Wednesday, 31 May 2017

VIDEO: Celebrating 500 years of the Reformation

Video coverage of the festive service celebrating the Reformation, held at Wittenberg, Germany, on May 28, 2017. Archbishop Thabo was the preacher.

A newsclip from the service. Archbishop Thabo's contribution begins 50 seconds into the clip:

The Archbishop reflects on the service in an interview afterwards:

The full service (102 minutes):

Monday, 29 May 2017

Breaking bread together in Luther's Wittenberg

Archbishop Thabo wraps up his reflections on the German Kirchentag after preaching at the Festive Service in Wittenberg to celebrate 500 years of the Reformation: 

Day 5

Sunday was an amazing day. The Kirchentag organisers were happy with attendance, estimated at 120,000. The atmosphere was exhilarating and the celebration of Mass solemn, even in a stadium.

There were altars pitched throughout the stadium, each with a tree branch and a group of clergy and laity concelebrating. Could this be the real meaning of breaking bread together, little altars where the people are?

It was an honour to be the preacher. The 700 trumpets and massed choir and orchestra filled the whole place with a spirit of awe and wonder. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German head of state, spoke to applause, as did the regional premier, the mayor of Wittenberg, and representatives of ecumenical partners, the Roman Catholic and Baptist churches.

The sky was blue and for a short period a rainbow appeared. May we be radical even as we share our love for justice and Christ's sake. We travel back to South Africa on Monday after one more interview. Thank you to all of you reading this blog for your prayers, I hope you have found my  reflections useful in assisting you to pray for me in this ministry.

Archbishop Thabo with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Reformation - "Our inspirational GPS" for the next 500 years

A sermon delivered to a Festive Service celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag, at the Elbe Meadows, Wittenberg.

Text: Genesis 16: 13; 1 Corinthians 13

Thank you all for your warm welcome. I am honoured to be here on the beautiful Elbe meadows before the gates of Lutherstadt Wittenberg. It is a great privilege to take part in launching the Reformation Summer and celebrating Kirchentag 2017.

Thank you. Danke schön

Here in front of me, I see the true spirit of tolerance, amplified by the understanding of the benefits of a multicultural society. Thank you for your witness to the world. Vielen dank.

The Kirchentag's website reported that 120,000 people attended the service.

Friends, it is impossible to overstate the contribution of Martin Luther to that part of the world influenced by Europe and its thought. His questioning of authority ignited and illuminated a civilization that became the catalyst for millions leaving the Dark Ages. He was one of the true fathers of democratic freedom. He mobilized millions, in an unstoppable movement, to embrace the right to participate. He made it safe to want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

The Reformation which he initiated was more than a theological watershed. It was a defining moment in our sociological and political evolution. But the Reformation is not something which concerns only our past. 

Interpreted in today's context, it can become our guide, our inspirational GPS, our global positioning system for the next 500 years.

The histories of both of our countries — that of Germany in the Nazi era, and of South Africa in the apartheid era — are records of unspeakable cruelty. But they are also histories of God's unfailing faithfulness. They both speak of the challenge to find the Holy One who is, as the hymn says, “standing somewhere in the shadows... and you’ll know Him by the nail prints in His hands.” Our histories are testimony to the power of Hagar's words when she says: “You see me.”

For any African, Hagar's story is deeply etched into both our historical DNA and our contemporary experience. Dolores Williams reminds us that Hagar’s predicament involved slavery, poverty, sexual and economic exploitation, surrogacy, rape, domestic violence and homelessness. Black people generally but particularly black women in South Africa know exactly the same realities. They know that in so many contexts, “black lives do not matter.”

But as we read the Hagar story further, we find that alongside this litany of suffering and exclusion, there is also the story of a God who acts in a powerful way. When Hagar finds herself vulnerable on the periphery, God gives her the resources to survive.  Just like the Syrian refugee you have welcomed into Germany, Hagar stands as a beacon of hope to all who suffer, to the oppressed around the world.

Paul’s words today also speak to the heart of our human responsibility and the values that cradle it. The radical love that he describes – agape – is the love of God, unconditional love, love in action. It is a love that reassures us that God indeed does see us. But can we say in turn that we see God? The answer is “No.” Because  God's love is a love so wide and deep we can never fully comprehend it. As Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

But until the time comes when we see God face to face, what we can do is to strive to make our lives — my life and your lives — a mirror of God's love for the world. Does our neighbour, the foreigner, the refugee, my enemy, see in our lives something of God's unconditional love? We will never truly understand the extraordinary nature of that love. But we can try to live in such a way that others might see in our lives something of the uniqueness of God's love.

Paul reminds us that in essence we are seen and we are transformed into God's likeness to do the very things God does: to be present in times of suffering, to liberate ourselves and every unjust situation from the multiple bondages that hold so many millions in captivity, to speak a word of hope in moments of despair. We are challenged to bless others with our love, to see them as they are seen by God and in seeing them to journey with them through the world of injustice and brokenness.

Let me end with a special challenge to those of you who are young. As you live the Kirchentag, I charge you to hear the cries of others and of our planet as God would. My prayer is that you will be radical; that you will give love away — even as you recognise your frailties and limitations, even if you are daunted by the enormity of the task of transforming the world. Even if you feel that you are seeing the challenges only dimly, please do something, at least one thing, for love's sake, for dignity's sake, for freedom's sake, for Christ's sake. 

Martin Luther King Junior famously spoke about a dream that he had for his country. Like King, I have a dream for the world: that one day soon all the narcissistic, nationalist, isolationist ramblings of our current times will disappear. I have a dream that instead there will arise a global awareness that we are of one humanity. I have a dream that we will all sit together to decide: “What is in the best interests not of this or that group, but of all of society?” I have a dream that your children, and mine, will one day live in an Africa and in a world that has an abundance of unlimited and equal access to education, to health care, to water and sanitation and to economic opportunities.

Will you, young people and older people, help me realise that dream? Please help me. 

God bless you, God bless your families and God bless Germany. Danke schön, and Amen.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Meeting Merkel & Preparing for Preaching with Precision

Archbishop Thabo continues his blog from Berlin, where he and his wife, Lungi, are attending the "Kirchentag" See photos at the end of his post. 

Day 3

I had a fast-paced day, which was scheduled to begin with a meeting with Bread for the World | Brot für die Welt. But it did not happen because the person we were to meet was ill. So I used the time to walk around an exhibition hall, where church and other NGO and government networks were marketing themselves in an impressively coherent manner, with beautiful and informative stands.

Then we took a 90-minute drive to the tiny city of Lutherstadt Wittenberg through beautiful countryside, where all was green and fields stretched to the horizon. We arrived to be met by the imposing tower of the church associated with Luther, then crossed over the gentle River Elbe to the venue for Sunday's great outdoor festive service. There we saw the huge venue planned for the tens of thousands who are expected to come, and pictured it filled with the crowds tomorrow.

A huge makeshift outdoor amphitheatre has been pitched there for the service. The orchestra was rehearsing and welcomed me warmly, then I rehearsed the sermon as if preaching. My homily was five minutes too long so I had to cut it down to 10 minutes! The precision with which they are planning the service is mind-boggling. I met the main director and other leaders of the big operation. It was a great experience and the arrangements are out of this world.

Then we travelled back to Berlin, where we rested for a few minutes in an exhibition centre lounge before I appeared as a panellist at a discussion on religion and development organised by the German Ministry of Social Development's International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD). After being transported back to the hotel through the high security arranged for President Barack Obama's visit the previous day, I immediately changed and joined a reception for international guests hosted by Bread for the World and Kirchentag. It felt like home, I met a lot of South Africans, friends from elsewhere in Africa and people from the ecumenical community, including the Archbishop of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, who was in Cape Town last weekend.

Then into a taxi and headed to the hotel for the last interview of the day at 20h00. I am not going to the gym this week but the programme makes me feel as if I don’t need to as I am always running.

Day 4

A quieter day, with one meeting as I still myself before preaching tomorrow.

The sermon is now 9.5 minutes and has been sent to the TV presenters and translators. I have no words to describe a church festival so well attended, relevant to old and young and the popular mood very positive. Some attendees can be seen jostling in the sun, on the grass and just enjoying the spirit. Perhaps for South Africans, the nearest comparison is the ZCC's great Easter gathering at Zion City, Moria, or perhaps what Angus Buchan organised recently in the Free State. But they seem a fraction of the sophistication I am observing here.

On a personal note, it being summer here, the pollen from the trees is flying like snowflakes so I am battling with my chest and sinusitis is affecting  my voice. I am nursing my voice for Sunday so that I am not “invincible in the week and inaudible on Sunday” as the joke goes about some clergy.

Today I bumped into Bishop Ebenezer Ntali after breakfast. I had only one meeting, with Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Minister of Finance and the current Chair of the G20 nations. Now I am retreating from the crowds to rest and recoup before my sermon tomorrow. I will go for a swim later.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bishop Bedford-Strohm

With Bernhard Felmberg of Eine Welt.

Planning for Sunday.

Rehearsing my sermon in front of empty seats - 9.5 minutes!

With Dr Wolfgang Schäuble and Renier Koegelenberg.

With Volker Faigle and Ambassador Stone Sizani

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Archbishop Thabo blogs from Berlin

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba is one of the leading international guests invited to this year's edition of the great celebration of German Christians, the Kirchentag. He will preach to a festive service on Sunday outside Wittenberg, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. 

On the first days of the celebrations, he blogs from Berlin.


The opening service was beyond my expectations: there were about 20,000 people at our venue and there were two others. The papers say that in total there were 70,000 people present.

Then there was a great reception, addressed by the President of the Kirchentag, Professor Christina Aus der Au, the chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This was followed by a dinner in which we spent the evening in her company, as well as that of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and other church leaders. It was a delightful evening, talking about the church in the political life of nations and the church’s vocation to care for all - including a reflection on South Africa.


This morning I led a Bible study in Hall 18, an exhibition  hall. There was a choir from Limpopo, which was very special. They sang Senzeni Na? and Hake Le Tjee Ke Le Mobe, then it was to an exposition of the Bible study. (You can download my notes here.)

Bishop Ebenezer Ntali of of Grahamstown is also here, in the same hotel, but we have not yet had a chance to meet. The crowds here are multitudes beyond measure.

Then we were fetched and whisked to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, where Chancellor Merkel had a discussion on faith, religion and politics with former President Barack Obama. It will remain with me as a most memorable interaction, two world leaders talking opening and sincerely in the public square about faith, willing to be vulnerable, admitting their failures and not pretending to be omnipotent. You can see a recording of the interaction below. 

I am due to pay my respects to our Ambassador, Stone Sizani, later today and to have TV interviews tonight.