Monday 6 November 2023

Sermon preached at All Saints, Plumstead, Cape Town

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

115th Anniversary Service

All Saints Anglican Church : Plumstead

5th November 2023

Revelations 7: 9-17; Psalm 34: 1-10,22; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is an honour and a privilege to have been asked to share with you the Word of God as you celebrate 115 years of service, witness and ministry through God’s love and grace here at All Saints. Many thanks, Archdeacon Mkhuseli Lujabe, your leadership team and to the whole community of All Saints Parish for inviting me. Thank you everyone for your warm welcome. Thank you too to those who worked to prepare for today.

A special welcome also to the parents and godparents of Cody Classen and Noah Jacobs who will be confirmed during this service. Thank you to those who prepared them for their confirmation. Cody and Noah, the rite of passage that you pass through today 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.

Turning to the main celebration today – your 115th anniversary: What a remarkable journey you have made – so unlikely, in fact, that we can understand it only if we accept that your origins and your transformation into what you represent today are the consequence of God's intervention in our lives. As a community of faith, you have worshipped, witnessed and served God well in this part of our Diocese, and in turn God has been faithful to you. Just as Jesus said He came not to be served but to serve, so you have served this community with dedication and persistence.

The first letter of John, from which we heard today, was addressed to the early Christians with the purpose of exposing false teachers and giving believers the assurance of salvation. In this passage, John is anxious to establish our relationship as a family and to express confidence in the coming of Christ. The wonder of it all seizes John's imagination as he proclaims how great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, so great that we are called the very children of God. And we are! Not only are we called God’s children – you and I, and everyone who worships in this parish – we are not just called God's children but are indeed God's children. The incompatibility of the world and our Christian faith is a recurring theme, for just as the world did not know Jesus, so the world does not know us, and if the world does not recognise Jesus for who he was and who he is, it is no surprise that the world fails to recognise us as believers.

Sisters and brothers, John’s recognition of the reality that we are daughters and sons of our Creator does not blind him to the fact that the best is yet to be, which he demonstrates by referring to the beatific vision, which holds out for us the assurance that, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (v.2b). The one who sees the Son also sees the Father. And to see God is to be transformed. This prospect is a stimulus for everyone who has this hope; it can purify each one of us just as He is pure.

Members of the Parish of All Saints, take this assurance to heart, that each one of you, transformed by your faith, is loved by God as if you are the only being in existence. And of course, this does not apply only to each one of you. It applied to those who came before you, to those who laid a solid foundation for this parish, to those whose legacy as faithful servants of our Lord and Saviour we honour today. We also also remember all the clergy, the church wardens, lay ministers and lay leaders down the years who paved the way for our worship today. They are our inspiration in leading the witness of Jesus through some of the most difficult times of our history.

And just as those who came before us were nurtured and upheld through times of trouble and tribulation, so we too are upheld through troubled times today. Just as God sustained members of this parish through the First World War, through the global pandemic which followed, through another World War, then through the suffering of apartheid and Group Areas Act removals, so God has sustained us through the latest pandemic and will sustain us today through the difficult economic times we are going through.

Friends, my vocation as your Archbishop, the vocation of my brother and sister bishops, and the vocation indeed of all those who are ordained in our Anglican Church is to seek to discern the will of God for us and our church through the multiple lenses of Scripture, Reason, Experience and Tradition. Returning to today's scripture readings, the lesson from the Book of Revelation today is about pain and joy, about being noticed, being found, and being treasured. Explaining the position of Christians during a time of judgement, John gives us a backward look to show how the church is secured from the evils experienced by a godless world, then a forward look which enables the Seer to relate the fulfillment of God’s act of protection. He sees the triumphant people of God at the end of their great ordeal, arrayed in splendour and ascribing their salvation to the grace of God. Nearly two millennia later, our experience of what John writes of is mainly of what we see as the church triumphant in heaven, something that can be spiritually true for us as we experience in our own life and times that “these are they that have come out of great tribulation”.

People of All Saints, as we celebrate these 115 years in this community, what can we draw from the imagery that John gives us today? In the light of our situations in our parish community, in our country, and in the world, what can we say to God? These are indeed times of great tribulation, not only in our own country economically, as I said a minute ago, but also in other parts of the world.

Uppermost in the minds of many of us is the appalling violence in the land we call holy, where, since October the 7th, thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks and counter-attacks as a result of the denial of people's rights and the failure of leaders to work out a just solution for governing the land which they occupy. The horror of the attack which started the current war is now matched by the horror of the assault on Gaza, which this week led United Nations human rights experts to warn that Israel has committed war crimes and that the Palestinian people “are at grave risk of genocide.” And we are seeing consequences from the war in Cape Town, where it is opening up divisions between and within our faith communities.

Meanwhile, we give almost no attention to the fact that on our own continent, in Sudan, the United Nations estimates that 9,000 people have been killed and another five-and-a-half million have fled their homes as a result of the descent of that country into war in recent months. That conflict, between the regular army and a paramilitary force, has devastated the country and pushed the Sudanese state to the brink of collapse.

Sisters and brothers, in spite of the apparent hopelessness of many of the situations we face in the world, we must take assurance from the beatitudes, as painted in today's gospel passage (Matthew 5:1-12). The Sermon on the Mount’s call to moral and ethical living is demanding, and there is no doubt that Jesus meant it to set a standard for all Christians, knowing that its demands cannot be met in our own power. The lesson here is that righteousness must mean right conduct and it is only when we follow this injunction that the persecuted can be regarded as blessed. According to Jesus, the blessings we are promised are not for our mere enjoyment, but offer us an enhanced capacity to enjoy and serve God. This divine attitude is illustrated by the willingness of a shepherd to go out into the bush in search of a lost sheep, so that not even one will go missing from his flock. You may ask, “What does one lost sheep matter compared to ninety-nine safe in the kraal?” but that would ignore the value of the individual. That is not what God would want.

Turning to our confirmation candidates: Cody and Noah, know that you matter and are valuable to Jesus. Do not allow anyone in society or the world to demean or belittle you. You are precious to our Creator, loved by God as if you were the only person on the planet. Today we give thanks for you, just as we give thanks to God for the participation of all of us in the body of Christ, along with all the saints of past ages. We give thanks especially for the inspiration so many of us draw from those who went before. There is so much to celebrate, to give thanks for, and to reflect upon, even in our own lives. Above all, we give thanks to God for the mystery of the Incarnation – God who became human and made his dwelling with us, giving hope to the church through the Holy Spirit.

So, as you move forward into the next 115 years, I leave you with a challenge and an assurance. The challenge is: What is your vision for All Saints for the years to come? What can you do to enable it to move confidently into the next 115 years? Your founders planted this parish through turbulent times of colonialism, oppresssion and war. I charge you today to pick at least one thing that will make eternal life felt in the here and now; something that will better the lives of many in and around Plumstead, Cape Town and beyond. The assurance is that God has, again and again, met people and sent them out to proclaim his truth, with clarity and courage, through difficult and challenging times in the past. And he will do so again today and in the future.

Finally, I congratulate you all very warmly on your 115th anniversary. God loves you and so do I. Amen.

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