Wednesday 12 November 2008

To the People of God - To the Laos

November 2008

Dear People of God

This has been a momentous week. The election of Barack Obama to the White House is not only a first for African Americans. It has also brought a surge of joyful hope and eager anticipation, across the United States and the world. We must pray for him as he prepares to take office, remembering that all those who hold authority have potential to be 'God's servant for our good' (Rom 13:4).

Our God is certainly the God of new beginnings, who redeems the past, and tells us to hope and trust with certainty, as we look to the future. At times like these, and during South Africa's elections in 1994 with their repercussions that spread far beyond our borders, it is easy to believe that we can see God's hand at work in events around us. And we may feel we can do so in other events such as the recent peaceful elections in Angola. But perhaps we are not so good at discerning God's redemptive finger prints at a smaller-scale level.

Yet the message of the incarnation is that the God who transcends time and space, is also Emmanuel, God with us, who numbers the hairs on our heads. All the promises of the gospel - of salvation and redemption, healing and wholeness, forgiveness and reconciliation, liberation from all that oppresses - are for us to know and experience at every level from the grand sweep of history through to communities, families and individuals, as we put our trust in Jesus.

One way of becoming more aware of God's active presence in our lives is to cultivate what I like to call 'an attitude of gratitude'. This habit is one of the most powerful ways I know of learning to recognise God at work, to become aware of his promptings in our lives, and to walk more closely with him.

What I have in mind is this: to set aside time - 10 minutes daily, if you can - and to be conscious of coming to sit quietly before the Lord. As you breathe gently, remember that you are in the presence of the God who loves you more than you can ever fully grasp. Perhaps you want to close your eyes, and say to yourself 'God loves me.' Now, slowly and gently, ask Jesus to bring to your awareness the moments of the day for which you are most grateful.

Of course, sometimes large events dominate our consciousness. When the aeroplane on which I was travelling to Bishop David's funeral last month came in to land, we had to make an emergency evasion, because there was another plane on the runway. If it had not been for the pilot's skill, there would have been terrible tragedy - I was aware of the fragility of life, and yet also of being held safe in the palm of God's hand.

But when I reflect on today, or on the past few days, I find that the Lord brings to mind all manner of memories. These span the joy of family jokes at the breakfast table, or finding that the lectionary readings leap out of the page and speak into some circumstance with which I am dealing. Sometimes a complex problem falls easily into place. Someone I need to speak with just happens to phone. A need I have is met so effortlessly I take it for granted. Or coincidences occur. Perhaps some event didn't go as badly as I had been fearing! Or, especially when I see a beautiful sunset, or am struck afresh by the miracle of parenthood, I am just overwhelmed by the wonder of life itself.

By taking time to recall such moments - brought to mind in prayer by the prompting of the Spirit - I am drawn to recognise God's care, God's love, at work in my life in ways I did not always notice at the time. I am now finding this meditative process is helping me become more aware of his presence actually in each present moment - and, I hope, to respond as he would have me do. This is something on which I have been deliberately and specifically reflecting in recent months, and I feel myself profoundly touched by God as I have done so.

More than this, I find I am drawn to live out of a spirit of thankfulness. 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,' writes St Paul (1 Thess 5:16-18). Taking up the role of Archbishop has been hugely daunting, but living with gratitude helps me recognise and acknowledge how much I am dependent on God, and, more than this, how much he equips us and directs us, as we rely on him.

So even when we see great turmoil around - perhaps in the international credit crunch and looming recession, or in political turbulence, and in the effects these have on our lives - we should not be daunted. Living with an attitude of gratitude helps us become aware of how much God really does take care of us.

There is something else for which I am grateful. In London at the beginning of this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury awarded me, and all the members of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, the Cross of St Augustine - the highest honour of the Anglican Communion. In receiving this, I also want to pay tribute, and give thanks, to all the people of ACSA, for the support you have given to me, to my predecessors, and to all the Bishops and the leaders of our church. It is your prayers, encouragement, and other help that has enabled our Province over many years to contribute so much to the life of our Communion.

In my last letter, I mentioned that at Provincial Standing Committee we had discussed the development of a Vision Statement. This is a process that we began in 2002 Resolution 44 when Provincial Synod passed a motion asking us to do this. However, what we do as a Province must also reflect the realities of life at the grass roots level, and the specific expressions of the gospel to which we are called. So as we continue to 'seek afresh to discover what is it to be the body of Christ in our time, and who God is in Jesus Christ, for us here and now' (our key calling, as I said in my charge, and have mentioned before in these letters), can I please ask all of you who have Diocesan or Parish Mission or Vision Statements to forward a copy to the Provincial Executive Office at Bishopscourt, or to Thank you.

Yours in the service of Christ

Archbishop Thabo

Cape Town

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