Sunday 17 December 2023

Sermon preached at the Funeral of the Rt Revd Adam Andrease Mallane Taaso

Funeral of the Rt Revd Adam Andrease Mallane Taaso

Diocese of Lesotho

Tsehlanyane, Leribe District: Butha Buthe

Preacher and President

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of ACSA

16th December 2023

Readings: Isaiah 53: 8 -10; Psalm 23; Romans 8: 31 – 38; Luke 14: 15 – 23

May I speak in the name of God the Father, who by the power of the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death to life, that we might be called to our eternal home, a place that he has prepared for us with joy, the God whom Bishop Adam so dearly loved.

Your Majesty, your Ministers present, dear sisters and brothers in Christ; dear Mrs Taaso (Me' Mats'epo), your children and grandchildren, your families and friends, dear colleagues and guests from far and near. It is with great sadness that we gather here today to offer our condolences to Me' Mats'epo, your family and the wider Diocese and community on the passing of Ntate Adam, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a colleague, a friend, and a Bishop in God’s church.

Today, we are reminded of the words of St John (11:25-26): “I am the resurrection and I am the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” If these words were true for anyone, they are most certainly true for Bishop Adam.

He was a faithful servant of God, educated at church primary schools and at Sacred Heart High at St Monica's, Leribe before working on South African mines from his early 20s. Returning home after the big miners' strikes in South Africa in 1987, he started successful transport and farming businesses before enrolling as a mature student at Lelapa la Jesu, the Anglican seminary in Roma we founded to accommodate students who had difficulty in getting visas to study in South Africa. Ordained deacon in 1992 and priest in 1993, he went on at the same time to expand his horizons by studying at NUL for a Bachelor of humanities degree, going on to teach at St Cyprian's High. After 14 years in the ministry, he was consecrated as the sixth Bishop of Lesotho.

I met him at a critical stage in his and my ministerial development, first in 1992 when I was in my third year as a priest and he was his in his third year at Lelapa la Jesu. I asked him and Metlha Beleme, later Bishop of Botswana, to become research subjects for my MEd Thesis. They were both student leaders and they agreed, but only after giving me a hard time – or should I say after giving me hell on earth? Unsure of my intentions, they agreed only on condition I stayed not in the empty rectory or in student accommodation, but in a rondavel on campus. But to their credit, they allowed me to research them and I passed my thesis well.

When I received the news of his passing, I was distressed and moved. Distressed because like you, I always find it difficult to accept the loss of a loved one; and moved when I recalled the role that he played on the Episcopal Bench, in the wider church and in society. Bishop Adam Taaso was a builder of people, of churches and of schools; he was a courageous, gentle yet fierce person. Robust in debates, he did not suffer gladly those he regarded as fools. And all these characteristics exacted a price – a price when it came to emotional, his spiritual and eventually his physical health. He fought and was fought with to the end. He battled to overcome his stroke, always resolute and determined.

Sixteen years ago, when I was a new Archbishop, Bishop Adam was one of two bishops I consecrated early in my term of office. I asked retired bishops to take sessions with the new bishops, and Archbishop Emeritus Tutu asked about the first thing the new bishops were going to do in their Dioceses. I don't recall what Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali of Grahamstown said, but Bishop Adam said, “I'm going to excommunicate them!” Oh dear, I thought, Tutu's teaching on forgiveness went above him. We loved him, but that was exactly what he did. Of course, as a former businessman, decisiveness came naturally to him as he dealt with problems by means of surgical incision, while in the church we tend to opt for long-term pastoral surgery. His motto was that for a bus company to make profit or for a school to be run efficiently, you don't dance around ills, and this was costly for a church. But we all bring our own lessons into ministry.

When he had become bishop, he saw my soft spot for this country, and as a result I got to do a disproportionate number of episcopal visits here. I was able to deconsecrate a church for the first time in my life because of the opportunity he created. During the service the sanctuary cross almost fell, hurting my hand in the process. In the presence of His Majesty at the time, I could not be a cry baby but Bishop Adam saw the blood, realised I was in pain and in his typical caring and practical way, threw a band aid at me. I also consecrated many a church and office, and had my name chiselled onto foundation stones for the first time because of him.

He also once got our Synod of Bishops to hold a peace service during which we hauled politicians into the Cathedral and warned them that peace is not an optional extra. He loved all but had a special affinity with the nation's political principals and leaders. He ensured that I paid courtesy visit to His Majesty when I visited, that I promoted education and even that I should visit the Foreign Minister to get access to the airport VIP lounge! He also loved motorcycle processions, which I did not!

I saw him in hospital after his stroke, and then one more time at Bishop Vicentia’s consecration, where I was pained he was unable to get out of his car – nevertheless His Majesty and I were able to go and greet and hug him.

I also stayed in his and Me' Mats'epo's home both here and in Maseru, and last week on Friday I was able to join the family to anoint him and perform the last rites for him at Sebucha Mission Hospital. A couple of hours later he gave his last. Thank you Adam, for your dedicated service to the church and the people of God. He was not an easy bishop but he was a dedicated, loving and caring person. Me' Mats'epo, the bishops of the Province have asked me to convey their deepest condolences to you, and to say where we have erred, we ask for pardon, and where he erred, we ask for pardon for him too.

What does scripture say about Bishop Adam's passing, or the passing of any one of us? Of course one thing is certain: no one escapes this end. We will all go to the grave eventually, our nearest and dearest weeping and wailing. As we bid farewell, and give thanks to God for his life and witness today, let us be comforted by the words of St Paul (Rom. 8:38-39); “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord”.

Dear friends, indeed we know that Ntate Taaso has not been separated from the love of God, and nor are we. But despite these comforting words which the scriptures offer us, inevitably our hearts are heavy and it is right that we are also here to bring to God our grief. We struggle to understand that we shall not hear his voice again, nor shall we find ourselves enveloped in his embrace – an embrace of love that went far wider than the reach of his arms and touched the most marginalised and needy communities, not only here in Lesotho but wherever he walked. I have been deeply touched by the accounts of his encounters with many as a pastor and shepherd in this diocese.

Thank you Me' Mats'epo, for being his support system during the turbulent years in his ministry. Thank you and your children sincerely for sharing your husband and father with us. He became a father in God to many others, and we are especially grateful that when he was called to serve this Diocese and the Province, you willingly supported his ministry even beyond retirement until the end of his earthly life.

Sisters and brothers, as we give thanks for the life of our dear Bishop Adam Taaso, and commend him to the everlasting care of God, who is the Resurrection and the life, we have in the same breath also come to hear God’s comforting words to us, for in Jesus, God tasted death and yet lives, and because he lives, he has opened the gates of glory to all who believe.

We know that Ntate Taaso now enjoys the fullness of abundant life. This we know because Jesus wept at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus, though knowing he would rise. He understands our tears, even as we believe. In Jesus we find a safe place to bring our weeping as we mourn the loss of a dear husband, a father, a colleague, and friend.

Let me turn to the book of Isaiah, which in chapter 53 (8-10), brings to us a picture of a suffering servant. Jesus became silent before the chief priests and Pilate and before Herod. He was given an unfair trial and the manner of his death would indicate that, as far as those who condemned him were concerned, he was to be buried with executed criminals – not a burial with honour. The treatment he was subjected to gives us a vivid practical demonstration of how we are to assess a Christian life which is lived beyond the grasp and challenges of our lives, a life lived beyond worrying about what the world thinks of us, a life which cares only to discern and fulfill God's will for us, a life confident of receiving the gift of God’s love and mercy for the redeemed. For if God be our destiny, nothing else matters since he gave us his own Son to die on our behalf.

In Isaiah 6:1ff we hear of a vision of God in the temple, in the year King Uzziah died, a vision in which the Lord warns of cities lying waste and houses without people. In the year 2023 what are we seeing in the world around us? Wars in Sudan, military coups in West Africa, and the biggest war in Europe in three-quarters of a century. Especially shocking, in the Holy Land we see Bethlehem under siege and a cruel war in which the brutal massacre of innocents in Israel is being revenged in Gaza by the merciless slaughter of tens of thousands, and a denial of food, water, and adequate medical attention to many of their survivors. At home, in this southern part of our continent, we see the denial of opportunities for an abundant life, a region in which the drug addiction of our children, especially here, is too high, the poorest of the poor struggle to make ends meet and their children are condemned to inter-generational inequality, while the children of the rich reap the fruits of their parents' relative success.

In such a world, what is God asking of you? What is God wanting to cleanse you of, or cleanse through you? What acts of beauty, love, compassion and courage does God demand of you? In what way is the Lord asking you to model God's justice, humility and mercy? For myself, limping and failing, against the backdrop of all my vulnerability and opportunity, I dare to commit myself, saying, “I and my family will serve the Lord.” Perhaps you will join me in that commitment today amidst all the challenges we face.

In Luke’s Gospel (5: 15-23), we are presented with the heavenly banquet to which all are invited. Here, Jesus compels all to come in and share in the feast which has been prepared. This parable was deliberately modelled by Jesus on a Jewish story of rich tax collector who tried to gain social standing among the aristocrats of his community by inviting them to dinner, but was harshly rebuffed by them. The upper-class audience would have thoroughly appreciated the story until they realised that this was how they were treating God’s invitation given to them by Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, let me conclude. Just as the resurrection of those who died in him depends on him, so too will the resurrection of Bishop Adam Taaso. God’s overflowing love reaches out unconditionally to everyone who believes. It flowed unrestricted through Ntate Taaso as well. He displayed that love exceptionally to his family, to those he cared for in this Diocese and beyond and to our Province and the nation through his selfless life. Conscious of the needs of the marginalised and social outcasts, his love drove his unstinting passion for the people of this Diocese and our Province.

I end with the words that were spoken by Peter (1 Pet 1:3ff) but could just easily have been said by Bishop Adam today: “Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he gave us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade… for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

It seems to me they sum up the life of our dear friend and colleague. Well done, good and faithful servant, you may now enter into your Father’s rest even as we go to the grave singing, Amen, Allelluia, Allelluia. May you rest in peace and rise in glory!

God bless the Taaso family and friends. God bless all gathered here today. God bless this Diocese, our church Province, and this nation, beloved Lesotho. Amen.

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