ACC 16: Lusaka, Zambia
Intentional Discipleship in a World of Difference
The Truth Shall Set You Free
April 19, 2016
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
I have been a bishop in the Church of God for the last 18 years and 14 of those I have served in the Standing Committee of the ACC and Chaired it since 2009. What an honor it has been to serve God in our Communion! Thank you for the confidence you had in me and all the support I have had all these years. Today is my Swan Song. It is made even more special by the fact that I am singing it with you in my home Province of Central Africa. I must say my Province has made me proud in the way that they hosted ACC 16. To the province and to you all: “Zikomo! Kwambiri!”
“I have seen the Promised land”, said Martin Luther King Junior as he spoke of the dawning of a new United States of America. He was quoting Moses’ experience as he glimpsed the biblical Land of Promise. I too have seen it in the Communion. What I have seen I cannot unsee! The glory of the Lord among his people is self evident. As Jesus would say, “Those who have eyes to see let them see and those who have ears to hear let them hear”! In fact I would be so bold as to quote some more scripture and say, “That which no eye has seen nor ear heard” has been revealed to us! We are witnesses of these things. Our ecumenical partners, as they brought greetings to us during the meeting, bore witness to the fact that we are a gift to the Church universal. We are not a “Global Future” but the future present! The body of Christ yearns and groans for unity and that unity is inspired and founded on Christ. That unity is expressed, in the Bible, by the Greek word, koinonia. And that word is interpreted Communion. Our Reformed brothers and sisters told us that they were inspired by our chosen description of our self-understanding that says we are a Communion and so renamed themselves a Communion of Reformed Churches. Our Lutheran sisters and brothers also told us that their Federation is also calling itself a Communion. They told us that they learnt that from us. All this is an attempt to express, theologically, the unity in Christ created by the Holy Spirit amongst believers. We are witnesses of all this. May I be a little smug and say, “The rumour about the Anglican Communion’s demise is greatly exaggerated”?!
Nevertheless, we are only an approximation of what God intends. We are a human enterprise trying to be obedient to its Lord and Savior in God’s mission. And that should not be a surprise. Only those who have decided that they are God can claim perfection and once you decide that, you behave like Lucifer who decided that his pride of place and appearance made him equal to God. As the English (referencing the Lucifer experience) say, “Pride comes before a fall.” and in Chichewa we would cap it by saying, “Tinaonela Lucifer” (trans. “we saw what happened to Lucifer”).
The Anglican Communion logo is a Compass Rose with the compass arrows breaking through the outside circle with a Cross at the center of the inmost circle. The second circle has the Greek inscription which says, “The truth shall set you free”. That is to say, founded in the crucified and risen Christ and sent forth to break through the church into all the world proclaiming the liberating truth of Christ. Yes, we are the disciples of Christ who have become apostles sent to make more disciples in all the world. Truth is the key word here and in the readings we heard. “The truth shall set you free”, we heard. We also heard that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom to proclaim the truth of Christ. Freedom to glorify Christ and not ourselves. Glorifying Christ not because we are prefect or even a perfect reflection of Him but rather an imperfect one that is still a work in progress until we reach perfection in him. The moment we imagine that we have attained it, “We lie and the truth is not in us, and make God a liar”, St John would say. There are those among us who have resorted to lies in order to proclaim the Gospel. As I say that, you realize that, that is a contradiction in terms. Truth can never be promoted by lies. Lies are anti-Gospel. Lies are anti-Christ. Spin is anti-Christ. Slander and defamation are anti-Christ. If the future of Anglicanism is based on such it cannot be of God. As Jesus said to those who claimed their Abrahamic pedigree but lied, “You are doing the works of your father, in whom there is no truth, who when he lies speaks his native language for he is the father of lies”. The detractors from the Communion have perfected that skill to the T! Zechariah would say to such (as to the accuser of the saints), “Rebuke you Satan!”
For freedom Christ has set us free. When we know the truth we are free. Free to “go tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere”. We proclaim not hearsay. We preach that which we have experienced, seen and touched so that the broken and hurting world can have joy. Not that we prove to be better than another. Not that we can beat another on the head with our version of the Gospel but that all people, without exception, may come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and be saved. One-upmanship (to use an Americanism) is not of Christ. St Paul writing to the Corinthians makes it quite clear that whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” To the Philippians he says that he cannot boast in any achievement for everything he counted gain he now counts as loss. He further says that he has not attained the goal, the prize, but is striving towards it so that he may attain it. St John in his own way also says that we do not know what we are going to be but what we know is that we shall see Christ because we will be like him. In other words we are a work in progress and that is the state of a disciple and a disciple maker.
St Paul talks about this striving as an athletic discipline. The writer to the Hebrews also imagines the Christian pilgrimage as a race in which we need to shed all things that would weigh us down. St Paul sees these things that weigh us down as Godless chatter and useless arguments and partisanship. God knows we have had a fare share of that in the church in recent years! Discipline includes bridling the tongue. Disciples are those under such discipline as athletes who work with seasoned coaches to reach the pick of their performance. Only when they have primed and toned their bodies can they strut and show off and compete effectively. That is intentional discipline in order to attain an athletic goal. We have set our faces towards intentional discipleship. As a Communion which is confident in its Lord and saviour we are a training ground for disciples and disciple makers. What we have learnt from Jesus Christ, that which we have become we pass on to others. This requires an intentional act of going to the mountain of the Lord. An encounter with the living God, individually and together. From that encounter we can then come down into the broken world with unveiled face; with Jesus shining through us to his people.
Only those who have sat under the feet of the mighty God can disciple others. It is not our gospel or ourselves that we preach but Christ crucified, says St Paul. Jesus himself in the disputation we read in today’s Gospel says that he proclaims only that which he has heard from the Father who sent him. Unless you are sent you proclaim yourself or at best your own version of the truth. And that is not the same as the Gospel of Christ. To guard from this the church ought to hear the advice given in Hebrews 3 and in Hebrews 10 were believers are enjoined not to stop meeting together lest some fall away due to sin. “As long as it is today encourage another. Do not stop meeting together (as is the habit of some)”, says the writer to the Hebrews. Disciples met in each other’s houses to break bread and shared the teachings of Christ. That is what we are enjoined to do at baptism. To meet in each other’s houses and in our case is to meet in each other’s provinces and churches as well as literal houses. That habit is infectious and also sets an example of discipleship.
It is not a meeting of the like minded or of one nationality as we learn from scripture about the moment the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples. It was people from diverse backgrounds, from all over the known world on whom the Spirit fell at Pentecost. A mixed crowd was the 120 and even the twelve that Jesus had around him. Different but intent on following the Rabbi Jesus. The rich and the poor shared all things in common. Thus, none was above another, nor better than another. They shared all in common and what Jesus demanded of them was the same regardless of status, wealth, or place of origin. In fact we are told that God is no respecter of persons. Different gifts but the same mandate from the same Spirit. That singleness of purpose and unity in love is what converted the world. It is that about which St John says, “They will know you are Christians by your love.” Indeed the Roman officer, Pliny could only say, “O how they love one another”. That is discipleship.
As we all know, love does not come easy. It is an intentional choice to love and to keep loving even in the face of challenges that makes marriages last. That is discipleship. Loving even when your very mind, senses and body say no. In the middle of all our disagreements, one thing I have held onto so dearly in obedience to Christ is that I refuse to be reduced to hate. The Spirit of Christ constrains us to love. It may not come natural but no discipline comes natural. It may hurt, but a very old pop song taught me the double entendre phrase, “It hurts so good”! Yes a true disciple is one who loves even as it hurts and so turns the hurts of the world into wholeness in Christ. All this, not for one’s sake nor for one’s church, nor even for our Communion but for Christ’s sake. When we set such an example we begin to participate in unparalleled ways in the mission of God and begin to model the kind of intentional discipleship that the world so needs today.
In that way we begin to live the truth of Christ. That is the truth which sets us free. Intentional. Disciplined. Liberating. Discipling. Penetrating. Breaking through and breaking down barriers. Saving. Truth. A Communion or a future that is not this, is anti Christ. In fact it is one that is covered in shame. That disgrace which the Old Testament prophets talk about as the uncovering of one’s shame! The very antithesis of the “unveiled face [which] contemplates the Lord’s glory and is being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from its Lord who is Spirit”.
Before I get too carried away please pray with me in this chorus:
Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us
Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us.
Melt us, mould us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the Living God Fall afresh on us.
So let us go forth as free disciples and make disciples of the world!