Monday 26 June 2023

Sermon preached at the funeral of the Revd Canon Karl Groepe

 Funeral of the Revd Canon Thomas Matthew Karl Groepe

Cathedral of St George the Martyr

Preacher and President

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop of Cape Town

24th June 2023


Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 119:161-168; Acts 13:16-25; Luke 1: 57-66,80

The Feast of the birth of St John the Baptist”

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our comforter and friend whom Karl so faithfully loved and served. Amen.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ; dear Joan, Kieran, Celeste and Rory, dear family and friends, dear colleagues and guests from near and far: it is very difficult to be here today to say farewell to our beloved friend and brother, Father Karl Groepe.

St Paul says “For since it was a man who brought death into the world, a man also brought resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be brought to life.” (1 Corr.15:21-22) If these words were ever true for anyone, they are most certainly true for Fr Karl today.

Yet our hearts are heavy and we struggle to grasp that we shall not hear his voice again, nor find ourselves enveloped in his embrace – an embrace of love that went far wider than the reach of his arms, an embrace of love which Anglicans in this Diocese experienced for half a century, for it is more than 50 years since Father Karl was appointed to a leadership position in the church.

As a relative youngster at the age of 19, Karl was appointed Sunday School superintendent at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Heideveld, where the late Bishop Charles Albertyn was his mentor. After youth ministry at parochial and diocesan level, a vocation to ordained ministry was discerned, leading to study at St Peter's College and lifelong service as parish priest, archdeacon, theologian and educator, culminating in his appointment first as Canon Theologian of the Diocese and later as Dean of Studies. In the words of Bishop Josh, “The Church was his life, and we thank God for that.”

Friends, we are here today to bring to God our grief and to give thanks to God for the life not only of a deeply dedicated priest, but a son, a husband, a father and a friend. We extend our profound condolences to you, Joan, to your children, and to your whole family. May Karl's death not separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. May the presence of everyone here today, and the grief and heaviness of heart we all experience, be a demonstration to you of how many lives he touched through his ministry amongst us.

Today’s reading from Isaiah (40:1 ff) begins by stirring us up to comfort God’s people. The word “comfort” here has its familiar meaning, as it is matched by the gentle warmth of a God speaking tenderly – a phrase mostly found in the context of reassurance, or of winning a person back to God. Responding to the privilege we enjoy of being so comforted, we can reciprocate by praising God, and such comfort and praise is what Fr Karl’s life was all about, in our Diocese and beyond.

Brothers and sisters, those who praise God in heaven behold displays of his power and glory of which we cannot now conceive. On earth, the holiness and the love of our God are more evident in how God redeems us than in all our works. So let us praise God with strong faith; let us praise God with holy love and delight; let us praise God with entire confidence in Christ; let us praise God by rejoicing in God's love, comforting ourselves in God's goodness.

The Prophet Isaiah says: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm, his reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have the young”. (v.10-11).

So let us hear God’s words of comfort to us – the words of Christ who has gone before us, who tasted death and opened the gates of glory beyond for all believers. Karl, we know, now has the fullness of abundant life that we have been promised. And even as we believe that, Jesus – he who wept at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus, though knowing he would rise – Jesus understands our tears. In him we find a safe place to bring our weeping for our friend.

When we in this Diocese think of Fr Karl, we think of his loving, caring and self-giving, as a friend, a colleague, a great theologian and a pastor. And Joan, we could see that he was no different in marriage. Our hearts go out to you, your children and the family today – especially after what you went through during Karl’s illness. We hold you in our prayers and in our love.

We also want to thank you for sharing him with us – especially that he was able to become such a father figure to so many. As is well known in our Diocese, Father Karl would extend a helping hand prayerfully to those who came to him. Prayer and spirituality – these words are inadequate to describe the relationship that Karl sustained and persistently deepened with God, who is love, and who dares us to open ourselves to receive that love. Karl took that risk and opened himself to God's love. One could tell that here was a man who spent time, real quality time before God, with no pretences, with no excuses; just opening himself up to receive whatever the Lord had for him.

Friends, I am talking about abundant love – the kind of love which Karl shared as he gave out his life for many. Notable in his witness was his passionate belief in the Church as an inclusive and transforming place, not only for herself but for the world to which she ministers. He once said that this idea was nurtured in him as a 10-year-old by the late Father Michael Hinton at St Alban's, Goodwood, leading to his vision, as he said, of a church transformed and transformative, inclusive across race, gender and economic divides.

And as we know well, he was outspoken in his passionate advocacy of this vision for the church, always willing to be the dissenting voice, not accepting things at face value. This did not necessarily always make him popular – he also once noted that he was appointed, not voted, into his leadership positions! But those who disagreed with him nevertheless respected him, respected his dedication to the church and his commitment to the downtrodden and to the transformation of our church and our country.

In this he witnessed powerfully to the fullness of the dynamic love that flows between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to God’s overflowing love, reaching out unconditionally to everyone, He witnessed to the love that, as our Gospel reading showed us, was expressed also in the way God sent John the Baptist to prepare for the coming of our Lord. He witnessed to the love which filled Zechariah with the Holy Spirit, empowering him to deliver that magnificent hymn of praise, the Benedictus, which praises God for bringing redemption to his people through the house of David and anticipates the mission of John as the prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord.

Today, as we celebrate this Eucharist, we remember Father Karl's passion that all should share in God’s banquet. We know that he shares with us the wedding feast of the Lamb. And, as Isaiah reassured us in our first reading, “every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged ground shall become level. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all the people will see it together. For the mouth of God has spoken.” Death is swallowed up in victory which is given to us through the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.

Friends, the ways of life and death remain so much beyond our comprehension. We find it so unfair, so unjust, that someone who was making such a tremendous contribution to the furthering of God’s kingdom should suffer illness as he did. We find it more than irrational that he should die when there seemed so much more for him to give.

However, St Paul says that “In Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corr 15:22) And yes, even in my sadness, I already see something of this. It is as though Father Karl for so many years taught us by example how it is that we should live. And at the end, he also taught us by example how it is that we should die.

Today we are here to bear witness to the child of God Father Karl grew to be. So in memory of him who gave so much for God, may we all today resolve to be the bearers of God’s embracing love to the world for Christ’s sake.

Sisters and brothers, let me end with words that were spoken by Jesus himself – but words which could just as easily have been said by Karl, because they seem to sum up his life: “I seek not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me”. (Jn 5:30)

Well done, good and faithful servant, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

God bless you.


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