(For an UPDATE click on the keep reading button)
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, is in the midst of an extended visit with us here in Washington that is being coordinated by the Cathedral College’s Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation.
He is in town to promote his new organization, The African Monitor, an independent non-government body that aims to monitor fulfillment of economic and social development projects, raise awareness of grass roots groups–including faith networks–and motivate groups to hold authorities accountable for results.
You can also read the sermon he delivered at St. Columba’s Church in our diocese this Sunday be clicking below.
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane
Sermon at St Columba’s, Washington
16 July 2006
Brothers and sisters, I greet you in the precious name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is a great joy to be with you this morning.
Preparing to come here today, I was very much aware that my visit is barely a month after your General Convention, and its responses to the Windsor Report, on the future of the Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Communion worldwide – including here in America – is just beginning to digest the outcome of the Convention, and its implications.
Of course, there were, predictably, all sorts of instant responses. Some say that the Convention went far too far. Others say the Convention did not go half way far enough!
So what are we to make of all this?
Dear brothers and sisters, today I want to encourage you to take heart.
This is God’s church, and we are in safe hands – even as we continue this difficult journey.
Let me share with you this morning some of my own reflections on the great riches of Anglicanism. God has given us a remarkable heritage. When we keep hold of this precious gift, we will find a safe haven, even as contrary winds from all sides try to toss us about.
Part of our Christian heritage – which we share with Christians of other traditions – is the God-graced gift of the lectionary. Once again, preparing to preach, I turned to the readings for the day, and discovered that they speak directly into our situation.
Not for nothing do we call this Holy Scripture. It is more than an ancient sacred text. It is the living word of God – through the power of God’s Holy Spirit it speaks to our heads and to our hearts, and has the power to challenge us and change us into greater Christ-likeness.
In the few short verses from Mark’s gospel, we may discern a remarkable message for today.
Jesus sends out the twelve disciples.
‘Don’t take anything for the journey’ he says – no extra clothes, no spare money or food.
They are to rely instead on what he has given them.
Here is the first lesson for us.
As we try to find the way ahead, and discern where God is directing us, we need to rely on what he has given us.
And what is it that has he given us? We have the great riches of centuries of Anglicanism!
Last week I wrote to my fellow Primates of the Anglican Communion. I sent them my reflections on what it means to be an Anglican today.
I wanted to say that being Anglican is about the rich and fertile territory at the centre of our tradition.
There is a broad and sweeping heartland, that lies between the increasingly polarised arguments we are hearing, and talk of separation and schism.
This is where we must take our stand. Why should we feel that we have to wrestle with the questions before us, at the limits of conservatism or liberalism, as if they were the only possibilities open to us?
And we should take our stand according to the Anglican way, in the Anglican style – our debates should be characterised by the spirit of trust, of tolerance, of charity, and an acceptance of legitimate, creatively enriching, diversity. This is the approach which has so marked out history. And our debate should be conducted through the legitimate structures of the Provinces and the Instruments of Unity, which we have evolved, and can continue to refine and renew, under God’s grace, and through which he has led us so faithfully in the past.
Now it is our turn to be faithful to him, and to all he has done for us.
Archbishop Rowan Williams prompted my reflections, when, at the end of last month he issued his own thoughts in a lengthy piece called ‘The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglicans Today.’
He identified the strength of Anglican tradition as being in our ability to maintain a balance between the absolute priority of the Bible, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments, and a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility.
I believe he is right
I find this rich interplay in my own life. My faith and my ministry are enriched by taking the best of all of these threads: the catholic, the reformed, and the cultural/intellectual.
So, for example, I need the vibrancy of a living relationship with the Lord, which comes cloaked in mystery beyond my comprehension. It is fed through the sacraments and the ordered life and worship of the Church, as well as through private prayer and contemplation.
I need the inspired written word of Scripture – with its unique authority, to ‘teach, reprove, correct and train in righteousness’. I require all of these, if I am to become in any way ‘proficient, equipped for every good work,’ as Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16).
And I need to engage with the circumstances and culture in which I find myself – to discern what reflects God’s kingdom, to discern where the gospel good news is required to bring sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed, and so to be fully part of God’s mission to his world.
None of these are independent of the other two.
• Scripture helps me understand and enunciate my relationship with God.
• His Spirit mysteriously at work in me turns Bible study from dry intellectualism to living encounter.
• The sacrament of his Body and Blood nourishes me, and gives me strength for life’s journey.
• The institutional life and structures of the Church anchor me and provide a framework for active faith.
• The challenges of the world drive me to my knees, and more deeply into the pages of Scripture, which then together fuel and give shape to my intellectual wrestling.
In different times and places, the emphasis may lie more with one thread than with another. There is a creative and dynamic diversity even at the heart of my own faith – just as there is the creative and dynamic diversity within the unity of the God-head who is also distinctly Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And this is my experience too, of the wider church, at every level from Parish to Province and the world. We need this breadth in order to reach the depth of maturity to which we aspire.
These three strands encompass a rich territory in which I find my own experience and understanding of Christianity.
They provide the magnet that continually draws us toward the centre – one baptism, one church, one faith, and most of all one Lord ‘in whom all things hold together’ (Cor 1:17).
It is because Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity made flesh, is our goal, our end, our telos, the central focus and direction of our lives, that Anglicanism has found through the ages that we can afford to live with messiness, ambiguity and anomaly at the edges.
As long as we have an uncompromising commitment to the heart of faith, to the disciplines of our tradition, and to Jesus as its core, we can continue our debate together.
It is important to say that this is not a wishy-washy faith, in which ‘anything goes.’ It is commitment to a life of radical holiness of life, tenacious dedication to prayer and Bible study, and tenacious pursuit of the truth as we wrestle with the issues of the day. It is the life of self-discipline and obedience, lived under the authority of Scripture, of Church order and structures, and of Christian tradition.
This is the Anglican middle ground to which we must hold fast.
So many of us are Anglicans, because we have come to believe that it provides the most fruitful soil in which to grow towards Christian maturity.
This returns us to the gospel reading: Jesus tells the disciples to stay in the house they first enter.
We can draw a parallel with our responsibility to stay within the home that Anglicanism has given us – as far as we are able.
That is what all of us are, I think, called to do at this point.
A belief in the strengths of Anglicanism underlies the Windsor report.
And so, the main objective of the Windsor report is to find ways through which we may hold together.
Its recommendations were offered as a means of addressing ‘how all sides may be brought together.’
It is to these that the General Convention has responded. No-one doubts that this has been a difficult and serious undertaking.
You have come a very long way – but for all of us the journey is not over, and we must keep travelling, relying not on our own abilities and strengths, but on God’s gracious provision.
I very much like the phrase which the Archbishop of York used when speaking to the General Synod of the Church of England about his time at the General Convention.
He spoke of the godly virtue of ‘gracious magnanimity‘ and called for it to be applied to the outcome of General Convention.
He said your Province had ‘clearly demonstrated that the Episcopal Church is committed to mission, to the Anglican Communion, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury,’ even if he felt that the precise letter of the law had not been entirely fulfilled at every point – not least as a result of the way the legislative processes are structured.
Gracious magnanimity, he said, should win through over narrowly argued law.
Your ongoing commitment to the Communion is evident in the resolutions themselves.
Resolution A160 says that Gen Con
‘ask forgiveness as we seek to live into deeper levels of communion one with another.’
Seeking deeper levels of communion – that is what we all want. That is what Christ wants for us. That alone expresses the given reality that we have in Christ. He makes us one in him, for all the diversity, for all the differences, that we experience.
We who live within this house, must work together for this deeper communion.
Then there is also Resolution A159. This resolves that
‘as an expression of interdependence, the Presiding offices of both Houses work in partnership with the churches of the Anglican Communion to explore ways by which there might be inter-Anglican consultation and participation on Standing Commissions of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.
That is a huge commitment – to invite not just consultation, but participation, by representatives of the wider Anglican family, at the very heart of your Provincial existence.
That is surely a vital step in preserving our common life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ – I want to say this to you, using God’s own words to Joshua, before he led the people into the Promised Land. Do not be daunted. Do not be dismayed.
Keep on this path – show that your response to the Windsor report does not end with General Convention. This is just the first, and most significant, step of this journey into greater wholeness that we all seek.
And, remembering Jesus’ words to his disciples as he sends them out, we can be confident that – as we rely on him – his love, his grace, his Holy Spirit, will keep leading us along the right track.
Because we desire to remain within this home of ours, in which we have received such wealth from the Lord. We want to live in faithful continuity with God’s one holy catholic and apostolic church in every age.
We want to live out the life Paul describes for the Ephesians. This is life ‘blessed with every spiritual blessing’ because God our loving heavenly Father ‘chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.’
What wonderful words. And they go on:
‘He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.’
This is important too: it is God who adopts us. Just as we cannot choose our human brothers and sisters, neither can we choose other children of God. We must accept as brothers and sisters those whom God adopts – very different though some of them may be.
Paul has more encouragement to offer – God’s gift of ‘all wisdom and insight,’ through which ‘he has made known to us the mystery of his will.’
And ultimately, his will, and his purposes are that, in the fullness of time, everything in heaven and in earth will be gathered up in Jesus Christ.
Whatever the questions that we face as Anglicans, it is true that the ultimate answers are all to be found in Jesus.
This is the reason why we can hold with confidence to the Anglican heartlands of which I spoke.
We can draw on the best of the wealth of our tradition and heritage – catholic and sacramental, reformed and Biblical, intellectual and cultural.
Because, if we live wisely, in humility and penitence, we will find ourselves drawn ever closer to Jesus Christ, and finally be caught up in him for ever.
What more could we ask?
So let us not be daunted by the debate that rages around us.
Let us stand firm. Let us make Jesus our goal. Let us strive to live together, across our God-given diversity, according to his purposes, and for his praise and glory.
To him be the praise and glory!