Tuesday 9 September 2014

Archbishop's Message to Confirmation Candidates at Anglican Schools

A sermon preached at a Combined Confirmation for Anglican Schools at Bishops Memorial Chapel, Cape Town, 7 September 2014:

Readings: 1 Kings 2:1-4

When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

Ephesians 6:10-20

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Mark 7:1-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

May I speak in the name of God, who calls us all to a life of worship, witness and service.  Amen.

I acknowledge the presence of all the heads of schools and chaplains here this morning. A special thanks to Mr Guy Pearson, head of Bishops, and the chaplain, the Revd Terry Wilkie, for hosting us. It is as always a joy for me to come to Bishops for confirmations.

May I welcome you all here today – most especially all who are being confirmed today; but also to parents and guardians; families and friends; as well as educators, learners and the wider communities of these three great Anglican schools, Bishops, Herschel, St Cyprian’s and St George’s Grammar.  It is a joy to have you all here.

This week on the 1st September, Anglicans in Southern Africa celebrated the life and ministry of Robert Gray – the first Bishop of Cape Town. As I follow in his footsteps I continually thank God for the great foundations he laid, in so many areas of life, and from which we continue to benefit. When he arrived in Cape Town in 1848, he set himself three tasks: to preach the gospel, build churches, and plant clergy. Well, he did all these, and far more besides.

Education was one of his great priorities – with both Bishops and St Cyprian’s owing their establishment to him, and Herschel and St George's Grammar following in the same strong tradition of Anglican commitment to excellence in education. So we thank God for Bishop Robert Gray and for the lessons we learn from his life of witness.

To all of you who are to be confirmed today, I encourage you to let your confirmation be the foundation of your future as you journey in life and follow in the traditions laid by Bishop Robert Gray. One can imply such a foundation to be a lifestyle of worship, witness and service as God invites us to embark on the journey of life.

Confirmation is a rite of passage on our Christian journey and it is like receiving a passport, so you are ready for travel, ready for adventure! You are responding, saying, ‘Yes, I am ready for the path ahead – and my allegiance is to God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

Confirmation is not the end of a process – it doesn’t mean that you have "arrived"; that you have somehow become "fully a Christian" and can now put your feet up and relax and wait for heaven! Not at all!

From today onwards, you are making your choice to follow God’s way which is the best way for yourselves. Take responsibility for your own life, for your choices about how you will live, what you will do and where your life will take you. We are on a journey of discovery, trying to explore:  What do I want to do with life?  Who am I really?  How shall I become that person?

Tap into the yearning that God has placed deep inside of you:  a yearning to live an authentic life, a meaningful life; a desire to "be real", to be "connected".

Our first reading is about the advice King David – very old, about to die – gave to his son Solomon, on how to live well. "Follow God’s commands, obey him, and you will prosper in all you do," he said. Following God, and the prosperity God offers, are a far less superficial, a far more profound way of living. This is what our Gospel reading is all about. Jesus taught that it is what is inside us which makes us who we really are. Our attitudes, our thoughts, our dreams, our imagination – these are what shape our words, our actions, and the sort of person we become.

One may ask the question. Now how do we get it right? What if we make the wrong choices?
We are to be in regular Christian training which will help us live a life of worship, witness and service, to which you pledge yourselves today.

Worship means coming regularly to chapel or Church:

  • to learn about God’s amazing love, and experience it for yourself;  
  • to hear Scripture read and explained, so you can grow in knowledge of God and of how to live the Christian life 
  • to encounter the holy mystery of God’s presence; and be fed, and strengthened, in the deepest core of your being, by receiving the body and blood of Christ.

This also means regularly reading your Bible for yourself – preferably daily. Regular prayer is keeping in touch with God, by speaking to him about all that we are doing in our lives; and being open to learn from him.

It is also good to spend a little time each day, just being quiet before God. If we just calm down, and wait, and tell him we are listening, often an idea will come into our heads – often a solution to a problem or sense of encouragement – and because it connects so deeply with us, we learn to recognise this is God’s way of speaking to us.

We need God’s guidance so that we can live the lives of witness and service. A witness is someone who gives evidence about what they have seen, about what they know. Our lives – through our words, actions, and attitudes – should give evidence that we follow the most wonderful and amazing God of love, who created the whole universe, and who cares for us more than we can ever imagine, and who wants to lead us to be the best we can be!

The closer we come to God, the more clearly our lives will reflect him, as true witnesses. Service is about demonstrating God’s love and care in very practical ways. Some of us are called to do this through ordination and special ministries. But actually, all of us are called to serve others, in every part of life – by being loving and honest and generous-hearted, in all our dealings with other people.

This is true of our relationships in the home; in relationships in the church, the neighbourhood and the community. It should also be true of our work relationships – being honest, fair, and trustworthy, with our colleagues and with those with whom we do business, as well as with our employees. There is no room for corruption, and no room for cutting corners, or cheating in any way.

And all of us can strive to bring greater social justice: we can throw our weight behind initiatives that promote fairness and the good of all.  Perhaps we are called to do something particular – and I know your schools have various programmes through which you can develop community involvement.

In Dr. Sylvia Rimm's book See Jane Win, which reports on research on the success of over 1,000 women, she says:

"Expect the best from all children, including post-high school education.
- Encourage the exhilaration of taking risk...    
- Learn from the success of others.
- Don’t let birth order get in the way of giving our daughters leadership opportunities and responsibilities.                                              
- Spread the wealth resources you have.
- Set a good example.”

Mark Shuttleworth is the first African to travel to space and he is from Diocesan College. Jonathan Shapiro, the South African cartoonist is from St George’s Grammar. These are but some of the successful people of our schools who have made a difference.

Around the world, let's be conscious of the situations in which others live. There are the continuing senseless killing and violence in Gaza. There are tensions in the Ukraine. We continue to say ‘Bring back our girls’ kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. And with the Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa, let us pray for God’s blessing and healing of those afflicted by Ebola, which has killed almost 2,000 people in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Also, in the year when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, we need to find innovations and new applications to stop war in the future.

As you contemplate God's call to you, the key question is: What one action inspired by one value, constitutional and biblical, will you pursue to make your world safe and equal after your confirmation? I pledge to be a disruptive leader as I advocate for a renaissance of trust in order to build a just and equal world. What about you?

Pray that God will help us discover what his particular call is to each one of us, as we take time to walk closely with him and listen to what he has in store for us. Like sport and study and music and everything else worthwhile, it takes effort to get to do that effortlessly.

Our second reading tells us something of what that effort looks like. It tells us to develop good habits that shape our imaginations, attitudes, thoughts, dreams – it tells us to set our hearts and minds on the good things of God. Then they become foundational for us – like a soldier’s armour and equipment, says St Paul. Or we might say like the tools in a toolbox; like the ingredients for the recipes from which our lives feed and we feed others; or like the software on which we run, like God’s ‘apps’ for living.

Base your lives on truth, on love, on faith, on trust – and do it with prayer and reading the Bible.
Get into the habit of having a conversation with God about all you do – it is better than talking to yourself inside your head!

Focus on the good stuff.  That’s God’s message.If we let problems shape our lives, we will always be dragged down. If we focus on all that is best, it will shape our lives. So find time in your life to converse with God.

Dear confirmation candidates, may God give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit as I lay my hands upon you. May you walk before God in faithfulness with all your heart and with all their soul, as you keep on journeying.

May you grow in faith and in the love of God, as you obey his commandments to be faithful servants within his church and in his world, the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen!