Wednesday 10 April 2024

A homily delivered at Bishops School, Cape Town

 175th Anniversary, Bishops Diocesan College, Rondebosch

9th April 2024

Readings:    Acts 4: 32-37; Psalm 93: John 3: 7-15

Christ is risen, hallelujah!! May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.     
    Brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God, head of the college – Mr Reeler, heads of departments, educators and support staff, distinguished guests, learners, friends, and families, I am pleased to join you to share in this important year in the life of the school. I claim this as my home for it is here where I was elected to be the Archbishop in 2007. Each time I stand here I am always reminded of that day of great anxiety. So, it is good to be home again. 

    Wow! 175 years what a milestone.  
    A warm welcome to you all. Thank you for inviting me today and, most importantly, thank you to the school chaplain – the Revd Monwabisi Peter and your team – for preparing this service.  A special welcome to those who arrived at Bishops at the beginning of this year.
    I thank God for the unsung heroes and heroines who kept the gospel light burning here through their lives, their zeal, their prayers, service and witness over the past 175 years. From your beginnings with six boys in an outbuilding at Bishopscourt, you have grown, sometimes in fits and starts, during colonial times, then with increasing confidence through the years of South Africa as a union, including two world wars, then in the grim years of apartheid, and finally now – through the grace of God – you are flourishing as you face the challenges of continuing to grow in a vibrant non-racial democracy in this beloved land.
    Today, I thank God especially for his faithfulness to you who made it possible for this school to be both an outstanding institution of learning and a holy place of prayer and worship. We are grateful to God also for his sustaining care of you, particularly during the turbulent times of the past, and for affording you this time of great hope and opportunity.    
    In the reading from John's Gospel today (Jn 3:7 ff), we are presented with Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. According to John, Nicodemus was a Pharisee who had a serious purpose in seeking Jesus. He was a man of some importance since he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, which accounts for his reluctance to be seen openly approaching Jesus. It is notable that he looked upon Jesus as a teacher come from God. Not all Jewish teachers like Jesus showed any indication that they had received a divine commissioning, for their authority was derived from the tradition of schools. But Nicodemus recognised the stamp of God upon Jesus because of what the Bible calls the signs, the acts that Jesus carried out in the course of his ministry, such as turning water into wine, which we saw in the previous chapter. These signs authenticated the source of Jesus' authority.
    In response to questions from Nicodemus in this chapter, Jesus says that one must be born anew to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus misses what Jesus was implying, asking at first whether Jesus meant returning to one's mother's womb. So Jesus makes clear he is speaking of a spiritual rebirth. Connecting the idea of the kingdom of God to the regeneration of the spirit was important to Jesus because it described the essentially spiritual character of God’s kingdom. In an age when many materialistic and political notions of kingship were dominant, this idea of a spiritual kingdom would have been difficult for a Jew to accept. And commentators note that the idea of “seeing” the  kingdom and “entering” the kingdom are so close as to be inseparable.
    Jesus also says that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one has no share in the kingdom of God. In this sense “water” refers to baptism and “spirit” refers to regeneration. If those who submit to John’s baptism consider themselves reborn, it is necessary for them to learn that the outward rite of being baptised with water is insufficient without spiritual regeneration.
    Friends, what Jesus is attacking here is the popular idea of striving for goodness based on merit. The lesson he taught is that the kind of human achievement that Nicodemus aspires to does not produce what is described as “good” in God’s sight. As his teacher, Jesus gives Nicodemus a dose of that which will bring him to Christ; that he will be justified by faith and not by works. And the command that he must be born anew applies to all of us.
    It is worth re-emphasising when Jesus speaks of our need for spiritual regeneration, he makes clear that there is nothing optional about spiritual rebirth. When he says the wind blows where it wills, since the word for “wind” is the same as that for “Spirit”, he implies that the Spirit breathes where He wills. The miracle of new birth cannot be arranged by human ingenuity. Its operation is beyond human control.
    Moving onto Jesus's final words in our Gospel reading, when he refers to the incident involving Moses, he brings us back to the earthly work of those chosen by God. In this case, his reference to how the Son of Man must be lifted up is not to him being glorified but to his death on the Cross. The Cross was God’s judgement on the world, and at the same time it was the supreme exaltation of Jesus. Out of it came the greatest good ever to come in the world. Through the Cross, Christ draws us to himself without regard for nationality, ethnic affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation or status. 

     As you well know, I have during my term as Archbishop passionately advocated that we should have an Anglican education system which not only provides, but will radically expand, opportunities for quality, affordable education in schools which are fully inclusive and reflect the demographics of our country. For our young people to flourish as they leave school and go out to serve our country effectively, we need to enhance both within and between our schools an exposure to and an in-depth understanding of the  society in which we live.
    But if everyone in our country is to have the abundant life which Jesus promises us, we also need as citizens to do everything we can to ensure that all our children have an education which is as close as possible to the quality of education you enjoy here at Bishops. So, as those of us who have the vote look to the forthcoming elections, we need to challenge our political leaders on a number of key issues. Among the questions we need to ask them are:
    • What exactly do you plan to do improve the reading skills of learners so that they leave school equipped to handle the job market of the 21st century?
    • How will you combat children dropping out of school early?
    • How do you propose to improve funding, especially for no-fee public schools in poorer areas, and to achieve equality for all in the provision of education?
    • How will you work with communities and NGOs to create policies that really model equality of opportunity?
    • Nicodemus had a choice to make. What choices do you have that will ensure equality of opportunity especially for the underprivileged?
    And while we are challenging politicians, let us also urge business to support the closing of our country’s education gaps, and challenge the tertiary education sector to equip graduates to meet the needs of our economy at home, not those of economies overseas.
    Friends, they say destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. Nicodemus had a choice as to whether he would respond to Jesus's message. You too have a choice of whether to embrace Jesus's call to us to be his disciples, and to allow him to shape you in accordance with his will for your lives.
    In our national life, you have a choice of whether to embrace our New Struggle, one in which we awaken our consciences and commit to a culture of values-based decision-making, caring for one another in every way possible, including the protection of women and children. In that way we can be of service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.
    As I conclude, I congratulate you on the 175th anniversary of this fine school. To paraphrase St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, I am confident that the God who began a good work in you, will perfect it into the day of Christ Jesus (Phil.1:6).
    May God bless you, your family and South Africa. And as you know, God loves you and so do I.

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