Readings: Job 23:1-9,16-17; Ps 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10: 17-31
May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Bishops, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God:
It is an honour and a privilege to have been asked to share with you the Word of God on this historic milestone in the life, witness and ministry of the Diocese of Pretoria. Thank you, Bishop Allan, the clergy, your leadership team and to the whole diocesan community for inviting me. Thank you everyone for your warm welcome. Thank you too to those who were involved in the preparations for this day.
It was a joy to meet with your Diocesan Standing Committee yesterday. Interacting with your Diocesan leadership was enriching, and I shared with them four key matters occupying my time recently:
The work being done by the Province's Liturgical Committee to produce material for transformative worship and to revise our Prayer Book;
The wide-ranging examination of theological education being carried out by a Commission chaired by Professor Barney Pityana;
The Safe Church Network's efforts to ensure that women, children and vulnerable adults are protected from abuse, which involves training and getting police clearance for those in ministry; and
The work of the Archbishop's Commission on Human Sexuality, and the decision of the Synod of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay to allow for the blessing of same-sex civil unions, subject to the approval of Provincial Synod.
I come to you having recently attended the Anglicans Ablaze conference in KwaZulu-Natal, where young people from all over the province were affirmed to continue as ambassadors of Christ wherever they are. I know everyone there would want me to greet those of you who couldn't make it there, and to bring you their and the Province's congratulations.
What an extraordinary journey this Diocese has made in the past 140 years – 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 Bishop Allan has pointed out, Anglicans – just like the followers of other churches which have their roots in Britain – came here first following the paths of explorers and the agenda of British imperialism. (1) The first bishops who sought to minister to Anglicans in what was then the Transvaal Republic – the bishops of Bloemfontein and of Zululand – were responding to the needs of white English-speakers; although the bishop of Zululand did tell one of the first priests he ordained, and I quote, “not to neglect the natives.” (2)
The first recorded act of Christian missional work in what is now the Diocese was recorded in 1871, with the establishment of a school for the children of English and German settlers, the School of the Holy Trinity, in Rustenburg. (3) Bishop Bousfield was sent here to establish the Diocese in 1878 after the British had seized the Transvaal in the previous year. He was a product of the British establishment who attended an exclusive public school and Cambridge University, and whose only prior service was in parishes in England.
He was once quoted as saying that, and again I quote, “the natives of South Africa are wholly unfit for the franchise which, if granted, would ruin them...” (4) Yet missionary work among local people was one of his early priorities, albeit conducted under the paternalistic regime of the time. As Bishop Allan has written, the first recorded missionary activity among local people was the establishment of the Good Shepherd School for Poor Children. (5)
South African church historians have observed that while white clergy may have established most of the early missions in South Africa, it was Africans who were the most effective evangelists. Testimony to this is provided by Canon Edwin Farmer, one of the best-known early missionaries of our Province. Of the Diocese of Pretoria, he wrote:
“In 1894 there were 50 Native men working hard for the Church. I found that I had to register… thousands who had been converted by these men each year… I was also surprised that these Natives had built for themselves, without any prompting or assistance, rough buildings for churches… One of these evangelists is Jacob Dabani. He lived evangelically, never went back to his cattle and possessions but walked from village to village preaching wherever he had opportunity. He had no home of his own ever. He called his converts his children. His influence was marvellous.” (6)
Beginning with five clergy, the Church grew steadily under Bishop Bousfield's supervision through the first British occupation, then under the South African Republic until the Anglo-Boer War, when he had to go into exile. These years also of course marked the era in which either ZAR or British troops, with Pretoria as their capital, crushed the last independent indigenous kingdoms of the former Transvaal – including that of the Makgobas. It was under Bishop Bousfield's successor that the real growth of the Diocese took off. From one diocese for the whole of the former Transvaal in its early days, the Diocese of Pretoria has given birth to six more dioceses, beginning with Johannesburg in 1922. We give thanks to God that the missionary work begun here 140 years ago has now multiplied to include the Dioceses of St Mark the Evangelist, the Highveld, Christ the King, Matlosane and Mpumalanga.
We owe thanks to the many in this Diocese who kept the candles of faith and hope burning through the turmoil of our history. To name just a few, we remember Hannah Stanton, who served at Tumelong Mission and was detained without trial, then deported, for collecting evidence against the police for using violence against defenceless women. We recall also Father, later Bishop, Mark Nye, who gave hospitality to defendants in the Treason Trial of the 1950s and was also jailed after Sharpeville for his support of Hannah Stanton. We remember Bishop Richard Kraft's leadership during the stormy 1980s, including his leadership of the Pretoria version of the anti-apartheid marches which swept the country in September 1989.
And of course in the democratic era we recall with pride the role of Bishop Jo Seoka in standing up for the victims of Marikana, and how the Cathedral hosted a rally in November 2016 calling for President Zuma's resignation. As Bishop Allan has written, there is irony in the fact that a Cathedral which used to be a rallying point for anti-apartheid forces became the venue of “a meeting that demanded action from the liberation movement that it had helped to put in place.” (7)
Many deans of your Cathedral became bishops, and more recently we recall the contributions to our Church of that brilliant church historian, Dean Livingstone Lubabalo Ngewu. So today we remember and recall all the bishops, clergy, churchwardens and other lay leaders who paved the way for our worship in this Diocese today. They are our inspiration in leading the witness of Jesus through some of the most difficult times of our history.
Perhaps there are times when you, clergy and people of this Diocese, feel overawed by your illustrious past and wonder whether you are adequate for the challenges of today. Well, Job stands as an encouragement for us. This is good news for all of us. It is good news not because we are necessarily like Job – but because God is our God. And our God still delights in putting his spirit in us. It is God who enables us to live as Job did – going forward, believing in the righteousness and fairness of God. Job did not know the full story behind his suffering but he knew that he was suffering unjustly. He was living in a world that he could not understand and worshipping a God he could not fully comprehend.
Spurgeon, looking at Job, says that good men “are washed towards God even by the rough waves of their grief, and when their sorrows are deepest, their highest desire is not to escape from them, but to get at their God”. Job says “I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face” (23:17). What greater encouragement could we ask for? We need to play our part too, but we can do so inspired by faithfulness to and the promises of God. In today's Psalm also, we heard how the Psalmist felt abandoned by God and like Job laments or remonstrates. Later the Psalmist praises God and his plea is finally answered.
Our second reading reminds us that our God is alive and active, exposing everything in creation, penetrating us to the core of our being. As the reading vividly states, “Sharper than any double-edged sword, [the Word of God] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” He is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart – the totality and depth of one’s being. This is the benchmark by which we are all judged.
Confronted by this truth, we are confronted by God before whom nothing can be concealed. This indeed makes us aware that all things are stripped and bare and exposed to His searching glance. Friends, in the final accounting we give of our lives, we must all look to God and be looked upon by Him face to face. The writer of Hebrews stresses the parallel between Christ’s temptations and ours. Christ did not have each temptation we have but experienced every kind of temptation a person can have, yet was without sin.
In this celebration of the faithful of the Diocese of Pretoria, what are we bringing before God as an account of our ministry?
We celebrate today 140 years of service and witness to God’s love and care in one of the principal cities – indeed the principal city of governance – in our country. The rise and fall of our country rests on the decisions that are taken in this city. In today's Gospel reading (Mk 10: 17-31), Jesus is faced by a young man in the area of Judea and Perea, the focus of Jesus's ministry at the time. This young man was perhaps like someone we might find in Pretoria – a person of great wealth and therefore of power and status.
This rich young man wanted eternal life, and he thought that he would earn it through righteousness. But Jesus taught him that it was a gift to be received. The goodness of Jesus was in some sense subject to growth and testing in the circumstances of the incarnation, wherein he learned obedience through what he suffered.
The primary focus here is on the need of the man who, despite his sense of insecurity for the future, would have felt that he had attained a measure of goodness judged by the standards of the law. The lesson to be learnt here is that human attainment, such as he relied upon, can produce nothing good in God’s sight. Jesus administers to this rich young man a liberal dose of the law that he would be justified not by works but by faith. And to inherit eternal life is to dispose of anything that hinders you – in this case material possessions – and then to follow him and the Gospel.
Friends, encouraged particularly by Job, the Psalmist, the rich young ruler and the promise of the persecuted Hebrews, I invite each and every one of us to look deeply into ourselves. Bishops, priests and lay people over the past 140 years have given all for the Diocese to be where she is today. What is it that each of you commit yourselves to? What are your individual contributions spirituality and discipleship of all especially to the poor, the needy and the vulnerable in your communities? What is Jesus asking to set aside and dispose of today as you move forward in your personal and communal lives? What hinders you from being true followers of Jesus? What are you hoarding? What needs deliverance?
And what will be remembered about this city? Is it greed? Is it fraud and corruption? Or will our descendants remember it as the source of life, abundant life as John says, for our country for the ages to come? Our church, our country, and therefore this Diocese and this city face some big decisions in the coming months and years. In the Church, we have important decisions to make leading up to Provincial Synod next year on how we order our collective life: on how we transform our liturgies so that we worship God in ways best suited to the times in which we live; on how we ensure that our congregations are safe spaces for all our people, especially vulnerable children; on how we respond to the need for sensitive and effective ministry to those in same-sex unions.
Both in church and society, we are challenged to work out how best we can manage and develop our land – both urban and rural land – to ensure that all our people flourish in an economy that provides work and dignity for all. In the Church, the Provincial Standing Committee resolved last month that we should carry out an audit of church land and make recommendations for the use of vacant land. We have also commissioned theological reflection on the issue of land expropriation without compensation.
In society as a whole of course, the question of land is the burning issue of the day, one which will require enormous dedication and patience, but also a willingness to take quick and decisive action to bring about sensible reforms which both fulfil the demands of justice and the practical need for economic growth and jobs.
But the problem is not insoluble. Twenty-five years ago, we didn't know quite how we were going to get of apartheid, but we worked together and we succeeded. Just a year ago, we didn't know how we were going to restore good governance in a country which was heading for economic destruction. But now, although we are not out of the woods yet, we are on the way to doing that too. Can you imagine a year ago a Cabinet minister offering his or her resignation because, even though they made some admirably brave decisions, they also made some mistakes? We wish more would do the same!
As you move forward into your next 140 years, I bring you a challenge and an assurance. The challenge is:What is your vision for this diocese for the next 140 years? What can you do to enable it to move confidently into the next 140 years? Your founders – through wars, world wars, the Anglo-Boer War, colonialism andoppression – planted this Diocese, 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 this diocese and the world. 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.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Again, the Province warmly congratulates you on this anniversary.
God bless the Diocese and all her people.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba