Theme: Law and Grace
Exodus 18: 13-27
12 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 15 Moses said too his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20 teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.” 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.
1 Cor 12:7-11
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as Spirit chooses.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunesa to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansedb by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and becomec my disciples.
Dear Clergy and People of the Diocese of Umzimvubu,
May I speak to you in the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ who died and was raised into new life. Let me greet and welcome you all to this Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Umzimvubu. I extend my particular welcome to Bishop Rubin Phillip, the Dean of the Province, and to the Provincial Executive Officer, the Reverend Canon William Mostert. I also warmly greet our guests who have joined the service tonight whom I have not mentioned. I want to extend special appreciation to the Vicar-General, Bishop Mzamane, who has been exceptional in acting in my stead during this tumultuous time in the life of your Diocese. I pray that our time together will be a time of growth and of deepening our relationship and partnership in God’s mission.
I want especially to welcome those who are attending Diocesan Synod for the first time. I hope that you will soon learn the workings of Synod and you won’t be daunted by its procedures. Let me once again thank the Dean of the Province for his support, the people of this Diocese for prayers and also thank the Synod of Bishops, who are currently praying for us as we gather here. I wish also to acknowledge and pray for Bishop Mlibo and his family at this time.
I want to begin by reflecting on the lessons that have been set for this Synod. In the Old Testament reading from Exodus, we find an intimate, open and honest relationship within the family context of Moses and Jethro, his father-in-law – engaging one another, observing one another and entertaining one another. Jethro is also the priest of Midian, and in our context we would refer to him as isisele senyathi – someone who is knowledgeable and wise. On observing Moses as a law-giver or as a judge, as he presides over the Israelites, Jethro raises a concern and says to Moses: “You are going to burn yourself up. He who acts for himself has a fool as a client. In God’s business of making God’s laws known, you must get junior judges and others to assist you, in that way you will be able to take care of yourself, take care of God’s laws; and God’s people in an effective manner.” Then he says to Moses, “your juniors must be carefully chosen people with good character and fear of God.”
Are we as this Diocese – Bishop, leadership and everyone – matching the criteria set for Moses? In fact, when we look at what we have read on the subject of the law, it goes deeper in Psalm 19:7-14 and gives us qualities and properties on how we should treat the laws of God.
The Psalmist says: “The precepts of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.” To meet our Lord's standards, our actions must fulfil the following criteria: they must be perfect, that is, free of corruption – they must be sure – in other words, indisputable, they must be right, in other words, binding, they must be clear, that is, without dark patches, dirt, or darkness, they must be clean and pure and finally, they must be true – and if they are true they must expose all untruths. We have a picture here of what I will call law and God's grace. We live by God’s grace and we normally perceive law as superior, but God’s law has abundant character and its will manifests itself in the common good.
If we continue and follow the same pattern in the New Testament reading, in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, we get an injunction or instruction that the gift of executing God’s laws, or the spiritual gift that we have, should be an edification of God’s people. It should be for the common good and not for only those who have access to the spiritual gifts, nor only for those who can use these gifts for their own benefit.
The Gospel we have read, even the Ten Commandments, sums it up in Jesus who is the true vine. Jesus says that He has not come to do away with the law but the law he is talking about is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and prophets.“ And in fact, as our Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, reminds us in one of his most frequently quoted phrases, love is actually more demanding than the law. To illustrate this, he uses the example of the lengths to which a mother will go for the love of her child – way beyond the precepts of the law.
The preface of the reading in John 15:1-8 describes Jesus as the true vine, as the one who truly knows the workings and love of God. He says unequivocally, I am the life-giver, the bread, the way and life for those who believe in me. Having believed, I want you to remain in me and maintain an intimate relationship with me.
The option is ours. There are consequences for not abiding by God's law, of playing God, of not abiding in Jesus Christ. If Moses had continued playing God he would have burned out, and we know that at one stage the children of Israel wanted to stone him. From Paul’s letter, if people do not use the gifts God has given them for the common good, those gifts stand a chance of going astray and for those people becoming pagans again. The consequences are also articulated in the Gospel reading. Those who do not abide in Jesus Christ are thrown away like a branch and wither, and such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.
From the lessons before us as we begin this Synod, I want to pose further questions.
Who is the Church? Let us go back to the parable of the unforgiving steward. As the followers of Jesus, we can avoid being too quick to judge others and their motives, we can have mercy on those who have wronged us, and we can forgive our sisters and brothers from our hearts. And by following His teaching, each one of us has the capacity within us to contribute to the achievement of great things. As Robert Kennedy said at the University of Cape Town in 1968, few of us will, in his words, “have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation…” We too can contribute to what he called the “numberless diverse acts of courage” which shape the history of humankind.
We will be judged by how we contributed to making this a forgiving and reconciled world: by whether, when we saw war, we tried to stop it; by whether, when we saw wrong, we tried to right it; and by whether, when we saw need and suffering, we tried to bring healing. And succeeding is not as important as acting: As Madiba put it, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
I also want us to remind ourselves today of the Vision and Mission of this Province, of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa. We resolved in our Vision and Mission statement for the decade we are in now that we will seek to be:
- Anchored – in the love of Christ
- Committed – to God’s mission
- Transformed – by the Holy Spirit
As we gather here, having gone through a painful and trying time, I hope that we will use this Synod as an opportunity to refocus, re-strategize, to listen to the advice of the elders, the Jethro’s who look at the spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on us. It is my sincere prayer and longing that each one of you will go down deep within yourself and remove that which takes you away from the truth, from the true vine.
Look for the things that are withered and dry and offer them to God, so that he can rebuild you and bring you back home. The Diocese has gone through challenges and pain. Now, as we move out of the cold winter, look forward to the blossoming flowers of spring. Plan and elect committees and people who fear God, who are good and courageous, to help us to rebuild the Diocese.
In your election, I hope that you will heed Jethro’s advice to Moses. In your deliberations, be sensitive to each other but be frank. We can’t be inward looking as if we exist by ourselves. We are here to serve the common good. We need to exist for each other, face challenges together, look at the corruption in our country and the world and speak truth in the power of God's words.
Let us also not be so inward looking that we forget the broader concerns about the world around us. On the 1st of September, on behalf of Archbishop Justin of Canterbury and acting in my capacity as the Chairperson of the Anglican Communion Environment Network, I have called the whole of the Anglican Communion to fast for Climate Change. I hope you will also do so, and as you pray for the environment, pray that the beauty of Pondoland will be protected and conserved.
Equally, as many of you know, a significant number of the people who died in Marikana came from here. I hope that you will open your hearts and lives to strengthen and encourage those families to go forward, together, to build a better future, one of peace and justice in which all may live and prosper.
You may know that I have a passion for education in general and for theological education in particular. Last week we celebrated Theological Education Sunday, during which we issued a special appeal for the College of the Transfiguration, where we train our priests. Please give generously towards this initiative as we need more resources for the college. I am also encouraged to inform you that CoTT is registered with the Higher Education Department and now offers a Diploma in Theology and Bachelor's Degree in Theology. We need to train more ordinands, as the world is changing and we are in need of more people who speak God’s word.
I also hope you will join me as our Church promotes quality education to end inequality, unemployment and address Pondoland’s growth. We need to tackle this challenge in all our dioceses – already we will be opening a boy’s school in Johannesburg next year, and another one in Lesotho, and we are in discussions about building a Science and Technology Centre in Nquthu in the Diocese of Zululand.
The Diocese of Umzimvubu has been in pain, a pain beyond that of the beheadings of John and my ancestor in Limpopo, King Makgoba. But God is already working his purpose in this Diocese, bringing light to the darkness, bringing new beginnings, bringing redemption of the past, bringing healing and wholeness throughout the whole of our lives, and God wants to use each one of us as channels of peace to his honour and us to His glory.
Now, as we proceed with the business of Synod, let us be isisele senyathi, like Jethro, and sikhumbule intaka yakha ngoboya benye!
Let me end with a confirmation blessing that I regularly use, but slightly rephrased as follows:
Go into the broken and unreconciled world as the Christian community; sow the seeds of reconciliation and repentance so that you may in joy reap the fruits of forgiveness and fulfilment.