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