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Sermon at the Welcome worship of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary World Council of Churches Sermon at the Welcome worship of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji Centennial Church, Suva, Fiji August 13, 2017

14 August 2017

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary World Council of Churches

Sermon at the Welcome worship of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji

Centennial  Church, Suva, Fiji

August 13, 2017

 

“Out into deep water”

Gospel reading: Luke 5:1-11.

From “takia” to “drua”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is a great honour to be invited to your church at this occasion of your Annual conference, and to greet you all from the 56 districts of your church gathered here in Suva for working and celebration of your life together over this weekend and the whole next week.

“Out into deep water” (Luke 5:4). The Gospel today is reminding us what it means to be the disciples of Jesus Christ together. The courage to go beyond our limited perspectives and ideas, to be together in the deep water and big waves of the world today and tomorrow comes from listening to and following the call. This is echoed in a remarkable way as you speak about “the new exodus” for your church. I was deeply moved when I read the explanation of your new logo, given by the President of your church, Rev. Dr Tevita N. Banivanua:

“We looked at symbols that would describe who we are, where we are, where we are headed and how we are going to get there. The rough waves symbolise the difficulties we went through and the winds of change facing Fiji and our community of faith. Because of these huge waves we could no longer sail a takia, we needed a bigger waqa, a stronger boat, capable of sailing in the big waves. The drua could do this. The drua could take us beyond the reef of where we are and out into the world, where we need to be a missional church.”

It is time to go beyond the reef, to go from the “takia” to the “drua”. When I saw the models of the two different boats in your office, I understand well what you mean. You need this for your own unity, so that you can go together, to be one as church. You need it for your call to mission in times like these where your witness, your spirituality, and your service is so much needed here in this nation and in the whole world. You need it to participate fully in the worldwide fellowship of churches  - that fellowship that needs you, as you are, for what you are and who you are.

 

The call gives the direction and the meaning

The story from the Galilea sea is strange, in many ways. A carpenter’s son is giving directions – not advice – how experienced fishermen can get a catch of fish after a night of fishing without results. There must be something in his voice that convinces them. Simon acknowledges they will do so because he said so. On his word. This is emblematically telling us that the service as disciples and as churches is based on the call from Jesus Christ, who gives the direction and the meaning to what we should do and be together. The call came to them, but the story of their calling is a constant reminder of how we are called – again and again – to see the greater perspective, to see our calling beyond the reef, to see the meaning of our lives fulfilled in ways beyond our own ideas. It is not a general calling to not become fishermen or fisherwomen any more. It is a calling to fulfil the meaning of our lives in following Christ in whatever place and whatever capacity we might have. For some there might be special callings to serve in the church for leadership or pastoral or diaconical work in one way or the other. For all of us it is a calling to follow Jesus Christ in whatever we are doing. This is the meaning of our lives. This story reminds us the meaning and purpose of our lives go beyond the horizon we often have. The call to mission is the call to serve the others.

 

Mission in the great waves of today

“Out into deep water” is a motto for a church and for the fellowship of churches we are together in the World Council of Churches. We are called to unity in our mission and service in times when there are rough and adverse winds. The circumstances do not change our calling, rather to the contrary: The call to serve is even more significant when there are severe challenges and dangers for our world and our fellowship as human beings, and not less when the creation as a whole is suffering.

The WCC calls in this period to see our journey together as a “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace”. We are called to pursue the work for the kingdom of God and its values wherever we are and wherever we are needed.

You know a lot about the threats to God’s creation in this region of the Pacific. You know that the ocean, which you are living in and you know how your lives depend on the lives of the ocean, is getting polluted. You see the effects of the increased temperatures of the atmosphere and the ocean in the rising sea levels, threatening the existence of your communities. Your country’s role as President for the upcoming COP23 is a unique opportunity for you and your nation and your people to call the whole world to a better understanding of the urgency of addressing climate change.

This Sunday, August 13, we as WCC – with many of our ecumenical partners – call for prayer for peace and reunification for Korea. We hear worrying words and actions of threats. The peoples of North Korea and South Korea need something else. They need words of peace, of dialogue, of hope for the divided families and the divided people. We, the whole world, need signs of justice and peace in that part of the world now.

We and you know a lot about the need for economic justice for the poor, about the need for more than charity and sympathy. We know a lot about the need for the end of violence, the respect for human dignity and rights. We know a lot about the need for the end of armed conflicts. We know a lot about the need for the end of occupation and oppression. We know about the need for the end of racial discrimination.

There are great tasks for us in our mission as churches together, sharing the Gospel and the values of the kingdom of God in this world. There are great waves out there, but we have to follow the calling to go out. Again and again.

 

We need you and your boats

The visit to the church here in Fiji and other Pacific countries has convinced me that what you have is more needed than ever in this world. Your spirituality, your understanding of balances in living with and in nature, your way of combining the traditional wisdom with the Christian faith, is an asset for you. It is an asset for all of us.

You might see yourself in the margins, so far from many others in this world. However, you are in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of life, in the middle of the threats to life. You are also in the centre of offering new ways forward; or, if we use your image: You have the knowledge of how to build and how to manoeuvre a drua that can sail in weather and winds like these.

We need to say loudly together that loving God and our neighbour as ourselves must include loving God’s creation. We need other logics than the ideas of dominance and exploitation (that also have had support in Christian thinking) if we shall survive as humanity and as one world. It is time for other perspectives, another wisdom, another way of living in nature and as nature.

 

We need the others – we need to be One

The challenges we are up to make it clear that we need one another, and the support of one another. The waves and the winds are too tough to be divided.  Just as the fishermen needed the help of the other boats to bring the enormous catch on board, the church and the disciples of Christ need the solidarity, the unity among ourselves. If we shall sail together in harsh weather and rough seas, we need to be coordinated, committed to the same course and the same destiny.

We are called to be One by Christ. We are not called to never disagree, but we are called to find ways of being together the One body of Christ. Or with your logo: To be on the same drua – on the same way. This is also the significance of the image of being pilgrims together, seeking the will and the way of God together.

You need to find your way of being together as peoples of the Pacific and how to serve together as churches in the Pacific. A pilgrims we sometimes have to leave something behind us, we cannot do everything like before, we cannot have everything we had in the past.

On the other hand, to be able to sail towards our destiny we need to know where we come from. You need to know your values from your traditions, you need to share with one another the gift of the Gospel and the faith in the Father and the Son and The Holy Spirit, you need to be faithful to your common calling. And we, as a worldwide fellowship, we need your contributions to all this in our midst. You are so vital with your churches, in your spirituality and life together. We need you as you are.

 

The calling is also a promise

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, we are not called to this because we are supermen or superwomen. The story about Simon is that he saw himself as “sinful man”. He was humbled, he was in awe in front of the Lord of the creation, Jesus Christ. He saw also that this Lord is one that calls him to service as he is, and who is not only his Lord, but also his saviour.

This is what we confirm in our basis of the WCC. Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, according to the Scriptures.

The Reformation that we commemorate this year after 500 years since 1517, offered the churches a new opportunity to stay honest to God and honest to one another as sinners justified through Jesus Christ. We are called to be disciples in grace, in the grace that is new every morning. This is the liberation Jesus Christ brings to all: To be ourselves, to serve the other, and to live with the hope of transformation. Transforming discipleship is needed for ourselves and for the world in which we live.

We should remember that the call to go out into the deep waters comes with a promise. There will be a catch, a result, a blessing, a meaning. One day. But today, as well.

Because it is Jesus Christ who calls us, let us be on the drua together, daring to face and address the challenges of the deep waters together. On his word we do so.

Amen.