St Andrew's Cathdral Singapore
Candlemas, Friday 2 February 1996
Many of you will recall that some eighteen months ago a number of British soldiers got seriously lost in the mountainous jungle of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. The investigation into that incident did not reflect well on the soldiers involved, and there were several who might have been grateful for the Word of the Lord quoted in Isaiah "And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying: `This is the way, walk in it' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left".
Those of you who live in the wilder parts of this region will recognise only too well how important it is to know the way, and to follow it. To veer off the pathway can be immediately and seriously dangerous.
But the passage has to do with God's guidance. How can we be sure that our decisions are his will? Is there such a thing as cast-iron guarantees of blessing ahead?
It is a question we do well to put to the occasion which brings us together today. Many of us believe that this historic event is the fruit of much prayer, planning and agonising discussion which has taken years to accomplish. We should recognise today the immense contribution of so many who have made this possible. I think immediately of my predecessor Robert Runcie and Canon Roger Symon, my former Officer for the Anglican Communion who, I am glad to say, is with us, along with John Rees, our lawyer who has invested much time into your constitution. I think of the contribution of Bishop John Savarimuthu, of Bishop John Leong. In addition to the four diocesan bishops present - Archbishop Moses Tay, Bishop Yong Ping Chung, Bishop Lim Cheng Ean and Bishop Made Katib, there are others to whom we shall always be indebted. God we believe has brought us to today's Inauguration in which we celebrate the joining of four Anglican dioceses to become the 37th Province of the Communion. Like all the others, it will be unique. It has its own history, its own roots which give it its special character. In parts of the region, the roots of the Christian mission are almost accidental - missionaries, with eyes set on the prize of China, resting here on their arduous journey. In other parts, great names such as Francis McDougall, William Crossland and Noel Hudson echo across the years. And who can forget the witness of Bishop Leonard Wilson of Singapore in war-torn Malaya? Such faith and commitment shine on into today's Church, in a unique way.
Similarly, like all the other provinces, it will contain a diversity of expression and practice, which is the glory of Anglicanism. But the task with which it is entrusted is a common task not just to all Anglicans, but to all Christians wherever they may be in the world. That is to follow a path, a way, a journey towards God. It is a way, as Isaiah recognises, which is littered with "the bread of adversity and the water of affliction". Our Christian faith does not protect us from the struggles and the pain of the world. Far from it - as many of our fellow Christians can testify at this very moment - in Sudan and Rwanda, in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, in Ireland and West Papua. We cannot escape the world, we are immersed in it. As the great theologian John MacMurray once wrote:
"The maxim of illusory religion runs: `Fear not; trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you'; that of real religion, on the contrary, is `Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.' "
Be not afraid. God is with us. We have seen the glory of his salvation which he has prepared for his people, as Simeon proclaimed, so we have peace or, as St Paul declared: "God has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ", so that, although we are indeed earthen vessels, fragile and weak, still we bear a message, which is God's message, for ourselves and for the world.
How, then, can we live and spread this Good News, as Anglicans in Singapore and Malaysia, in a world which so often seems so antagonistic to the idea of God? What is he guiding us to do? Let me outline three areas in which I believe we must concentrate. The three areas are neatly summed up in the preamble to your new Provincial Constitution, which we shall read in a few minutes. We are told that the three purposes are:
In order to make this accessible let me reduce it to three terse statements which I shall unpack: the fundamentals of our faith, fellowship on our common pilgrimage and freedom to engage in mission in our own context.
The Fundamentals of our faith
To give glory to God is to remember that the primary task of the Church is to worship God. As the Westminster Confession puts it so beautifully:
'Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever more'.
God has given us the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ in order to draw us into a living relationship with him. The love which he has poured out for us cries out for a response, and earthen though it will always be, our first task is to acknowledge and praise God. As Evelyn Underhill, the great Anglican writer from early this century, wrote:
"There is a sense in which we may think of the whole life of the universe, seen and unseen, conscious and unconscious, as an act of worship, glorifying its Origin, Sustainer and End." (Worship, p.1)
It is a wonderfully extrovert vision of the whole of creation looking out beyond itself, and bowing down before that which is ultimate; and Evelyn Underhill goes on to quote her great mentor Baron von Hugel - "The first or central act of religion is adoration, sense of God, his otherness through nearness."
If we are to travel the Way, guided by the voice of God, our attention must be focused on him. Our self-seeking, our lust for power, our internal strife so compromises the Vision of God which we have received in Jesus Christ. The Word of God which sustains us and builds us up for the journey is food which is freely available to those who look out beyond themselves and seek to do his will.
So, our first task is to get the fundamental relationship with God right, to expect his response to us, and to be ready to receive it, "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith". If we get the fundamentals of our faith right we shall be on a much clearer path - and the Anglican tradition is firm in its beliefs. Let me remind you of the threefold understanding of that faith as held by all Anglicans. We know that the Word of God is revealed first and foremost in scripture. In seeking to understand that Word for ourselves, we recognise and honour the experience of the Church through history as it has wrestled to give glory to God each in its own age. We believe that God has also given us the gift of reason with which to reflect on scripture and tradition to better understand our calling today; and as members of a Communion of Churches, and indeed the world-wide Church of Christ, we observe the way which our brothers and sisters respond to God, hoping that our own journey may feed them also.
But, of course, this is an area where the Churches of South East Asia are strong. In my visits to you I have been impressed by your grasp of the faith, by your anxiety to own it, possess it and draw others into its embrace. Do not shift from this inheritance of faith but put your roots more firmly into its rich deposits of faith.
But the preamble also speaks of fellowship.
Today's event is a commitment to a deeper fellowship than you have hitherto experienced it. This is where God has guided us to and the pathway ahead is shrouded in mystery. You are coming together under one Archbishop, a formal House of Bishops and a Provincial Synod. It is a wholly new partnership, a new friendship in Christ.
But we should not be surprised at the difficulties which have been encountered, nor should we regret them. What we see is four confident and growing churches which - it could be argued - have no particular need for each other. But in order to give a deeper expression to the Gospel in this region, you have taken risks. You are making a commitment to one another. That commitment does not mean that the special qualities of Christian life and witness which are unique to each diocese must now be subsumed into a grey uniformity. Rather it is about a growing commitment to sharing the riches with each other, and, indeed, to supporting one another in times of suffering and need.
What might possibly be the journey ahead for you? I can only hazard a few guesses but let me speculate:
It will be the sharing of differences and the overcoming of them. I think first of theological differences. Anglicanism at is best can hold different streams of thought and experience together. The Catholic, the evangelical, the charismatic and the liberal tradition are important strands in our faith. Recognise those differences and treat those who differ from you not as potential enemies but as promising comrades in the service of Christ.
I think of cultural and ethnic differences. We look at some parts of Africa and Europe and mourn the failure of some Christians to rise above ethnic differences. In both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda the lesson has not been learned that in Christ all distinctions are done away with. We have a radical gospel; all are loved by Almighty God; all are one in Christ Jesus. Do not allow ethnic factors to divide you.
I think of financial considerations. This region is already a major international economic centre and could well see further spectacular growth. It would be so easy to be tempted into thinking of faith as leading to material prosperity. You will need to consider how material blessings can be shared among you without the rich being tempted by their riches and the poor being hunted by envy.
Friendship, or fellowship, is about giving, and giving which knows no limits. It is about serving one another and enriching one another.
With this vision of the sacrificial nature of fellowship, I come to the third of the tasks we are called to fulfil as followers and seekers of the Way - freedom to engage in mission in our own context.
The outworking of the relationship of love which is established between Jesus and Peter in our Gospel reading is to build the mission of the Church. "Feed my sheep." Mission and Evangelism are not optional extras for the people of God. Your churches have set a superb example, demonstrating what can be achieved in terms of growth. Whether it is the 1:1:3 Mission in Sabah Diocese, or the development of the Unreached People's Groups discussed in your recent conference: `Vision 2000 and Beyond', or other initiatives in which you are engaged, it is clear all over the Communion that great things are happening in South East Asia, and we thank God for that.
But much is happening in other parts of the world as well. It may be very different in style, perhaps even in content. It may be quieter, the results less spectacular, but I have seen marvellous examples of mission in every corner of the Communion. Again, I come back to the fact of our diversity in this glorious tapestry world of so many peoples, cultures and traditions, our mission must be multi-faceted. It is of the nature of our friendship in Christ that we encourage one another in our diverse mission - for we are `earthen pots' - "what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake".
The Churches in Asia have, as Bishop Yong Ping Chung noted in his paper to `Vision 2000 and Beyond', grown through "much toil, persecution, pain and suffering". "Even today", he writes, "the task has not become easier and the burden not lighter ... but God sees his Church in partnership with him to make glad his heart."
In those few words, Ping Chung encapsulates the challenge to us as we seek to follow the Way. Glorify God, build up his Church in trust and fellowship, and, in partnership with Him, proclaim the Gospel. It is there in your constitution. You have a leader in Moses Tay who exemplifies the call to humble, sacrificial service. He has been chosen because he has great gifts and he will use them to extend God's kingdom here. But most of all, you have the Gospel - "If you love me, feed my sheep". May God bless you and keep you in this great commission.
But I have not answered the question with which I began: `How can we be sure that we are on the right pathway?' How do we know when we do not hear those precise words `This is the way, walk in it'? The very nature of the Christian journey is that we cannot be wholly sure. But we walk in faith and put our trust in God's future, attentive to Him in prayer and worship. If our eyes and hearts have been and continue to be set firmly on Him, then we have reason to be confident that He has guided us to this point and He will be leading the way ahead.