Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Sermon preached at Trinity Church Wall Street, New York



Trinity Wall Street, New York

12th March 2023

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42

May I speak in the name of God, who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, it is such a privilege to return to Trinity so soon after I was with you at the institution of Father Phil just over a year ago. I am always grateful for the opportunity of being among such firm friends of Africa as yourselves. On behalf of Lungi and myself, thank you, Father Phil, Page and the Church-Wardens for inviting me to be part of this service and for your great hospitality . 

It has been exciting to hear of and see the work that you are doing in this part of God's vineyard: of the ministry to high school students here in lower Manhattan; of your work to grow new leaders; of your initiatives to bring improved understanding among Anglicans internationally; and of your record-setting grant-giving to empower the people of God in this city, this country and around the world. The philanthropy which your patrimony enables is truly the gift which keeps on giving, and those of us in nations which are economically less well endowed will always remain grateful for it.

The references in today's readings to gifting God's people with water are particularly appropriate in our circumstances here today. In my mother tongue, Sepedi we have a phrase “Sekgo sa Metse”.  Literally translated, Sekgo refers to a vessel and metse is water. But the phrase has a much deeper meaning, just as living water, the Holy Spirit, does in John's Gospel.  Sekgo sa Metse not only provides a drink for the thirsty; it also transforms various ingredients into sustaining nourishment; and having done so, it provides thlabego, the yeast, which catalyses the next meal to come. So when you empower other churches in the Anglican Communion to do more on their own, when you help them see how, for example, they can develop their properties into income-generating entities, you not only provide them with something to drink; you provide the yeast which helps them to grow into the future. 

In the story of the Samaritan woman, the image of Jesus sitting at Jacob's well is one challenges me profoundly. Even a cursory reading of the Bible underlines that wells are symbols of thriving communities, of potential for abundance, for life, and in times of famine there is an instruction from God to re-dig the wells, to rediscover what gives life, and to make our broken communities thrive again both in those territories that surround us and those Samarias that are within us. Wells are also places that mark the threshold of new futures, of shared futures. Jacob meets his wife Rachel at a well. When Moses fled from Pharaoh to Midian, he sat by a well where he met his wife Zipporah. They are places rich in new beginnings,  providing hope in the midst of the Samarias that surround us, hope for the Church, hope for the world,  hope for the communities within which we live and hope in our own individual lives.

The Church

First the Church. The very fact that Jesus was in Samaria is powerfully instructive. Jesus's presence there challenged destructive beliefs that had for centuries held neighboring communities hostage to tragic histories. At Jacob's well, Jesus affirms that His life and ministry, the church’s great mission and our discipleship, all begin with a commitment to start a dialogue at the places that speak of human thriving.  He calls a woman to be the best version of herself, and in doing so he challenges taboos, unjust cultural and religious practices and embedded racism and patriarchy. He starts a new conversation, creates a new narrative and opens history to a new direction. 

John would later capture it well: he or she whom the Son sets free is free indeed. In the witness and ministry of this parish in New York and your national church, and in the witness and ministry of my church in the nations of Southern Africa, we dream together of a worldwide Communion which breaks boundaries, enters into deeper relationships with one another, church to church and country to country, nurturing the world. We too like Jesus have to find the wells of our times.

The World

In my conversation with Fr Phil in Jacksonville, Florida at the Episcopal Church Network on Friday, I said that, country to country, we need to address the wider implications of the war in Ukraine for Africa and the world. At home I have come in for a lot of criticism for my outright condemnations of Russia's war of aggression. I visited Ukraine in December to see the consequences of that war, and what I witnessed there was deeply upsetting. Given the support which our struggle for liberation in South Africa received from the United Nations, and the reliance we placed on the UN Declaration on Human Rights to support our demands for justice and democracy, it is galling that my government proclaims neutrality when Russia has flagrantly breached the UN Charter by invading a sovereign country. 

At the same time, those of us living in the Global South have reason to fear the escalating words of war coming from world leaders. The warlike rhetoric coming out of Europe raises the dreadful prospect of Europe and the West dragging us into yet another world war, with all the untold death and suffering it would bring. Many Africans died in both world wars of the last century, and our continent was then dragged into opposing sides of the Cold War. As a consequence there is great suspicion of NATO and of the motives of Western armaments industries. When I returned from my visit to  Ukraine, I was asked: is Africa suffering from grain shortages because American elections are around the corner? 

The issues around the invasion of Ukraine are difficult and contested, but on one thing we must be clear: as the Church, our calling as those who aspire to inherit the Kingdom promised by the Prince of Peace is, no matter the circumstances, to be active peace-makers, and constantly to refrain from being carried along by events into supporting death and destruction.

Our Communities 

To return to the Samaritan woman: although she is never called a sinner in the story, she seems to have been labelled as such because she had five husbands and the man she is with is not her husband. However, scholars today suggest this might have been a remnant of a custom in which the widow of a deceased brother would have to marry the next surviving brother. The scholars now ask whether, when Jesus offers her new life, new possibilities, it is not so much about a sinful woman needing salvation, but a survivor, one who has had to find a way of carrying on in a society that excluded her, a woman who had to look insecurity and prejudice in the face. Such a story is also the story of millions of women in our times who live under the yoke of gender-based violence, human trafficking, exploitation in places of work, disrespect and toxicity in their relationships. Just as Jesus welcomes the Samaritan woman and restores her dignity, so women in our own time are finding ways of surviving the ostracisation, exclusion and discrimination and living thriving lives. 

It is such transformation, such liberation when it is seen in our communities, that is so contagious. As those who suffer come to Jesus at Jacob's well, receive the same release, the same hope intensified and the same inner peace, they are liberated from their places of limitation and confinement, their emotional ghettoes and cultural dead-ends. 

Our own lives

Jesus does the same in our individual lives, healing us inside our deepest recesses, reaching the areas that are out of sync, helping us overcome the obstacles that block us from realising our potential. It is a wonderful statement of the grace of God that the power which can redirect the course of history can also touch those inner areas and redeem us to be what God designed us to be.


It has always been one of the most powerful truths of our faith, that Jesus reveals Himself, shows compassion, reveals His identity to the marginalised, to those at the edges, to those who feel they do not count or have lost their way. It is thus to them that we must give very special attention, if we are going to encounter the Jesus who walks through deeply contested territories, who opened dialogues with the most neglected people and is generous in offering dynamic opportunities.

This same Jesus waits now not at the well but at the altar to do for each of us what he did for the Samaritan woman, to change our lives around, excite his Spirit within us so that we can announce good news, not so much by our words but by our transformed lives. Again He says “it is I” to which our overflowing hearts can only answer “Amen”.

*  *  *  *  * 

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Launch of Lenten Bible Studies - “The Bible And The Land Called Holy”

Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Launch of Lenten Bible Studies

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop and Metroplitan

28th February 2023 @ Synod of Bishops 

A very warm welcome to the launch of these Lenten Bible studies this evening: to the facilitators and advocates, to my brother and sister Bishops, and to all the faithful people of God who are joining us.

A special thank you to the team which has ably put them together, headed by Bishop Luke Pato: Canon Janet Trisk, the Rev Edwin Arrison, Ms Dudu Masango, Ms Nonhlanhla Shezi, Archdeacon Andrew Warmback and Bishop Charles May.

As Anglicans who are concerned about the injustices of the Middle East, who are distressed by the pain of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and who long for a just peace for both Palestine and Israel, we have been on a long journey. It goes back many decades, to the visits of our Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, in the 1980s and 1990s, to my visits to the Holy Basin, and more recently to the declarations of our Provincial Synod, Provincial Standing Committee and Synod of Bishops. 

Time and again, both our Anglican forums and the SA Council of Churches have emphasised that the situation in the Holy Land demands our concern because it is the place where Jesus was born, nurtured, crucified and raised, and because our own church has both a deep understanding of what it is like to live under oppression, as well as experience of how to confront and overcome unjust rule by peaceful means. 

In expressing our concern, we have experienced pushback from both Jewish and Christian Zionists. Some of the critics within our church imply that because the Jewish people are a nation chosen by God, we must take the side of Israel in the current conflict in the Middle East. But as  these Bible studies show us, the nation state of Israel established by Western powers in 1948 and the Israel of the Bible should not be confused with one another. And we are opposed not to the Jewish people but to those policies of the current government of Israel which oppress Palestinians. I think particularly of the growth of Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan, an area which is designated as part of a Palestinian state if there is to be a peaceful solution which will allow for the creation of two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians. 

As the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Archbishop Hosam Naoum, who is Palestinian, said at the last Lambeth Conference, Israel is a state that deserves the security and protections of a free state, but just like any other state it is also subject to the demands of international law. And for their part, the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination under the  United Nations Charter. 

So please pray for the land called holy, for an end to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and for lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. It is my hope that these Bible studies will deepen our understanding of the issues of the Holy Land and unify Southern African Anglicans in our desire to see both justice for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis. 

We yearn for the peace and wholeness of God to be made manifest in Palestine, in Israel and among their neighbouring countries. So, as we commit our Lenten journey to God, seeking the mind of Christ as we work for a just peace, let us pray the prayer we adopted at Provincial Synod:

Lord God,

Bless the people of the Middle East;

Protect their vulnerable children;

Transform their divided leaders;

Heal their wounded communities,

Restore their human dignity,

and give them lasting peace.


*  *  *  *  *

Saturday, 25 February 2023

ACSA wishes Church of Nigeria successful national elections

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has wished the Church of Nigeria well and assured Nigerians of our prayers for their national legislative and presidential elections, being held today, Saturday February 25. 

More than 87 million Nigerians are registered to vote. They will elect a new president, vice-president, 109 senators and 360 members of the Federal House of Representatives. 

Ahead of the elections, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) called for three days of intentional prayer and published a list of minimum demands of political parties and their candidates >>

Yesterday (Friday), Archbishop Thabo sent the following message to the Most Revd Dr Ali Buba Lamido, Dean of the Church Of Nigeria, Archbishop of the Church's Kaduna Province and Bishop of Wusasa Diocese: 

Dear Archbishop Lamido,

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, myself and my wife, Lungi Makgoba, we send you and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and all the people of Nigeria strength and best wishes as you go to the polls tomorrow to elect a President of the country.

May the elections be free and fair, and whoever is elected, accepted, supported and held to account as they serve all Nigerians. Finally we pray that the elections will be peaceful even as the Prince of Peace soaks you in love and His grace. Send my greetings the Primate too. 

Thabo Cape Town, Southern Africa

Thursday, 23 February 2023

A Homily for Ash Wednesday



St George's Cathedral

22nd FEBRUARY 2023

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May I speak in the name of God, who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

Thank you Mr Dean and your team, together with the Cathedral Churchwardens, for preparing for this service so well. I am always encouraged to be with you in this service as we begin a new season in the calendar, ending the season of the Epiphany and beginning that of Lent.

Every year, Ash Wednesday and Lent give us the opportunity to re-consider our dependence on God’s grace in transforming our lives for the better. This year our lives as South Africans have been turned upside down, so much so that it is hard to focus on what it means to work to transform them for the better, other than to pray for a quick solution to load-shedding and for relief from the effects of the floods that have displaced so many. 

Nonetheless, the size of the challenges that face our worshipping communities, our places of work and our families as a result of the scandalous gap between the rich and the poor underlines how totally dependent we are on God at this difficult time in our and our country's lives. 

Today's passage from Isaiah, written in captivity in Babylon, as well as the passage from Matthew, and the context in which we read them, remind us as never before the importance of discerning the times as we embark on our journey through Lent, Passion-tide and to Easter.

Ash Wednesday and Lent this year invite us to dig deeper, and to attempt to imitate the Holiness of God in our moral and ethical living in our society. As we contemplate how we should be working for the common good in our democracy, it is – perhaps as never before – a time for stock-taking, for deepening our faith, for repentance and renewal, and for focusing on God rather than seeking praise or affirmation for ourselves. 

Our efforts to fast and pray during Lent are important and necessary. But both of today's passages ask us not simply to reduce our consumption but rather pose a deeper question: to what end are we fasting and praying? They challenge us to move out of our comfort zones, and to repudiate conceit. They call on us to put God first, and in South Africa today to speak up and speak out against the abuse of God's children, the corruption which is disrupting our society, the exploitation and oppression of the powerless and the inequality of opportunity that afflicts the poor. And not only do they demand we speak up and speak out, they demand that we then do something about it.

To be more specific, the abuse we are called to speak out against this Lent includes in particular the scourge of gender-based violence. Against the backdrop of the surge in activism on this issue, it is deeply disturbing to see how many so-called celebrities are not adequately being called out for their misogyny. We are also called to speak out in particular against the corruption which plagues Eskom and the energy industry, such as in the supply of coal to power stations. 

In the international arena, we must remain relentless in speaking out against nations pursuing their national interests through aggression and war. After my visit to Ukraine at Christmas, of course we have to repudiate all aggressors but I reject the view that because we distrust the strategic designs of the West and especially of NATO, we should overlook the flagrant breach of the United Nations Charter by Russia's invasion of a sovereign nation. 

At the same time, those of us living in the Global South have reason to fear the escalating words of war coming from world leaders. As the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, has said, it is not as if the world is sleepwalking into a wider war, we fear that it is doing so with its eyes wide open. The warlike rhetoric coming out of Europe raises the dreadful prospect of Europe and the West dragging us into yet another world war, with all the untold death and suffering it would bring. 

The issues around the invasion of Ukraine are difficult and contested, but on one thing we must be clear: as the Church, our calling as those who aspire to inherit the Kingdom promised by the Prince of Peace is, no matter the circumstances, to be active peace-makers, and constantly to refrain from being carried along by events into supporting death and destruction.

This Lent, let us recommit ourselves to being restorers and repairers of human dignity as we strive for the common good. Let us condemn violence against women and children with renewed vigour. Please pray for an end to political polarisation and for a common understanding of what it will take to renew our society. Pray that we will recognise that the chasm between the rich and poor cannot be tolerated any longer, and that we will act on that recognition.

As South Africans our New Struggle must seek to regain our moral compass, end economic inequality,  bring about equality of opportunity and realise the promises enshrined in our Constitution.  

Let us also re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle against greed, corruption, nepotism, and the lust for power; to the struggle against the pursuit of narrow self-interest, personal gain, status and material wealth – in short let us commit ourselves to the struggle for true justice, including economic justice. 

Put simply, as we enter Lent I invite you to turn to loving ways and become conduits of His peace.

God loves you, and so do I. God bless South Africa. Amen.

*  *  *  *  *

Friday, 17 February 2023

To the Laos – Message ahead of Lent 2023

Dear People of God

Returning to my office on February 8th after my post-Christmas leave, and going through some of the correspondence on my desk, showed me at what a fast pace the world is moving, with some issues appearing urgent when they came in now overtaken by events.
    I don't usually share personal matters in this space, but please join my intercessors in praying for our son, Nyakallo, who – battling with adjusting to life as an independent adult – misjudged his medical and basic food needs recently to the point where he was detained by police. Thank you for your prayers for travelling mercies when I went to Ukraine just before Christmas. The escalating words of war coming from world leaders in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine is very worrying. The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, says it is not as if the world is “sleepwalking” into a wider war: “I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.” Some fear a possible third world war, which would lead to untold death and suffering, as if there is not more than enough already, from Cabo Delgado to Somalia to Palestine and Yemen. All of this underlines the need for us to be active peace-makers, and constantly to refrain from being carried along by events into supporting death and destruction.
    Towards the end of my holiday break, I started the year with a visit to the United Kingdom, where I spoke at the London Stock Exchange at the launch of a new initiative to reform the mining industry so that it does not harm people and damage the environment. This arises from concern at, for example, the impact of tailings dam failures such as we saw at Jagersfontein in the Free State last year, when one person died, people lost their homes and property and livelihoods were disrupted. In 2019, in Brumadinhno in the eastern part of Brazil, about 270 people died following a collapse of a dam. Tragedies such as these bring home to us the reality of ecological injustice, which is a consequence of the poorest in our communities facing powerful mining companies with deep pockets to pay for litigation to avoid reparation. As we pursue economic justice, it cannot be business as usual for the mining companies which continue to be a big employer of black South Africans.
    Returning to work last week, I gave the concluding remarks at a forum of leading lawyers which discussed how to reform our legal tools to enable the successful investigation and prosecution of crime, especially cases of corruption, and to protect whistle-blowers. I repeated my call for the protection of whistle-blowers in remarks read for me by Dean Michael Weeder of Cape Town at an event in St George's Cathedral, entitled “The Real State of the Nation Address” the day before President Ramaphosa gave his State of the Nation Address. I am glad that in SONA, the president seems to have noted the cry by South Africans of the need to protect whistle-blowers and that key polices will be in place to do so.
    Hunger and desperate poverty are real in South Africa. Our parishes are taking strain but continue to give and enable us to feed the hungry and to preach and live a message of hope. Thank you for your sustained giving, which also enables us to send students to the College of the Transfiguration, ensuring that we have pastors and teachers of faith even in the midst of suffering and global challenges. Please continue to pray for those affected by natural disasters and conflict in Turkiye, Syria and Mozambique at this time.
    Please also pray for the land called holy, for an end to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and for lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. This Lent, we will be focussing our Bible studies on deepening our understanding of the issues of the Holy Land. Please do join in and engage with the Lenten Bible studies. I know we have different understandings and views on this issue, but let us study together and pray together. The Bible study can be downloaded here [PDF] >>
    Pray too for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting, ACC-18, which is taking place in Ghana at present. The ACC is a Communion-wide consultative body which comprises a lay person, a priest and a bishop from each of the world's Anglican provinces. We are represented at ACC-18 by Senzo Mbhele, the Revd Natalie Simons-Arendse and Bishop Stephen Diseko of Matlosane, Dean of our Province.
    Finally, pray for the Synod of Bishops, which is to be held in person for the first time since before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March 2020. We will apprise you about the outcomes in next month’s Ad Laos. In the meantime, “hold fast to what is good”- 1 Thes. 5:21

God bless,

††Thabo Cape Town