Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Address to the Annual Prizegiving of Herschel School

Address to the Annual Prizegiving of Herschel Girls School, Cape Town, October 15, 2014:

Good evening, girls!  Good evening, parents! And good evening to the whole school community: girls, parents, teachers, headmaster, other members of staff, and members of Council.  Thank you Mr West and Council for inviting me to speak tonight, it is an honour indeed.

It's such a joy to be here again for a formal school occasion. Congratulations to you all for your achievements in the past year, individually and collectively: to the prize-winners of course, to the soon-to-be matriculants whose time here is coming to an end, but also to every single one of you.  For each one of you is a winner, because each one of you is equally part of this community of achievement, of this body that is Herschel School. And you remember how St. Paul describes a body in his First Letter to the Corinthians? He says "the body does not consist of one member but of many" and that every single member belongs to the body, and that, to quote him again, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”

In similar vein, your achievements are not only yours' but they are the achievements of everyone who has supported you over the past year. So, in recognition of that, why don't you the girls, applaud them? First, let's applaud your teachers and the staff and governing body of the school who support them. And now, let's applaud your parents, your grandparents, other members of your family and the cloud of witnesses – your great-grandparents and ancestors – who are looking down on us today!

In the past year, we have seen women and girls in the news in a range of ways that I can't remember seeing before. We have seen stories of pain and despair which are testimony to the ways in which our society continues to disrespect and abuse women, but we have also seen stories of strength and moral courage in which they have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to triumph over adversity. Let's look at just three examples.

The first is the story of Reeva Steenkamp and our response to her killing. Now I know that Judge Masipa's finding means that we cannot say with a certainty that is beyond reasonable doubt that Reeva's death was a manifestation of how women are abused in South Africa. We need to respect the finding of an experienced judge, who listened to all the evidence, that Oscar Pistorius's explanation of what happened that night might reasonably possibly have been true. But at the very least, we can say that the case, and the arguments around what happened, have put the issue of domestic abuse front and centre on the country's agenda. And that is a good thing, because if you speak to clergy in our communities – who by the nature of our ministry are privileged to hear people's confidences – they will tell you that domestic abuse, and especially the abuse of women and children by men, is one of the greatest of the hidden evils of our society, and that it happens in both poor and wealthy communities.

The second example is the abduction, six months ago last night, of more than 200 girls from the town of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria by members of the Boko Haram group. That event may seem far removed from South Africa, and in many ways it is, but the growth of movements of extremist thugs – I won't dignify them by calling them religious because the ideas they propagate are a perversion of religion....  the phenomenon of extremist thuggery is something that as global citizens we must oppose everywhere. And the phenomenon is not confined to Nigeria or West Africa; it is emerging among disparate, uncoordinated groups in East Africa, North Africa and the Middle East as well, and it poses a challenge which we dare not underestimate.

Those of you who are history students will know that this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian who is the warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford, says that one of the reasons we stumbled into that war, and that so many people died in it, was that our forebears miscalculated the significance of changes in the nature of warfare. Applying those lessons to our situation today, she gives us this sobering warning:

“A comparable mistake in our own time is the assumption that because of our advanced technology, we can deliver quick, focused and overpowering military actions… drones and cruise missiles… carpet bombing and armoured divisions – resulting in conflicts that will be short and limited in their impact, and victories that will be decisive.” 

But she notes that far from seeing easy victories, we are seeing wars with no clear outcomes involving what she calls “a shifting coalition of local warlords, religious warriors and other interested parties” across countries and continents.

The third example to which I want to refer tonight is – you will be thankful to hear – an inspiring one and that is the story of Thuli Madonsela. Isn't it wonderful to listen to her on television laying down the law, not loudly and bombastically as men often do, but in soft, gentle tones?  They say that President Theodore Roosevelt of America, a man's man if ever there was one, used to say that a leader should "speak softly and carry a big stick," and even our beloved Madiba was won’t to instinctively respond to certain situations by reaching for his big stick. But I think we can coin a new phrase about Thuli and say: "She speaks softly and carries the Constitution."

It has struck me recently that one of the major obstacles to solving our problems in South Africa is that we have become a “me” society instead of a “we” society. We ask too often, what are “my” needs and aspirations, not what are “our” needs and aspirations. For South Africa to flourish, we need to move from “me” to “we”, asking not what I can do, but what we can do, together, to meet not my needs, but our needs, and to work for the common good.

How do we, then, as the body of Herschel, demonstrate our refusal to succumb to fear or to become inured to suffering? How do we use our collective capacity for good, our privileges, our inherent love and goodness, to challenge violence, whether domestic, individualised or collective, and corruption? How do we use our innovation, creativity, and even our essay-writing skills, to highlight the problems of our day? How do we demonstrate the values of Herschel?  Let me briefly suggest a few places we might start.

Let us commit to addressing the cancer of domestic abuse within our society, helping those who suffer to overcome the paralysis induced by shame and often by their continued love for the perpetrator, and to act to protect themselves.

Let us continue to express our outrage at the holding hostage of the Chibok girls, and let's commit to remove the conditions in our country and beyond which are conducive to the growth of extremism. If we do business with Nigeria or other countries in Africa, let us not collude with the misallocation of resources in those countries.

In South Africa, let us acknowledge that our failure to end the desperate conditions in which many of our people live can create the conditions for an explosion, and let us join efforts started by those including Prof George Ellis and former mayor Gordon Oliver to face up to the crisis. The Department of Human Settlements reported last year that we still have a backlog of about 2.1-million houses. Even if people have houses, about 2.5 million of them don't have proper toilets. My daughter gets embarrassed when I call myself the "toilet archbishop", but I am compelled to campaign on this issue: a report from the Water Research Commission says only one in three households in Khayelitsha have yard and in-house water and sanitation facilities. About seven in 10 depend largely on communal taps or "stand pipes" for water and have inadequate or no access to sanitation. In parts of the Free State, the Northern Cape and even here in the Western Cape, many people still have to use buckets to remove human waste from their homes.

Let us also join Thuli Madonsela in fighting corruption, rigorously evaluating the energy deal with Russia lest we slap our children and grandchildren with huge bills to pay in their adulthood.

Let us also work for ecological justice, starting with recycling our domestic waste at home.

Let me end on a note of celebration of you and your achievements, and on a note of challenge very specific to Herschel. We have a wonderful school. The quality of your education is attested to by tonight's prizes and your impressive history of outstanding matric results. On behalf of the Diocese and my own behalf, congratulations!

But, as Jesus says in St. Luke's Gospel: "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required." At the Western Province Prep School's Centenary Celebration earlier this year, I challenged them to adopt an equity policy and to establish bursaries to attract more black students and more black teachers. Tonight I want to take this opportunity to make the same call on you.

You are a first-class, Christian, value-based school of excellence. I appeal to you to extend the fine work you already do so that it reaches even further into our communities, giving the opportunities we enjoy to even more students, whether from privileged backgrounds or not. Join our church and our Anglican Board of Education in addressing South Africa's educational challenges. Join us in repudiating cynicism, fear and the feeling of being overwhelmed by our country's problems, and help us in our determination to bring about change.

I ask of you, to go into your resources, dig deep into these, and establish an endowment for recruiting more black teachers and bursaries for more black learners. Mr West and Council, that is my plea and more specific a challenge to the school community

Thank you, congratulations again, and God bless you!

+Thabo Makgoba


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Prayer for those bereaved by the tragedy in Lagos

All Anglicans, Christians, people of faith and of none, are asked to use this prayers until the bodies of all those who died in Lagos have been repatriated for burial at home:

Lord God, creator of all life,

We come before you filled with hope but distressed by the plight of the traumatised families of those who died in the church guesthouse in Lagos.

We offer our intercession and supplications for a swift end to diplomatic difficulties; for completion of the unduly prolonged process of identifying and repatriating bodies.

We ceaselessly intercede for the bereaved, and assure them that even at this time of trauma, as Jesus says:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”.  

Lord, we are created in your image, may your dignity and the dignity of the dead be respected in this process.

Finally, Lord, we ask that each South African and all your people pray for an end to this agony for the families, and to commit to call for its end.

For Jesus Christ's sake,

Amen

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

To the Laos – To the People of God, October 2014


Dear People of God

I have just come out of my writing sabbatical, which I greatly valued, and hope to share its fruits with you all through a publication in the coming months. I returned from sabbatical into Synod of Bishops – which issued a statement on its concerns – and the annual meeting of Provincial  Standing  Committee (PSC), in which we discussed and passed a number of useful resolutions. Among the presentations and group discussion was the issue of the biblical and theological underpinnings of sustainability, and we also set up a small committee to explore the feasibility of buying land and building our own ACSA conference centre.

PSC affirmed the principles for establishing a new award in the Province, the Archbishop's Award to recognize all who serve humanity and creation along the Mican principles of peace with justice, and who seek reconciliation. There were also reports and resolutions on such matters as the environment, with a report on “eco-parishes”, the phenomenon of young people leaving our church, and the problems we are having with South Africa's Home Affairs department. You can find reports on these on the Provincial website. Next year, our church will host a meeting of the Communion's "Eco-Bishops' Initiative", which will gather bishops from around the world to discuss the environment.

This was a robust and less rushed meeting of PSC, which is the highest deliberative body of our Province between Provincial Synods, and the quality of our discussion and debate was outstanding. I hope the church will be enriched by its outcomes and that our canons will also be revised appropriately to express the growth and development shown at Synod.

We bade farewell to Bishop David Bannerman of the Highveld, who retires at the end of this year, to Bishop Nathaniel Nakwatumbah of Namibia, who is retiring next year, and to Prof Barney Pityana, who will retire from the College of the Transfiguration before the next meeting of PSC. We also welcomed warmly Dr Vicentia Kgabe as Prof Pityana's successor.

Two outside speakers, South Africa's Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, and scenario planner Clem Sunter addressed PSC. They both called on the church to learn to “do church” in a democracy and to learn to identify the “flags” signalling issues which may be challenging the us and calling for action at this time.

After PSC, a group of bishops travelled to Maputo for the consecration of Bishop Carlos Matsinhe of Lebombo. It was a great day of celebration and worship – the first consecration in the diocese in almost 34 years. The service, in a packed basketball stadium, took about five hours and was lively and enjoyable. President Armando Guebuza addressed the congregation, as did Bishop Dinis Sengulane.

At the Synod of Bishops, we had agreed that about eight of us should join Bishop Adam Taaso of Lesotho for an ecumenical service for lawyers committed to peace, organised in response to the recent alleged coup attempt and political conflict in that country. So after Maputo I spent an evening in Johannesburg, then proceeded to Maseru. I paid a courtesy call on King Letsie III and met with Bishop Taaso and a few other people to gain a clearer perspective on the issues. At the service the next day, the Cathedral was packed with people, including His Majesty the King, Queen 'Masenate Mohato Seeiso, members of the Senate and various political leaders.

I preached on the topic of peace with justice, and argued that truth, respect, reconciliation and forgiveness are non-negotiable elements for peace. I urged all to play their part in ensuring peace with justice and pursuing all that makes for lasting peace. I prayed and spoke of the need to engage in dialogue and to learn from the example of Moshoeshoe I, who built the Basotho nation. I also affirmed the role of South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) team appointed to facilitate a settlement, and prayed that their efforts would yield what the Basotho longed for. However, I said it was up to each and every Mosotho to work for what makes for peace. The King also addressed the nation, urging peace, and we all lit peace candles and prayed for peace, rain and the flourishing of all.

Thanks be to God that the next day, the SADC team seemed to have made headway and it was announced that there was an agreement to reopen Parliament – which has been suspended since June – and to hold early elections next year. We need to give thanks for an early resolution to the crisis, but we must now pray for peaceful and credible elections.

In South Africa, we deeply regret the government's refusal to allow the Dalai Lama into the country to join the Nobel Laureates' conference, forcing the organisers to cancel the conference and causing embarrassment to our country.

Further afield, we urge politicians to resolve the diplomatic tensions over the collapse in Lagos of the Synagogue Church of All Nations guesthouse to carry out to conclusion the identification of the possibly decomposing bodies of those who died. We continue to pray for their families even as we urge the closure of this horrible and sad chapter. On the world stage, even where there is peace it seems to be fragile, and we need to intensify our efforts to ensure peace with justice.

By the time you read this, I will have visited the Parish of St Francis in Simonstown, in the Diocese of False Bay, which this year celebrates 200 years of Anglican ministry in the town. We congratulate the parish on two centuries of faithful worship and service. May it grow in strength as it continues to witness to Christ in our time.

Please pray for the wider Church, especially where it is already divided or is in the process of being divided. Pray for sanity and God's intervention, especially in the situation where a former priest of this Province in False Bay wants to form his own denomination and thus lacerate and confuse the body of Christ.

May the church heal its divisions and live out the vision of Christ, that we be one as he and the Father are one. As Psalm 133 says:

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!"

God bless you

+Thabo Cape Town



Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bio-diversity -- And 200 Years of Ministry in Simonstown


Homily at the Patronal Festival And Bicentennial Celebrations at St Francis Of Assisi, Simonstown, 5 October 2014:

Theme: Bio-Diversity

Genesis 1:24-31; Psalm 150 (Sung); Rev 5: 1-14; Gospel: St Luke: 12:42-48
I greet you all in the name of God who is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Amen.
Let me start first by congratulating you for attaining a great milestone in the history of our Province: 200 years of faithful service, worship and witness in this place. We give thanks to God and I think we need to applaud this milestone. I acknowledge the presence of my predecessor, Archbishop Njongo, as I give thanks to the parish and Father Bob for inviting me to come and share this day with you today. I miss Fr Bob because whilst he was chaplain at Herschel, my daughter used to invite me to his sermons. She would say, “Dad, you always preach, come and listen to my chaplain preach at school”. So I would attend these inspiring and profound sermons by Bob.
Yours is a story of faithfulness and courage, and God’s faithfulness and care for you as a parish and people. I might be “preaching to the choir” but as you all know, patronal festivals or feasts of title are “nostalgic” occasions. You recall things gone past, how you are faring now and postulate the end with joy or fear – or you don’t even want to think about what the end will be like. These raise deep theological questions of how to live with the knowledge of God’s revelation, his incarnation in the here and now and what your or our end will be and how we should live whilst we are on “borrowed” time in this life. How should we respond to God’s revelation in creation? Could there be another way of looking at this?
The anthem sung by the choir just before the gradual hymn was particularly moving and made me reflect more deeply on the things I feel nostalgic about. And the elements brought to the front as symbols of bio-diversity were also helpful in reminding me of your patron saint, Francis. Francis and bio-diversity and care for the “outliers” or marginalised are synonymous. As you seek to imitate Christ and live up to the example of your patron saint, Francis, and in your frailty or strength or in whatever state you find yourself, how should you respond to God’s revelation in creation?
I have been asked to reflect on bio-diversity, as your patronal festival falls within the season of creation. Bio-diversity boils down to relationships. Two weeks ago, at Provincial Standing Committee, we were reminded of the reality of climate change as part of our relationship with the environment. Some may dispute this reality. But as one who calls Makgobaskloof home, I do notice the changes that make it far different from the way it was when I grew up there. The Letaba River is sometimes is too low or too full, the Ga Makgoba settlement is too dry and barren and full of resettled people.
At PSC, we were reminded of frightening and sobering statistics showing that 60% of the ecosystem on which we depend for life is now degraded beyond the point of repair: our water supplies and air are polluted and unsafe, and our bird life, animals, fish and forests are suffering. We see rising food prices and we are told that Southern Africa is warming at twice the global average. We may doubt the details of these statistics but we can’t ignore the warnings because we don’t agree scientifically.
One of the Anglican Communion marks of mission urges us to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” How do we do that, in the face of what I have painted?
To my children’s consternation, I have become known as “the toilet archbishop” because of my constant call that the poorest of the poor should be provided with proper water and sanitation. The cost to the fiscus of not doing so is much more than that of doing so, because of the consequences that ripple through to the health and other budgets. Hence I want to call on you, over and above what you do for social outreach, to join me in highlighting the plight of those without proper water and sanitation. Share your skills and research in devising solutions to this basic need. Order your intercessions to pray for an end to the plight of those who live without proper sanitation. Become known as the “the toilet parish” because of your concern and determination to resolve water and sanitation challenges in our country. Your patron saint would probably have identified with this call, this cause, and not with large houses, many garages and big and many cars.
How should we respond to the word read, proclaimed, prayed and said, to the sacrament shared, and to God‘s faithfulness to this parish over the last 200 years? The Psalmist in Psalm 150 sung and the heavenly host in the passage from Revelation read today urge us to respond by praise and worship, “Worthy is the Lamb”. You have done that well this morning. But how do we exude this life of worship and praise both inside this parochial space and outside, where we live and move and encounter our diverse contexts?
As John Suggit, who is seated in the pews this morning, is sometime quoted as saying, let’s get our theology correct. We can’t end the Genesis passage read by Sir Rupert Bromley with subduing and dominating the earth (Genesis 1:24-31). We need also to care for it. We can’t worry about the soul only in the company of the heavenly host in the vision read from Revelation and not worry about our body and mind and those of our neighbours (in the broadest sense ). We can’t afford the dualism that is sometimes preached and that has become prevalent and encourages escapism. Our lives, like that of St Francis, are lives full of hope. Hope, as John Suggit and Denise Ackermann describe it, is ”getting our hands dirty and effecting the change we desire because we believe God is with us and is already changing our lot”. Again Suggit is quoted as saying to his homiletics students (I hope it is correct!) that if you can’t say it in three sentences, don’t bother to say it. So to comply with this expectation, all I have said boils to two key theological aspirations: What is liberation (redemption) and how should we live in the here-and-now as people nurtured by the word of God?
We do these amongst other virtues by renewing our relationship with one another as neighbours and as God‘s children; we care for one another; we listen, hear and live the word of God in the world and with all God’s creation as the psalmist did, in praise and honour to God who cares for all of us, like God does even for the sparrow.
We are so grateful to God for this, our Church’s oldest parish. It has felt special for me to take part in this service. May you grow as a parish and continue in God’s strength. May each one of you continue to live in hope. Be like your patron saint, Francis – be hope-filled as you prosper in the things of God. Amen.
+Thabo Makgoba



Friday, 26 September 2014

Statement from the Synod of Bishops meeting at Benoni in the Diocese of the Highveld, 21-24 September 2014


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16)

To God be the glory:

The Synod of Bishops met for its bi-annual meeting at the Lakes Hotel and Conference Centre, Benoni. Bishop David Bannerman, in his farewell speech to the Synod, aptly described the spirit of this gathering and the past fellowship of the Synod of Bishops as “a place of grace”.  We experienced this sense and God’s redemption as we gathered daily, immersed in worship and prayer and being fed through the Word and Sacraments.  The homilies at the Eucharist each morning, which sought to remind the Synod of our identity in Christ and our vocation as Shepherds in the midst of the ethical challenges of the day were delivered by Bishops Ndwandwe, Wamukoya and Marajh. Steeped in prayer, worship and reflection on Scripture, we were able in love and frankness to confront the pastoral challenges that we are currently experiencing in the Province. 

    We evaluated the minimum canonical qualifications required for ordination. Prof Barney Pityana of the College of the Transfiguration and the Revd Craig Dunsmuir of the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) College provided vital input in this regard and Bishop Peter Lee facilitated this session. 

    Advocate Ronnie Bracks, the Provincial Deputy Registrar, gave an animated presentation on the need for good governance.  John Brand, a South African mediation expert, gave a presentation on mediation and the need to use it as the first resort rather than using mission money on litigation.

    We agreed to establish the Archbishop’s Award for Peace with Justice, in which we will acknowledge people who live and contribute in their communities to the virtues espoused in Micah 6:8:    

    He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
       and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
       and to walk humbly with your God?


    We also celebrated the news of Bishop Nathaniel Nakwatumbah being recognised with the Namibian Award for Building Democracy, “First Class”, for building democracy in Namibia.  We bade farewell to Bishop David Bannerman, who retires at the end of 2014.  We will miss his deep, quiet spirituality.  We wish him well in his retirement. 

    We also congratulated Bishop Martin Breytenbach and the Revd Trevor Pearce, as well as the group of volunteers who organised the recent Anglicans Ablaze Conference.  The group from the Diocese of Johannesburg and staff at Bishopscourt were also thanked for their part in organising the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Welby.  Mrs Lungi Makgoba was acknowledged and thanked for her hospitality when the Archbishop visited our Province.

    Earlier this year, each bishop was given Fr Michael Lapsley’s book, Redeeming the Past, to read.  We spent some time reflecting on the book and how it touched us, helping to deal with our own hurt and pain, either currently or in the past, and to expose these to the loving embrace of Jesus.  This sharing enabled the bishops not to be only cerebral, but “to do” theology through their own personal experiences.

    We prayed for the Mozambique Peace Accord and coming elections as well as the situation in Lesotho.  A number of the bishops, including the Archbishop, will visit Lesotho to offer solidarity with and prayers for Bishop Adam Taaso and the people of Lesotho.  Please hold the bishops in prayer during the visit to Lesotho, scheduled for 1st October 2014.

    The Synod of Bishops expressed its appreciation to Bishop Peter Lee for his leadership of the Anglican Board of Education and the development in this portfolio.  He was acknowledged also for his pivotal role as Chair of the Provincial Trusts Board Management Committee as he hands over the reins to Bishop Brian Marajh.

    Theological Education and the Liturgical Renewal for Transformative Worship initiative remain top priorities for the Synod of Bishops.  We received with joy the news of the appointment of the Ven Dr Vicentia Kgabe as the first woman Rector of the College of the Transfiguration (COTT). We also congratulated Bishop Raphael Hess for the 2013 Theological Education Sunday effort which raised almost R1 million.  In 2015, Theological Education Sunday will be on the 23rd of August.

    A Leadership Conference is planned from 27th-30th October at St Philomena, Durban.  We invite all who are interested in reflecting and planning for leadership development in our Province to attend or contact Fr Duncan Mbonyana at COTT.

    We want to say to all God’s people in the Province, in the midst of the challenges and issues of this mortal life, “Hold onto the Resurrection hope and may the grace of God be revealed through you, wherever you may be.”

    After formally dissolving the Episcopal Synod, the Archbishop burst into song:

    “To God be the glory, great things he has done, so loved he the world that he gave us his Son”.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Archbishop's Message to Confirmation Candidates at Anglican Schools

A sermon preached at a Combined Confirmation for Anglican Schools at Bishops Memorial Chapel, Cape Town, 7 September 2014:

Readings: 1 Kings 2:1-4

When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

Ephesians 6:10-20

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Mark 7:1-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

May I speak in the name of God, who calls us all to a life of worship, witness and service.  Amen.

I acknowledge the presence of all the heads of schools and chaplains here this morning. A special thanks to Mr Guy Pearson, head of Bishops, and the chaplain, the Revd Terry Wilkie, for hosting us. It is as always a joy for me to come to Bishops for confirmations.

May I welcome you all here today – most especially all who are being confirmed today; but also to parents and guardians; families and friends; as well as educators, learners and the wider communities of these three great Anglican schools, Bishops, Herschel, St Cyprian’s and St George’s Grammar.  It is a joy to have you all here.

This week on the 1st September, Anglicans in Southern Africa celebrated the life and ministry of Robert Gray – the first Bishop of Cape Town. As I follow in his footsteps I continually thank God for the great foundations he laid, in so many areas of life, and from which we continue to benefit. When he arrived in Cape Town in 1848, he set himself three tasks: to preach the gospel, build churches, and plant clergy. Well, he did all these, and far more besides.

Education was one of his great priorities – with both Bishops and St Cyprian’s owing their establishment to him, and Herschel and St George's Grammar following in the same strong tradition of Anglican commitment to excellence in education. So we thank God for Bishop Robert Gray and for the lessons we learn from his life of witness.

To all of you who are to be confirmed today, I encourage you to let your confirmation be the foundation of your future as you journey in life and follow in the traditions laid by Bishop Robert Gray. One can imply such a foundation to be a lifestyle of worship, witness and service as God invites us to embark on the journey of life.

Confirmation is a rite of passage on our Christian journey and it is like receiving a passport, so you are ready for travel, ready for adventure! You are responding, saying, ‘Yes, I am ready for the path ahead – and my allegiance is to God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

Confirmation is not the end of a process – it doesn’t mean that you have "arrived"; that you have somehow become "fully a Christian" and can now put your feet up and relax and wait for heaven! Not at all!

From today onwards, you are making your choice to follow God’s way which is the best way for yourselves. Take responsibility for your own life, for your choices about how you will live, what you will do and where your life will take you. We are on a journey of discovery, trying to explore:  What do I want to do with life?  Who am I really?  How shall I become that person?

Tap into the yearning that God has placed deep inside of you:  a yearning to live an authentic life, a meaningful life; a desire to "be real", to be "connected".

Our first reading is about the advice King David – very old, about to die – gave to his son Solomon, on how to live well. "Follow God’s commands, obey him, and you will prosper in all you do," he said. Following God, and the prosperity God offers, are a far less superficial, a far more profound way of living. This is what our Gospel reading is all about. Jesus taught that it is what is inside us which makes us who we really are. Our attitudes, our thoughts, our dreams, our imagination – these are what shape our words, our actions, and the sort of person we become.

One may ask the question. Now how do we get it right? What if we make the wrong choices?
We are to be in regular Christian training which will help us live a life of worship, witness and service, to which you pledge yourselves today.

Worship means coming regularly to chapel or Church:

  • to learn about God’s amazing love, and experience it for yourself;  
  • to hear Scripture read and explained, so you can grow in knowledge of God and of how to live the Christian life 
  • to encounter the holy mystery of God’s presence; and be fed, and strengthened, in the deepest core of your being, by receiving the body and blood of Christ.

This also means regularly reading your Bible for yourself – preferably daily. Regular prayer is keeping in touch with God, by speaking to him about all that we are doing in our lives; and being open to learn from him.

It is also good to spend a little time each day, just being quiet before God. If we just calm down, and wait, and tell him we are listening, often an idea will come into our heads – often a solution to a problem or sense of encouragement – and because it connects so deeply with us, we learn to recognise this is God’s way of speaking to us.

We need God’s guidance so that we can live the lives of witness and service. A witness is someone who gives evidence about what they have seen, about what they know. Our lives – through our words, actions, and attitudes – should give evidence that we follow the most wonderful and amazing God of love, who created the whole universe, and who cares for us more than we can ever imagine, and who wants to lead us to be the best we can be!

The closer we come to God, the more clearly our lives will reflect him, as true witnesses. Service is about demonstrating God’s love and care in very practical ways. Some of us are called to do this through ordination and special ministries. But actually, all of us are called to serve others, in every part of life – by being loving and honest and generous-hearted, in all our dealings with other people.

This is true of our relationships in the home; in relationships in the church, the neighbourhood and the community. It should also be true of our work relationships – being honest, fair, and trustworthy, with our colleagues and with those with whom we do business, as well as with our employees. There is no room for corruption, and no room for cutting corners, or cheating in any way.

And all of us can strive to bring greater social justice: we can throw our weight behind initiatives that promote fairness and the good of all.  Perhaps we are called to do something particular – and I know your schools have various programmes through which you can develop community involvement.

In Dr. Sylvia Rimm's book See Jane Win, which reports on research on the success of over 1,000 women, she says:

"Expect the best from all children, including post-high school education.
- Encourage the exhilaration of taking risk...    
- Learn from the success of others.
- Don’t let birth order get in the way of giving our daughters leadership opportunities and responsibilities.                                              
- Spread the wealth resources you have.
- Set a good example.”

Mark Shuttleworth is the first African to travel to space and he is from Diocesan College. Jonathan Shapiro, the South African cartoonist is from St George’s Grammar. These are but some of the successful people of our schools who have made a difference.

Around the world, let's be conscious of the situations in which others live. There are the continuing senseless killing and violence in Gaza. There are tensions in the Ukraine. We continue to say ‘Bring back our girls’ kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. And with the Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa, let us pray for God’s blessing and healing of those afflicted by Ebola, which has killed almost 2,000 people in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Also, in the year when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, we need to find innovations and new applications to stop war in the future.

As you contemplate God's call to you, the key question is: What one action inspired by one value, constitutional and biblical, will you pursue to make your world safe and equal after your confirmation? I pledge to be a disruptive leader as I advocate for a renaissance of trust in order to build a just and equal world. What about you?

Pray that God will help us discover what his particular call is to each one of us, as we take time to walk closely with him and listen to what he has in store for us. Like sport and study and music and everything else worthwhile, it takes effort to get to do that effortlessly.

Our second reading tells us something of what that effort looks like. It tells us to develop good habits that shape our imaginations, attitudes, thoughts, dreams – it tells us to set our hearts and minds on the good things of God. Then they become foundational for us – like a soldier’s armour and equipment, says St Paul. Or we might say like the tools in a toolbox; like the ingredients for the recipes from which our lives feed and we feed others; or like the software on which we run, like God’s ‘apps’ for living.

Base your lives on truth, on love, on faith, on trust – and do it with prayer and reading the Bible.
Get into the habit of having a conversation with God about all you do – it is better than talking to yourself inside your head!

Focus on the good stuff.  That’s God’s message.If we let problems shape our lives, we will always be dragged down. If we focus on all that is best, it will shape our lives. So find time in your life to converse with God.

Dear confirmation candidates, may God give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit as I lay my hands upon you. May you walk before God in faithfulness with all your heart and with all their soul, as you keep on journeying.

May you grow in faith and in the love of God, as you obey his commandments to be faithful servants within his church and in his world, the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen!