The 2019 Synod Eucharist took place in St Columb’s Cathedral, a short distance from the Millennium Forum where hundreds of delegates are meeting over three days to discuss this year’s business in the Church of Ireland.
The preacher at the Service, the Rt Revd Ferran Glenfield, Bishop of Kilmore, said the tide was going out for Christianity in Ireland. “Denominations like our own are in retreat,” Bishop Glenfield said. “Dark threatening clouds loom over the political, economic, social and environmental landscapes. Hope is in short supply. Is there any word of encouragement? There is in the Gospel of God: in Christ alone, by faith alone, through grace alone.”
FULL TEXT OF BISHOP FERRAN GLENFIELD’S SERMON AT THE SYNOD EUCHARIST IN ST COLUMB’S CATHEDRAL.
Three crucial decades, that’s all it took. In the years between 33 and 64AD the Church of Jesus Christ got sufficient growth and credibility to be the worldwide church that it is today. It all started when around 120 followers of Jesus were filled by the Holy Spirit and propelled out into the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
One of the launching pads for the early church was in Antioch in Syria. There the Holy Spirit earmarked two of their leaders: Barnabas and Paul, set them apart and sent them out. Acts 13 narrates this missional initiative. The Apostles travel first to Cyprus, Barnabas’s island home, and then to Galatia in Turkey, Paul’s native land. Our second reading picks up the thread. On Saturday the Jewish Sabbath and the Apostles attend the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. The service is akin to our Morning Prayer, a series of Scripture readings, canticles and prayers. The synagogue leader invites his two apostolic guests to address the congregation, “Brothers if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” Paul stands up and preaches. We have a summary of his sermon in verses 16-41. What did Paul say? In a nutshell:
- Paul connects with his Jewish audience by retelling their story from the Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament;
- All the Scriptures, Paul insists, find their fulfillment in Jesus;
- Paul’s focus is on Jesus, particularly his two great saving acts: his death on the cross and his resurrection.
- Paul concludes his review of salvation history by making an appeal to his hearers to choose life in Jesus, or death by rejecting Jesus.
The initial reaction to Paul’s sermon was positive; many responded to the message and the Apostles were urged to return again the following Sabbath.
Is there any word of encouragement for us as we met at Synod? I believe there is. Like Paul, we need to retell and recapture our story. It goes back to Disestablishment when the Church of Ireland was emancipated from state control. It stretches back to the Reformation, of which this very cathedral is testimony to the renewal of the church at that time. It goes further back to the Celtic church of Brendan the Navigator, whose day we mark, and to Columb. Above all, it goes back to the Bible, to our roots in the Acts of the Apostles. It was Archbishop Henry McAdoo who made the connection with Acts: “It is our pattern and our model. The Anglican understanding of what is a real authentic church is based on the early church in the aftermath of Pentecost”.
Is there any word of encouragement when there is so much to discourage us? The tide is going out for Christianity in Ireland. Denominations like our own are in retreat. Dark threatening clouds loom over the political, economic, social and environmental landscapes. Hope is in short supply. Is there any word of encouragement? There is in the Gospel of God: In Christ alone, by faith alone, through grace alone; in the gift of forgiveness of sins: wickedness, folly failures, rebellion, guilt and shame, envy, all the lying and the cheating, all gone for ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin’; in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God in us mediating the presence of Jesus in the life of the believer, transforming us deep within. Changed lives, changing churches and changing communities, turning the world upside down or right side up!
In conclusion, one of the great principles of human development is that in order to go forward we must go back. Ad Fontes, back to the source, back to the Bible, back to God. As Jurgen Moltmann reminds us: “The church does not have a mission, the missionary God has a church”. It is my hope and prayer that the Church of Ireland would be that church. Now that would be a real encouragement! Amen.