Monday 31 July 2017

'Let us not bow to fear and intimidation, but boldly stand for truth'

The sermon preached by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at the funeral of Ronnie Mamoepa at St Alban’s Cathedral, Pretoria, on Saturday July 29, 2017: 

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

At the outset, on behalf of us all, those here in St Alban’s Cathedral and everyone watching this service, let me convey our sincerest condolences, to you, Audrey, to your children and to your family. Fellow mourners, clergy here present, particularly the ecumenical family and specifically the Lutheran family, the President of the country, the Deputy President and the former President, and Mam' Zanele. 
Sisters and brothers, the readings you have heard today are those that were followed in churches in many parts of the world last Sunday, the 23rd of July, the morning we received that our beloved Ronnie was no more. In our country, we have become accustomed to waking up to depressing news on Sunday mornings, so much so that we have developed defence mechanisms to protect our hearts from the weight of bad news we hear – on a day we actually ought to be hearing the good news of the love of Jesus. But when we heard of Ronnie’s passing, it pierced our defences, leaving us with a deep sense of loss and pain.

Upon hearing the news, the words of the Prophet Isaiah echoed in my thoughts, and I began to think about what he meant when he said: 
The righteous perishes, And no man takes it to heart;
Faithful and devout men (and I might add, women) are taken away, While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds, Each one walking in his uprightness.

Dear friends, last week in this cathedral we held the funeral service of Mama Emma Mashinini, a selfless women who sacrificed her life for our liberation. It was not so long ago that we gathered like this to say goodbye to Uncle Kathy. His death came at a time of turmoil in our nation, so that we couldn’t mourn for him and not mourn for the turmoil we were going for. Today, we gather to say farewell to our beloved Ronnie, also one of those who sacrificed and served our nation with passion, courage, commitment and dignity. Once again, we cannot mourn without thinking of the challenges we face. When a nation loses faithful and devout men like Ronnie, the prophet cautions us to take these matters to heart.

Ronnie joined the leaders of our struggle on Robben Island as one of the generation of June 16, among the youngest to be sentenced for fighting for the freedom of all our people. One can say that it was there that he attained wisdom beyond his years, empowering him to serve us, through his movement and through our government, with such excellence later.

The job that Ronnie did for the ANC in the early nineties, and then for two key ministries and the Presidency later, is not easy. On the one side, to do it well, you not only have to be thoroughly conversant with the activities and policies of your principals, but you need to be able to communicate them clearly and concisely. You also need to enjoy the respect of your superiors, especially if you are to persuade them to follow your professional advice on how to handle the media. 
But on the other side, to do it well, you also have to be thoroughly conversant with the media, with their personalities – and especially their deadlines. You need to strive to keep the balance between, on the one hand, promoting and defending the interests of your principals and, on the other, respecting the independence and professionalism of journalists. The best way of doing this is by being open, friendly, accommodating but firm – and willing to take the most difficult questions at all hours of the day and night. 
From the outpouring of love and tributes we have seen in statements and on Twitter and Facebook in the past week, we have seen what a skilled government communicator Ronnie was. With his natural friendliness and openness, he became a spokesperson both trusted by his leaders and respected by journalists. 
Ronnie Mamoepa conveyed messages of hope at the time our country was in transition, speaking for the liberation movement when it was still finding its voice. He then took that experience into government. There he set an example to others which is desperately needed in these trying times, when we need more than just conveyor belts of information, the reliability of which we cannot be certain, but rather men and women of principle who can be believed. 
When people of such calibre depart there is a vacuum that is left, in our hearts as individuals and in the life of the nation. If this vacuum is not attended to, it can create hopelessness and depression. We need our hearts to be comforted and to find hope that even when those such as Ronnie leave us, we can still move forward. 
The Epistle that was read that fateful Sunday morning, reminds us that we have received, as the text has it, not a spirit of slavery which causes us to fall back into fear, but instead we have received a spirit of adoption. And in moments of pain like today we can cry “Abba,” “Father,” or “Abba”, “Mother”. We can look to God to heal our pain. We must acknowledge the loss and pain, but we must not remain in that place of despair. We must rise up from there and remember that we have been adopted by God; we are children of the living God. We must know that we have no reason to fear the future, because of the Lord is our pillar of hope.

In that same Bible reading, the Apostle Paul speaks of the whole of creation groaning as if experiencing labour pains, and of us groaning inwardly as we wait for our adoption. We can identify with that today, when the suffering in our nation and on our continent reflects the groaning of creation around us. But Paul says this suffering cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. Pain and suffering produce the character that is required in order to set creation free from bondage. So as we mourn today, let us be comforted in knowing that our pain will work within us to produce the character that is needed to overcome the problems of today.

We have attained political liberation, but we are yet to see true freedom because it has become very clear that we are still waiting for the sons and daughters of God to rise up in our nation. Today in a time of freedom and liberation, we still see young people destroyed by drugs and alcohol. We see decay and corruption perpetuating oppression of the poor and needy. Women and children are killed brutally and there is violence on the streets of our nation. These are the cries of a creation that remains in bondage, a creation that is asking God: Where are you, God, where are your sons and daughters to come and free us?

The Bible tells us that God is a God of justice and righteousness, a God of mercy and truth. The sons and daughters of God are those who desire to see justice and righteousness. They are men and women who will stand for truth. They are men and women who will not allow themselves to fall back into fear, but will stand boldly and allow themselves to be guided by their conscience, led by the truth of the word of God. They have have made up their minds that they will indeed take up their cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who served and died for those he came to save. The children of God will lay down their individual ambitions for power and personal gain, in order to serve the nation.

When we look around our country, again we ask: where are these sons and daughters of God? I believe that Ronnie can be named among those who sought what was best for the nation and pursued it all his life. Ronnie was a freedom fighter to the very end. And I believe that there are many others in our nation who can step up to be these sons and daughters of God, and that we can be among them. So today as we say goodbye to Ronnie, let us examine ourselves, as the Psalm we read today urges us. Let us ask ourselves as leaders in society and in our families: Have we truly been serving God in the positions that we hold? Have we truly been seeking to deliver God’s beloved people from the racism, oppression, poverty, sickness and hopelessness? Or have we been seeking our own interests and our own ambitions?

If we have, let this day be a day of repentance and turning away. And may this Psalm be our prayer: 
Search me, O God, know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Let us honour Ronnie’s life by being those who will be an answer to the groaning of creation around. As civil servants, as people in business and industry, people of faith, as public representatives, let us be people who will liberate those oppressed by poverty, pain and hopelessness. Let us choose to be those will pursue righteousness, truth and peace in our nation. And finally, let us not bow to fear and intimidation, but boldly stand for truth.

Hear the words of Jesus:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

I can say without fear of contradiction that Ronnie has indeed served his generation faithfully. Even though he is dead and gone too soon, he has given us the best of that which God placed in his life. To you, Audrey, your children, to Ronnie’s family, friends, colleagues, you should count yourself blessed to have had a father, a husband, a friend of this calibre. May his memory and the values that he stood for inspire our lives. May his soul rest in eternal peace. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow it was indeed a great sermon from our Metropolitan Archbishop Thabo Magkoba,may the soul of the deceased rest in peace and rise in the glory of god.


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