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Sermon: A Way in the Wilderness

Reflection brought to the Ecumenical Centre morning prayer by Bishop Dr Staccato Powell, WCC Central Committee member for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, during a meeting of the Assembly Planning Committee and on the same day as the new book of former general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser was presented to the public at the Ecumenical Centre, in the presence of the author. The event is par of a year-long series of events commemorating the WCC’s 70th anniversary.

05 February 2018

Reflection brought to the Ecumenical Centre morning prayer by Bishop Dr Staccato Powell, WCC Central Committee member for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, during a meeting of the Assembly Planning Committee and on the same day as the new book of former general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser was presented to the public at the Ecumenical Centre, in the presence of the author. The event is par of a year-long series of events commemorating the WCC’s 70th anniversary.

Scripture: Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Recently a member of our daily morning glory prayer community shared
with me a story entitled The Chess Master. In essence, the Chess Master
had an occasion to visit an art gallery with a friend. On display in the
gallery was a painting entitled CHECKMATE. As his companion explored the art work throughout the gallery the Chess Master was fascinated and fixated on the one painting CHECKMATE. When the friend returned he asked, “so what do you see?” The Chess Master responded he needed to speak with the artist. As I view this painting the artist has two options, he needs to either rework the painting or change the title, because clearly the king has one more move.

This story is in some ways indicative of the ecumenical movement. A movement to which I was introduced as a young pastor by the late Bishop Reuben Lee Speaks of my church. During the days when there was a United States office of the World Council of Churches headed by the Reverend Joan Brown Campbell.

Through this connection in March of 1990, I became aware of the Lutheran theologian Konrad Raiser at the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Convocation held in Seoul, Korea. Prophetic utterances during the convocation were spoken as to the strong possibility Dr Raiser would become the World Council of Churches general secretary.  A prophet’s credentials are authenticated only if the utterance comes to pass. So it would be in 1993, two years following the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Convocation, during a period many referred to as an “ecumenical winter,” Dr Konrad Raiser became the fifth general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

As we gather here in Geneva at the Ecumenical Center as the Assembly Planning Committee for the 11th Assembly this is a seminal moment. On the one hand this year marks the World Council of Churches 70th year in existence and on the other hand it is the fifth general secretary, Dr Raiser’s 80th anniversary of birth. Both have been and continue to be tremendous gifts to the body of Christ.

A biblical metaphor for the ecumenical terrain in 1993 is “wilderness”! The prophet Isaiah declares that even in the wilderness God is making a way and a path in parched land. As there was a way made for the Israelites through the wilderness, which lay between Egypt and Canaan; and through another, which lay between Babylon and Judea; so the Lord would also make a way in the ecumenical world, where there should be a way for Christians to walk together, in the fellowship of the Gospel.

Isaiah’s writings to the children of Israel came at a bleak period of their history. They are in captivity, they have lost everything they thought they would keep forever, and they were homesick for the land and the blessing God had promised them. God as a “way maker” is a familiar motif in the African American tradition.

Often the first step in God making a way is our willingness to be TRANSPARENT WITH OUR ISSUES. Even in this unique space of our ecumenical context as we strive for visible unity there are many challenging issues as we seek to stay together along the way.

Bringing together churches, denominations and church fellowships from more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world is fraught with numerous concerns. A fellowship of over 5 million Christians including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many united and independent churches is in many instances close to fracturing the fellowship. With more than 340 member churches in Europe and North America, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific there are bound to be some issues.

What are some of the issues? How can you create a common space, one in which we can reflect, speak, act, worship and work together? A space where God’s people can challenge and support each other, share and debate with each other? As members of this fellowship, how can we as the World Council of Churches member churches manifest a visible unity among such diversity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship? Where do the financial resources flow from to do this work? How do we foster an affirmation of our faith as we walk, witness, work and worship, together?

Once we are transparent, God is there to do a new thing, He is there to Make a Way in Our Wilderness.  As believers in Christ, we must learn to practice true transparency.

When we are able to be transparent with our issues, we can then be TRANSFORMATIVE IN OUR IMPACT! One of the issues the fifth general secretary embraced was a fundamental review of the participation of Orthodox member churches. It was during the September 1997 Central Committee meeting in advance of his first Assembly as general secretary we began to see the transformative move of God as he led the council in a redefinition of its common understanding and vision.

It grew out of a study begun in 1989, and draws on insights from many churches, organizations, groups and individuals. The full text of this statement weaves together understandings that have emerged from fifty years of discussions within the World Council Churches of the unity of the church with an overview and analysis of the contemporary challenges facing churches around the world in their life and witness and in their relations with one another. We must positively transform the world by affirming some primary principles articulated in the Common Understanding and Vision statement such as confronting the fact world as our churches face a time of spiritual crisis.

For many of our churches we are seeing a decline in the faithful. They are often referred to as the “faithful few.” Many of our churches are failing the marginalized masses. We must not only reaffirm our impulse for renewal, but recapture the dynamism of the first century church. A church with followers who it was declared they had turned the world upside down and had now come to the Thessalonica. We are called to be transformers by turning the world upside down or right side up. We still have the capacity to speak with new tongues, cast out adverse spirits and lay hands on the sick for their healing.
As believers all of our experiences are equipping exercises.  Every test that we endure, becomes our testimony.  The mess that we thought we made has now been transformed into a miracle.  The burden is now a blessing!

We are here to change lives, to make a difference, to re-present Christ in a way that makes those that do not know Him have this incredible overwhelming desire to do so!!  When we walk into a room, the entire atmosphere should change, because God is with us, because He’s in us, because He has saved us, because He has impacted our lives and given us the power to impact the lives of others.  We are not of this world, this is our wilderness, we are pilgrims journeying together.

Therefore, we must be TRANSITIONAL IN OUR INTENT.  We are here to do the work that God has assigned our hands to do and we must put our hands to the task and not look back.  We must be intentional about our walk with God.

We are on a pilgrimage which started more than seventy years ago. We must equip those on the way not to get weary. We are encouraged by the website of the World Council of Churches “to call on churches everywhere to walk together, to view their common life, their journey of faith, as a part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace, and to join together with others in celebrating life and in concrete steps toward transforming injustices and violence.”

The shared faith and commitment of Christians everywhere are necessary, affirming the God of life and the resilient hope offered to us in the life, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians are called to affirm, sustain, and protect life. This is an ecumenical calling. One God of life, one creation, one humanity call the one church of Jesus Christ to commitment and engagement where peace and justice are threatened or destroyed.

Let me remind you that as we closely examine the painting of this present ecumenical landscape, the King has one more move. Who is the King, the Lord strong and mighty! The Lord mighty in battle!