Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sermon in Tabora Cathedral

St Stephen's Cathedral, Tabora--Matthew 7:24-27

Ni furaha yangu kubwa kuwa nanyi tena katika Dayosisi la Tabora, katika Kanisa la Anglikana Tanzania. Mimi kuleta salamu na upendo kutoka wanaomwamini Kristo Yesu wa Dayosisi la Springfield. Bwana Yesu asifiwe! Sasa nitaendelea kwa Kiingereza.

(It is my great pleasure to be with you again in the Diocese of Tabora, in the Anglican Church of Tanzania. I bring greetings and love from the faithful in Christ Jesus in the Diocese of Springfield.  Praised be the Lord Jesus! Now I will continue in English.)

The gospel reading for this liturgy is one of my favorite stories from when I was a child in Sunday School. Our teachers even gave us a song, with hand motions:
The foolish man built his house upon the sand. (x3)
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the flood came up. (x3)
And the house on the sand went splat.
The wise man build his house upon the rock. (x3)
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the flood came up. (x3)
And the house on the rock stood firm.

Singing that little children’s song with you reminds me of another song that is familiar to me from many years ago. It has a chorus that goes like this: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

It is indeed Christ who is our rock.  Christ has been the “rock” of the people of God since even before Jesus was conceived and born. Do you know that passage from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10? He’s talking about the people of Israel in the Old Testament, after they had been set free from slavery in Egypt and are wandering around the desert before they enter the Promised Land.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
That rock was Christ. Even more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, God was in Christ, giving his people supernatural food and supernatural drink—water from the rock. But how do we see and know our “rock” today? How is Christ present to us in Tabora, Tanzania and in Springfield, Illinois in the United States? And where is Christ our rock present for us in those places?

Christ our solid rock, Christ the sure foundation of the house that will not be washed away by the storm, is present to us in and through his Body—what St Paul calls the “Body of Christ,” which is to say, the Church.

In the catechism of my church, the Episcopal Church—that is, the Anglican Church that is based in the United States—in our catechism, the Church is defined as the body of which Jesus Christ is the head and all baptized persons are the members. All Christians want to be connected to Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ is the head of a body, and it’s impossible to be connected to a head without being connected to the body. I can say that my hand is connected to my head, but it’s not a direct connection, is it? I can only say that because my hand is connected to my arm, and my arm is connected to my shoulder, and my shoulder is connected to my neck, and my neck is connected to my head. We cannot be connected to Christ without also being connected to the Church, because the Church is the body of Christ.

It is only through the Church that we are connected to the Apostles, who are the ones to whom Jesus gave his very own authority—the authority to bind and to loose, the authority to forgive and to withhold forgiveness. Our connection to the Apostles is through their successors, whom we call bishops. Baba Askofu Elias and Baba Askofu Daniel share the terrifying responsibility—yes, a responsibility that is terrifying, but also wonderful—we share the responsibility of passing on to you the faith of the Apostles, which they received from Jesus. It is the ministry of a bishop to guard that faith, to resist any attempt to deny it or distort it. The pastoral staff—the crozier—that bishops carry, is a sign that we represent Christ the Good Shepherd, taking care of his sheep. It is only the Church that is connected to the apostles that is built on the solid rock, the rock which is Christ.

It is only in the Church that we have the creeds—the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The creeds are the measuring stick by which we know that we are being faithful to the gospel as it has been handed down to us through the Apostles.

And it is through the Church that we have access to the Holy Scriptures. I mention the Bible last, after the ministry of bishops and the creeds, not because it is of least importance, but because it is of the greatest importance. The Bible is our ultimate standard of authority in the Christian community. But it is through the Church that we know and understand the Bible. The Bible itself says that it is not something to be interpreted privately, by individuals, but always in the context of community, with respect for how our ancestors in the faith have understood the words of Holy Scripture. We understand the Bible most clearly when we read the Bible together, and always in conversation with those who have come before us. It is only in the community of the Body of Christ, rooted in the creeds and under the oversight of the Apostles, represented by the bishops, and in communion with the church throughout the world—which, for us as Anglicans, means communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury—it is only together in all of these ways that we are promised that the Holy Spirit will be with us to lead us into all truth.

And we must always remember that Jesus our rock, the sure foundation on which we want to build our house, is the same Jesus who suffered and died on the cross, and commanded us to take up our cross daily to follow him in the way of sorrows, being made like him in a death like his that we may be made like him in a resurrection like his. Standing on Christ the solid rock means that we are ready to share what Jesus endured—the Cross. It means that we are willing embrace whatever Jesus calls us to embrace, and to do so with humility and patience. Those who promise riches in this world, those who tell us that it is our right and our destiny to be wealthy in this world—these people are imposters. They are false Christs, deceivers of God’s people. Why? Because they ignore the cross. And the path to the glory of the Kingdom of God lies through the cross and only through the cross. There is no getting around it.

We are ordaining people today to the diaconate and to the priesthood. Baba Askofu Elias, acting in his capacity as the representative of the Apostles, will share the ministry of the Apostles with them. It will be their responsibility to share with him in tending the flock of Christ, of guarding the faith of the creeds, of calling people to a life of discipleship and service. It is their job to join in making new disciples, in baptizing, in teaching and preaching and proclaiming good news, and, as priests, to represent Jesus himself in the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who are ordained today will make solemn vows and promises to do all these things, and to do them in communion with, and under the oversight of, their Apostle, their Bishop. In this way, they are helping build a house on the solid foundation of Christ the rock. They are not building on the sand of false promises, but on the firm foundation of Christ our solid rock. The wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rains came, and the flood rose, and the house stood firm. Let us be wise. Let that be our house, the house that endures the flood. Bwana Yesu asifiwe. Amen.

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