St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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To the Laos - February 2010

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are barely six weeks into the year, as I write, but the good rest of the Christmas and New Year break is beginning to seem rather distant already!

The theme that has come to dominate the start to my year arose from reflecting on Jesus’ healing of the deaf mute man (Mk 7:31-37). All of us need his healing touch, unstopping ears and opening mouths, to hear what he is saying, and then declare his truths to his world. God, it is said, gave us two ears and one mouth, with the intention that we should spend twice as much time listening, as talking! In this way, first we receive, and then we are to share.

I began the year with a consultation of Christian leaders, an informal gathering from across the whole body of Christ. We felt a strong conviction God was urging us to pursue greater unity and cooperation, with Jesus Christ at the centre. For it is as members together of the body of Christ (rather than united around some external issue like apartheid or poverty) that we belong together. Having had our ears opened in this way, we aim to come closer to each other, and hope we will go on to speak more effectively – demonstrating unity in Christ, even in our diversity. Fundamentally, it is of course Jesus himself whom we most need to receive, and in turn must share with the world.

I had a different experience of listening and speaking when the electoral assembly of the new Diocese of Ukhahlamba (created from the northern part of the Diocese of Grahamstown) decided to ask the Synod of Bishops to make an appointment. Sometimes, deciding to do what seems to be ‘nothing’ takes considerable courage. It is a reminder to unstopped ears that God’s voice is often still and small, and may say ‘Wait’. We must learn to listen carefully, and not be afraid to share that ‘wait’ with others, when it comes.

Later that same week I joined other faith leaders to bless the Cape Town 2010 Stadium. Religious communities share so much in common, especially as we join in addressing increasing secularism. Yet inter-faith events also require careful listening to how our Lord would have us speak. I was glad to be the Christian voice in the Stadium’s opening, and unashamedly asked God’s blessing, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit. We should not be afraid to make clear our distinct belief in the God who is Trinity, and the salvation and redemption that come through the cross and resurrection. My particular prayer is that in 2010 God may bless all who compete and who spectate; and inspire us all to reach for excellence, to promote fair play, to share in team spirit, and to enjoy together the great gifts that sport offers humankind.

More listening and speaking followed at the end of January when I travelled to Switzerland, for the annual meeting of global leaders in the World Economic Forum at Davos. I am glad to say that faith leaders are increasingly seen as having a vital contribution to make to this gathering. Many of us were discussion leaders in various sessions, and some contributed essays to a report circulated to participants, on ‘Values for the Post-Crisis Economy’. The crisis of values and ethics in global economic policy-making has brought new possibilities for the voice of faith in the public arena – do pray that Christian leaders, not least our own highly respected Archbishop of Canterbury, will use these well.

Last week, I joined the Chief Rabbi in giving what we termed a ‘Moral State of the Nation Address’, each from the perspective of our own faith community. My hope is that this might become an annual event, with other religious leaders also participating. I argued that ‘morality’ is a word that describes how the whole of life is lived, and concerns the totality of what it is to be a human being and to flourish. As I have done before, I underlined the three key areas of what this means, which we learn from the story of Noah: the sanctity of life, the stewardship of creation, and the dignity of difference.

I am sure the audience were wondering whether I’d comment on the news that President Jacob Zuma has fathered a child outside marriage! I hope I made my views clear when I said that promiscuity, unfaithfulness, adultery, unprotected sex that risks spreading HIV or resulting in unwanted pregnancies and appallingly high numbers of abortions – all of these are offences against the sanctity, the sacredness, of life. They are acts of emotional violence and physical peril, and demeaning to the human dignity of all involved. Of course, sex is wonderful – it is one of God’s best gifts to humanity. But the greatest gifts are open to the worst abuses, and therefore we must use the gift of sexuality wisely and well. The full text is available on my blog (http://archbishop.anglicanchurchsa.org), on the ACSA website (www.anglicanchurchsa.org), and from Diocesan offices.

Many of us have been concerned to listen and speak, and also act, well in our response to the disaster in Haiti. We need to listen to what is most needed – whether in urgent disaster response, or the long reconstruction process. I was glad to endorse the ‘Africa for Haiti’ Campaign launched by Mrs Graça Machel. Our continent has received so much support over the years. Now we must stand in solidarity with the Haitians, and do what we can – including urging our leaders to make tangible and generous commitments. This requires careful, respectful, listening to Haitians themselves, about their priorities for their own future. We can also listen and speak, in solidarity with their pain trauma. Through joining in lament, we can both allow ourselves to be drawn into their tragedy, and share in proclaiming that God listens to all who suffer. Weeping with those who weep is a holy way of listening and speaking in response to disaster.

Finally, may I thank you for your continuing prayers and support (including many messages of congratulations on my PhD – thank you!) for my ministry, and for our Church. Please do hold the Diocese of Mpumalanga in your prayers, following the death of Bishop Les Walker last November, and the Diocese of Ukhahlamba as a new Bishop is chosen (the Synod of Bishops will be meeting as this letter goes out to you all). And may our Lord bless you richly in the year ahead, and make you a blessing to others.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

 

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