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Ad Laos - to the People of God

Dear People of God,


 


At Pentecost, we celebrate the birth of our Church, marked
by the empowering of Jesus’ Apostles by the Holy Spirit. So Pentecost, and the
season which follows, give us an opportunity to ask questions about the nature
of the Church. Questions such as: What are we as believers supposed to become
if we want to witness to the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit?


           


On Pentecost Sunday, I worshipped with the congregation of
St Monnica's in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, where we used the reading for
the day from Ezekiel, in which the prophet is set in a valley that was full of
dry bones. I call that passage my conversion passage, because growing up in
Alexandra Township I recall vividly how the Revd Sam Buti, the schools chaplain
in Alex, linked the image of the dry bones to the frequent gang killings that
happened there. In particular, he warned us that one day all of Alex would be a
valley of dry and dead bones if we didn’t pluck up the courage to root out the
gangs. 


 


As an adult, I now understand this passage to challenge
leaders to have the courage to bring tangible hope and transformation in spite
of the death, destruction and despair that surround us. It prophesies a world
in which God’s way of life and love will prevail, in which the barriers between
us will be broken down, in which we act with sensitivity to one another lest we
create the conditions in which atrocities occur, such as those we have seen in
Burundi, in northern Nigeria, or Matabeleland, or those we experienced under
apartheid, or – further afield -- those being experienced in Iraq and in Syria
today.


 


The description of the Day of Pentecost in Acts aptly
captures the theme of breaking barriers, or transformation. For, to people’s
utter bewilderment, they find themselves speaking, as scripture tells us, the
languages of the “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; [of] residents of Mesopotamia,
Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the
parts of Libya near Cyrene; [of] visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to
Judaism); [of] Cretans and Arabs.”


 


To grasp what Pentecost means for us, here and now, imagine
if in South Africa today, we found ourselves able to speak, not in our mother
tongue but in one of the hundreds of other languages of Africa. Not only would
we be hearing all the languages of South Africa: we would hear the languages of
recent migrants to South Africa: kiSwahili, Kirundi or French; we might hear
Somali or Arabic; isiNdebele or chiShona; xiRonga or Portuguese. Would we be
called amakwerekwere? No! We would need to be reminded, as Peter told
the crowd, “These men [and women] are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine
in the morning!”  We would need to be told, rather, that we have received
the Holy Spirit.


 


Pentecost tells us that right from its inception, the Church
broke down barriers between people: linguistic barriers, geographical barriers,
the barriers raised by the notion of nation states, even religious barriers. In
other words, from our inception as Church, the Holy Spirit birthed a nation set
apart, a nation that is neither Afrophobic nor xenophobic, a nation comprised
of people of all faiths and none, all listening, hearing and all transformed
into witnesses by what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John is the Spirit of
truth who will guide us into all truth.


 


So Pentecost is an opportunity for us to celebrate God’s
creation of this wonderful community called the Church; God’s people who are
known by their love, life, faith, truth and courage; God’s people who are urged
to speak up against rot, unfairness and false accusation; and equally God’s
people who are able to celebrate, to laugh, to marvel at our creation and to
revere diversity.


 


*  * 
*  *  *


 


During Eastertide I travelled to the United States, to
Tennessee and then to New York, where on Ascension Day I attended the inauguration of the new Rector of Trinity Church Wall
Street. In Tennessee, I first preached at St. George’s Episcopal Church in
Nashville and a few days later received an honorary doctorate of divinity from
the University of the South, a renowned Anglican institution in the US situated
in a rural part of the state.


 


Enjoying the hospitality for
which the people of the American South are known, I reflected on how although
the social media and the Internet have vastly improved our communications – and
have great and so far untapped potential for sharing the Good News – they can
also be misused to divide us. When we, as they say in the South, “visit with”
one another, our shared liturgy and heritage overshadow our differences. But
when we are physically distant our relationships easily become defined by
destructive caricatures. We have, I told congregations both in Nashville and at
the university's School of Theology, used the Internet and the social media to
label the other, to hurt the other, to divide ourselves from the other and to
encourage blind hatred instead of seeing love in the other. I suggested to the
Americans that we all need to embark on a process of evangelisation and
transform the social media and the Internet from being what they are right now,
a source of conflict and division, and turn them into a source of good and a
source of sharing. You can read my address in full on my blog.


 


 


*  * 
*  *  *


 


As we approach Youth Day on June
16, and taking further our mission priority of nurturing the young, I have sent
out a questionnaire to those young people born around the time our democracy
was established in 1994. I have raised with them three questions about values,
asking what they value and what informs their values and decisions. Please urge
young people you know to reply and engage me on these questions. They can reach
me on
archbishop01[at]anglicanchurchsa.org.za and they can read the full text of my letter here >


 


 


On June 16 we will celebrate
courage – the courage of the young people who were prepared to sacrifice their
lives to rebel against the way they were being denied opportunities to become
all that God wanted them to be. As we reflect on Youth Day, let's ask: what
does courage mean for us all today? What does it mean to have the courage to
love, and to let go? To have the courage to demand justice, and to forgive?
Paul encourages us to consider “how to provoke one another to love and good
deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24).


 


In the midst of competing
demands on my time, in this season and always, I value Paul’s admonition and
try to act on it, to summon up the courage to be provoked and to provoke others
to do the right thing at the right time, because Paul also tells us that “The
one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
Later this year I will be in Maputo, and then in Paris, provoking world leaders
to do good on climate justice. And to provoke you and those around you into
action, I encourage you to share and discuss the Anglican Communion
Environmental Network’s call to urgent action, which you can find here >


 


May we through God’s Holy Spirit know Jesus with our hearts
and minds and in our deepest beings, and may we bear witness to Him in our
country, our continent and around the world, bearing the fruit of the Spirit
that lasts forever.


 


God bless you,
+Thabo Cape Town


 


If you would like to share my reflection on Pentecost
with others, I have made an audio recording. I
commend to you also the Pentecost reflection of Prof. John Suggit. Go to: https://soundcloud.com/anglicanmediasa/



Posted: 2015/06/30 (06:57:00 AM)


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