Sermon at GSE4 Opening Service - Abp Peter Akinola

Sermon at GSE4 Opening Service - Abp Peter Akinola

“I the LORD have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand, I will keep you and will make you to be o covenant for the people; and a light to the gentiles.' Isaiah 42.6

I want to welcome all of you, the people of God, this the opening service of the Fourth South to South Encounter of the Global South Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Some of us took part in the First Encounter, the Second E, the Third and now the Fourth one. I want to give thanks to God for the Fathers in Lord who led us, and laboured before us, showing us the way, upholding the truth of the gospel and leading his church even in very difficult circumstances. Those who have been called home by God may their souls rest in peace. Those who are still alive may they enjoy the peace and blessing of God.

This Fourth Encounter is coming at a very critical point in the life of our Church, the Anglican Communion. Like my brother John (Chew) reminded us this morning at a meeting of the Primates this is no time for rhetoric but for action and my hope is that at this Encounter we will not just issue a statement, that we will call a Trumpet, but what we say from this Encounter will have such power that it will impact positively, not only on our Church, but on the entire human race.

The text we have chosen for this Encounter, Isaiah 42:6 is one of the songs of the suffering servant of YHWH.

The identity of the suffering servant is still a subject of debate among scholars. Since the language of what YHWH would do through his suffering servant is 'futuristic’, some argue that it refers to a Messiah that God would raise for his people later in the history of Israel; while others say the servant is the nation of Israel, herself. The Church of course has since claimed that this and similar texts in Isaiah, have found fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.

If you look through the New Testament you will find that among the controversies that Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day he himself made a claim that he is the light of the world. (John 8.12) Later on before his death, at the institution of the Lord's Supper, after he had given thanks over the cup, he gave it to the disciples saying to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26. 28.

So the whole idea of covenant and light find their fulfillment in this one man, Jesus the Christ. We thank God that we will have lots of opportunity to listen to theologians who will give us expositions on this and related texts in the course of this Encounter. We will also have lectures and discussions so that by the time we leave here we will have done justice to this text in full. So I don’t intend to bother you will all of theological arguments about this text, I will leave that to the theologians.

I do want to point out that just as Jesus tasked His church to evangelise and disciple the nations, so has he graciously assigned the role of being light and covenant to his Church. He said to them, “As the Father sent me so I send you.” (John 20:21). In his Sermon on the Mount he declares, 'You are the Light of the world.' (Matthew 5:14-16). In obedience to his charge his church commemorates his death and passion and the gift of the new covenant in his blood, in the regular celebration of the Eucharistic Covenant, 1 Cor. 11. 25-26. Thus, the church of Jesus the Christ is derivatively both the light and covenant to the world.

So we ask the question, what does it mean to be light and covenant to the people? What does light do, what is involved and what is the implication of being God's covenant?

  • First, covenant is God's own way of binding himself to his people.
  • Second, in all the covenants in Scripture there are conditions for the sustainability of the covenant just as there are blessings for obedience to its obligations and severe sanctions for violating them.
  • By the way, the whole idea of covenants is not peculiar to the people of Israel, there were also covenants established by neighboring peoples and common in other parts of the world
  • In all of them you will find that Covenants are a very serious matter that often involved the shedding of blood either of animals and birds as in the case of Abraham or the blood of man as in the case of Jesus Christ on Calvary.
  • A Covenant is not to be taken lightly, wantonly, or entered into unadvisedly.
  • A COVENANT requires absolute loyal commitment and faithful adherence to its terms and conditions.

And so when we say we are God's covenant to the world, we are taking on the responsibility to show the world how to, live in accordance with all the obligations of the covenant. Our baptismal covenant demands no less.

This means in part that you don't enter and take your exit at will from the Covenant. Israel was confirmed into the covenant with Father Abraham. In so doing Israel accepted and promised to do all that the covenant terms dictate, (see Joshua). But persistently Israel broke every word of the Covenant and God was so grieved that He had to apply appropriate sanctions against His people. Israel ended up in exile. The church cannot be an exception.

If Israel entered into a Covenant with God and God, though merciful, will not spare Israel from breaking the Covenant what gives the Church the right to think that it can escape God’s judgment if it breaks the terms of its own Covenant.

In our Anglican Communion, we have worked very hard in the last three years trying to agree and sign up to a new Anglican Covenant. Covenant is a very serious and weighty matter. Be it between God and his people or between business partners and even in the context of marriage, the terms and conditions of any covenant must never be taken lightly.

Initially, it was felt that a comprehensive Anglican covenant would help heal the wounds and restore confidence in our relationships within the Anglican family, as it would provide for accountability. But as things stand today in the Communion, this Encounter gathered here in Singapore needs to assure itself if the proposed covenant offers any such hope.

More importantly, has the real problem that tore the fabric of the Communion been addressed? Can the Covenant address the problem? As we are gathered here today, there are those who are in what they call 'impaired communion' and others in what is called 'broken sacramental communion' with The Episcopal Church in North America and the Anglican Church of Canada. All calls for accountability and repentance have not been heeded. Decisions taken by the Primates to resolve the problem at their meetings in Brazil, Dromantine and Dar es Salam have been jettisoned. Consequently, the Communion has not been able to mend the ‘broken net’.

This, sadly, is the eighth year since we have not all been in communion with one another, globally, in the same Anglican Church. It appears that some of our leaders value the ageing structures of the communion much more than anything else, hence, the illusion that with more meetings, organisations and networks the crises will disappear. How wrong.

We all know that signing the covenant will not stop TEC from pursuing its own agenda. In fact only recently, it elected and confirmed another openly practicing lesbian  priest to the episcopate. The Communion is still unable to exercise discipline. We are God's Covenant to the world, yes, but we are divided. We lack discipline. We lack the courage to call ‘a spade a spade’. Our obedience to God is selective.

My sisters and brothers from around the world, I am troubled, I am sad in fact I am confused. If the churches in the Global South sign up, would they then become a new Communion? Wouldn’t that further polarize the church? On the other hand the Churches in the Global South cannot forever continue to merely react to the actions of the Western churches. If TEC for political reasons chooses to sign, and we can’t stop them, but continues to disregard the mind of the Communion on these matters that have caused us so much grief, it will make nonsense of the whole exercise.

Where do we go from here?

Our desire in the Global South is for a genuine healing of the Church. Our desire is for the restoration of sacramental communion among all the churches in the global Anglican family. Much precious time has been spent, or maybe wasted, on this crisis. The real mission of the church, which is to make Christ known to all is suffering and in some cases neglected. We in the Global South cannot continue in this way. Yet, we see no light at the end of the tunnel. Time is God’s precious gift for which we are accountable to God as His stewards. This Encounter must show us the way forward in all of this.

The second part of our text speaks of light. The whole concept of light goes back to the story of creation when the earth was said to be formless and empty and 'darkness was over the surface of the deep.' and God said let there be light and there was light and God saw that it was good, Gen. 1:3-4

Jesus the Christ has not only declared himself to be that light, he has also commanded his church to be light to the world.

Without prejudice to the various concepts and ideas about light especially in this part of the world, I take light here in its simple and plain sense to mean that which exposes and banishes darkness, that which illuminates, that which brightens.

If we are truly God's light in Christ, then we have a responsibility to do what light does expose and banish darkness wherever it is found, to illuminate and brighten up the world. But, again I ask, haven't we in this Communion, in this Church abdicated our responsibility? With so much worldliness in the church, is the church today not part of the darkness that hovers over God's world.

Can our church in all seriousness lay any claim to being light for the people of our time? God’s says, “I give you as covenant and light to the world”, to do what covenant says, and to do what light does. Can we, have we? I have no answers to these questions. We look to this Encounter, today, tomorrow, Thursday and Friday to help us move forward with these answers. If we can get the answers right at this Encounter then we will be able to help God’s Church regain its place in the world.

I will give you as Covenant and I will give you as Light to the world.

One of my great joys about our gathering is that the Steering Committee has not come with any prescribed texts for you to merely rubber stamp. No. We expect that you will engage and participate actively in all the sessions. What will go out as the Trumpet from here to the church and to the world will be what you decide as the Global South and so your contributions in all the discussion are vital to the success of this Encounter. May the LORD help us over the next four days to be His true Light and Covenant to His world and to His church. Amen.

'I the LORD have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your bond, I will keep you. And will make you to be a covenant for the people; and a light to the gentiles' Isaiah 42.6

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