PB Preaches at ANC Centenary Celebration Service, 8 Jan 2012
Sunday Service: ANC Centenary Celebrations on 8 January 2012.
Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-7.
Preacher: Zipho Siwa
I bring you greetings from the Methodist people in the six countries of our Connexion: Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Congratulations to the African National Congress on the 100th Birthday and being the oldest liberation movement on the African Continent. One 100 years is an important milestone especially for a movement which became the ruling party for 17 uninterrupted years. Congratulations! We stand here today on Holy Ground. This is a place where many prayers have been said, tears shed, joys celebrated and commitments for service made by those who were here before us. This is the venue which Thomas Maphikela and Rev Pitso organized for that historic meeting which gave birth to the ANC on 8 January 1912. I stand where Rev Mqoboli led the devotions on that historic day. We sit where those leaders sat and listened to Pixley ka Isaka Seme, making the passionate appeal for unity against forces that were dehumanizing the largest section of the population. I want to thank those who initiated the restoration of this building. I stand on the ‘restored ruins’ where people were forcefully removed by the authorities of the time. This is an emotional moment, not only for the ANC but for all the people of this beautiful land, continent and the whole world.
One hundred years offer: A firm foundation for launching into the future, but also an opportunity to renovate. It is common knowledge that any building of that age is at a risk of collapse or showing cracks unless serious renovations are undertaken. The journey has been long and it must continue for the destination has not been arrived at. You are in our prayers. It is appropriate to start here as you launch into the next 100 years and it is African to go back to where “the umbilical cord is buried.” At crucial moments in the life of an African family – a journey to where the umbilical cord is buried is undertaken – either physically or spiritually where physical visit is not possible. I have observed especially the Aunts (oodadobawo) in the family and the elders playing a leading role. For instance the Aunt would take off the ‘head-gear’ (iqhiya), and begin to speak the words of truth about the family, the words of life, the words of confession and appeal for well-being – linking the present with the past in order to prepare a stepping stone for the future. Is this not the time to do this for this movement and for this nation? Let me lift up three things among many that come from Ezekiel 37.
1. Ezekiel recognizes that it is not his own doing
The passage opens with the words: ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley.’ I like the acknowledgement that it was not of his own doing. He was set in the middle of the valley by God. Our jealous God who creates and sustains and raises leaders to work for freedom and justice – like to be acknowledged. The work of justice, freedom and mercy is God’s domain and God smiles and loves it when His people join Him in this activity. Note that we only join what God is already doing and we need to acknowledge that for without Him it is an impossible task. On that important day God’s people joined God in this place to cry and weep for freedom and resolved to strengthen the journey towards expressing the concerns and grievances of the oppressed masses. Who can say God did not hear?
2. The second thing is SEEING
Down the valley Ezekiel saw the many dry bones (verse 2). He saw that the bones are many, very dry, and are on the floor of the valley. Seeing is different from looking. One may look and not see. On this occasion of centenary celebrations, we are invited to see. In the seeing the object ‘penetrates the one looking at it,’ and he/she notices and engages the object and at that moment becomes one with it. Seeing requires time – we read that Ezekiel spent time and was led around – backwards and forth, - looking not only once in order to understand what he was looking at. He understood that the bones were very many, were very dry and were at the floor of the valley. Verse 11 interprets the vision as a symbol of a nation that has lost hope and feeling ‘cut off.’ The 100 years land-mark offers us an opportunity to go down to the valley, not as tourists, but intentionally wanting to see what is on the floor of the valley. Go and see the bones – they are very many, they are very dry and they are on the floor.
It is possible to be in the valley and only see yourself. In explaining the meaning of the word ‘narcistic’ someone said that it comes from the Greek mythology. There was one handsome Greek youth by the name of Narcissus, who was very beautiful, but had never seen his face, because there were no mirrors. One day he walked into the forest, and saw his reflection on a pool of water. He started to drink and talk to his reflection. It is easy for someone to be absorbed by his/her own beauty and lose sight of God’s beauty and challenges all around us. When you SEE what is beyond self – you start to engage with what is beyond self-OR run the risk of drowning in your own image. Ezekiel SAW the bones.
3. Thirdly, he listened to the Divine Command and obeyed.
The command from the One who is All-knowing – the Omniscient God – was that he must speak to the bones. It was an invitation to a life- giving conversation. When he was puzzled if the situation would ever change – God commands him to speak words of life to the dry bones. I can imagine him speaking with conviction, telling the bones that they will live. In order to do that you need faith that surpasses all understanding. First you need to see and admit that the bones are dead, dry and many and then speak the words ‘bones come to life.’ The process towards healing begins with seeing and admitting – it is not helpful to act as if dry bones are alive. It is not helpful to ‘cushion’ oneself with lies against the hard unsettling realities of dry bones, by saying to the dry bones ‘you are glorious’ even when it is not well.
The Worship Leader asked me to sing Happy Birthday at the end of the sermon. That reminded me that we are celebrating a ‘birth.’ As we all know birth is preceded by conception and pregnancy. Conception and pregnancy are a result of a conversation; otherwise it would have been resulting from rape. It was conversation that led to the birth that we are celebrating today. If we are to give birth to something new and life-giving in the next 100 years, we need to begin a life-giving conversation. The conversation must lead to the birth or rebirth of a vision of a better world for all; the birth or re-kindling of the spirit of self-lessness; new life-giving conversation strengthened. It is a call for a dialogue for new birth.
Finally: Notice the way things happen in this passage:
Ezekiel speaks to all the bones at the same time – not one bone at a time. There is no need for the bones to push to be in front of the line or to be closest to Ezekiel. All the bones receive life. Yes all the bones can live!!! What bones do you see from where you are? From where I come from I see:
· Bones of access to quality education by all (even those on the floor of the valley).
· Bones of access to food security and quality health care – even the very dry bones.
· Bones of Ubuntu and healing relationships – even the dislocated bones.
· Bones of access to the resources of the land by all – so that the nation may cease to be at war with itself over the resources.
Friends we are invited to a journey with God of life – one God who created all and is able to do more – a journey that is life-giving, recapturing the spirit of those who met here, imagining a better world. It requires a compelling vision. An airplane may be beautiful, offer the best entertainment inside, but will not take passengers to the destination unless the vision of where it is going is clear and has a pilot to take it there.
May God bless the leaders and all the people of this beautiful land. AMEN