Monday 18 April 2011

To the Laos - To the People of God, Easter 2011

Dear People of God

Alleluia! Christ is risen! As St Paul writes, ‘We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection life like his’ (Rom 6:4,5). Jesus, by his cross and resurrection, has freed us from the slavery of sin, broken the chains of death, and opened the way to heaven, where, in the Lord’s presence, there is fullness of joy and delight for evermore (Ps 16:11).

This Lent I have been pondering what it means to say ‘Yes’ to God as Mary did when the angel Gabriel announced she had been chosen to be the mother of our Lord. What does it mean for us to say, with her, ‘Here I am, the Servant of the Lord’? Writing this as Holy Week approaches, I am reflecting also on Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father, as he prayed ‘Not my will but yours be done’ in the garden of Gethsemane – which I was privileged to visit earlier this year.

In the past, too many people were forced into servant-hood – but thank God, today we have freedom and choice. We can willingly choose to say ‘I am a servant of the Lord.’ The God of love, care and compassion, seeks only our best. He does not exploit or oppress. Being his servant means liberty, not servitude. We put our hand in the hand of the living God, our Saviour Jesus Christ, who leads us in the ways that bring his promise of abundant life for ourselves and others around us.

By abundant life I mean that God desires no human being should be in want. No one should be hungry, or without clothing and shelter when it is cold and wet. God calls on his servants to use the hearts, brains, and will-power he gives us, to do what is right, to care for one another so that none are wanting. We also ask that our politicians should know how to be servant leaders. But too often we see tolerance of corruption, dysfunctional government, and neglect of the poor. God desires no-one to have too little, and so no one should have too much. No-one should profit at another’s expense or wellbeing. God calls us to remove the yoke of servitude. Yet to exploit, or merely neglect, others is to promote servitude, which diminishes all of society. Scripture warns that this is the path to condemnation and destruction.

People’s lives are at stake, and South Africans, who face local elections in May, must never forget this, as we decide how to vote. Will we choose life for all, or opulence for some at the expense of others? We are not a rich country, but what we have should be enough to go round. Everyone should have proper food, shelter, fresh drinking water and sanitation. Every child should have access to a decent education. Affordable, adequate health care should be available to everyone.

South Africa has achieved much since 1994, but I still ask, Where is the urgency among politicians to ensure basic services for all? Have those who seek elected office not understood that to lead is also to serve? They should remember that Jesus said ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life’ – to give his life so that those in need might also know life (Matthew 20:28). Is this the model our politicians follow, in both words and action?

In their campaigning, they must also remember that in a democracy, God is not for or against any particular political party. God is the servant of no party and its manifesto. Rather, God calls on all the parties and all the politicians to serve him, and to serve the people of this nation: to put the needs of the needy before their own ambitions, interests, and desires for power and status. They should be judged by Jesus’ own ‘manifesto promises and policies’. This means bringing good news to the poor, loving our neighbours as ourselves, and treating others as we would like to be treated. Jesus had time for the outcasts, excluded and unimportant people of his day – reminding us that every human being is made in the image of God, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

These are the standards we expect of our politicians as elections draw near. I am proud to be part of the Election Monitoring Network and to chair the Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Commission that holds political parties to a Code of good behaviour, that all sign. It is a commitment to the right to free speech; to tolerance; to promoting open and fair debate between parties, and among candidates and those who support them. It is about behaving with decency and good manners in the little things – not defacing or destroying the posters of others; not shouting people down; not making threats; not spreading false rumours or telling half truths. EMN has set up a national SMS number – 33830 – for reporting any form of violence or other contravention of the Electoral Code. Do use it!

For all the Code of Conduct does is to require the behaviour of any decent democratic society – the sort of society in which we want to live and raise our children. All of us, in all the countries of ACSA, are the building blocks of democracy, and when standards fall short, we can raise our voices to say ‘Enough is enough! We will not accept intolerance. We will not accept the demonising of others. We will not accept the abuse of God’s name in support of narrow party or sectarian interests.’ Instead, in our lives, our words, our actions, we will show others what it means truly to live as servants of the living God – to say Yes, as Mary did, so that God’s good purposes for humanity might find expression and fulfilment through us. And we invite others to join us, and do the same – so that the Easter promise of abundant life that Jesus won for us on the cross may be known by all.

I am delighted to report that this month the land ownership questions around Modderpoort were finalised in a 'win-win' outcome that benefits all concerned. The Bautang community, who dropped their claim against the church, will pursue compensation with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. The Diocese of the Free State retain now-uncontested ownership of the land and will continue as stewards of this sacred site. Please join us in thanking God for a solution that promotes social cohesion and national reconciliation, and praying that it may be an encouragement in other difficult questions around land ownership and use.

Finally, on 7 May we consecrate new Bishops for the Dioceses of George and St Helena. Please keep the Ven Brian Marajh, and the Very Revd Richard Fenwick in your prayers. Richard joins us from Wales, and we welcome him, and his wife Jane, to our Province.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

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