establishing a parish link – partnership in the gospel between parishes (normally two)
  4. 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.

Prayer

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.
Amen.

 

It’s not just for us

WP_20150214_005

On a recent retreat in Canterbury, I much enjoyed the hospitality of the Franciscan brothers who live in the Master’s House with this beautiful garden.

I saw a cross disappearing into water. In baptism we go under the water to signify our dying to sin, to then rise again to new life. The cross signifies the pain and agony of dying as Christ. Perhaps a cross going under the water means the previous pain and agony of being like Christ is itself now dead; washed in the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit.

We die to sin.
We die to pain as we live the life of Christ.
We die to death itself.

We let go of sin.
We let go of life.
We let go of death.

If we hold on, be it to sin, or to life, or to death, we hold on to what is not God because God in Christ transforms all sin, all life, all death, into new life.

In his book God’s Pattern, Bishop David Stancliffe explores how the story of The Road to Emmaus presents a pattern that shapes our entire response to God through worship, ministry and life. “What is important is that in this new creation by water and the spirit, the emphasis is not so much on the outcome so much as the process. ‘Beloved we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2) is the motto for this developing relationship of transformation.” [God’s Pattern, SPCK London 2003, p.158]

How do we make this happen? “We can bring people into conjunction and persuade them to talk to each other but we have to leave the process of transformation to God and let him work in the space that is created. Reconciliation is a gift not the outcome of good management. Yet, as the disciples who lived in Emmaus discovered, when we hold together our concern for what is happening in the world with Christ’s real presence, known in the breaking of bread, powerful things can happen that we could never forsee.” [Stancliffe p.163]

“The model of encounter with God visible in the Emmaus story is of encounter with God who suddenly stands in the way at a narrow point and holds up the need for radical change. ‘You fools’ says the Christ, who walks unrecognised by his companions, ‘and slow of heart to believe’. The relationship with God that we long for is not all about sympathetic listening and encouraging each other with stories on the way. There are moments of decisive challenge too, when we are brought up short. That is what happened to Balaam and his ass (Numbers 22:21-35) when the Angel of God, visible only to the ass, stands in the way and refuses to let Balaam go on without confronting the moment of radical re-orientation which the encounter demands.” [Stancliffe p.164]

Coming out of the Canterbury Cathedral precincts in search of coffee, I saw a young woman out jogging through the narrow streets around the cathedral. What really amazed me was that she was pushing a double buggy, and yes the double buggy had two young children in it. She wasn’t out jogging by herself, she was getting her children trained as well! But if we want others to go with us it takes more effort. The young woman out jogging had to use more energy, probably a lot more energy, in order that her two children could be out jogging too. They were too young to walk let alone jog. Being together when we are different requires us to give more.

WP_20150212_015
French Protestant Church in Canterbury Cathedral

The French Protestant Church has met in Canterbury Cathedral since the Huguenots arrived in England in the 16th century. They are a Reformed Church descended from Calvin. Yet they have a chapel in an Anglican Cathedral with their own entrance. That’s hospitality.

Bede Griffiths came to this firm conviction that in the Mystical Body of Christ which embraces all redeemed humanity, we do not disappear in the Godhead but we discover a personal relationship of love. Each person is fulfilled and open to the other person; it is an inter-communion of love in which each embraces the other and all are embraced by God. [Quoted in Graeme Watson, The Song of Songs, SPCK London 2014, p.60]

It seems to me that the answer lies in Partnership in the Gospel; believing no-one has all the answer but each has a bit of the answer. Being Church is like having to put together a jigsaw puzzle collectively. Throwing our piece out of play, or shouting and screaming at someone else demonstrates spiritual immaturity. Many Christians haven’t learnt this yet, but we all need to.

“Holy places … may be at the same time beautiful and yet deeply infected by human pride and sin. Religious movements start out with the highest ideals, but too often become battlegrounds of competing aspirations in which anger and frustrations may boil over into intemperate words and behaviour. No-one who has been a member of a church for very long will be unaware of this. It is something that brings shame and necessary penitence for the sin and folly in which we all take a share”. [Watson p.49]

There are several ways of reading the Song of Songs. One is as an allegory for the relationship between God and the city of Jerusalem and the temple. In this approach the blackness or darkness of the female figure may be the sin of the people of God, and yet she is beautiful because Jerusalem is the place where God’s glory dwells. Another reading of the Song is that’s it’s about the mystical love relationship with God into which all members of the Body of Christ are called.

I know a church which loves diversity; that’s a good start but we really only love diversity when we love those who are different or have a different view. Maria Voce, president of the Catholic Focolare movement, said in an interview with Crux: “Pope Francis will succeed (in Christian unity) if he finds Christians who … are willing to lose the privileges they believe they’ve acquired. To put together a unified Church, Christians must be committed to mutual acceptance and listening, as well as willing to be testimonies of reciprocal love as the basis of unity, which is a gift from God.”

Clasping Hands in Three Mills Park
Clasping Hands in Three Mills Park

CC altar large
Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral