Monday, 14 March 2011

To the Laos - To the People of God

Dear People of God,

I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, knowing that it will almost certainly reach most of you during Lent. In my homily at St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, today, I referred to Lent as a time of rededication and recommitment. It is a time for all of us to step aside, for ‘prayer and fasting’, as Jesus did.

As individuals, families, churches, we need to make space to ponder the big picture, and to listen to God’s ‘still small voice’ leading us – perhaps in the immediate changes and choices that are before us, perhaps seeking longer-term direction. Jesus’ three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) indicate the key areas to which we can direct our reflections this Lent, especially when looking at the big picture or taking stock. Essentially, they raise questions for us about our attitudes towards resources and possessions (exemplified by turning stones to bread); our image among others and our influence over them (adulation at the spectacular stunt of leaping from the temple without harm); and power and status (ruling the nations). We all need to ask ourselves how these temptations are present in our lives – whether in our homes, families and personal relationships, or in our churches, our work or other areas.

So far it has been a busy year. It began with a 5 day retreat with the clergy of the diocese of George and then I spent almost a week, including travel, at the Anglican Communion Primates’ Meeting, which was held in Dublin (see the reports at www.anglicancommunion.org/communion/primates/index.cfm); and just a week ago I returned from the Holy land, from a conference organised by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center (see www.sabeel.org). I am therefore looking forward to spending this Lent with a minimum of travel and meetings, and instead praying intently and reflecting on what might Jesus’ temptations of resources, influence and power mean to me, to us a college of bishops, and to the Anglican Church of Southern Africa as a whole.

Preaching at The Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane (you can find a report of this at http://www.fosna.org/content/archbishop-thabo-makgoba-sabeel-conference-bethlehem-god-faithfulness-and-resistance), and, later on the same trip, visiting Jerusalem’s St Georges Cathedral, was both inspiring and evoked within me a welter of positive emotions, and the sense of a deeper connection and closer walk with God. I am aware that it costs a lot of resources to travel to the Holy Land but if at all possible, I would encourage each Christian to make a pilgrimage there in their life time.

Following this visit, I have recommitted myself to praying persistently for the peace of Jerusalem and Holy Land. In my sermon at Gethsemane – which followed after visits to the Church of the Nativity, the Wall of Separation, to refugee camps and to villages where settlements are encroaching on Palestinians’ land – I re-echoed the call that Israel will not be free until Palestinians are free. There is no short cut to peace. Serious dialogue is needed and pressure must be brought to bear upon all sides until lasting peace is attained. As the Psalmist urges us, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122;6). Indeed, do pray untiringly, for I encountered a sense of real fear and real oppression there.

Closer to home, please pray for the Diocese of Niassa. I have recently read two articles reporting how the forestry partnership set up between the Diocese and a forestry company, which was meant to yield fruits for both has turned out badly (see http://farmlandgrab.org/uploads/attachment/Mozambique_Bulletin_48_Land.pdf). The people have been side-lined in favour of profits. The Diocese had hoped the project would be an example of ethical investment, and model a different way of exercising stewardship. Pray once again that God’s resources may be justly used for all, and for an end to temptation to such big companies to exploit and overpower the poor and simple.

Let me end this letter by encouraging all South Africans to work to create an environment that is safe and fair, for voting in the forthcoming local elections. Do exercise your right to vote and to hold those you vote for accountable to the promises they make in their speeches. As you prepare for the elections on 18 May, ask yourself serious questions such as the following: do the words and the actions of this party / person that I am voting for, bring life to all God’s people? What are their values? I will say more about this in my homily at the Mothers’ Union Lady Day service at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town later this month.

May the God who gives us grace and courage, enable our journey of rededication and recommitment as we seek to reconcile all things and people to God.

+ Thabo Cape Town

Postscript: As I am about to send out this letter, news of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan is reaching the world. Please pray for all those affected by this latest disaster – as well as those who are still struggling to rebuild their shattered lives in both Christ Church, New Zealand; and more than a year on, in Haiti.

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