Sunday, 2 January 2022

Homily preached at the interring of the ashes of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu

The ashes of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu were interred at St George's Cathedral in a private family service on January 2. Archbishop Thabo laid the ashes to rest in front of the high altar of the Cathedral in a 30-minute service beginning at 6 am.

After the week you have all been through, the emotions that have tumbled through your minds, the worry that all of us shared that we will pay adequate tribute to this, our father and grandfather in God, I am reminded of one of the stories that uTata used to tell. You all know it: the one about the preacher who went on and on and on, then said, “What more can I say?” And quick as a flash, someone at the back said: “Amen”.

Today, there is little more that I can say. So let me limit this to a few words about a gift that has not enjoyed enough attention: his capacity for self-reflection and his gentleness. After his first sabbatical at Emory in Atlanta, over Christmas and New Year in 1992, uTata came back in self-reflective mood to speak to the Synod of Bishops. There he said that now the political leaders were out of prison, and back from exile, his role as an interim leader was over and he hoped to take a lower profile. He went on to say that he was concerned that during the struggle years, he had been too abrasive, too self-righteous, too harsh in his judgements.

When he retired in 1996, he said something similar, apologising in that huge farewell in the Good Hope Centre for any hurts he may have caused.

And although he was famously strict with us, his clergy and his staff, he was gentle in his admonition. If you forgot to put on your clerical collar, he would just say, “Father, you are under-dressed.” He said it with humour but he meant it. If you were late for a meeting, there was a tap on his watch, and the question: “Don’t I pay you enough to buy a proper watch?”

My own treasured memory, as one who was chosen by him to go to theological college, is of the early years of my ministry. I was a priest at St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the parish in which he was ordained deacon and priest, and in which he was installed as Dean, consecrated as Bishop of Lesotho and then enthroned as Bishop of Johannesburg. It was a very special place for him, the church whose 7am Eucharist he regularly attended. Hence it was with special trepidation that after oversleeping I arrived late for Mass, my pyjama trousers peeking out from under my cassock. The gentleness with which he both chided and forgave me is stuck firmly in my memory.

Then, just a few years ago in Milnerton, I recall his prayer during the Eucharist that we should become more loving, more caring, more patient people to one another.

It was also so with you, each member of his family. Both he and Mama agonised over you when you were struggling, celebrated your achievements. But I have to say that there was anger too, not with you but with those who made you suffer because you were his family. Famously, when you, Mama, were arrested by the Johannesburg Traffic Department, carted off to John Vorster Square, and handcuffed to a door handle. For what? For renewing your car licence late. He was furious. Would the wife of the moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church have received such treatment? he asked.

And I think he felt guilt too, sometimes wondering if he had been too strict with you as children. It is not easy to be the child of a global celebrity: If you do well, some people say, well what do you expect with those advantages, and they don’t give you adequate credit for your achievement. If you make a mistake, you are judged more harshly than others because of your perceived advantages, which may not even exist.

uTata, your husband, your brother, your dad, your granddad, your in-law, your cousin, was a full human being, comfortable in his own skin, with all the emotions, the anger, the pain, the laughter, the seriousness and the light-heartedness which comes from being a fully rounded person.

But you know that already, so let me finish my words to the family with an admonition of my own, in the spirit in which he delivered them. At times of stress in the struggle, and at times in the stress of the early 1990s when people were killing one another, and the clergy were under huge stress and strain, he would say: be gentle with one another; and be gentle with yourselves.

To the nation, contemplating Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s legacy beyond his earthly life, let us use this opportunity to turn a new page. Let us commit ourselves as a church and society to the radical, the revolutionary change that he advocated, based on the demands of the Bible. Let us live as simply as he lived, exemplified by his pine coffin with rope handles. Let those of us who have resources pull in our belts, that others can eat enough to fill their stomachs. Let us re-order our society to end inequality and create equal opportunities for all. And why don’t we rename the Cape Town International Airport the Desmond Mpilo Tutu International Airport?

God bless you and keep you.

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba
Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu - Announcement

Announcement by the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

It is with great sadness that I have to announce that our dearly beloved Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town – and the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate – Desmond Mpilo Tutu died a short while ago at the age of 90.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the whole faith community, and – I make bold to say – on behalf of millions across South Africa, Africa and the world, I extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Nomalizo Leah, to his son, Trevor Tamsanqa, and to his daughters, Thandeka, Nontombi and Mpho, and all of their families.

While we mourn his passing, as Christians and people of faith we must also celebrate the life of a deeply spiritual person whose alpha and omega – his starting point and his ending point – was his relationship with our Creator. He took God, God's purpose and God's creation deadly seriously. Prayer, the Scriptures and his ministry to the people God entrusted to his care were at the heart of his life.

He believed totally that each one of us is made in the image of God and ought to be treated as such by others. This belief was not reached through celebral contemplation; it arose from his faith and was held with a deeply-felt passion. He wanted every human being on earth to experience the freedom, the peace and the joy that all of us could enjoy if we truly respected one another as people created in the image of God.

Because he believed this, and because he worshipped God, he feared no one. He named wrong wherever he saw it and by whomever it was committed. He challenged the systems that demeaned humanity. He could unleash a righteous anger on those – especially the powerful – who inflicted suffering upon those the Bible calls “the least of these, my brothers (and sisters).” And when the perpetrators of evil experienced a true change of heart, he followed the example of his Lord and was willing to forgive.

Desmond Tutu's legacy is moral strength, moral courage and clarity. He felt with the people. In public and alone, he cried because he felt people's pain. And he laughed – no, not just laughed, he cackled with delight when he shared their joy.

In accordance with his instructions, the Church will plan his funeral and other memorial services with the generous support of the South African Government and the City of Cape Town. Details of these events, to be held under South Africa's Covid regulations, will be announced later.

In the meantime, let us prayerfully remember him by the epitaph he once chose for himself:

He laughed,

He cried,

He loved.

In the words of the prayer which his mentor and friend, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, first composed, and he then adapted as he extended his ministry from South Africa to the world:

God bless our world

Guard our children

Guide our leaders

And give us peace

For Jesus Christ's sake. Amen

May Desmond Mpilo Tutu rest in peace and rise in glory.

God bless you.


Friday, 24 December 2021

Archbishop's Christmas Eve sermon

Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop of Cape Town

Christmas Eve

24th December 2021


Isaiah 62: 6-12; Titus 3: 4-7; Luke 2:1-20


May I speak in the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

On behalf of the Cathedral, the Diocese and the Province, my family and I wish all of you a blessed, peaceful and happy Christmas. Wherever you are – whether online or sitting in a Cathedral pew – please know that on this holiest of nights, you are equally welcomed, loved and cared for as a child of God. And thank you, Mr Dean and your staff, for all you have done in the difficult conditions of our second Christmas under Covid to make this Mass one that lives up to the finest traditions of this Cathedral's liturgy. 

Sadly, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is not with us in his customary front pew tonight. Please say special prayers for him and for Mama Leah and their family tonight; their health is not great but of course at their age we cannot expect otherwise. We are deeply grateful for his life and witness and when God in Jesus does call him home, we know he will be in the trusting and loving hands of the incarnate Christ.

I started my sermon last year by saying that 2020 had been an unspeakable year of intense suffering. Who could have predicted that 12 months later, after the hope given to us by the arrival of vaccines and the adjustments we have made to take this virus in our stride, that we would be faced with a challenge such as we have now? We were told that we would be hit with new variants, and so we were, with Delta and now with Omicron. But now we have to get our heads around the complexities of Omicron; that while it has not so far made people as ill as Delta has, one study in Hong Kong says it is 70 times more contagious than Delta. It reinforces the need for all who want to move around freely in our community to be vaccinated not only for their protection but for the protection of others – a need our church's Provincial Synod has underlined by making vaccination mandatory for clergy. 

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’“

It is hard to hear those words when so much of our lived experience this year drowns out voices of joy and celebration. The Covid pandemic, the loss of livelihoods, the pandemic of gender-based violence, rising unemployment, the ongoing scourges of racism and corruption, all rob so many of the joy of life. Yet this night, this holy night, is one of deep joy despite all that is happening around us. It is the night when the celestial has touched the terrestrial, holiness and humanity have met, and hope and history chime together.

There are moments in the Christmas story when joy comes in the shape of solidarity. In the shepherds' story we are told that it was at night, in the vulnerable time when the world is dark, that they received the good news. We are also told that the presence of the angels “shone with the glory”, breaking the tyranny of darkness. 

The Christmas story assures us that even in places of darkness today, light shines through to encourage and inspire us. God, our Emmanuel, is with us, amongst us, aware of our situations, so aware that God continues to send angels into our situations to bring light. Emmanuel is with all those who like Joseph knock on doors and find that they remain shut, those who seek proper places for their families, those who are going through tough times in their lives. Finding no room is the story of God's solidarity with those who, despite all the adversity and all the obstacles they face, yet discover that sometimes they are also the sites of new life, of new possibilities. 

Sometimes – and this is at the heart of the Christmas story – the joy of God comes disguised, in unpredictable ways. It takes our willingness to seek the Lord in those unlikely places, to sense God's abiding closeness, to understand that we need to look out for God's presence in the night times, the darkness, of our lives and when the doors are shut in our faces. Emmanuel – there also God is with us. 

The Scriptures tell us that Mary and Joseph went up to Bethlehem for the census. One of the reasons for a census was for the Roman authorities to establish how many men were available for conscription so that they could ensure there was peace in the territories they controlled, the pax Romana as it was called. Of course it was not the real peace that is born of justice, it was an assertion of power through bullying and war, a peace enforced militarily from the top. The other reason for the census was to bolster an economy that benefitted a very few, and exploited masses of people on the margins.

The lessons to be drawn from the Christmas story are particularly apt for contemporary South Africa. There can be no dispute that our economy benefits a very few, with the disparity between the rich and the powerful and those on the margins among the worst, if not the worst in the world. The consequences can be seen in the results of a recent report from Afrobarometer, the leading African opinion pollster. 

A survey which Afrobarometer conducted in May and June of this year illustrates starkly how distrustful South Africans have become of their politicians. It found that whereas 10 years ago, 61 percent of South Africans had trust in our governing party, by this year this had dropped to 27 percent. Trust in opposition parties also declined, from 40 percent a decade ago to 24 percent this year. Parliament and provincial premiers suffer the same lack of trust – 28 and 27 percent respectively – and although by this year our current President enjoyed a little more trust, it was still limited to fewer than four in 10 South Africans (38 percent). 

Many factors contributed to the rioting and looting that swept KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July. But can there be any doubt that the lack of trust in state institutions has undermined the authority and legitimacy of our government? In fact the only institutions which enjoyed the trust of most South Africans were the media – which has distinguished itself in recent years by exposing public and private sector corruption – and the Department of Health – which has engendered trust by its handling of the pandemic. More than 60 percent trust the media, and 56 percent trust the Health department. 

This year's local election results bear out the conclusions of the Afrobarometer survey. We face difficult times ahead, especially if political parties cannot succeed in working together in coalitions. One of the other findings of the Afrobarometer survey was that two-thirds of South Africans would be willing to sacrifice regular elections if a non-elected government or leader could impose law and order, and deliver houses and jobs; moreover the most trusted government institution after the Department of Health was the army. The message is clear: if coalition politics do not improve people's lives, then there is a real danger that South Africans will turn away from democracy to authoritarian rule. That has never ended well - ask those of our fellow Africans who have lived under an authoritarian regime.

But there is another side to the story of Christmas, and that is that we are not helpless in the face of the manipulations of politicians and profiteers who run society in order to enrich themselves. It is significant that the coming of the Christ, he who proclaimed the revolutionary message that all are equal in the sight of God, was announced not to the powerful. It was announced to shepherds, people who lived on the margins of an already marginalised community. They were people regarded as so low in status that they were not even allowed to participate in or give evidence in court proceedings. It was not the powerful in Jerusalem who first heard the Christmas message, no it was those on the margins, people who were counted as nothing, who first received a message that inspired them, enhanced their confidence, upheld their dignity and built their agency.

A close reading of the Gospels also shows that the God who enters our fragile world does so as a vulnerable baby, on the very periphery of society, far away from the places of power and institutional religion in Jerusalem. The Christmas story reminds us that peace and prosperity are not the playthings of the rich and powerful, not a commodity for politicians and profiteers; no, the realisation of true peace and prosperity are in our hands. Like the shepherds in the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus, we have agency, we are empowered to articulate a new narrative, a different course of action, to speak hope where until now despair and fear of the authorities has dominated. We need to take inspiration from the Christmas story, and use our agency to build back trust in government, and to realise the promise of democracy. 

In the Old and New Testaments the image of the glory of God was an affirmation that God was right there, that those who experienced it were in God’s presence. There is something powerful in the thought that men who were ritually unclean most of the time and could not enter the Temple were not excluded from being in the presence of God. The God who was being revealed was not a God who was far off, not distant because of status or purity laws. God was present amongst the poorest, the most excluded and the most marginalised. Maybe the great joy that the angels spoke about was also about God such as our God who was close to the broken-hearted, who had a special concern for the widow and orphan and the stranger dwelling with you in the land. 

It is incredible that those who could not give testimony in court now gave testimony in the public spaces and with such authority that people wondered about all they said. It is something that we are learning in so many parts of the world where the poor suffer, where needs are great, where all the pandemics of these days tear away at our personal well-being and our social cohesion, it is still the testimony of the poor that rings with authenticity, that underlines that God is in our midst, doing something new, raising different voices, exploring spaces of hope and for those who are sensitive to those intimations, 

Christ is born again in the very concrete realities of our lives. There is something powerful about the shepherd’s faith, that they leave their flock, their security, and test it against this new leap of faith that God has asked them to take. Sometimes in life we have to stretch out beyond the familiar, the affirming, the comfortable and trust God to take us to places of new possibilities, new life. Pursuing Jesus no matter where it takes us, is a priority for our lives.

In going out to speak about Jesus, the shepherds literally and spiritually found their voices. It is unlikely that they were qualified to speak or theologise. There was certainly no commandment to go out to share their discovery. They did it simply because it opened up new vistas for them; it included them and all like them who were thought of as outsiders. They did it because the spirit within them was ignited with fresh possibility with new hope that was being actualised nearby them in Bethlehem.

We too cannot be silent about the good news God has given us in this baby, of the way in which new life has emerged from the margins or the peripheral places in our lives, in our relationships and in our communal life together. When this begins to grow in us, then we will with  the eyes of faith and our feet firmly on the ground, know once again the truth of the angel's message, that news of great joy has come to us.

A very happy Christmas to you. God loves you, and so do I. 

Amen.


Sunday, 12 December 2021

Reflection & Prayer at the official Memorial Service for former President FW de Klerk

 The following are the texts of (1) a reflection by Archbishop Thabo of Cape Town at the Memorial Service for former President de Klerk in the Groote Kerk in Cape Town, and (2) an opening prayer for the State funeral proceedings.

The reflection was one of three by clergy during the service which preceded the State memorial. The prayer was the opening prayer of the State-led proceedings. 

Memorial Service for former State President FW de Klerk

Reflection by the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town &
President of the SA Council of Churches

Groote Kerk, Cape Town

December 13, 2021

Reading:  1 Corinthians 13: 12-13

Mrs Elita de Klerk, Jan, Susan, your children, members of the wider De Klerk family;

Mr President, Premier, Mayor, fellow South Africans and guests:

I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and I bring you, members of the De Klerk family, the condolences of the wider ecumenical family I represent.
 
It is said that John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London in the 17th century, was looking out of his study window when he saw the coffin of a pauper being carried out of the church. More accustomed to the pomp and ceremony of the funerals of the high and mighty of the land, he suddenly had a mystical insight which has become part of the Western canon of thought, namely that, and I quote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...”

In the 1st century, St Paul wrote powerfully of this shared humanity in his letter to the divided church community at Corinth, when he reminded them that the “body is one, though made up of many parts, and that no part is more important than the other.”

The same concept is embodied in our African canon of thought. Only in our case, the ancestors who bequeathed it to us called it ubuntu, or botho – that a person is a person only through other persons, that you are incomplete without me, and that I am incomplete without you.

All of these expressions of what it means to be human point to the understanding that the lives of every person are woven together in the rich tapestry of a shared humanity, embedded in a common history. And all of us, like John Donne, discover at some point in our journey through this world that coming to acknowledge our common humanity is in fact the most humanising moment of our lives. As I became one of those who ministered to FW de Klerk in the last months of his life, I came to realise that he too had experienced this discovery.

Can you imagine a more unlikely scenario than me acting as one of FW de Klerk's pastors? Consider the ironies: FW de Klerk, the  descendant of Huguenots who fled a European empire to seek refuge in South Africa in the 17th century; and me, the great-grandson of one of the last African kings in our country to be overthrown by Mr de Klerk's people. The irony extends even further: Mr de Klerk, the last political leader of a generation who overcame domination by another European empire, receiving pastoral care from the leader of a church which, although now transformed, was once the religious arm of that empire. Truly, we can say: only in South Africa.

When Mr de Klerk and Elita first invited me to play this role, many asked me: “Wow, are you going to do it?” And he himself told me, “My enemies are going to devour you, Archbishop.” But when I was ordained a priest, I was charged with the responsibility to provide pastoral care to all who need it, whether to an individual or to a nation. And it is always a particular privilege to become privy to the inner workings of a dying man’s or a dying woman's heart.

In Mr de Klerk's case, it involved relinquishing partisanship, setting aside my prophetic ministry as a church leader, incorporating the pastoral and the prophetic. I soon learned the wisdom of St Paul's words, also in his letter to the Corinthians, that “for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see him face to face.”

As the relationship unfolded, I saw how, during our lives on earth, that all of us get only a partial glimpse of one another's lives and of the life of the body politic; that we won't ever know everything about one another's motives and perspectives, and that the glimpses we do see depend on the unique lens through which each of us sees life.

What I learned about FW de Klerk, as the descendant of a bullied minority in France, was his hatred of bullying – including that, as he said, perpetrated by the PW Botha administration of which he was a part. It also became clear that as he travelled down the road of negotiating the country's future, he came to realise the power of the biblical history of God's people down the ages: that since liberation is ultimately assured by God, he could never dissuade that energy. So while he may have embarked on that road as a pragmatist, seizing the moment at which he could still influence that future, the biblical narrative of liberation came to be part of his motivation.

It also became clear that although he may have, as he said, disputed that apartheid was genocidal, he accepted that it was indeed a crime against humanity. More important to me as a person of faith, he was unequivocal in describing apartheid as a sin.

I also came away not doubting that FW de Klerk had a deep faith in Christ Jesus. He believed that although on earth he saw through a mirror only dimly, when he died he believed he would see God face to face. He was ready to face death.

The Spanish priest and mystic, John of the Cross, wrote “that in the evening of our lives we will be judged on love alone.” While others assess the accolades and the contestations over the public life of a leader, the pastor is called to witness the legacy of love in an individual's life, and to understand things humbly in that light, for love is the practical manifestation of the peace that we are talking about this morning. That legacy of love always endures, always inspires and always offers hope, and so it was in the life of FW de Klerk.

Let me conclude with a prayer for us, using the words of 1 John 3:2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But what we know is that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

May Frederik Willem de Klerk rest in God's gracious and eternal peace.


State Memorial Service for FW de Klerk
Groote Kerk, December 13, 2021
Opening prayer by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba


Let us pray:

Oh God our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer,
Still our hearts, calm our minds,
And give us that peace which is your gift to humankind.

Help us, as Abraham Lincoln once said,
To be touched by the better angels of our nature,
To draw on the ubuntu, the botho, our ancestors bequeathed to us;
And in the presence of a grieving family and people
To quieten our partisan passions,
And to turn our focus towards you, the Holy and the Merciful One.

As the Church, the Family, the State and the Nation gather here at the Groote Kerk in Advent tide, we offer our prayers of condolence to all, especially to members of the De Klerk family and all who love them;

We pray for the sharing of that peace and love which comes from true healing and genuine reconciliation;

We offer our hurt, our brokenness and the sins of the past to you, praying for your redemptive presence to manifest itself in our lives;

We pray for all who will speak today, that we will have the courage and the faith to heal and not to wound;

And finally we pray for our President as he delivers his eulogy, and offer this service to God's honour and glory.

May the soul of Frederik Willem de Klerk rest in peace.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.”

-- 

Monday, 1 November 2021

Explaining and Praying for the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow - Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

The next 12 days will be critical to life as we know it on the planet, and especially for Africa.

In Glasgow, governments which have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change hold the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the convention (COP26) to decide how to prevent climate  catastrophe.

António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, has described the climate crisis as "code red for humanity". 

The current aim is to reduce carbon emissions – from coal, petroleum and natural gas – to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the temperatures seen before the industrial age. To achieve this, by 2030 global emissions must be halved, and by 2050 we must reach "net-zero", meaning the greenhouse gas we produce should be no more than that removed from the atmosphere.

But Mr Guterres warns that despite action already taken, we are headed for a "catastrophic" global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius.

The impact of the crisis is particularly serious for Africa. Scientists of the World Meteorological Organization say that the continent is warming, and sea levels along South Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts are rising, more rapidly than the global average.

Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture with the African Union Commission, says that if there is no change, by 2030 up to 118 million extremely poor Africans (those living on less than U.S.$1.90 a day) will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat.

Scientists at the University of Cape Town forecast that rainfall in eight African countries they have studied will decrease by well over 20mm in the driest months, and by more than 100mm per year in the worst hit nations.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the specialised United Nations agency which works to improve food security, says this will have a devastating impact on yields of staple and cash crops grown by small-scale farmers.

It explains: "This could have a catastrophic impact on poverty and food availability unless there is an urgent injection of funding to help vulnerable farmers adapt how and what they farm."

IFAD adds that developing countries need between $70 billion and $100 billion a year to be able to adapt, and by 2030 they will need between $140 to $300 billion. But at present the international community is providing only $22 billion a year.

So we face a Kairos moment – a moment of truth, a critical turning point – in the struggle to avoid climate catastrophe.

Accordingly, I invite all people of faith to pray for COP26 on each day of the talks until November 12:  


Lord God,

We give thanks for the world in which you have placed us

For the beauty which surrounds us

And for the natural resources you provide which sustain us


We pray for all those gathered in Glasgow for COP26

We pray for the heads of state and government representatives

We pray for the negotiators and scientists

We pray for the climate activists 

That all will unite in a common effort to avert climate catastrophe


We also pray for those in fossil fuel industries whose livelihoods are at stake

And for the rapid development of renewable energy sources which will create new jobs 


Lord God,

We ask you to move the hearts of leaders of the industrialised nations which produce most carbon emissions

That they will hear the cries of developing nations, which suffer the worst effects of climate change

And that COP26 will generate the resources needed to help poor nations adapt to meet the crisis


In your name we pray.  Amen 


Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Sermon at Anglican schools' confirmation service

Combined Confirmation Service for Anglican Schools in Cape Town

Bishops Diocesan College, Rondebosch

10 October 2021

Readings: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4: 12-16; Mark 10: 17-31


May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God, heads of participating schools – Mr Antony Reeler of Diocesan College, our host this year; Mrs Heather Goedeke of Herschel; Mrs Shirley Frayne of St Cyprian’s; and Mr Julian Cameron of St George’s Grammar School – also friends and families, I am pleased to join you to share in this important milestone in the lives of the confirmation candidates under the challenges of Covid-19.

A warm welcome to you all. Thank you for inviting me today and, most importantly, thank you to the school chaplains – the Revd Monwabisi Peter of Bishops, the Revd Lorna Lavello-Smith of Herschel and the Revd Andrew Weiss of St Cyprian’s, for preparing the candidates for confirmation. A special welcome to those who attend this service for the first time in their new capacities. A special welcome also to the parents and godparents of those to be confirmed.

Thanks, Revd Monwabisi, for being our host, for preparing the service and for a wonderful service booklet. It is always a joyous occasion when Anglican schools in our diocese meet and worship together, but in the face of this devastating pandemic it is all the more important that we stand together in solidarity at this time of crisis in our land and the world. Many of us have lost friends and relatives to Covid-19, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

Today we come in the presence of God to give witness to the special gift with which God, out of his goodness, will endow you, the confirmation candidates: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into your lives. The rite of passage that you pass through today will help you to practise your faith more effectively in every aspect of your existence, expanding your relationship with God and strengthening your spiritual lives.

The gifts of the Spirit equip us for worship, witness and service. Of these three, I always say worship is the most important because everything else we do flows from this. In worship we praise and give reverence to God. It begins with fear of the Lord – meaning that we should stand in awe of the Lord. Fearing, or standing in awe of God, is one of the gifts of the Spirit. So through worship we show respect for and love of God, admiring God with those who believe in him.

The Gospel reading today, Mark (10:17ff), presents us with Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. In the mind of the young man, the concept of eternal life probably had an eschatological meaning, referring to life in the age to come and not a concept which gave him any sense of security in the here and now. In this passage Jesus takes a word the man uses, and throws it back at him for deeper consideration. Jesus might be saying that, in an absolute sense, goodness belongs to God our Creator alone. Whether Jesus could be seen as good was in a sense subject to growth and testing in the circumstances of the incarnation, in which He would learn obedience through what he suffered.

Despite the rich young man's need for a sense of security for the future, judged by the standards of the law he felt himself to have attained a measure of goodness. What he now expected was to be told to undertake something difficult and praiseworthy, to make good anything that might be lacking.

Friends, it is this popular idea of striving for goodness based on merit that Jesus attacks. The lesson Jesus taught is that the kind of human achievement the young man aspires does not produce what is described as “good” in God’s sight in the way Jesus uses the term. In fact, this man was breaking the first commandment: for his possessions were his god. As his teacher, Jesus responds by giving him a liberal dose of that which will bring him to Christ: that he would be justified by faith and not by works. The command that he sell his possessions does not necessarily apply to all of us – it was an admonition to that particular person in that particular situation, arising out of the reality that he was entrapped by his possessions.

Neither did Jesus promise him eternal life in return for the sacrifice of his riches; he promised him only a secure treasure in return for an insecure one. Jesus outlines a way of life which involves ridding ourselves of whatever would hinder us from following him. The disciples were astonished when Jesus pointed out how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, for it was the prevalent opinion in Judaism that riches were a mark of divine favour. But it is also true that it is possible to part with one’s possessions in some good cause without becoming a true follower of Jesus; having one's life shaped by one's faith involves our hearts and minds, not simply actions. This of course has implications for depending on wealth and possessions for happiness.

In our Old Testament reading, Job begins in this passage with the heartfelt wish that he could find God so he could press his case. He is voicing a longing for God's presence. “What I would give to know where to find God,” is his plea. Job has already given everything to end up where he is: his family, his wealth, and his physical health, and now he seems on the verge of giving up his spiritual health as well, just to reach God. This longing, this desperate need for an answer to the whys of suffering, then at least some sense that God is near, concerned, interested and caring, is sure to resonate with anyone who hears it.

As learners at our Anglican schools, what can we learn from this example? What is one thing that each of us can take back to our schools, communities and families?

Those of you who have heard me before at these occasions know that I have an abiding passion that our church must promote the common good in our society by providing – and not only providing but actually radically expanding – opportunities for quality, affordable education in schools which are fully inclusive and reflect the demographics of our country. I am repeating myself because it bears repeating: While I know that most of our schools are committed to opening up places for boys and girls whose parents don't have the means to send them here, I do wonder whether the wealth and relative privilege reflected our most exclusive Anglican schools is not sometimes an obstacle to an in-depth understanding of the society in which we live. As I have said before, for all the facilities and educational opportunities we provide, they will count for nothing unless we are preparing a representative cross-section of society to serve and develop a nation which meets the needs of all.

Since I last spoke to schools in Cape Town on the challenges we face, we have seen public outbursts of hurt and anger, especially from alumni, at their experiences of marginalisation, exclusion, and discrimination at our schools. In response, last year's meeting of the church's Provincial Standing Committee – the body which meets annually to oversee the running of the Anglican Church across Southern Africa – asked me to appoint a task team to look at this problem broadly and propose ways we could address it. The team is headed by the Wits University educationalist, Professor Mary Metcalfe of Wits, an Anglican herself, and recently provided us with a progress report.

In a perceptive and nuanced assessment, the task team says it is on a rigorous journey of learning about what it describes, and I quote, as “the complex and often unrecognised or ‘invisible’ features of discrimination experienced by members of school communities.” It continues: “Our society, and the values and attitudes that we absorb daily, constantly reinforce a dominance and exclusion, and practices of disciplined reflection need to be embedded in the institutional culture of schools if discrimination is to be addressed at the depth required.”

The task team says we need to make a conscious decision to challenge the deeply-held assumptions underlying our thought and action, and it calls for us to commit to a process of learning more about all forms of discrimination. It recognises that despite making mistakes along the way, many schools have made determined and consistent efforts to provide greater opportunities for students’ voices to be heard, and that in turn some students have felt empowered to help build a new culture at their schools.

Importantly, it recognises that if the team is to develop helpful recommendations, they need to be owned by schools. It says that recommendations which are not the outcome of authentic engagement and which have not been enriched by the experiences of those who must adopt the recommendations will exist on “paper” only and will not be incorporated into the essence of the life of schools.

So although a lot of work lies ahead, and the task team says the pace of change needs to accelerate, it has made a good start in helping us to provide the framework for addressing our current challenges and providing an education that prepares our young people for the 21st century.

Confirmands, it is at turning points such as this in your lives and in the life of our communities and our country that our destiny is shaped. Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. I appeal to you, as you embrace Jesus's call to be his disciples, to allow him to shape you and form you in accordance with His will for your lives. And in our national life, I pray that all of us will embrace our New Struggle, that we will awaken our consciences and demonstrate solidarity and commitment to a culture of values-based decision-making and care for one another in ways including the protection of women and children. In that way we can be of service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.

As I conclude I want to thank all the educators and learners, who during the turbulent times of Covid-19 have ensured that learning and teaching has continued to take place.

The God who began that good work in you, will perfect it into the day of Christ Jesus (Phil.1:6). Congratulations on your confirmation, and may God bless you, your family and South Africa.

And as you know, God loves you and so do I.

Amen

 Archbishop Thabo Makgoba