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Sermon Preached by the Archbishop Egbunu at Diocese of Abuja 2023 Synod Thanksgiving Service | Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

Sermon Preached by the Archbishop Egbunu at Diocese of Abuja 2023 Synod Thanksgiving Service

  • Korede Akintunde
  • June 3, 2023
  • 0 Comments

Below is the full text of his sermon at the service. Its a great piece to read through.

SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION

There are certain seasons in the Liturgical Year which endear themselves to the worshipper for various reasons. Without suggesting that some are more important than others – for the seasons lead us in the footsteps of Christ, Ascension comes as one of those memorable ones. Both the fact and the celebration by hymn writers make it a happy aftertaste and transition from Easter to Pentecost.

The Primate started this Synod on Ascension day – almost makes us envious. We already sang some of those hymns at the Opening service: Hail the day that sees Him rise…; Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour.

Other ascension hymns rush into our minds:

The head that once was crowned with thorns/ Is crowned with glory now…

We sang more this morning. These hymn writers make spiritual truths timeless by the words and tunes they engage. One that is irresistible for me this morning is:

Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious

See the Man of sorrows now

From the fight returned victorious

Every knee to Him shall bow

Crown Him! Crown Him!

Crown Him! Crown Him!

Crown becomes the Victors brow

One could almost visualise the scene in Heaven as we sing this stanza:

Hark, those bursts of acclamation!

Hark, those loud, triumphant chords!

Jesus takes the highest station;

Oh, what joy the sight affords!

Crown Him! Crown Him!

Crown Him! Crown Him!

King of kings and Lord of lords!

Ascension leads us to a new dispensation in God’s salvation agenda, and the Lord Jesus returns to Heaven in endless triumph over sin, satan and the world! He is our Man in Glory. And as our prayer in the Collect for today, we pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where Christ has gone ahead.

THEME: SYNODALITY: THE TRANSFORMING JOURNEY WITH JESUS CHRIST (Luke 24:13–16, 32–35)

The beauty of Synods is that there is a blend of perspectives that we can’t miss the point (Opening service, Bible Study, other sessions). The crowning exposition is the Bishop’s Charge. And the Charge was vintage Primate Ndukuba! It is like what some call “acres of diamond”. It is indeed synodality in practice: – journeying together as the People of God. It indicates a way of listening to each individual person as a member of the Church to understand how God might be speaking to all of us.

CHRIST AS BOTH TRAVELLER AND DESTINATION

The theme passage for this Synod is: Luke 24:13–16, 32–35. Our concept of journey must begin with the Lord Jesus Himself. When, in our Communion service, the Celebrant says,

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith,

the response of the worshippers is:

Christ has died

Christ is risen

Christ will come again

That response draws attention to the divine journey in the Incarnation, the Resurrection/Ascension, and the Second Coming. One of our contemporary songs captures the idea of this journey:

Lord I lift Your name on highLord I love to sing Your praisesI’m so glad You’re in my lifeI’m so glad You came to save us

You came from heaven to earth to show the wayFrom the earth to the cross, my debt to payFrom the cross to the grave, from the grave to the skyLord I lift Your name on high

The idea of journeying fills the salvation story: the Exodus and the wilderness journey, the Journey of the Magi as T.S. Elliot titles his poem about the Wise men in the Nativity story which we celebrate at Epiphany. Christ’s own ministry was filled with many journeys. And this Synod passage brings us to what we might call His final earthly journey. Not the journey to the Cross, but the journey back to Heaven.

As we read the words, in Luke 24:13–15 (ESV)

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles (11 kilometres) from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

Verse 15 is particularly striking:

 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

This is a beautiful picture of the God who travels with His people. We’ve seen Him in the Garden of Eden coming to fellowship with Adam; we’ve seen Him in the wilderness as the Presence in the Pillar of cloud by day and the Pillar of fire by night as as the Ark of the Covenant. It tells us that the Christian God is not a distant God who watches only from a distance. He is the Immanuel: GOD WITH US.

The Psalmist had said, in Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 121:8 (ESV)

    The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

He is the God who travels with us through thick and thin.

15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

In this journey, He is both the Way and the Destination. He is our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come; Our shelter from the stormy blast; and our eternal home.

The Primate’s address dwelt considerably on the Way. In our walking and talking,  in the wanderings in our earthly deserts, He is the One who draws near; He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Any journey of life that continues without Jesus will surely lead to a dead end.

John 15:5 (ESV)

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

George MacDonald quote: “In whatever man does without God, he must either fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.”

SYNODALITY AS FELLOWSHIP AND PARTNERSHIP

It involves companionship and godly collaboration. In God’s wisdom, we are made to travel together. Beginning with the family setting, God said, in Genesis 2:18 (ESV)18 Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.

These people were travelling together. Their identity has been a subject of much debate: was Luke the other partner? Were they a couple? We do not know, and it is not critical. However, they shared the same sense of frustration about their religious leaders and the travesty of justice; they shared a sense of despondency about what looked like a failed messianic mission.

We can easily see from vv18-24 that they were not front-liners or active participants among the disciples. They were well informed but not active participants. We can see this in the third person references:  “some women of our company;. . . some of those who were with us.” These did many noble things: went to the tomb, told them the doubtful news of a vision of angels, and of Jesus rising,…

Some people prefer to be passive members: keep a safe distance; some things about Christianity don’t make much sense to the intelligent and respectable; don’t make a fool of yourself… There is much abuse of Scripture these days.

Christian fellowship gives us reason to grow together. In the Early Church, we read in Acts 2:42 (ESV)

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

And in Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV)

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Fellowship features a lot in this encounter and in Christian history. Jesus walked with them on the way, broke bread with them, and revealed Himself to the disciples later that night in Jerusalem. Jesus dwells among His people by the Holy Spirit.

Even after we have encountered Christ, there are still gaps in our lives for other children of God to fill. No one person knows it all; no one person has it all: we need each other. We were reminded yesterday by the Primate that the Anglican Church is episcopally led and synodically governed. But as He further pointed out, when we attempt to do this while travelling apart from Jesus, then we cannot walk together. All the historic Church councils have brainstormed under the Spirit of truth to come up with edifying statements of belief.

  1. Richard Niebuhr once offered a line that applies well to theological liberalism: A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.Kingdom of God in America (1937), p. 193.

The Church has had many disagreements, sometimes very bitter. But someone said something that we can learn from. During the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), a bloody time in European history in which religious tensions played a significant role,  a German theologian, Rupertus Meldenius  wrote a tract on Christian unity written (circa 1627) in which he said, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty,  In all things, Charity”.  It has come to be called “the watchword of Christian peacemakers.”

They were well-informed but needed their faith to be transformed. We too can be well informed but not transformed.

HOW GOD TRANSFORMS US

Which brings us to the aspect of TRANSFORMATION in our theme.

Vv25. The risen Christ responded with a rebuke: they were slow of heart to believe all the prophets had spoken (cf Matt 22:29-30).

The Word of God is both to inform and transform us. If we are informed only, then we are like the foolish builder who built his house on the sand, or the one who merely looks at his face in the mirror. It amounts to self deception.

The Word features prominently in this encounter: The risen Christ took them back to Scripture:

Matthew’s gospel shows that virtually everything Jesus did was to fulfil Scripture. What He did here is a fulfilment of what God told His people, “Deuteronomy 6:7–9 (ESV): You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

 8  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

 9  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

At the Synagogue in Nazareth He told them the Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. But they took offence.

Matthew 15:3–9 (ESV): He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

 4  For God commanded, Honor your father and your mother,and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.

 5  But you say, If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God,

 6  he need not honor his father.So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

 7  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  8  “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  9  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

He called them foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. They were foolish because their perspectives were man-based, not informed by the “loving wisdom of our God when all was sin and shame…“ Peter made the same mistake in Matt 16 when Jesus began to tell them about His purpose and the messianic agenda. The Lord Jesus rebuked him, as here. Disciples MUST be wise and believe what God has said out not what we prefer.

Slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets… Half believe is not glorifying to God. We cannot pick and choose. To remedy that Jesus BEGAN with Moses and all the prophets…What does this mean? All Scripture must be taken together because all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable…2 Tim 3:16. This is why our worship structure includes reading ALL the Scripture Jesus came to fulfil not to abrogate the OT Law. They all point to Him. From the Fall. Gen 3:15.

If we don’t believe what the Bible says, we will believe what Satan says, what superstition says, what culture says, what fashion says, every human opinion except the Bible. Jesus glen asked, WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY?

Jesus opened the Scriptures about Himself. He INTERPRETED to them. This is called hermeneutics. SCRIPTURE (when correctly interpreted) POINTS TO JESUS. This is why typical Anglican liturgy reads OT, Psalms, NT, Epistles.

Vv28. Jesus puts their faith to test.  So He went in to stay with them (cf Rev 3:20).

The breaking of bread has been associated with our sacrament of the Eucharist. They were no longer just ordinary travellers. Their going to Jerusalem had a reason stronger than the fear of danger. That is what conviction does. It holds you. He was known by the breaking of the bread. Reminiscent of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Here O my Lord I see Thee face to face; Break Thou the Bread of Life…

The Most Rev Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu is the Bishop of Lokoja Diocese in the Church of Nigeria, Anglcan Communion.

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