WINDHOEK, Namibia/GENEVA, 10 May 2017 - The survival of the church through tribulations is the fulfilment of God’s promise, participants in the Twelfth Assembly of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) were reminded during the opening worship.
“God’s promises concern life and everyday existence, our daily bread and all our works, God’s promises open for us a truth that everything makes sense, all our deeds and even thoughts and feelings have a meaning, and the ultimate goal is that we, with all our thoughts and deeds, can be saved.” This was the message from Rev. Dr Elena Bondarenko of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in European Russia, in her sermon at the Assembly eucharistic worship.
The service attended by some 800 people was held in a worship tent erected on the grounds of the Safari Court Hotels and Conference Center in Windhoek, where the highest decision-making body of the LWF is meeting, jointly hosted by the three member churches in Namibia. A mass choir and musicians from the local churches accompanied the hymn singing.
Preaching on Isaiah 61: 1-4, Bondarenko urged the congregation members from around the world to trust in God. “God’s promises are really held. For 2,000 years the Christian church has been teaching, proclaiming the gospel and administering Holy Sacraments. […] The church is victorious because Jesus promised it.”
The worship tent, which will be the meeting point for most of the assembly worship and prayer services, has an altar table, font and pulpit made of wood from fallen trees collected in Namibia.
The assembly host churches namely, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia - German Evangelical Lutheran Church, bring together some 1.2 million people. They join hands under the banner of the United Church Council of the Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches, through which they collaborate to enhance church unity in the country.
God’s gifts are not for sale
Bondarenko’s reflections on the Assembly theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace,” and sub-themes elaborating that salvation, human beings and creation are “not for sale” also set the tone for the Sunday, 14 May, global event to commemorate the Reformation anniversary at the Sam Nujoma Stadium.
She suggested the sequence: creation-human beings-grace-salvation, to affirm the order of biblical history, and the most important of God’s promises. “God’s gifts are not for sale. God gives us freedom and grace in abundance. God comes to save us in our time. And it is time to rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated, it is time to worship God according to the tradition, but also with our own, new song,” she added.
Bringing meaning to life
A church dean, who has been involved in reconciliation work with congregations in the Ukraine amid the Crimean crisis, Bondarenko noted the 500th Reformation anniversary also coincides with the 100th anniversary of two Russian revolutions that brought persecution to Christians there.
She asked the congregation to imagine what it was like in Russia to live under official atheism for almost 90 years, “without our faith in God” and “without the beauty of the Holy Scriptures and church liturgy [or] God’s guidance and support in the chaos of times.”
Emphasizing that God’s promises hold, she said, “When everything was done to make the church silent and dead, it is a real miracle that the Bride of Christ, the church survived.”
Her message to Christians today, facing new challenges and questions to which they might not have many answers: “Let us humbly confess our ignorance and trust in God our Creator. What is in our power is to be honest and honestly to proclaim God’s grace and to preach that creation and salvation are not for sale. This was the basis of the Reformation 500 years ago, this is the principle that we renew in a modern way nowadays,” she added.
ELCRN Bishop Ernst //Gamxamub presided at the Eucharist, which was distributed at different points in the tent. Other liturgical parts of the service were led by Bishop Dr G. Raja Socrates Sathyachandar from the Arcot Lutheran Church in India, and Church of Norway Presiding Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, who is also LWF Vice-President for the Nordic region.
After the service, participants moved from the tent to the conference center plenary hall to begin the Assembly business sesions, which today will include the address of the LWF President and presentation of Messages from the Women and Youth Pre-Assemblies.