St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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To the Laos - February 2009

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Dear People of God

Though we are already well into the new year, may I begin by wishing everyone a blessed 2009.  May you grow in the knowledge and love of God, in heart and mind and soul and strength, and in sharing that love with others.

    In January I paid a very eventful trip to Mozambique.  Even getting there was an adventure.  Shortly after the plane had taken off, the pilot told us that there was a fault with the engine, and that we would have to return to Cape Town.  The passengers sat in silence, or talked in strained and nervous voices.  It was yet another reminder of how fragile life is, how every moment of our being is sustained by God, and how dependent we are on him in all things.  We often unthinkingly speak of ‘travelling mercies’, but we should perhaps take this prayer for one another rather more seriously – this is my second close shave within a year!

    So I finally arrived in Maputo half a day late, for a full programme in the Diocese of Lebombo.  Bishop Dinis was a wonderful host, but a hard task-master as he kept me busy every moment!  

    We began with a special Eucharist to launch a new phase of the Diocesan Development Programme – bringing together under one roof the various teams that tackle malaria, and HIV and AIDS, run gardening projects, and address other social needs.  It was a remarkable service, held in the Cathedral at Xai-Xai.  This building is being constructed by faith, one step at a time, yet with a glorious vision of what it might be.  At present it is still at an early stage.  There are no windows, and the floor is so sandy, I had to hold my robes above the dust as we processed!  But concerns of building finance, let alone the global credit crunch, were far away from the hearts and minds of the thousand or so worshippers gathered together, despite the poverty of their country and communities.  They came expectant of meeting the Lord, and overflowed with praise and joy.  It was a wonderful celebration of the generosity of God, and of our gratitude for all that he does for us, and all that he is for us.  

    That day was the feast of St John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople over 1500 years ago.  ‘Chrysostom’, which means ‘golden mouth’, was his nickname because he was such a wonderful preacher.  He is famous for saying to his people, ‘I cannot let a day pass without feeding you with the treasures of the Scriptures.’  And in this service, and in the others we held during my visit, I was struck afresh by how our God delights to feed us from his word, just as he delights to show his love to us ‘in heart and soul and mind and strength’.  He encounters us through his word, and through his world, touching our minds, our emotions, our spirits, our bodies – the total human person.

    One task of my visit was to bless the new water supply to Chihunzuine.  There is one tap, at the centre of the village.  Close to the Church, it is – for those with eyes to see – a powerful icon of the presence of God in that place in a great variety of ways.  The Father, the Creator, gives us life and nourishes us:  and this is a source of life and food, as it feeds the irrigation system for crops.  He is our protector:  and now women can fetch water, without fear that on their journey through the bush to fetch water they may be assaulted or raped.  It is clean and healthy drinking water:  and Jesus said that if we drink of him, the living water, we shall never be thirsty.  Flowing water is a reminder too of God’s Spirit, poured out on his sons and daughters.  In water we are washed in baptism, and united with Christ, and with one another within the body of Christ – and so I pray that this central tap will be a source of life and unity for the people of Chihunzuine, in every dimension of their daily existence.

    We should not over-spiritualise our faith, so that we fail to see God present in all the practical details of our lives.  The message of the incarnation, Jesus’ birth as one of us, is that God with us in the flesh and blood parts of our lives no less than in our Sunday worship and private prayers and Bible reading.  When we remember this, we will see how development programmes can be an intrinsic part of our calling to be God’s church, sharing his love with his people in his world.  In each situation, each circumstance, people must encounter the reality of God’s promises in Jesus Christ in ways appropriate to their needs – just as Jesus individually addressed each person he encountered in his earthly life.

    Hope Africa, in their development work face the challenge of discerning what is the message of the gospel, not only in sweeping truths of love, peace, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and so forth, but expressed concretely in the diverse situations with which they deal.  Please pray for Delene and her team, and those with whom they work, as together they discern God’s call in the many different situations they tackle.  And may they, and all of us, as Archbishop George Carey famously said, not become so worried about the work of the Lord, that we fail to keep our eyes on the Lord of the work.

    I have one final reflection from Mozambique, where the ruins of the civil war still stand as silent critics of the futility of violence.  Such conflict rarely of itself delivers a better outcome – often the best available is an ‘honourable draw’, for otherwise there is only a never ending ebb and flow as first one side then the other has the upper hand, and all the while the civilian population suffers ever more.  Generally there are no real solutions on offer, other than that which was there all along – that people must learn to live alongside each other.  More than that, prosperity comes most fully when mere tolerance can be transformed into seeing that the best interests of one are furthered by bettering the situation of the other.  The choice is this:  to drag each other down, or to raise each other up.  Loving our enemies and building one another up is the way of the Lord.

    Next month I look forward to sharing with you some reflections on the meeting of Anglican Primates that has just taken place.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town



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