Tuesday 11 October 2022

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu Memorial Lecture and Installation of CoTT Rector

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu Memorial Lecture

and Installation of the Rector

 College of the Transfiguration

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop of Cape Town

The Cathedral of St Michael and St George: Makhanda

11th October 2022 @15h00

Jeremiah 36: 27 -37:2; Psalm 35; Luke 8: 40 -56

Fellow theologians (all of us here are theologians, no matter how far along the journey we are);

Fellow students of the Gospel (because all of us, no matter how well qualified, remain students all our lives);

Sisters and brothers in Christ:

I greet you all in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of our lives. Amen

Dean of the Province and Chair of the College Council, Bishop Stephen, the Bishop of Grahamstown, Bishop Ebenezer, and other bishops present at this milestone in the life of our Province, members of the College Council, the Rector-designate, Dr Chinganga and your family, staff, students, fellow clergy, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is an honour and privilege for me, as the Visitor to the College, to speak at this Memorial Lecture and to celebrate with you as we install your new Rector of the College.

Good afternoon to you all. For those who are connecting virtually from other parts of our country, our continent and the world, welcome to our college in Makhanda in the beautiful Eastern Cape. I'm excited to be here among you, undergraduates, post-graduate students and researchers from many different backgrounds and contexts, both those physically here and those joining us online. Our heartiest congratulations go to you, Percy, on this significant moment in your and our lives, and a special thank you to those who have worked tirelessly to prepare for this service.

Our reading from Luke (8:40ff) is one of hope, speaking to the power of Jesus to give us hope by his transformative power, performed in this instance first by healing the woman who had been suffering from untreatable haemorrhaging and then by restoring to life Jairus's daughter.

In the first act of healing, the woman was afraid to approach Jesus openly, since her condition made her religiously unclean. But she had sufficient faith to hope that merely touching his clothes would heal her. When she did so, he responded instinctively to that faith he felt to be present, and he summoned her into the open so that he might complete the cure by restoring her self-esteem. The delay in reaching Jairus's home seemed to spell doom to his hope, born of his faith in Jesus, that his daughter would be be restored to health. But wonderfully, as the passage tells us, Jesus took the young girl by the hand, called out, “Child, get up!” and her spirit returned. The human compassion of Jesus was further revealed in his command for them to give her food to eat.

Not only this story from Luke, but the establishment and growth of our College, and therefore our very presence here this afternoon, speaks of the life-giving power which faith in Jesus brings into our lives, and nothing could be more appropriate than holding the first Memorial Lecture dedicated to our late beloved Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, here at the College of the Transfiguration.

This is because the story of the Transfiguration of our Lord held a special place in Desmond Tutu's heart. Citing it as one of his favourite biblical passages, he loved to refer to Matthew's description (Mt 17:2) of how Jesus's face shone like the sun, appearing in his transfiguration above all as the new Moses (Ex 24:12-18). In fact the Arch often said while still in office that after retirement he would love to write a book on the Transfiguration. Sadly for theology, it never happened – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission intervened, and then he was much in demand around the world, called upon to give hope to the suffering and the oppressed.

But he did speak eloquently of the power of the Transfiguration in his sermons and speeches. This was never more so than when he told the story of preparing for one of his confrontations with apartheid's most brutal president, PW Botha.

Now you know that prayer was absolutely central to Desmond Tutu's faith and life. When he first became very ill in 2015, he told me from his hospital bed that if he didn't stick to his daily prayer routines, then as he described it, “almost invariably something goes wrong.” “I'm not as sharp as I would have been otherwise,” he told me. “I'm not as gentle as I would otherwise have been.” It was in prayer, he added, that “You get to learn that, yes, you rely utterly and completely on God, that God ... is always waiting for us to turn to God.” And he would tell people that if he didn't say his daily prayers, he would experience it almost physically – it was as if he had forgotten to brush his teeth.

Preparing to meet PW Botha, the Arch was praying in the garden of St Peter's Priory, the home of the Community of the Resurrection fathers in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. It was winter and as he gazed up at the huge, bare wooden Cross in the garden, adorned with nails and a crown of thorns and surrounded by the pale, dry grass of Joburg at that time of year, the Arch came to a new understanding of the implications of our Lord's experience on the mountain with Peter, James and John.

“As I sat quietly in the garden,” he recounted later, “I realised the power of transfiguration – of God's transformation – in our world. The principle of transfiguration is at work when something so unlikely as the brown grass that covers our veld in winter becomes bright green again. Or when the tree with gnarled leafless branches bursts forth with the sap flowing so that the birds sit chirping in the leafy branches. Or when the once-dry streams gurgle with swift-flowing water. When winter gives way to spring and nature seems to experience its own resurrection.”

He went on to cite what he saw as examples of transfiguration in Christian history: of how Peter, who went on to deny Jesus not once but three times, became the rock on which the church was built, and of how the persecutor Saul became St Paul. But in perhaps his most striking imagery, Archbishop Desmond held up the Cross as the most spectacular example of the principle of transfiguration.

“Most people would have been filled with revulsion had someone gone and set up an electric chair or a gallows or the guillotine as an object of reverence,” he said. “Well, look at the Cross,” he continued. “It was a ghastly instrument of death, of an excruciatingly awful death reserved for the most notorious malefactors. It was an object of dread and shame, and yet what a turnaround has happened. This instrument of a horrendous death has been spectacularly transfigured... it is now perceived by Christians to be the source of life eternal. Far from being an object of vilification and shame, it an object of veneration.”

Sitting in that garden in 1980, Desmond Tutu said, helped him see the world with new eyes, eyes enlightened by the principle of transfiguration, eyes that would look for the potential of redemption and God's transformation in the world. And when he was installed as archbishop in 1986, he reminded us that Jesus rejected Peter's suggestion that they should build dwellings and stay up on the mountain-top, undisturbed by the clamour of the world below.

No, the Arch told us, Peter had not understood the implications of their experience: “In this life,” the Arch said, “we could never remain on the mountain-top... The Transfiguration was happening so that they could descend to the valley of human need, of faithlessness, of dangerous evil spirits. The authenticity of the transfiguration mountain-top experience would be attested by how it fitted us to be God's presence, healing, restoring, forgiving, reconciling, admonishing, comforting in the world, alienated from him and yet which remained the object of his love, so much so that for it he had given his only begotten Son.”

The Transfiguration helped empower Desmond Tutu to intervene in the world, often upsetting people, advocating sanctions to bring down apartheid, leading marches on police headquarters and Parliament, and engaging in personal encounters with PW Botha during which he, like a modern-day Moses, would declare to the apartheid Pharoah, “Set my people free!” It also empowered him to speak out against abuses by our democratic government, and he was thrilled when we continued in his footsteps and marched against the corruption of the Zuma administration in recent years. He joined us on one of those marches in 2014, and warmly endorsed my call for a Renaissance of Trust and Responsibility in a speech I delivered outside Parliament. He also supported me in 2020 when I condemned as hypocrites those in the ANC whom I labelled as corrupt big-wigs, those who stole money which was meant to provide oxygen to the breathless poor in the midst of a pandemic.

We are still called today to be God's presence, healing, restoring, forgiving, reconciling, admonishing and comforting in the world. In today's reading from Jeremiah, the scribe Baruch was ready to record for us Jeremiah’s prophetic witness. What should Baruch write about your prophetic ministry? Because  our prophetic ministry should not die, and some of you will be called, even today as we mark Archbishop Emeritus Desmond's 91st birthday, to emulate his moral clarity, and to say in love, “Thus saith the Lord!” and to be bold and courageous in doing so.

We still need to warn our governments that they are accountable, nowadays accountable to the people but also to God. As the Arch did, we must tell the politicians: Watch it! Watch it! We warn you that your self-serving ways, your desire to line your pockets, to enrich yourselves with tenders which you fail to deliver on, will bring you down! You may think that you can deceive us by sneakily siphoning money to front companies run by your relatives. But God is not blind; God's justice will prevail and we will find you out. And we warn opposition parties also: you too will experience the temptations of power, you too if you are not careful will slide down the slippery slope towards nepotism and self-dealing. To all politicians of whatever stripe, we warn you: in 2024 we the voters will force you, if you want to retain any influence in government, to enter coalitions with other parties, where your coalition partners can keep an eye on you and ensure that you deliver on the promises of democracy.

We also need to remain vigilant against new forms of corruption. We must warn against other forces in society, which are exploiting the failure of politicians to do their jobs and holding us to ransom. We condemn the mafias of the construction and taxi industries, who threaten legitimate businesses with disruption and violence if they are not given protection money. If we continue down this road, with police, municipal and national governments turning a blind eye, too cowardly to act against these mafias, we will end up a failed state.

In the same way that Desmond Tutu applied the principle of transfiguration as a means of changing the the world, so too can we apply it in the Church. In fact the very existence of this college reflects that. Most of you will know that at one time we had four residential theological colleges: Lelapa la Jesu in Lesotho, which trained ordinands from dioceses outside South Africa who could not get permits to come to South African seminaries, and three seminaries in South Africa. But as our situation changed, keeping them all open was no longer viable. St Peter's, which apartheid had expelled from Rosettenville, was part of the Federal Theological Seminary in Edendale, which was in trouble and eventually closed down. In the cases of St Bede's in Mthatha and St Paul's in Grahamstown, the Synod of Bishops faced a dilemma. Closing St Bede's, an historically black college, and allowing St Paul's, which had for much of its life trained only white ordinands, to continue was unthinkable. So the bishops decided to close both and to establish a new college on the old St Paul's campus under new leadership. After some debate, the college was named in recognition of Archbishop Desmond's love of the principle of the Transfiguration.

Some of you may not realise it now, when we face new, contemporary challenges to the future of theological education, but when you consider the situation we faced 30 years ago, the success of this vibrant college is truly one of transfiguration in the sense Archbishop Desmond described it. Do let us remember that as we debate the Pityana Commission's recent report to the Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee.

This is not the occasion on which to discuss that report, but let me repeat what I told PSC two weeks ago: that theological education and formation are not optional extras for the church – they are our lifeblood. It is, as the Commission has shown us, absolutely critical to ensure that we have the leaders who can take this church forward and navigate the challenges which church and society face. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the funding dilemma we face: we need a comprehensive solution which as far as possible both retains priestly formation in a residential setting and provides answers to the difficulties facing our Dioceses in paying for theological education. This matters, not for the sake of the future of the church as an institution, but because it speaks to our ability to serve God's world and give to God's people the abundant life which Jesus promised (Jn 10:10).

Transfiguration and transformation are embodied in the theme of this year's PSC: Re-imagining ACSA. Here I want to refer to a concern I voiced to PSC, that despite the multiplication of dioceses over recent decades, many remain geographically far too big, leaving our bishops stretched thinly on the ground. We need to realign the boundaries of our pastoral units to create smaller, mission-centred dioceses which are better able to offer Jesus-shaped ministry. Such dioceses would be led by well-educated leaders, formed at CoTT.

Let us go out from here, re-imagining ACSA as a church with a well-formed, vibrant and engaged clergy and lay leadership, a church which is a safe space for all, where everyone – no matter their age, gender, race or sexual orientation – feels equally loved and cherished by God and their fellow believers. Our beloved Arch Desmond would expect no less of us.

God loves you, and so do I. Amen

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