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.

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