St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Ad Laos - June 2008

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June 2008

My dear People of God

There is certainly never a dull moment in the life of an Archbishop! In the last month I have negotiated police road-blocks in Zimbabwe, seen the economic collapse, and heard the chilling chanting of crowds threatening violence against their political opponents. I have been to townships that have been torn apart by aggression that is fuelled by frustrations at South Africa’s failure to distribute the gains of economic growth to all. And I have visited displaced foreigners in safety camps, and heard a despairing woman say that she possessed nothing, except the power to take her own life. And at the same time, I know that a month from now I will be sitting in Canterbury with Anglican Bishops from across our Province and around the world, as the Lambeth Conference begins, hoping that differences over human sexuality do not threaten to derail the central themes of our meeting. As I ask your prayers for all of these, you may wonder what they have in common. It is a question I have asked myself – and I think the answer lies in our response to the two great commandments that Jesus taught us, of loving God and loving our neighbour. Because this is where our identity lies. What matters most about us is not which political party we support, nor what nationality or people we come from; nor what our own sexual orientation is, nor our stance on questions of sexuality within the Church. What matters most is whether we are trying to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength; and whether we are trying to love our neighbours, whoever they may be, as ourselves. To be Christians is to desire first of all to become more and more like Jesus Christ, who showed us how to love God and love others in this way. The Lambeth Conference has two main themes which reflect this calling. The first is to strengthen the sense of shared Anglican identity among bishops from around the world. We are Anglicans because we believe that Anglicanism offers us the best opportunities to be the most faithful Christians that we can be – to live a life of ‘worship, witness and service’ as our Confirmation Service puts it, so we can grow in holiness, obedience and Christ-likeness. Reminding ourselves of the heart of Anglican identity is about reminding ourselves of the heart of our relationship with God – learning to love God more fully with every part of ourselves, and learning to love God together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The second theme is helping to equip bishops for the role we increasingly have as leaders in mission, and in helping the church grow. This is about proclaiming Christ to the world, about sharing his good news, about showing others the love that God has poured into our hearts. It is about equipping us to love our neighbours more fully. We will focus on these themes by beginning the conference with a short retreat, in which we can be together in prayer and quiet, and begin to direct our hearts and minds towards the central issue of faith. Then, for the rest of the conference, we shall begin each day with worship and Bible study in small groups that looks at the ‘I am’ sayings in St John’s Gospel (if you have internet access, you will can find the daily readings on the Lambeth Conference website, www.lambethconference.org, which has further detailed information about our meeting). Then, much of the business of the conference will take place through medium sized ‘indaba’ groups, where we can feel that we are debating issues together as members of a community, the people of God. Please pray diligently for us, as we meet from 15 July in retreat, then in the Conference itself and the Spouses’ Conference, from 18 July to 4 August. We hope that through the Conference we can make the twin goals, of loving God and loving our neighbours, our top priority, and to let them the framework for the whole of the Christian life – the framework within which not only Bishops at Lambeth, but all Christians, can best look at the detailed questions that challenge us. And of course these include issues of the violence and fear that run from Zimbabwe to Darfur, from Iraq to Tibet; of poverty; of rising food and oil prices and economic inequality; of government failure to deliver services and the tensions all these feed; and of xenophobia, as well as of differences over human sexuality. To a considerable degree, these are all questions about how people, how Christians, deal with those who are different to ourselves, with those who we think of as ‘them’ and not as ‘us’. But in God’s kingdom, there is no ‘them’ – everyone is an ‘us’, someone to whom his arms of love reach out. When Jesus was asked ‘Who is my neighbour?’, he told the story of the Good Samaritan. We often forget that in those days, Jesus’ listeners despised Samaritans. But the person that they would least like to have living next door to them, turned out to be the person who most showed the love of God in action. This week we remember Bernard Mizeki. He was originally from Mozambique, and (like many Mozambicans today) came to Cape Town looking for work. Here he was converted to Christianity. He then accompanied Bishop Knight Bruce to what is now Zimbabwe and became a catechist at Marendellas, teaching about Christianity. When a bad harvest came, his enemies were quick to blame Christianity, and Bernard himself, for the disaster. I suppose you could say that economic hardship became the flashpoint, and he, the one who was different, became the target. Anyway, Bernard was attacked one night and left for dead, and though with his wife’s help he managed to crawl into hiding, he died five nights later. Bernard, like John the Baptist, whose birth we celebrate next week, pointed the way to Jesus, by his life and by his death. St Peter and St Paul, who we also remember, similarly dedicated their whole lives to serving God and serving others by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. So, as you pray for yourselves, for your churches, your local communities, and for the complex and difficult situations we still face, in Zimbabwe, in South Africa, among those who have been displaced by violence, and within the Anglican Communion, ask God for two things. Ask that God will help you to love him more, with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and ask God to open your eyes, and the eyes of all of us – including Zimbabweans, people struggling with poverty, those who have lost their homes, and the Bishops at the Lambeth Conference, as well as our own church communities – to be able to see who it is that we consider as ‘them’, when we ought to be learning to love them as our neighbour.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

 

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