Sermon preached by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at the consecration of the new Church of St Matthias, Peka, Lesotho:
Your Majesty, King Letsie III,
Your Cabinet ministers present, especially the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister,
Bishops present from our Province and Central Africa, as well as the Bishop of Durham and his colleagues,
Dear people of God of the Diocese of Lesotho,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What a delight it is to share with you in consecrating a new church building.
God is good!
All the time!
All the time!
God is good!
Thank you, Bishop Taaso, as well as your family, for your invitation and warm welcome. Thank you also to everyone involved in the celebrations this weekend, and in today’s service – whether in making preparations, taking part, or in carrying out those invaluable but often invisible tasks behind the scenes. It is always wonderful to connect with His Majesty. Last night, thanks to Bishop and Mrs Taaso, we enjoyed a reception dinner. His Majesty was at his most relaxed, and I am still recovering from much laughter. Thank you, Your Majesty, for your gift of laughter and friendship.
The Diocese of Lesotho is very close to my heart, and a deeply valued part of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. But not only that: did you know that Lesotho and Bishopscourt, the official residence and office of the Archbishop, have very strong ties, going back a very long way, to the earliest years of the Diocese of Cape Town and before the Diocese of Lesotho was founded?
In May last year, Lungi and I were privileged to host His Majesty King Letsie III at Bishopscourt, when he paid us a courtesy call during a visit to Cape Town. I told him that his visit was renewing old family ties, because two of his ancestors – the younger sons of King Moshoeshoe I, Tlali and Tsekelo – had stayed at Bishopscourt more than 150 years ago. His Majesty responded by saying he had known that his ancestors had studied in Cape Town, but not that they had been at Bishopscourt.
Just to fill you in on some of the detail – Tlali and Tsekelo were among the children of leaders, among them also Maqoma and Sandile of amaRharhabe, who were taken to Cape Town in the late 1850s as part of a project of the British colonial authorities. They were educated at an institution established by the first Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, which later became Zonnebloem College.
Two young families were also our guests on that historic day at Bishopscourt. One of the families had three young children and after the king left, their eldest – a nine-year-old – started engaging Lungi and an ordinand in a series of questions, not about the king but about the archbishop. “What does an archbishop do?" was his key question. They tried to answer and after a while he said, “I get it, he is a fire fighter." Then they explained further, and after a pause he said, "Oh!! I get it now, he is a super fighter.” The conversation continued, to be followed by another pause, then he said: "He is actually like superman."
At that stage there was a gap in the conversation, and Lungi and the ordinand said, "There's the archbishop. Ask him what he does." He came to me and asked me what my work involved. I said, "I pray." "Pray?" he asked, as he looked at me in exasperation and squinted his eyes. Yes, I said, "I pray when there are fires, and for people, for schools, for kids, for an end to drought, for rain, for more food when there is a lack of food, for those in prison and those who are hurt by those in prison. I pray for university lecturers and for students, for mine bosses and for striking workers, for presidents, kings and rulers, and for them to be honest and transparent, and for the powerful and the powerless.”
He looked at me and then he was taken to my chapel to be shown where I pray. As he and his parents left, he rolled down the car window and said, “I will be praying for the archbishop so that he may continue praying for all of us." In his response to the visit, that nine-year-old child acknowledged the need and importance of prayer for the archbishop and for the world.
It is in this beautiful chapel at Bishopscourt, where Morning Prayer is recited daily, where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated and Evening Prayer is said, that my staff and I, and my predecessors, have constantly held before God this beautiful mountain kingdom. When the ancestors of the King came to Bishopscourt as young scholars in the 1850s, you can be sure Lesotho was prayed for at Bishopscourt. When the Diocese was created, you can be sure Lesotho was prayed for at Bishopscourt. When you became independent, you can be sure Lesotho was prayed for at Bishopscourt. When your country went through the ups and downs of the last 50 years – seizures of power, the restoration of democracy, political crises and difficult elections – you can be sure sure Lesotho was prayed for at Bishopscourt. And after the recent shootings, and the commission of inquiry currently investigating them, you are still being prayed for at Bishopscourt.
Thank you that you in turn are praying for your Archbishop as I continue to minister, trying my best to use the model of Christ our Good Shepherd in John 10:11, and especially as my ministry compels me to travel all over the world. From here, I will travel to London for meetings of the Compass Rose Society, an international group of generous Anglicans who seek to support the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. Then I return for a day to lecture at the University of Cape Town on “Values-Based Leadership for Sustainable Performance”. Then I am off to Washington to the inauguration of Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina as the new Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in the United States. As he takes office, please pray for him, for his church and for the whole Anglican Communion.
Let’s turn to our scripture readings today. They start with “Good News” and the good news is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is real good news! Why? Because many of us feel condemned by God because of sin. Sin, as we all know, is such a destructive thing in our lives because the guilt it creates can weigh so heavily upon our souls that we can find no peace, no matter where we turn.
The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you and me free from the law of sin and death. How could this be? Can it be true that there is no condemnation and we are all set free from sin and death? Yes, friends, it is true. But remember: this is none of our own doing, all of this was initiated by God for us.
Therefore, as we well know, God sent “his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). In the Eucharist this past Tuesday, Paul in his letter to the Romans, beginning in Chapter 5, verse 6, gives a beautiful exposition of Christ's Love:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
Paul affirms this in today’s letter to the Romans when he says, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.”
We must believe that God is far, far, more interested in liberating us from the quagmire of our weaknesses and failings, than he is in pronouncing us guilty. As John says (3:17), “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
And so now we live in a world where Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world (cf Jn 1:29); where he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet 2:24). We live in a world where forgiveness is freely offered for true repentance and readiness to make amends.
Even more than this, as the parable of the barren fig tree illustrates (Verses 6-9), the God of infinite love and patience promises to redeem all that has gone awry; to rescue what is lost; to heal every hurt; to mend the broken; to cleanse what is marred; to overturn evil and bring good out of every situation and circumstance: God will do all of this, and more besides, provided we turn to him and acknowledge our failings – as confirmed by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, which gives us a pair of stories that call us to repent (in verses 1-5) and and to acknowledge that we depend on him, and put ourselves into his hands.
We must demonstrate that we are not afraid of sin – not afraid to admit we are ‘only human’: that we are less than perfect, that we often fail, that we get things wrong, that we make mistakes, and even that we sometimes intentionally choose wrong over right. And in declaring we are not afraid of sin, we also declare – even more loudly and clearly – that the God of love desires to deal with sin: not through condemnation, but through salvation and redemption; through rescuing and restoring; through his infinite love and compassion for his needy children and his needy world.
This is what we need to hear, throughout the whole of human society – private and public. It is especially what our leaders need to hear, in every walk of society, our national and political leaders, leaders in the civil service, in civil society and religious leaders too. They need to know that the ultimate good news only comes to us human beings when we acknowledge the reality of what it is to be ‘only human’ – and this is something of which we do not need to be afraid. To admit our failings is not the worst thing that can happen to us, but rather it is the key to opening the door to the best thing that can happen to us.
From a very young age, Jesus loved to spend time in the Synagogue, the house of God. He asked his worried parent, who was tired after a three-day search for their twelve year old son, “Did you not know I must be in my father’s house?” – really saying, “I am with my father”. Jesus speaks in the building which, for all believing Jews of that day, including Jesus himself, was the earthly dwelling place of God. The Temple at Jerusalem was the most sacred shrine of the chosen people of God, to be especially his own. And today we are here to consecrate a beautiful church building, a house of God in which can be with our father.
Congratulations to all who have helped making this a reality. Let’s give them a hand!
We know of course that with this beautiful building comes a great challenge and deeper question: How we can make this building, and all other buildings in this Diocese, places in which people will learn of the good news of faith and love, in which they will encounter Christ? How can we in the Church and its buildings go beyond providing crumbs of charity – important though these are – and start changing the systems that leave so many in need of help, rather than empowering them to help themselves? How do we become part of God’s solution – identifying and rooting out all that impedes his command that humanity, and every human individual, should flourish; and that creation should be fruitful?
This is a great challenge and we know that to find answers we must trust in the Lord. As the Psalmist reminds us, in the question sung so beautifully by the Choir: Shall I depend on the strength of the hills? Upon princes and great men for success in church, No! Not at all! Our help must come from the Lord who has made heaven and earth, from him we must expect it, in his own way and time.
Let us continue placing ourselves in the hands of the living God. Let us seek his direction that we may better make the unique contribution he asks of us as people of God to strive as fully as possible, for the building of his kingdom, for the redemption of creation and all within it, and the glorifying of his holy name.
Let us be faithful and wise, let us be awake, alert and expectant – as Jesus expects of his servants. Let us, as St Paul exhorts, pursue holy and blameless lives, of earnest prayer. And let us increase and abound in love for one another, for our God, and for his world. Amen