Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christmas Sermon

This sermon was preached at Midnight Mass, at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town.

Isaiah 9: 2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

The angel said ‘Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ, the Lord!’

A blessed, happy Christmas to you all! Dean Michael – happy Christmas to you, your clergy colleagues and staff, and to all of you who contribute to the life of the Cathedral through the year. Thank you everyone – this beautiful place of holy worship is a wonderful gift to us, each Christmas, and throughout the year. Dean Michael – let me also congratulate you and Bonita, on the celebration of your 28th wedding anniversary last Saturday! May God grant you many more happy years together.

The angel said ‘Do not be afraid – I am bringing you good news.’ What is good news for us?

Well, one piece of good news is that, to nobody’s great surprise, the world did not end last Friday! [A banner is displayed: ‘The end is nigh'] The general response was for everyone to just carry on – business as usual.

Yet perhaps you saw the picture that was going the rounds on Facebook – a small grubby child, in tattered clothes, clutching a piece of bread in a dirty little hand, and looking with big eyes at the camera. The caption said ‘I’m not afraid the world will end in 2012: I’m afraid it will carry on with nothing changing.’

There is a lot we’d like to change – a lot we need to change. 2012 has been a hard year, in many ways – we can look back on the Limpopo text-book fiasco; the Marikana shootings; the Cape farm workers’ strikes. Farther afield, there is the continuing terrible conflict in the DRC; the ongoing struggle to secure lasting peace in Southern Sudan; and, of course, the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut.

More generally, we want to see change in the ongoing issues of poverty, unemployment, inadequate health care and education, corruption and inefficiency, and environmental degredation. President Zuma may have been re-elected President of the ANC – but we say to our politicians and all in positions of leadership and influence, it cannot be ‘business as usual’. There has to be a greater urgency, a deeper commitment, to doing more and doing it better.

Instead of the end of the world, we need a new beginning. And this, of course, is the message of Christmas. Jesus’ birth invites us to see the world as changed into a different place, full of new and hope-filled possibilities.

We often describe the end of the world as ‘apocalypse’. But the word apocalypse actually means ‘revelation’. Therefore, Christmas is the true apocalypse, this December – and every December. [A new banner is now displayd ‘The Beginning is nigh']

Christmas, Christ’s birth, is God’s revelation of God’s true self, in human form. Christmas is God’s declaration that we are not created by a distant deity who sits on a remote cloud issuing condemnations upon our fallibility. It is the bold expression that God is more than on our side: God is with us.

God in Jesus Christ experiences what it is to be human, with all life brings, its joys and disappointments, friendships and betrayal. He knows the turbulence of adolescence, and the challenges of adult responsibility. He knows what it feels like to face mortality. The child in the manger becomes the man on the cross, who puts death to death, rising with a promise of eternal life.

Christmas says it is no longer ‘business as usual’. Christmas says God loves us so much that he willingly sacrifices himself so that we can have what we most need in life. And I don’t mean ipads or flat-screen TVs! Our greatest need is for forgiveness for our failings, healing of our brokenness, comfort in our sorrows, fresh hope and encouragement in all we encounter, strength to persevere in doing the right thing. We need the knowledge that God will always be Emmanuel, (literally ‘God with us’), helping us grow in love, in all that is good, every step of the way until we find our heavenly home. We need to know God’s new beginning, always available, always fresh, in our own lives – and his promises of life and love triumphing over death and destruction.

Confident of this, let us pray for God’s great light shining wherever people walk in darkness, and for the Prince of Peace to reign in justice: in the DRC, in Southern Sudan – wherever conflict and strife has a hold –in Syria, in Egypt, in Israel and Palestine, the birthday place of our Lord and the Holy basin for Abrahamic faiths

Confident of this, let us pray for ourselves, that God, incarnate through the Christ-child, may fill our own lives, our homes, our families, with his gifts of love and inner peace – so that they may dwell within us; and so that we too may be channels of love and peace in God’s world.

Confident of all that Christmas brings, let us spare a special prayer for God’s full healing of Madiba. This is the prayer that is being used around the world for him, and for Me Graça, at this time:

At Advent we sing and pray, O come, O come Emmanuel.
We ask now, for Emmanuel, God with us, to be with Madiba and Me Graça
Come Emmanuel and release our Madiba from the scourge of ill health;
Come Emmanuel and offer Madiba everlasting healing;
You are a God who knows vulnerability, weakness and frailty,
You are Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Lord of life and death,
Your power sustains us in life and death.
May your arms of love, stretched wide on the cross for us,
Now enfold Madiba, and Graça, with compassion, comfort and
the conviction that you will never forsake them but that
you will grant Madiba eternal healing and relief from pain and suffering.
And may your blessing rest upon Madiba now and always. Amen.

May God’s blessing rest upon all of you also: may the eagerness of the shepherds, the joy of the angels, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours, this Christmas, and always. Amen.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Urgent Prayer Request for Tata Madiba and Me Graça

Dear Friends,

You will recall that last week I spend three days fasting and prayer for our country. I ended my prayers at Freedom Park at a service for Reconciliation Day and prayer.

During my prayers and fasting, God in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, kept on giving me the refrain to also pray for Me Graça Machel and Tata Madiba. Would you kindly intensify your prayer for him at this time, and in your parishes and all places of worship tomorrow and this Christmas ask your followers to spend a significant amount of time praying for him please. Because I am making this call today, I will also make it via the public media to reach as many of you as are possible in a short space of time.

This is the prayer I composed for him and Me Graça. You may want to use your own as may be relevant in an ecumenical or interreligious context or no faith, but spare a moment please.

At Advent we sing and pray, O come, O come Emmanuel.
We ask now, for Emmanuel, God with us, to be with Madiba and Me Graça
Come Emmanuel and release our Madiba from the scourge of ill health;
Come Emmanuel and offer Madiba everlasting healing;
You are a God who knows vulnerability, weakness and frailty,
You are Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Lord of life and death,
Your power sustains us in life and death.

May your arms of love, stretched wide on the cross for us,
Now enfold Madiba, and Graça, with compassion, comfort and
the conviction that you will never forsake them but that
you will grant Madiba eternal healing and relief from pain and suffering.

And may your blessing rest upon Madiba now and always. Amen.

Yours in the service of our Lord and Saviour

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

Friday 21 December 2012

Church Leaders' Message to President Zuma and other Leaders

You can read the letter that Church leaders sent, earlier this month, to President Zuma at http://www.sacc.org.za/content/SACC%202012%20DOCS/DEC%202012/JOINT%20letterhead_dear%20president%20Zuma_final.pdf.

We sent similar letters to Premier Helen Zille and other key figures in the political and economic world.

The message we enclosed is at http://www.sacc.org.za/content/SACC%202012%20DOCS/DEC%202012/The%20church%20speaks%20_Final%20%2030%2011%202012.pdf.

Thursday 20 December 2012

To the Laos - To the People of God, Christmas 2012

Dear People of God

'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which has taken place’ say the shepherds to one another – and in doing so, invitation us all to come with them to the manger and kneel before the tiny infant who becomes our Saviour and Servant King. Babies and children move our hearts in special ways, putting us in touch with something within us that we do not want to lose – perhaps that ‘childlikeness’ which Jesus says is necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven.

Once again, I have been touched by the Christmas party which Lungi, Nyaki, Pabi and I hosted, for the third year, at Bishopscourt, for 200 girls and boys from Anglican orphanages and children’s homes. It is always a day full of fun and games, as we join ‘children being children’ in spite of the harsh realities they have faced.

Thanks to generous sponsorship, we have now bought a trampoline for use every year. We also had a clown, volunteers from the City Council's Childline, and St Johns Ambulance on stand-by for bumps, scratches and other first aid. The Anglican Students’ Fellowship lent a hand, as did the stalwarts of the Church Men’s Society, and many of the ‘mothers’ of the diocese were here to give home carers a break. Hope Africa has also become a key supporter and board members enjoyed interacting with the children. We are always grateful to the Science Centre for sending their mobile laboratory, with complex, stimulating, games. I tried a science puzzle on eye-hand coordination: tracing a maze while looking at your hand only through a mirror. I founded I needed more ‘flexibility’ in my thinking, to move my hand as I wanted!

The children love the swimming pool, so girls from Anglican schools, Herschel and St Cyprians, acted as life guards. Others offered face painting. St George’s and Bishops schools’ boys could not attend but sent generous donations of food and Christmas parcels. Nyaki lent a hand, even though he had to leave early for an Art examination that afternoon, and so Pabi joined her mother and her team, doing ‘double duty’ for them both. It is always a delight to see the parking area full of mini-buses from the homes and other cars, and children taking over the whole estate.

The kids are great theologians and philosophers, asking questions with a curiosity and directness that adults never match: ‘Archbishop, why do you wear such a big ring?’ ‘Why did you invite us here – I thought only important people came to Bishopscourt?’ One little child asked, ‘When Father Christmas arrives here to collect the presents, where does he park? Do you keep the addresses of all the Christians in Cape Town for him?’ They certainly made me laugh at their vivid imaginations! Yet the sense of appreciation from the kids is always humbling. God willing, we will meet again next year. Some of the children will have moved on – do pray the older ones can establish a settled life – and others will have joined them. Please keep them all in your intercessions. Perhaps you can make a donation to children in need either through Bishopscourt or Hope Africa, or in your own diocese or parish.

As we ponder on the mystery that the vulnerable Christ-child was also the incarnate Son of God, we can let our hearts be touched by all children in poverty and need. Pray especially for those who suffer systemic oppression, particularly through such abuses as child slavery and militarisation. We thank God for all NGOs and others who work with children, and pray for them to prosper, and bring genuine tangible hope, and new beginnings to the boys and girls they seek to serve.

I also strongly commend to you the ‘Promising Life’ campaign of the Micah Challenge: Christians supporting the Millennium Development Goal of dramatically reducing mother and infant mortality. See http://www.micahchallenge.org.za/.

Ten days later I travelled to Maputo for Bishop Dinis Sengulane’s wedding to Lina Valoi. First, we attended the funeral of Fr Germano, giving thanks to God for this faithful pastor and PSC rep, who had died two days earlier, as custom dictated we deal with death before turning to celebrate life. We then went to bless the new house that +Dinis and Lina are building; and on to Lina’s home to complete the lobola process. It was a fascinating ‘indaba’ process, as representatives of the two families engaged in dialogue. Finally the bride-to-be was called from her bedroom to check the groom was indeed the right chap, and that she was prepared to marry him. There was great rejoicing at her affirmative answer – celebrated with a wonderful lunch!

‘Everyone’ was at the church wedding the next day, from ACSA, ecumenical interfaith partners, state, business, labour, every part of the nation and with many international guests. The church was packed, and the fans struggled to produce a cooling breeze. We rejoiced as the bridal couple chanted psalms and joined the choir in song and dance. +Dinis used the opportunity to launch a new hymn book and a guide to Christian living – ‘excellent resources’ said one guest, a convert from Islam, on scanning the booklet after the service. The vibrant, colourful occasion was even broadcast live on TV! Afterwards, around 700 of us were entertained at the reception, including the president’s wife, prime minister, and current and former cabinet ministers. It was a multilingual party, with representatives from the US, the Church of Norway, partners ALMA and MANNA, and French and Portuguese speakers too.

On Sunday, the bishops who were present (including five of us from ACSA) were sent for ‘mission experience’! I preached, presided at the Eucharist, and baptised a baby, for an English service, attended by +Dinis and Lina, and two other newlywed couples. We also had prayers for a widow, 30 days after her husband’s death, and marked the 30th anniversary of the Portuguese and English congregations joining. The context was truly of life and death, from baptism, birthday and wedding celebrations to grief and mourning. The tiny church was packed: if we had been in Joburg, fire inspectors would have banned us from meeting because of fire hazard!

We then travelled to +Dinis and Lina’s new home, for the traditional welcoming of the new bride. Further family negotiations then took place, to confirm assent to the lobola, while we ate and chatted. Then there were smiles and we knew all was well, the process was complete, and they were legally, theologically and culturally married!

This is my last letter until March, as, from late January I shall be away, to follow the ‘Full Spiritual Exercises’ of St Ignatius of Loyola, which involve a 30-day retreat. I’m looking forward, with anticipation, and some apprehension, to this stretching spiritual journey, and discovering how God wants to meet me and deal with me. I’m praying that in my personal walk with him, and in my ministry, it will be a time of refreshment, fresh focus, and, I’m sure, deep challenge and new calling.

Before I leave, it will be my great joy to preside at the consecration of the Ven Margaret Vertue as Bishop of False Bay on 19 January. In March the consecrations of the Revds Dintoe Stephen Letloenyane and Stephen Moreo, as Bishop of the Free State and of Johannesburg, will be in my calendar, together with a Synod of Bishops meeting. Provincial Synod also meets this year, in October. Please begin praying about this too, and considering motions you wish your diocese to bring before us.

Let me end with the traditional Christmas blessing, which reminds us that God in Christ meets us each of us just as we are, and touches us with love that is tailor-made: May the eagerness of the shepherds, the joy of the angels, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours, this Christmas, and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you always. And may you also have a happy and blessed 2013.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday 11 December 2012

To the Laos - To the People of God - Advent 2012

Dear People of God

‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’ is a well-known Advent hymn which goes on to describe Jesus as ‘hope of all the earth … desire of every nation … joy of every longing heart.’ Advent has been described as a ‘season of desire’. It is a time for us to listen to the yearnings of our hearts, our souls: our profound longing for Jesus to come with the fullness of his redemption, into our lives and the situations around us. It is a time for giving voice, in prayer, to the ache we feel for every person, every circumstance, which needs the compassionate, loving, healing, touch of our Lord and Saviour. It is also a time for giving thanks for all that we have seen of God at work in our lives, and fervently asking that he may be present in ever greater abundance.

I have been pondering this, particularly as I look back on November, which was a truly remarkable month, diverse and full. When it began, I was in New Zealand, participating in the Anglican Consultative Council, with other Anglicans, nearly bishops, clergy and laity from around the world. We shared deeply together around all aspects of the Anglican Communion’s ministry and mission – often from very different perspectives, but in a way that I felt was healing to relationships. Please pray that it may be a turning point for moving ahead united in Christ, even where we do not wholly agree; and especially that the ‘Continuing Indaba’ and ‘Bible in the life of the Church’ projects will keep on bearing fruit. Please pray too for God to further guide and bless major issues which we tackled: the environment; violence especially against women and children, and churches as places of safety; and Christian witness in a multi-religious world. There is much here that we can pick up on, to enrich our own lives, and equip us in our own calling to be faithful witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ. You can find out more through the links at www.anglicancommunion.org

It was the last Anglican gathering with our beloved Archbishop Rowan before he steps down and returns to academic life. My heart was full to overflowing – and so were many others – as he gave his final address to us. We give thanks for his remarkable servant ministry over the difficult times of the last decade, and ask God to bless him, his wife Jane and family, in their move, and to continue to make him a blessing to so many others. In the same vein, we thank God for Bishop Justin Welby, who will succeed him in the new year, and pray for him, together with his wife Caroline and their family, as he prepares to take on the great responsibilities that lie ahead. I am reminded of the ‘Charge’ in our service of ordination and consecration of a bishop, which says ‘No one is sufficient for these things’ but then says ‘May the God who makes us able ministers of his new covenant equip you with grace and give you his blessing and joy.’ This is surely what we long for, for the new ‘ABC’.

And I am sure it is our prayer also for our newest Bishop in Southern Africa, Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, whom we consecrated in Swaziland with such joy on 17 November – the first Anglican woman in Africa to be made a Bishop! We rejoice with her and her diocese, and ask the ‘long-expected Jesus’ truly to be ‘Emmanuel’, God with her, and her clergy and people, as they go forward into this new chapter of life. We pray also for The Ven. Margaret Vertue, who will be consecrated Bishop of False Bay on 19 January; and the Revd Dintoe Stephen Letloenyane and Revd Stephen Moreo, who will be consecrated Bishop of the Free State and Bishop of Johannesburg, respectively, in two services in March.

As we thank God for, and pray for, those he calls forth as leaders, shepherd of his flock, in every generation, let us also pray for the Church of England, so traumatised by their long synodical processes around the consecration of women to the episcopate, and the failure of last month’s vote. May God give them light in their darkness (a powerful Advent theme), to show them his path ahead.

For our part, we are moving forward on the path we believe God has set before us, the path of our Vision, ‘Anglicans ACT’, which we celebrated in a service in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town at the end of November. You can watch it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5-9b7tWFFw, and copies are being made available via Dioceses on DVD. The various teams are making progress in their work – watch this space in the new year, as plans unfold for helping equip dioceses and parishes in our priority areas!

So, within the life of our church, at home, and globally, we have much to thank God for, even as we desire to grow more into the newness of life that is his promise. But when we turn our eyes to look at the world around, our yearning for God’s redemptive touch becomes much more urgent. In South Africa, we have had the tragedy of Marikana, now being investigated through the Commission of Inquiry headed by Judge Ian Farlam who is ACSA’s chancellor. All involved need our prayers. There is also the complex situation around farm workers’ salaries in the Western Cape, where we yearn for just living wages. We also anticipate the ANC conference in Mangaung from 16 to 21 December. With a vote on the ANC’s, and hence the country’s, presidency, it is of major importance to our future, and our ability overcome trends of corruption and self-interest among political leaders, and return to putting the needs of all citizens at the top of the agenda. Elsewhere around our Province, countries battle with consolidating democracy, with food shortages, with wise use of mineral resources, with the scourge of HIV and AIDS, and with the ongoing long slow struggle to overcome poverty and all its consequences.

Therefore, especially for those in South Africa for whom 16 December is the Day of Reconciliation, I am calling for a day of prayer and fasting. Let us not be afraid to pour out our hearts to God – bringing before him all our hopes and fears for our countries, all our yearnings and desires for his kingdom to come and his will be done among us. In Advent we look forward to God’s promise to reconcile all things in Christ to himself (Col 1:20); and we also recall how he has entrusted his ministry of reconciliation to us also – so let us make this a day truly of God’s Reconciliation.

Let us plead that we may know the fuller coming of Christ, ‘risen with healing in his wings’ within our nations and our communities, especially where there are divisions – whether of history, politics, economics, language or race, personality, or through some unhappy force of circumstance. Let us pray fervently that God will meet us in all our needs, in Jesus Christ, so that there may be good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, liberty for all who are afflicted (Lk 4:18). May those who walk in darkness find a new light dawning (Is 9:2), and may all of us have the wisdom, the courage, the commitment, to walk in the paths God lights before our feet (Ps119:104). May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24), and may God’s kingdom be found among us.

This Advent-tide, let us wholeheartedly pray for Jesus Christ to come to us, ‘Come, O come, Emmanuel!’

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Call for Prayer and Fasting on Reconciliation day

The following statement was issued on 12 December 2012

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town is calling on South Africans to fast and pray for the nation on Reconciliation Day.

In a call made first in The Sunday Independent on 25 November, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba is urging people of all religious communities to tap into the strength of their faith for the sake of the country, much as they did in apartheid years. ‘It is too easy to feel hopeless, even despairing, after the Marikana tragedy, unrest among Western Cape farm-workers, crises in education and unemployment, failures in service delivery, and endless reports of crime and corruption’ said the Archbishop. ‘But we are not helpless, and should not let ourselves feel overwhelmed.’

‘Prayer and fasting are concrete actions, which connect us with the strong foundations of our beliefs: the power of God, eternal moral guiding principles, however we want to describe them’ he said. ‘They will provide new focus and energy, to work for all that is right and true and wholesome for South Africa, in which all people of good-will can join us. Standing together and speaking out together, as so many did before, is the best way to ensure that the vision and promises of the struggle are achieved.’

‘Reconciliation Day is entirely appropriate for such prayer and fasting, especially for Christians’ said Archbishop Makgoba. ‘In the weeks before Christmas, we think about Jesus coming not just as a baby, but also as the one who reconciles all of creation in the love of God the Father. In Jesus Christ, God promises to overcome divisions, heal relationships, mend our brokenness, defeat evil, and ensure that all that is good and right and loving finally triumphs. Furthermore’ he noted, ‘as St Paul tells us, God also entrusts this “ministry of reconciliation” to all who follow him. So we have to play our part too.’

The Archbishop added ‘Therefore, we are truly in the business of promoting genuine, eternal, reconciliation. Perhaps the government did not realise how profound it was to rename 16 December ‘Reconciliation Day’! Yet I like to believe God guided their hand, because I know that true reconciliation is one of God’s greatest desires for our nation. May he bless us, and help us to grow in authentic reconciliation, based on our best hopes for the future, for the sake of all South Africans.’

Issued by the Office of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
Inquiries: Ms Wendy Kelderman 021 763 1320 (office hours)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Deaths of Prof Jakes Gerwel and former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson

This statement was issued to the media on 4 December 2012

With the deaths of Professor Jakes Gerwel and former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, we have lost two great figures of the struggle, who also showed us what it means to uphold the highest of the principles that shaped and drove those years, in the new era of democracy.

In academia and education, and in law, they reached the top of their profession, demonstrating the much needed lesson of how this can be done in the service of our nation and all its people. Speaking out at the heart of the establishment, they served the voiceless and marginalised. They set an example from which we should all learn. We offer thanks to God for their life and witness, and the indelible influence for good that they have left us. We pray that by God’s grace we may follow in their footsteps, and uphold their legacy.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I extend my condolences to their families and all who loved them, and assure them of our prayers for these good and faithful servants of freedom and justice of our times.