Monday, 27 August 2018

South Africa's new dawn "is not yet visible on the horizon" - Archbishop

A sermon preached at a combined Confirmation Service for Anglican Schools in Cape Town, held at St Cyprian's School, on 26 August 2018: 

Readings: 1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,23-30,41-43, Psalm 84,  Ephesians 6:10-30,  John 6: 56-69

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God, heads of participating schools – Mrs Sue Redelinghuis of St Cyprian’s, Mr Stewart West of Herschel, Mr Guy Pearson of Diocesan College (Bishops) and Mr Julian Cameron of St George’s Grammar, educators, friends and families, it is a great joy to be with you today and share in this important milestone in the lives of the confirmation candidates.
A warm welcome to you all. Thank you for inviting me and, most importantly, thank you to the school chaplains – the Revd Andrew Weiss of St Cyprian’s, the Revd Lorna Lavello-Smith of Herschel and the Revd Bob Commin of Bishops, for preparing the candidates for confirmation. A special welcome to the parents and godparents of those to be confirmed during this service. Thank you, Fr Andrew, for preparing for this service and for this wonderful service booklet.
Today we have come in the presence of God to give witness to this special gift with which God, out of his goodness, will endow you, the confirmation candidates: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into your lives. The rite of passage that you pass through today, confirmation, will empower you to practise your faith more effectively in every aspect of your existence, deepening your relationship with God and strengthening your spiritual lives.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading: “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” As you have learned in your preparation classes, at your confirmation you receive also the seven gifts of the spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God. These gifts, as we heard in the introduction to this service, are given to you to fulfil three important purposes: you receive the power of the Spirit for worship, witness and service.
Let us look at our lives of faith through each of these three lenses and ask ourselves: what insights can we draw from each as we prepare to fulfil our confirmation vows in our Christian lives?
Of the three, worship comes first. Everything else we do flows from this. Worship is what we do through praising and paying homage to God. It begins with fear of the Lord, which is one of the gifts of the Spirit. Fearing the Lord is not like fearing a lion, rather it is to be in awe of God, or as CS Lewis puts it, to “feel wonder and a certain shrinking” before God. Through worship we show respect for and love of God, admiring God with those who believe in him.
Worshipping God helps us, as Paul says in today’s  reading from his letter to the Ephesians, to put on the full armour of God in order to stand firm in the face of the challenges of the changing times we live in. This he says because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities of this world. And good worship builds good character, which is what our society needs.
Confirmation also requires us to bear witness to the truth of the gospel. As confirmed members of the church of God we are to speak for God in all places and at all times. This requires wisdom – which is considered as the first of the great gifts. Wisdom helps us to discern what is wrong from what is right and instills attraction to that which is divine.
The Holy Spirit which you are to receive in this service will instil in you the courage to stand for what is right in the sight of God, especially under difficult situations, when standing firm can mean facing rejection, verbal abuse or physical harm. It requires firmness of mind to endure evil and stand for what is good. Perhaps this is what Jesus required of his disciples as presented in the Gospel reading.
The third reason you receive the power of the spirit today is to equip you for service to God and to God’s world. God calls us to serve him and to do what he desires of us, submitting to his ways wholeheartedly so that he will be supreme over our lives. We are called to serve God so that his glory shines through us, and by serving God in faith we can be reassured that he will supply our needs.
Just as we are called to serve God, we are also called to be faithful in our Christian service. When God calls you and me, we are entrusted with responsibilities that will in the end glorify not ourselves but God. As we heard in today’s Old Testament reading, serving God is what motivated Solomon to build a beautiful temple for the Lord and to ensure that the ark of the covenant was brought back from the Tent of Meeting.
Looking at South Africa today through the lenses of worship, witness and service, what have we witnessed, and what are we witnessing today? Can we be called witnesses to the truth? And how best can we be of service to God in South Africa today, remembering again that our struggle is against the principalities of this world?
Travelling the length and breadth of South Africa this past week – traversing Mpumalanga, KwaZulu/ Natal and Limpopo – as well as recently returning from trips to North and South America and Europe, I am sad to report that confidence in our future is eroding everywhere. Inside South Africa, civil society has lost trust in our society's ability – reflected in government, business and labour – to emerge from our country's crisis of distrust. Abroad, the world is losing patience with the promise that South Africa offered two decades ago when we took a new path. Of course when I say the world is losing patience with us, I talk of our friends who know the complexity of the issues we face, not of presidents who know nothing about us or about Africa and whose idea of leadership is to send tweets.
While the darkest night we have experienced since liberation in 1994 has ended, it is becoming clear that the new dawn promised by the new administration is not yet visible on the horizon. The government is working hard and deserves as much support as it can garner, but the improvements it promises are hard to achieve while corruption still envelopes our country.
Many of you will know that I have in recent years been promoting the idea of a New Struggle to replace the old struggle against apartheid – a struggle to end economic inequities, to revisit the distribution and use of our land, to end the inequalities of service delivery, health care and education, and most of all to bring about equality of opportunity.
Now that we have taken the first step back on the road we set out upon when we adopted our new Constitution, the time has come to ask how we fulfil the dream, unique to us, that we had then. How do we arise from the ashes of pervasive corruption and return to South Africans the billions stolen from the public purse?
I don’t want to preempt the outcome of the Zondo Commission on State Capture, but how do we explain why no one has been convicted – or even arrested – for the crimes committed against us, our children and our grandchildren? Is it really the case that our law enforcement agencies are so corrupted or incompetent that the perpetrators will never be brought to justice?
By some estimates former President Zuma and his crooked cronies stole more than 100 billion rands from us. Added to what was stolen from South Africa's people under apartheid, the figures are mindboggling. If only the 100 billion is returned, this is what it means:
    • Every student graduating from high school who is qualified could attend university free for the next decade;
    • Rampant youth unemployment could be radically reduced by providing free practical technical training for artisans;
    • Every home and school in every township could have modern bathroom facilities;
    • We could have free health care for those who cannot afford it.
In John's Gospel, we are promised abundant life to all:  not to some, as is the case in South Africa at present. And Jesus doesn't mince his words when he names those who would deny us abundant life: he calls them thieves and robbers who come only to steal and kill and destroy. From another religious tradition, Gandhi teaches us that “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one's acts.”
South Africa has suffered from a pervasive abuse of power and position by those who allowed their consciences to decay as a result of greed. We allowed to rise to power leaders who compromised our national values as articulated in the Constitution. Justice must be done and they must return what they stole. Looking back to the past, no efforts will ever be enough to repair the harm done; yet, looking ahead to the future, we must spare no effort to create a culture in which such abuses will never occur again.
Historically, South Africans have achieved most when we have realised that if one member of society suffers, if one family suffers, if one community suffers, we all suffer. We succeed when we focus on what we can create together, when we allow hope to flourish and don't stress over what we cannot control.
If we are committed to embrace the New Struggle, my prayer is that we will now make the following choices:
    • We will open our eyes and our hearts to the indignities and suffering which our fellow South Africans undergo;
    • We will overcome the thirst for power and possession that are so often the roots of these evils; and
    • We must say “never again” to the inequalities our society has experienced and work unceasingly to end them.
It is at turning points such as the one we now face that our destiny is shaped. Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. I call on all South Africans to embrace our New Struggle, to awaken their consciences and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of values-based decision making and care for one another. In that way we can be of good service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.
May God bless you, your family and God bless South Africa.
And as you know, God loves you and so do I.
Amen.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Archbishop preaches at service for Prince Buthelezi's 90th birthday

A homily preached by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at an Ecumenical Service of thanksgiving for the 90th birthday of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Durban, on 19 August 2018:

Readings: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, Ps 111, Eph.5:15-20, John 6:51-58

May I speak in the name of God, our Redeemer and our Sustainer. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God; it is a great honour for me to celebrate with you in this service today.

May I extend a warm welcome to all our guests, visitors and friends who are part of this service and especially to His Majesty the King and members of the Royal House. I want to extend a special appreciation to Bishop Dino, Bishop Steve, other bishops and clergy and other church leaders and ecumenical partners here present.

It is an honour and privilege to have been asked to celebrate with you at this historic moment in the life of Prince Buthelezi and his family - a Thanksgiving to God.

Thank you everyone [Ke a leboha, ngiyathokoza] for the wonderful and warm welcome we received on our arrival here. Thank you also to those who gave their time to be involved in the preparation for today.

I pray that our time together as ecumenical/ interdenominational partners will be a moment of growth and deepening of our relationship and partnership in God’s mission.

At the outset, if I may be bold to address personally the person whose life and work have brought us together today: Prince Buthelezi, Shenge, we are all thrilled to be here to give thanks to God and to celebrate the gift of your extraordinary life to your family and to the nation.

The history of your involvement with the Church goes back  for more than half a century and during the time of no less than six archbishops. This long record reminds us of the close relations between the Anglican Church and amaZulu, the Zulu people, going back into the 19th century. We recognise with shame that early missionaries played a negative role in some respects, for example trying to damage innocuous cultural practices. But we also recall with pride the role of Bishop Colenso and of how his daughter helped defend your grandfather, King Dinizulu, when he faced trial on charges of high treason. We recall too the Anglican antecedents of King Dinizulu, of King Solomon, of the Regent, Prince Mshiyeni, of your dear mother, Princess Magogo, and of course in our time of His Majesty, the King.

In your own life, we recall that Archbishop Joost de Blank invited you to stay at Bishopscourt when you were not allowed to stay in hotels in Cape Town, and that you became close to Archbishop Robert Selby Taylor, beginning when you represented the Province (ACSA) at the historic Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963. We recall too your close relations with Archbishop Bill Burnett and with that much-loved pioneer of the Church, Bishop Alphaeus Zulu. We acknowledge too that at times there were tensions between you and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and that there were times when you felt a lonely Christian. But even at the most difficult times in our history, you were always willing to welcome Archbishop Tutu to Ulundi, recognising him as your archbishop, sharing a meal with him there and even sending a plane to bring him from Durban. We recall also that during that time you welcomed our Synod of Bishops to kwaNzimela, and that when Archbishop Tutu asked you in 1993 to meet Nelson Mandela to talk peace, you agreed without hesitation. More recently we have celebrated in particular the fine example you set to church and society in breaking the silence and addressing the stigma around HIV and Aids.

Today we celebrate your life as a faithful Anglican, as a lay minister, as a former Council member of St Peter's Seminary, as a representative of your Diocese to the Province, and of the Province to the wider Anglican Communion. On a lighter note, I have heard it told  that you are not enamoured of some of our more recent innovations – for example, I understand that you feel that Anglicans sometimes go a bit overboard with choruses nowadays. But given your long and devoted service to the Church, you are more than entitled to disapprove of some of the things we do! Thinking back over the last half century, perhaps the only claimants who could rival you for the title of the country's most prominent lay Anglican might be OR Tambo, Alan Paton or Kgalema Motlanthe. But your service,  recognised in the award to you of the Order of Simon of Cyrene, has been in more capacities and over a longer period.

Thank you Shenge, Sokwalisa, Sondiya, Mnyamana ka Ngqengelele, wena owadliwa zindlovukazi zamlobolela. We thank God who has been by your side though out the changing times in your life – in the private, public and political spaces. We also thank your family for standing by your side.

In today's reading, John (Jn 6:51-58) continues with Jesus’ sermon on the Bread of Life. He writes this gospel to ensure that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in his name. His primary intention is purely evangelistic. He puts emphasis on the relationship between the Father and the Son, and on how the plan of salvation was effected by the Father through the Son. It was through love of the world that God sent his Son, and the Son is the agent through whom the Father reveals Himself.

In the reading, Jesus is at Capernaum teaching in the synagogue about who he really is. He says “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). Jesus’ statement preludes a direct reference to the Lord’s Supper. The metaphor of eating and drinking prepares a way for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. His teaching is not that receiving that sacrament is one requirement for eternal life; rather his emphasis is on faith in response to his testimony about himself.

It is clear therefore, that all life is unending. And Jesus continues to say “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (v.55). My sisters and brothers, those who see and understand Christ’s true character, and receive him into their hearts as their Saviour, have eternal life. The Holy Spirit allows Christ to dwell in our lives, and the Spirit received into our hearts by faith is the beginning of eternal life. We need to journey with Christ in our lives in order to be assured of everlasting life. The mystery of the Eucharist allows Christ to dwell in us and us in Him. The Incarnate Christ is able to give us this life.

It is understandable that at the time the Gospel was written, Jews would not have grasped the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ words, which could be understood only later in the light of his subsequent sacrifice upon the Cross. The eating and drinking became symbolic of the appropriation of the effects of that sacrifice.

How many of us here today are still like those who, at the time Jesus lived, were unable to see and understand who Christ is? How many of us are so overwhelmed or blinded that we cannot see God? Many of those in Jesus’ time, taking too literally what he was saying, exclaimed, “How can this Man give us his flesh to eat?” Probably just as Nicodemus, in John 3:4, asked: How can a man be born again?

Friends, to partake in the flesh and blood of Christ is to be convinced that he forgives our sins and that we are complete in him. It is by beholding his love and dwelling upon it that we become partakers of his nature. We must feed upon him and receive him into our hearts so that his life becomes our life.

The life of Christ that gives life to the world is in his Word. It was through the Word that he provided bread for the multitudes and healed their diseases. As our physical life is sustained by what we eat, so our spiritual life is sustained by the word of God. The word of God, received into the soul, moulds our thoughts and helps develop our Christ like character.

Solomon had this in mind when asked God: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours.” (1 Kings 3:9).

Solomon was about twenty years old at the beginning of his reign and lacked the experience to assume the responsibilities of his office. In response to Solomon’s appeal, God indeed gave him a wise and discerning mind. If you were given the same opportunity today – to ask God for a special gift or attribute, what would you ask from God? Would you ask for land expropriation without compensation? Would you ask for NESFAS to close down support to learners from disadvantaged communities? Would you ask the United States to set conditions for lifting sanctions to Zimbabwe in the wake of political developments there? Or, given that it is Women’s Month in South Africa, would you ask God to give you the will to stand up and condemn the exploitation and abuse of women? President Ramaphosa has appointed an envoy to raise money. Would the money be raised to aid in nation building or should it be prioritised for social investment? What comes first- nation building or social investment?

South Africa and the world needs leaders with this rare gift, the wisdom of Solomon, a wisdom which God alone can provide. We cannot comprehend this unless we hear what Jesus, through St Paul, is saying to the church today: “Be careful, then how you live - not as unwise people, but as wise, making most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Paul warns us here to avoid the threat of becoming complicit with the evil in the world. He issues a call to wisdom, which is set over against the folly of an unbelieving world.

Friends, it is with joyful hearts that we give thanks to God for the bread of life that brings his loving presence into our lives. It is with joyful hearts that we give thanks for all he does and for all he has done for you and through you, Prince Buthelezi, and at this milestone in your life, we ask God again to endow you with the same spirit of discernment as Solomon received.

Let’s praise the Lord and again congratulate you on your 90th birthday. As the psalmist says, “Ngiyakubonga uJehova ngenhliziyo yami yonke emhlanganweni nasebandleni labaqotho” (Ps 111:1).

God loves you, and we love you too.

God bless.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Archbishop gives thanks for lives of a selfless generation of leaders


This weekend we have reason to thank God for the contributions to the good of humanity of a great, selfless generation of leaders.

In South Africa, we give thanks for the life of Mama Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe, widow of Robert Sobukwe, who died in Graaff-Reinet weeks after her 91st birthday.

Abroad, we received with shock the news that Kofi Annan, a great African and a Nobel peace laureate who gave new energy to the United Nations to intervene to prevent conflict, has died in Geneva after a short illness.

And at home we celebrate the long lives of leaders who are still with us: the 93rd birthday of Mama Gertrude Shope, a former trade unionist and the first leader of the ANC Women's League, and the 90th birthday of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

I am pleased to be preaching at a thanksgiving service for the Prince in Durban today, of which we will write more later.

Our prayers go to the families of those who have died, and our best birthday wishes to those veterans celebrating milestone birthdays.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba