Saturday, March 26, 2011

True Servanthood – Sermon for the Diocese of Cape Town Mothers’ Union

This sermon was preached on 26 March 2011, at the annual Lady Day Service for the Diocese of Cape Town Mothers’ Union, held at St George’s Cathedral.

May I speak in the name of God – to whose service we are all called. Amen. Dear people of God, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, dear members of the Diocese of Cape Town Mothers’ Union – I want to recall the angel’s greeting in Luke’s gospel - ‘Greetings, favoured ones! The Lord is with you!’ Wow - after three years of trying, it’s possible for me to be at the Lady Day service! Let me express my warm thanks to all those involved with this service – both from the side of the Cathedral, as well as from the side of the Mothers’ Union – and especially to our President, Mrs Onica Louw-Msutu, for all she has done, not only for today, but throughout the last year. Thanks also to your Executive for their part.

Once again we are here to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation – the visitation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, who dared to say Yes to God. Mary said Yes, so that God’s good purposes for humanity might find expression and fulfilment through her. Or, to use the words of our Gospel reading, and the theme of today’s service, she said ‘I am the Servant of the Lord’.

Today I want to reflect on what it means to say ‘I am the Servant of the Lord’. What does it mean for us as members of the Mothers’ Union? And what does it mean for us in South Africa in 2011 – especially as we face local elections, just under eight weeks away.

The Mothers’ Union was established to support women in the demanding role of motherhood, and for the wider promotion of family life. In its early years, that focus tended to be on the family within the home, in the domestic arena. But today that focus goes far wider – for mothers can be found in every walk of life, and across all of society. I’d like to cite an example. Yesterday on Constitutional Hill I unveiled a memorial for the ‘class of 1994’ – the women in the first Parliament of our democratic South Africa. And as I looked around at all the women there I saw members of the Mothers’ Union who were in Parliament, who were politicians, in business and leaders in community organizations. God’s challenge to you, the Mothers’ Union, is to be his servants in every walk of life, and across all of society, so that everywhere, God’s good purposes for humanity might find expression and fulfilment through us.

For there is nowhere in our city, our country, where the Mothers’ Union does not have an interest – nowhere, where God is not concerned for his love to be shared (as Onica has put it in her introduction to the Service) … to be ‘shared through loving, respectful and flourishing relationships’ and by ‘demonstrating our Christian faith in action’. And the heart of our faith, our starting point for such action, is our firm commitment to say ‘Yes, I am the servant of the Lord.’

Not as in the apartheid South Africa, where serving was corrupted. Some were called ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ or domestics in a derogatory manner, and their dignity, respect and well-being demeaned.

We have choice. And we willingly say ‘I am a servant of the Lord.’ For we know that God is the God of love, of care, of compassion – who seeks only our best. He does not exploit. He does not oppress. To be his servant is to find, not servitude, but freedom. To serve him is to walk in the ways he sets before us – and to know that these are better ways than we could ever discover by ourselves. To be a servant of the Lord is to put our hand in the hand of the living God, our Saviour Jesus Christ – and to let him lead and direct us to a life that brings human flourishing for ourselves and for others around us: including both our families and our societies. This is true liberty, this is true freedom.

The Christian journey has sometimes been likened to that of a train. Does a train lack freedom when it is confined to the tracks? Well, one might argue that it is freer if it goes anywhere and everywhere. But in practice, we know that a train in the open veldt will not go fast and will not go far. Indeed, it is more likely to get bogged down and completely stuck. However, on the tracks it can go anywhere – anywhere that it is designed to go, and fulfil the potential with which it was made, to deliver people, goods and services where they need to be, and hopefully on time, too!

It is the same with us. To be a servant of the Lord is not to constrain ourselves, but to find ourselves where we, like the trains, run freely in the ways that God sets before us – fuelled by his Holy Spirit: so we too can fulfil the potential with which we were made, to bring God’s redemptive compassion, and his abundant life, to all.

By abundant life I mean that God’s desire for all of us is that human beings should not be in want. No one should go hungry, or be without clothing and shelter when it is cold and wet. God’s desire is that children should be cared for – by their biological parents, or in another form of loving, caring, compassionate family life.

He expects us to use the hearts that he gives us, and our brains, and our will-power, to do what is right, to care for one another so that none are wanting.

In a society such as ours, God’s desire is that no one should have too little – and this also means that no one should have too much. And it especially means that none of us should profit at the expense or the wellbeing of another. No one should have four toilets and others none; no one with too much income and others sentenced to basic income grants. God calls us to take the yoke of servitude off others.

In Hogsback last Saturday I said, referring to the departments of Education and Health, “the Eastern Cape is a failed state, a dysfunctional state. And there is corruption which is pervasive, and it is stealing from tax payers and creating poverty. This is not service as servanthood.”

The paradox of the gospel is that if we choose servant-hood, we choose freedom and we choose life – we choose the gift and grace and righteousness of which our second reading spoke. But if we choose servitude, we choose to diminish others and all of society and ourselves; and scripture warns that this is the path to condemnation and destruction.

I am speaking here about people’s lives, here in South Africa in 2011; and I am speaking about the choices that we will make in the forthcoming elections. Will we choose life for all, or opulence for some at the expense of others? We are not a rich country – but what we have should be enough to go round. We should have enough for everyone to have the food they need, the shelter they need, fresh drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities. Every child should have access to a decent education and health facilities. There should be an adequate level of health care that is available, and affordable, to everyone.

I offer these questions, mindful of all our other achievements as a country. But I still ask - Where is the urgency amongst our politicians to achieve these basic standards of living for everyone? Have those who seek elected office not understood that to lead is also to serve?

They should remember that Jesus said ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life’ – to give his life so that those in need might also know life (Matthew 20:28). Is this the model that our politicians follow? Or are they just willing to pay lip service when they promise to help the poor and the needy?

I say this to you here today, and I say this to the country at large: in a democracy, God is not for or against any particular political party. God is the servant of no party and its manifesto. Rather, God calls on all the parties and all the politicians to serve him, and to serve the people of this nation – to put the needs of the needy before their own ambitions, before their own interests, before their own desires for power and status.

God is judge, judge of us all – and he will judge the promises and the actions of us all. Are we prepared to say with Mary, I am the servant of the Lord? Are we prepared to be on God’s side – to live according to God’s manifesto?

God is the one who says ‘I came to bring good news to the poor.’ He is the one who says ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ He is the one who says ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.’ He is the one who had time for the outcasts, the excluded, the unimportant people of his day – his actions remind us that every human being is made in the image of God, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, dear members of the Mothers’ Union – these are the standards we expect of our politicians as the elections draw near. I am proud to be involved with the Eminent Persons Group of the Election Monitoring Network and the Chair of the Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Commission that holds political parties to a Code of good behaviour, that all are asked to sign. It is a commitment to the right to free speech; to tolerance; to promoting open and fair debate between parties, and among candidates and those who support them. It is about behaving with decency and good manners in the little things – not defacing or destroying the posters of others; not shouting people down; not making threats; not spreading false rumours or telling half truths.

Yet it is not only for a few members of the Observer Commission or EMN to ensure that good behaviour is upheld and that we create free and fair conditions for elections. Of course, we cannot be everywhere at once. But actually, the issue is far more fundamental. All the Code of Conduct does is to require people to behave as people ought to behave in any decent democratic society. Therefore it is for all of us to say that this is the sort of society we want – this is the sort of community in which we want to live, to have our families, to raise our children.

So finally, dear members of the Mothers’ Union, this returns me to you! For you are everywhere in society – and everywhere you can call on others to be the people we ought to be. And where people fail, you can stand up and say ‘Enough is enough! We will not accept intolerance. We will not accept the demonising of others. We will not accept the abuse of the name of God in support of narrow party or sectarian interests.’ Instead, in our lives, our words, our actions, we will show others what it means truly to live as servants of the living God – to say Yes, as Mary did, so that God’s good purposes for humanity might find expression and fulfilment through us. And we invite others to join us, and do the same – so that the redemption that Jesus won for us on the cross may be known through abundant lives of human flourishing.

Mary said ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

May God give us grace to do the same. Amen

Monday, March 21, 2011

Western Cape Religious Leaders' Statement on Human Rights Day

The following statement was issued on 21 March 2011

STATEMENT FROM THE WESTERN CAPE RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP

We the religious leaders of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, present at the Human Rights Day Celebration in Athlone on 21st March 2011, wish to voice our condemnation of the public behaviour allowed in response to the presence of the Acting Premier of the Western Cape Provincial Government, Ms. Patricia De Lille. We were shocked and saddened that the majority of those present in the stadium, vociferously continued to heckle and boo the Acting Premier of the Province throughout her speech of welcome. Neither the intervention of the Programme Director, Mr. Marius Fransman, or that of the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr. J. Radebe, helped the situation. We felt that only the intervention of the President himself might have saved this moment of gross humiliation, but this was not forthcoming.

That such a demonstration of extreme intolerance should be displayed at the opening of a Human Rights Day celebration is a sad indictment of how far we have grown as a new democracy, with a Constitution based on fundamental human rights, which include freedom of speech and respect for all. Such a display of the abuse of human dignity in a programme entitled ‘Working together to Protect Human Dignity’ does not bode well on our ability to sustain a mature and respectful electoral process in the forthcoming months.

We strongly support the statement from the Human Rights Commission on this matter and call upon all political leaders to uphold the Electoral Code of Conduct and to instil in the electorate an unwavering commitment to the basic rights of respect and human dignity for all.

The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba. Patron WCRLF

Fr John Oliver. Chairperson WCRLF

Mrs Tahirih Matthee Deputy Chairperson

For further details, contact Fr. John Oliver, 082 7333500, or the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, 021 462 2277

Monday, March 14, 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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Religious Leaders' Statement on Fundamental Human Equality, Regardless of Race

The following statement was issued by the National Religious Association for Social Development (NRASD) on 10 March 2011.

Values of a democratic South Africa based on fundamental equality of humans created by God,not to be defined in discredited racial categories

As religious communities, our fundamental point of departure is that we are all created by God , not only equal, but in fact responsible for one another’s well-being. This is our true identity. We are therefore alarmed by the current political debate in South Africa in which there is an attempt to use discredited racial categories again to define the value, place and role of human beings in our society.

It would be the ultimate failure of the struggle for the liberation and dignity of all South Africans, visitors and foreigners amongst us, if we remain captive to the racial or quasi-biological concepts and categories that were used in the past to divide, oppress and exclude some people in South Africa from realising their full potential. Our new identity and our hopes for the future are based on our common destiny and our responsibility for one another.

As a religious community in South Africa we strive to build a just and equitable society, a society that cares for all its citizens, especially for those who are weak and marginalized; we wish to sustain a democratic society that respects our Constitution, the rule of law, that guards against the misuse of power, that fosters our diversity and plurality, and that promotes the role of civil society. Such a society can only be built on the shared moral values within our diverse traditions in order to build a wholesome society. This is the true challenge of national reconciliation.

Thus we must have the courage to build a common future for all South Africans – based on our true identity as being equal, according to the image of God, focussing on how we can help one another, serving one another to realize our God-given potential, seeking justice for the weak and giving hope to the destitute and the poor, so that South Africa can really be a home for all, a shining light amongst the nations of the world.

Father Richard Menatsi, NRASD Chairperson, Executive Director, IMBISA Catholic Centre

Sheikh Achmat Sedick, NRASD Deputy Chairperson, Muslim Judicial Council

Archbishop Buti J. Tlhagale OMI, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference (SACBC)

Bishop Ivan Abrahams, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa

Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Union of Orthodox Synagogues

Dr. Isak Burger, President, Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa

Ms Shohreh Rawhani, Baha’i Community, South Africa

Rabbi Ron Hendler, Union of Orthodox Synagogues

Prof. Piet Strauss, Moderator, Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa

Dr. Jakobus (Kobus) Gerber, General Secretary, Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa

Prof. Thias Kgatla, Moderator, General Synod, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa

Archbishop Dr. Zandisile Magxwalisa, Jerusalem Church in South Africa

Pastor Dr. Lucas Yakobi Founder, Assemblies of God South Africa

Rev. John Sigudla, President, Baptist Convention of South Africa

Bishop Dr Joe Ramashapa, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa

Rev. Lucas Plaatjie, Moderator, Cape Synod, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa

Canon Desmond Lambrechts, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Rev. Mzukisi Faleni, General Assembly Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Africa

Enquiries or additions, NRASD Secretariat:

Dr. Welile Mazamisa, E-mail: wlm@sun.ac.za; cell: 083-6326321, Tel & Fax: 021-8802852; Dr. Renier Koegelenberg, E-mail: efsa@iafrica.com; cell: 083-6251047, Tel: 021-8801734, Fax: 021-8801735; Mr. Sipho Mahokoto, E-mail: mahakoto@sun.ac.za, cell: 083-7453405, Tel 021-8802850 Fax 086-6017739

Letter to the Anglican Primate of Japan

The following letter has been sent to Archbishop Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, Archbishop of the Nippon Sei Ko Kei and Bishop of Hokkaido

My dear Archbishop Nathaniel

I am shocked and deeply saddened by the immense damage caused by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami and subsequent aftershocks in Japan. I have been stunned by the pictures which are reaching us with the images of human tragedy, displacement and the physical damage to so many structures in many communities.

Very recently I sent our prayers and condolences to Bishop Victoria Matthews of Christchurch, New Zealand, and almost a year ago, I visited Haiti following the massive earthquake there.

Since the earthquake in Haiti we have seen severe climatic changes with resultant flooding, demolition of property and also sadly the tragic loss of human life. We don’t know at this time the extent of loss and damage you are facing, but we are shocked and want to assure you, your parishioners and the Japanese people of our prayers at this time.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I send our condolences to the families of those who died or are missing and the assurance of our prayerful support in the days ahead. Though we are far away in the southern tip of Africa, we are one in Christ, you remain our neighbour and we are touched by your pain and loss.

While we don’t have certainty about what is causing the severe climatic changes we are witnessing around the world, their impact is devastating to all. As COP 17 prepares to come to Durban, South Africa, later this year, my prayer is that honest and in-depth discussions that lead to binding protocols will be put in place which will contribute to the reversal of climate change and signal a new global effort and commitment to respect the integrity of creation and our environment.

Again, please be assured of our prayers for you and all the people of Japan.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town

Friday, March 11, 2011

150 years of Anglican Worship in the Constantia Valley

The following sermon was preached at Christ Church Constantia on 6 March 2011. During the service, the Wingerdstok Cross - made of old vines donated by the Klein Constantia farm, fixed to a hessian covered board by wire worked into a central crown of thorns - was blessed.

1 Kings 8:22-30; 1 Peter 2:4-9; Matthew 21:12-16

May I speak in the name of God, the master builder, who calls us to be his living stones.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God of Christ Church Constantia, let me say again what a delight it is to be with you as you celebrate 150 years of Anglican worship and witness in the Constantia Valley. Thank you, Keith – and Gladys – for your warm welcome; thank you churchwardens; thank you to everyone involved in this service, and to all who have taken part in the wider celebrations that you have been enjoying. It is a real pleasure to be with you this morning!

When I first came to Cape Town, one of the great challenges on a Sunday morning was finding my way to wherever I was due to preach. Some of the churches of our Diocese are not easy to locate. But that is not the case here – everyone knows of ‘The Stone Church’ on Constantia Main Road: this beautiful building of Table Mountain sandstone.

Just a week ago, I was looking at very different stones – the limestone of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple where Jesus cast out the money-changers. No doubt St Peter was with him there on that day – and on many other occasions. Perhaps you remember the account in St Luke’s gospel, where the disciples were marvelling at the amazing rebuilding of the Temple carried out by Herod the Great, twenty years before Jesus’ birth. Jesus warned them not to put their trust in mere buildings, no matter how impressive, telling them that not one stone would be left standing.

Well, in 70AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple, almost completely. Today, only the lowest levels of Temple date from the time of Jesus – and a little more remains at the corners. The foundation stones of the Temple are vast – many are more than forty feet – twelve metres – long. Most weigh 70 tonnes or more, and the very heaviest is estimated at perhaps as much as 550 tonnes. At the corners, these huge stones are interlocked. They withstood the Temple’s destruction rather better than the rest of the building, and can be seen today, standing above the old foundations.

We don’t know whether St Peter wrote about Jesus as God’s cornerstone before or after this happened, but he certainly understood the way a good cornerstone strengthens the whole building. Nonetheless, pictures from New Zealand of the collapsed cathedral tower in Christchurch – where it was thought up to 22 had died but in fact, thank God, no bodies were found – remind us that, as Jesus said, we should not put our trust in stones, in bricks and mortar.

This is the message at the heart of our readings today. Solomon’s prayer declares that God cannot be contained, even in the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple. Rather, it is the place on which God looks with particular compassion; and the place in which, and towards which, people pray. In this way, the Temple is the focus of human life intersecting with the love of God, and his active presence with us.

And if anyone has any doubts about what this might mean in practice, well, they could do a lot worse than read through the wonderful commemorative book produced for your 150th anniversary. I was fascinated to read the story of Anglican worship here – through far more twists and turns of history than I had imagined. Not only did the apartheid government try to stop coloured people living and worshipping here – at one point, an earlier rector tried to make the white members of the parish go elsewhere!

But we are not really here today to mark the history of, first, a thatched chapel, and then this stone building. No, we are here to celebrate the living faith of Jesus Christ, vibrant among his people, over a century and a half. For it is the faithfulness of men and women, who held together, no matter what, which has withstood the buffeting of time, and kept this congregation, this worshipping community, alive – indeed, alive and thriving. So we pay tribute today to all those who have served here in the past: to clergy, of course, but perhaps rather more so to those families – and especially those coloured families – who have been at the heart of Christ Church life, over generations: families like the Adamses, the Williamses, the Pelstons, the Davidses, the Petersons, the Elys, and many more.

Our thanks are to you, and to your parents and grandparents before you. We know that your faithfulness came with great pain, at great cost. We also know that, without you, and without your commitment, we might not be here today – or we might be a very different church from the one which can produce such a broad and deep and rich Annual report as the one you shared at vestry this week. (You can tell I have been doing my homework, before coming here!)

Surely this is what it means to be living stones – creating amongst yourselves a focal point for people to encounter God, whatever the circumstances of their lives. We know that through Christ Church, people meet the living God, and find his love, his compassion, his strength, his comfort, his leading, his encouragement – even his judgement at times, in order to find his redemption, and his power to transform what is wrong and bring good out of evil.

The strength of the vast stones of the Temple in Jerusalem lies most of all not in their size and weight – but in the way they interlock. Where they were built together, they best withstood the Romans’ destructive efforts. The same is true of living stones. St Peter is not writing to individuals. He is writing to congregations, to Christian communities: let yourselves be built into a spiritual house – let yourselves be built together – to be a holy priesthood.

This is your calling, as the people of Christ Church, Constantia. God has chosen you. Yes, each of you individually he has called by name, as the prophet Isaiah says. But he has called you to belong to one another, so that together you can be his royal priesthood, his holy nation, God’s own people.

And he calls you together for a purpose, says St Peter: ‘in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ We proclaim his might acts through our words, and our actions. This is the life of worship, witness and service to which we pledge ourselves at confirmation. This worship, witness and service are most effective when the whole congregation shares together. As St Paul puts it in his first letter to the Thessalonians, ‘Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.’

Today I say this also to you, ‘keep on encouraging one another, and building up each other, as indeed you are doing’:

• through morning and evening prayer and the prayer diary, the prayer chain and the fellowship groups;

• through community outreach and hampers and love-packs, and through the shop;

• through pastoral care givers and bereavement visitors and providing funeral teas;

• through the music and the flowers and the contribution of lay ministers and servers and readers and sidespeople;

• through the gardening group and the handyman team;

• through preparation for baptism, confirmation and marriage;

• through work with children and young people, as well as the seniors;

• through the wardens and parish council, the office and all the administrative work;

• through … well, the list goes on and on and on!

Now Keith, I know, is a construction engineer by training. He will no doubt tell you that a building doesn’t just need corner-stones. It needs bricks, it needs mortar, it needs plaster and roofing, plumbing and electrical work, it needs doors and windows, ceilings and floors, everything from huge joists to tiny screws. Thousands of different pieces must be fitted together like an unbelievably complicated jigsaw. But each piece is necessary, and must find its proper place.

And the same is true of us. We are all different. We all have different gifts, different aptitudes, different abilities, different expertise and experience. Yet God calls each of us to play our part. None of us is unimportant – all of us make a difference to God’s plans, God’s blue-print, for us. We make a difference by fitting in with God’s plans – and we also make a difference if we are fail to do so, perhaps because we are too hesitant, too timid.

But we should not be afraid, because God’s promise to us is that we matter, and even in small things, what we do counts, what we do matters – what we do has eternal significance. Our gospel reading reminded us of this. The praises of little children and babies can be more important in God’s great schemes than all the fancy words of religious leaders – now there’s a warning for you and me, Keith! So do not be afraid to let God use you as his living stone, and place you where he most wants you to be. And the promise of his Spirit is that he will help us to become the people he calls us to be.

Perhaps you might find another picture more helpful – the picture of the vine. ‘I am the true vine’ says Jesus, ‘Ek is die ware wingerdstok’ (Jn 15:1). He tells us to abide in him, and then, through his Spirit working within us, like the sap of the living vine, we will bear much fruit.

I must admit that when I first saw the Wingerdstok Cross, it almost took my breath away. It is so simple – yet it is so profound. The gnarled and twisted wood, the thorns, the nails, speak to us powerfully of the struggle of our own lives, and the struggle and pain of Christ on the cross. But they also speak of persistent life, irrepressible life, life that holds on and endures, through good times and bad, through fair weather and foul, through sun and rain, through cloud and storm.

This is the life that God assures for all of us, if only we abide in the true vine, if only we abide in Jesus – if only we are living stones, allowing ourselves to be built around the corners-stone that is Christ. For on the cross Jesus Christ has borne our pains, our suffering, our own sins, and the sins that have been perpetrated against us. He has suffered death so we can live; and so that we can share this same hope of life with others.

None of us know what the future will bring. Those people who first had a vision for an Anglican chapel in this valley – both white and coloured – none of them could have guessed what the next 150 years would bring. Sometimes life was easy. Sometimes life was more than tragic. But God is faithful and sees us through.

Today, we do not know what lies ahead. Certainly, there will be change. Keith will retire at the end of the year. But no-one needs worry, as long as Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives.

Dear people of God of Christ Church Constantia, my message today is very simple. Abide in Jesus. Abide in his love. Each of you, in your own heart – and all of you together, living in mutuality, caring for one another, allowing yourselves to be cared for; building one another up in love and faith, as God’s holy people.

Develop the habits of deepening prayer, and Bible study. Put your hand in his, and journey with him through your lives – as individuals, and as a community. Let him teach you, and lead you, into an ever deepening relationship with him. Let him use you, to build up the life of this congregation – a life of joyful praise and worship; and a life of faithful witness and dedicated service to the communities who are rooted in this valley.

For truly, ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the might acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’

So be it. Amen and Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Open Letter to the Rt Revd Samuel Azariah, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan

This letter was released as a press statement on 3 March 2011

Dear Bishop Samuel,

As I prepare to leave Bethlehem tonight, I am shocked and saddened to learn about the brutal murder of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for religious minorities in Pakistan, shot dead yesterday in a broad daylight in a residential area of Islamabad.

One can’t know the full story in these things but the fact that Mr Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian in the Islamabad cabinet and had expressed his dis-ease on the ‘regressive’ blasphemy law in Pakistan is certainly a troubling sign for inter-faith relationships – now and in the future.

The fact that his speaking out meant that he paid the price with his life, deserves the strongest condemnation by all.

As you are well aware, our recent meeting of Anglican Primates in Dublin had expressed regret about the blasphemy law and I had referred to this my February letter to the people of our Province. ( ‘To the Laos.’)

We, on behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Synod of Bishops, send our prayers and condolences to his family, to our fellow Christians in Pakistan and to you as Moderator of the Church in Pakistan, our sister church in Pakistan.

Witnessing to Christ in other contexts can be costly - to the point of death. I urge all people of faith, especially in our Province to seek to understand each other and work together for the well-being of God’s people and God’s world.

Yours in the service of Christ,

The Most Revd Dr Thabo C Makgoba,

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa