This sermon was preached at the Patronal Festival of St Dominic's, Hanover Park, Cape Town, as they celebrated their 40th anniversary, on 4 August 2013.
Hosea 11:1-11; Col 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21 (Good News Bible / New International Version)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, dear People of God of St Dominic’s Hanover Park, let me say again what a great delight it is to be with you, and to share in the celebrations of your patronal festival and 40th birthday! Congratulations! Thank you, again, to you, Fr Gilmore Fry, to your wardens, for your invitation, and to everyone who has welcomed me so warmly, and who has contributed to this wonderful service – and what I am sure will be the equally wonderful refreshments afterwards! I also acknowledge Councillor van Rheede.
Today we join together in thanking God for the great faithfulness of the people of St Dominic’s over the last 40, turbulent, years. And we also give thanks to God for his great faithfulness, in giving the strength, the perseverance, the courage, the hope, that has kept you going through all the ups and downs of life, and through all the challenges, past and present.
The gospel account gives us a wonderful story and picture that I want to unpack today. Money itself is not a bad thing but there is more to life than pursuing millions. I guess we all know that. But having more does not necessarily make us happier. And if our lives become focussed just on getting more, evidence shows we will probably be less happy – and then, because we don’t understand the dynamic, we’ll just think we need even MORE, and so get into an even worse spiral.
As St Paul wrote to Timothy, the love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). If we have a false treasure at the centre of our lives, then pursuit of it is always going to take us further away from the real, genuine, treasures of life.
Real treasure, life in all its abundance, comes from growing into Christlikeness – into the life that Jesus models for us and offers to us. It is a life that is based on living in love with God, in our hearts and souls and minds and strength; and living in the same love with our neighbours. In other words, we are to grow in Christlikeness in our hearts – in our emotions and how we feel; in our minds – in the way we think; in our souls – in our spiritual lives; and in our strength – in the way we treat our bodies, in the way we live within the physical world around us.
And all of this then spills over into how we live as neighbours – as members of the community of Hanover Park, as colleagues, as friends, as family members. So then, how shall we go about pursuing growth? How do we work to encourage mature emotions, mature thinking, mature spirituality, and maturity in how we life – I might even say, mature citizenship?
The answer lies in nurture and education.
Our Old Testament Reading, from the prophet Hosea, paints the most wonderful picture of God as our tender parent – father or mother, even. God is there, helping, encouraging the small child, the toddler, to stand on its feet, and to walk for itself. God is there, always ready to catch us when we fall – and it is true, isn’t it that we are always falling, always stumbling, like the weak person in the gospel, pursuing millions or narrow interests and forgetting the bigger picture. The good news is, however, when we don’t get it right, he puts us back on our feet and encourages us to keep on going. His tender encouragement is the same for us all.
I was thinking about this earlier this week. One of the delights of Bishopscourt is the garden – and all the animals and birds that visit and make their home there. I know they can be a bit of a pest, but I am rather fond of the Egyptian geese. There is a pair which nests in the garden. A couple of weeks ago, they had three babies, three goslings. This week, alas, there is only one gosling left. So I spent a bit of time watching the mother goose and her baby.
Whenever the mother goose nibbles at the grass, her gosling nibbles at the grass. Whenever the mother goose flaps her wings, runs, swims her baby also follows the actions, flapping, running and swimming. The goose was showing her gosling exactly how to live well. And the gosling was wise enough to copy whatever its mother showed it.
Surely here is a deep spiritual lesson for us too! For we are to follow the pattern of Jesus. And also, maturer Christians are to be the pattern for younger Christians; and adults for children; throughout our communities.
In other words, it is all about ‘Education, education, education’ – to quote British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when he was asked what were his three priorities for government. Well, I often don’t agree with Tony Blair, but on this I think he was 100% right. We all need education - our country, our communities, our churches, our children – indeed, children of every age, because God does not want any of us to stop learning, or to stop growing, into a greater knowledge and love of himself, and of his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Of course, here I am, saying all this, in a community that knows these truths very well! For I know that you are very active in supporting education in many different forms. I know you have very active youth work, and many organisations for people of every age – from the choir and servers guild, through the AWF, CMS, band and dance groups, through to holiday clubs and more besides.
All these support and encourage and teach the life of Christian worship, witness and service – the life to which we pledge ourselves when we affirm our baptism promises at confirmation. This is what it means to say that we have died and our lives are hid with Christ in God – so that we can reveal Christ truly to the world!
Thank you for all you do with Back to School Sunday. Thank you for your support of the Upward Bound initiative, which I also support. Thank you for walking alongside learners – as Hosea spoke of God walking with us – to encourage them, especially to stick with school, to stick with education, and to be the best they can be.
Education is one of the top priorities of my own ministry. It is not just education for the classroom, though it includes this. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said that ‘Education that only teaches the mind, but does not teach the heart (and here I would add ‘soul’, also), is no education at all.’ As the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, we firmly believe this.
And so I launched the Archbishop’s Initiative in Education, to make our commitment more focussed, and, I hope, more fruitful. We have three priorities, which we affirmed last year at Provincial Standing Committee, and on which we shall build again at Provincial Synod in October. The three priorities are:
• To strengthen what ACSA is already doing in the field of education
• To encourage parishes in the on-going up-liftment of all their communities through partnership with local public schools
• To create more excellent church schools for all.
And so we are taking various steps, including restructuring the Anglican Education Board, so we can make these commitments concrete. In Gauteng we are piloting various projects, including ways of strengthening initiatives at parish level, which I hope we will be able to roll out in places like Cape Town before too long.
So be encouraged – you are doing a great job, because God in his grace has given you this understanding of what true riches are, and how they are to be pursued. Keep up the good work, because education, in its broadest sense, is what we most need – the nurturing of individuals and communities, so we may keep on growing as part of the true vine, Jesus Christ, so we can bear fruit that will last.
I am sure that within the Cape Flats, it is education that has the greatest potential to be a vehicle for the social changes that we so earnestly desire. It will do this through schools, through colleges, through continuing education, through training in practical trades and the skills of our technological age.
And we, God’s people, are to be at the heart of this – sharing, and promoting, our understanding of holistic education of the whole person. For God’s delight, above all else, is in human beings who are ‘truly alive’, flourishing and bearing fruit, in heart and soul and mind and body, as individuals, and as communities. And we are called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world – God’s instruments, and channels of God’s love and blessing and hope, for one another, and for the wider community.
Therefore I challenge you to consider the call to plant your own chapelry, with a school – just as you were planted – and in this way to sow seeds that can flourish in the next 40 years.
As I end this sermon, I want to ask again ‘Where does true treasure lie?’
Where does true treasure lie? It lies here – right before my eyes. You are God’s great treasure in Hanover Park! God has blessed you, and blessed Hanover Park for 40 years – may he bless you in the 40 years, and all the centuries, ahead! Amen.