Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 113; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 11:27-28
May I speak in the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Dear Nomfundo and Kwini family, what a joy it is for Lungi and I to share in today’s celebrations! Thank you for your invitation to preach and celebrate at this farewell Mass on the Feast of St Mary the Virgin.
Nomfundo, in Luke's Gospel, we read that when Mary was told that she was to become the mother of Jesus, she replied:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
We hope that as you take up this new challenge, it will be in similar spirit that you go out into the world, bolstered by the confidence that as God's servant, guided by God's word, you will be preparing yourself to do God's work for South Africa and our people. But more about that in a moment.
What is notable about the readings set for today is that they all speak about a God who is "nosy". He interferes in the affairs of human beings and of creation to right them. He intervenes to challenge Adam when humanity has messed up, calling out in the garden, "Where are you?" Our creator God, loving as he is, judges too, because there are consequences for bad decisions. God pronounces judgement in mercy. In both the Psalm and the lessons, this theme continues. He changes the social ordering:
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
He liberates and saves. He inserts himself into systems that are going wrong and changes their course. He is to be praised. And then, we learn from the Gospel that if we, like Mary, are obedient and faithful to the ways of God who in Christ is the truth way and the life, we will be blessed:
Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!
Based on the exegesis above, we are here to celebrate a young adult of 20 who is going to Scotland, a different country and a different culture, for academic studies. Nomfundo, you must know first just how proud of you we all are. Not just your parents, not just your wider family, not just the schools you have gone to, but all of us.
Because wow! Imagine it! One of our own is going to the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world, an institution with a history that goes back 600 years! One of our own is going to a university which has educated Nobel laureates, French revolutionaries and signatories to the American Declaration of Independence! One of our own is going to a place which educated John Knox, leader of the Protestant Reformation, and Edward Jenner, pioneer of the smallpox vaccine! It has even educated a king of Scotland, and much more recently, Prince William, heir to the British throne.
Although let me pause here, Nomfundo, and say that I am sure I speak for your parents when I say that if, like Princess Catherine, you meet your prince at St. Andrew's, we hope that you will bring him home to live here after graduating!
The role of education is of course far more than the accumulation and communication of information; of facts and figures, opinions and arguments, practices and procedure. For theory cannot be abstracted from the human context of surrounding societies and the wider world. No, the task of education should be understanding the world in which we live, the world from which students come – whether Scotland or South Africa – and to which they return. Education must fit us for engagement with a changing world.
So what you, Nomfundo, need to search for in your education is beyond mere knowledge – search to understand where you, and what you learn, fit into today's world and how best you can use it to become part of the solutions to the problems humankind faces. At university, you will have the freedom to choose how to chart your own course. Choose wisely, for to those whom much is given, much is expected. Choose according to the ways of God, for if you stray, God judges. But know also that if you trip up, he will also have mercy, forgive you and set you back on your path again.
And along with the joy of being admitted to such a distinguished and historic institution comes a burden: that you will be an ambassador for the millennials of South Africa and of Africa as a whole. Just by being there, you will strike a blow for those across the continent who strive for a good education. And you will be defying those in Africa and elsewhere who hold the girls should not be educated.
We are here to wish you well on the journey, to join your parents and family and friends to say: Go well!
Journeys create a welter of emotions, and often anxiety. Scripture says to your parents, Miranda and Mlungisi, don't panic, don't be anxious, the God of Adam and Eve, the creator God, the God who is always with us, the God who blesses us, will always be there, and will intervene in your daughter's affairs and yours.
And Nomfundo, if you sometimes need your parents, to get to St. Andrew's -- which of course is not only the home of Scottish university education but also of golf, get Mlungisi, and Miranda to play golf. They will make sure that in visiting you too, they take a little time out to go and see the golf club they call "The Royal and Ancient"!
And if you need a break from your studies, you will please the hearts of those us who are golfers if you take a stroll on the Old Course at St. Andrew's, the place they call the home of golf.
As we contemplate the immaculately-kept greens of the world's oldest golf course, let me turn our attention back home and use this opportunity as an excuse to urge upon you one or two current concerns close to my heart.
I am passionately concerned about the environmental degradation we see around us every day in South Africa. On Mandela Day, I walked the streets of Nyanga with clergy and young people, cleaning the streets. Please, please, everyone, let's set an example to everyone around us. When you shop for groceries, recycle your plastic bags or use bags that are biodegradable. At a wider level, support initiatives to stop climate change: this is the cry from my friends in the islands of the Pacific, for whom extreme temperature and rising sea levels signal storms, flooding and devastation. Please let's hear their cry and change our behaviour.
Lastly, as you all know, it is through a long-term and intentional focus on education that we can bridge the inequality gap in South Africa. I have spent the last eight years as archbishop asking for resources for our College of the Transfiguration, or COTT for short, and for schools, raising money for bursaries and uniforms and highlighting the lack of water and sanitation in many schools. As recently as last night, Manala and I met a couple of people, Prince Zulu, Dean Makhaya of Zululand and the DG of Science and Technology, Dr Mjwara. We explored a vision of rebuilding St Augustine's in Nqguthu as an Anglican centre of excellence in science and technology.
Nomfundo, please challenge your new friends in Scotland to help the church's educational ministry. Friends present, I invite you too to join me in this educational ministry of the Anglican Board of Education, or at COTT, so that we can transform the nakedness of Adam and Eve, lift up the lowly and be a blessing to women and girl children, and to humanity and creation as a whole.
Congratulations Nomfundo, we pray for God’s abundant blessings on your new venture. Travel well and travel with God. God loves you and so do we.