St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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To the Laos - November 2009

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed his followers ‘may all be one, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (Jn 17:21).  Division among Christians can only be considered a scandal, especially when differences turn into painful divisions, or when we take pride in not being like others.  This is a tragedy, over which I am sure our Lord weeps.  Therefore, though it is often not easy to work with those who have other perspectives on faith, at Provincial Standing Committee we reaffirmed our commitment to pursuing closer ties with our sisters and brothers in Christ, especially our partners in the Church Unity Commission.  If you have good stories of local co-operation, in anything from worship to joint projects, do let the Provincial Office know ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) as sharing these can be a great source of encouragement.  Our ultimate objective is, as Jesus prayed, that people will come to believe in him as Lord and Saviour, through seeing how Christians love one another (see also Jn 13:35).

            You may have seen reports that Pope Benedict XVI has agreed that Anglicans who so choose may be received in some manner into the Roman Catholic Church.  However until details of the decision have been made public, it is hard to judge what precisely is intended by this move, at whom it is directed, or what the implications are likely to be for our own Province and people.  When we know more, I will certainly write and share my response with you, though at present it seems there will be no major effect on us in Southern Africa..

One area where churches can particularly work together – often in partnership with other faiths – is in joining our voices together on public and political questions.  Last month I wrote of the importance of lending our combined weight, globally, to press political leaders to take bold decisions at the Climate Change Conference in December.  Later in October, I had direct opportunities for engaging in the political arena, first when President Jacob Zuma came to Bishopscourt for a meeting of religious leaders of the Western Cape, and then when I went to Swaziland to participate in a national ecumenical-interfaith gathering and was also granted an audience with King Mswati III.

            As I said to President Zuma, all faith communities consider truth to be one of the highest virtues, and therefore he should always expect us to express with honesty and independence whatever is on our hearts and minds, on every matter that concerns us – for there is no aspect of human life beyond God’s concern.  The President in turn recalled how Scripture exhorts Christians to pray for those in government, and asked us not only to do this, but to engage political leaders with advice, and, where appropriate, with clear, though constructive, criticism.  Because of a funeral, he had to leave before there was time for proper discussion, but I am determined that we should not be slow to respond to his invitation, whenever issues prompting dialogue present themselves!

            In the Mountain Kingdom, I met political leaders and civil society organisations, shared a homily at the ecumenical-interfaith gathering, and prayed with the King.  I also spent time with our own clergy and people, learning about the difficult social and economic conditions they face.  One priest, reflecting on the poor, even oppressive, treatment often faced by women, said ‘When I am at the altar, I sometimes feel I just want to jump up and kick the insensitive polygamists in my parish!’  Please do keep Bishop Meshack and his flock in your prayers, as they share God’s good news as best they can.         

            Sometimes the challenges our nations face seem so many and complex, it is hard to know where to begin to engage with political leaders.  Yet Anglicanism has a long history of doing so confidently – often grounding this in another distinctive of Anglicanism, our focus on Jesus and his incarnation.  In his life and teaching Jesus shows us what it is to be fully human.  He came, he said, to offer life in abundance (Jn 10:10).  It seems to me that the scope of this abundant human life is encapsulated in the Two Great Commandments in which he summed up the Old Testament’s teaching (Mk 12:29-31).  We are created, first, to live in love with God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength;  and, second, to live in love with our neighbours.  Therefore, our goal must be to spread abundant life, in all of these dimensions – heart, soul, mind and strength – and tackle whatever in contemporary life impoverishes, diminishes or oppresses our spiritual, emotional, mental or physical well-being, as God created it to be.

            And because we are also made to live in love with our neighbours, our vocation is to pursue this human well-being not only among individuals, but also in the shared life of families, communities, towns, cities, and nations – and the whole global village in which we increasingly find ourselves as neighbours (which is why we must not neglect the well-being of the planet that is our home).

Taking these together gives us a broad and comprehensive matrix that describes the essential elements of what it is to be human – to be possessed of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical capacities and needs, as both individuals and members of communities – and to flourish.  Applied to our own varied contexts, it helps put the focus on issues and priorities that we need to address.  We can also use it for constructive engagement with politicians – who, even if our starting points differ, nonetheless are surely also committed to the same goals.  It therefore provides both us and them with a tool to measure how well they are succeeding in their responsibilities to deliver the well-being of the citizens and societies at every level of our countries.

Advent will soon be upon us, as we prepare to celebrate again how the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.  I pray that this reflection on Jesus’ promise of good news for the poor, sight for the blind and liberty to all who suffer any form of oppression, and of what it means to be human and to flourish, may bring you fresh insights, and draw you closer to the one who came to be Emmanuel, God with us, in this life and the life to come.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town
 

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