It is a distinctive honor and a great joy for me to be given this opportunity to share the word of God with you on this Protestant Hour. I bring you greetings from the people of Southern Africa and I thank God for the fellowship we all share in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And on behalf of the people of South Africa, I would like to thank you for your role in supporting us in the time of struggle. We pray that the bonds of affection that was forged then would be strengthened as we face the enormous task of nation building.
My text today is found in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 16:24. Then Jesus told his disciples: "If anyone would become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
I often found that word of our Lord very challenging, and it is interesting for me to reflect on two people who were first in carrying the Lord's cross. One was Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that Mary was a young girl going about her business and suddenly the Lord had a plan for her and approached her that she was about to do this great task for him. And so she was approached, and her response is very fascinating to me when she responded that what is happening, happened to me as one translation gives us. And that gives the impression to me that God is already at work and when he calls us he wants us to share with him, to participate in the unfolding papacies of his will in the world.
The other one is Simon of Cyrene. We are not told whether Simon of Cyrene did this willingly, but he took up the cross and followed Jesus. He is the first person to literally take up the cross and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
And the joy in all of this is that the God who calls is the God who sometimes takes us by the scrap of our necks and asks us to share with him and be partners with him in the fulfillment of his will in the world. All of us have a distinctive and unique way in which we are called to carry our crosses.
I recall, as a young Priest, some advice I got from my spiritual director who said: "My son never try to avoid your cross, identify it and ask God for grace to enable you to carry it." When we are faced with challenges, when we are faced with tasks to do, we may do well to remember these words: "God never said to us we would never have pain; would never have hurts, would never have disappointments. We would never suffer. We would never be overcome."
When I think of my continent of Africa, the crosses the people have had to bear in my beloved country, and especially women; what they have had to carry. I raise up my hands and say a thousand hallelujahs, praising God for his great masses and his grace in being with us as we carried our cross in seeking to do his will in that part of the world. If for one moment we reflect on the effects of the pass laws that forced husbands to leave their homes and go to cities to eke out an existence, we realize that they were leaving women often without little of anything to bring up their children. If we think of the statistics in South Africa at this moment, we see that forty percent of the people live below subsistence levels. Eighty percent of such people are in drug areas. We think of women spending something like four to five hours a day fetching water and just to make a living. When we think of all those and how people on a whole have survived, we thank Him for the masses and for His grace.
We think of the many Mothers who spent sleepless nights not knowing where their children were during the time of struggle. We have heard about chilling reports of the truth from the Commission whose Chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, started to show how people were taken away and killed, and sometime in most callous ways during the apartheid era. We have heard testimonies during the war of liberation how people suffered.
In all of that, in all of our journey, in all of the crosses we were asked to carry by God in that part of his world; what was so important ~ what sustained us was an immeasurable love of God. God's love shown to us as His children. The God who cares, the God who has compassion, the God who shows us that He loves us so very deeply and cares for each and everyone of us as His creation.
There is one theologian who refers to God as clean and mild. This theologian reflects on how God journeyed with the people of Israel for forty years in the desert, teaching them one lesson, trust me, trust me, trust me. That God journeys with us still in our life struggles. He journeys with us as He calls us to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. That God blesses us. That God journeys with us. That God is a God who provides, who is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path. The God who is with us in our journeys. The God who is with us as we carry our crosses.
The surprising thing is that God ministers to us in a most powerful way when we are weakest, when we are in pain, and when we are struggling, and when we are suffering. He calls up His grace and we are most receptive.
In that beautiful passage in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians in Chapter 12, where Paul is arguing with God about the thorn in his flesh, God said to him: "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made manifest in witness." So in our journeys, in our troubles in taking our crosses God is there with His grace to be with us. And it is at the moments of witness that God comes to us in a most powerful way. In moments of witness, in moments of pain, in moments of suffering we experience more powerfully the grace of God. And then St. Paul can say, "When I am weak then am I strong." And he can give us that symbolism that we are nothing else, our bodies are nothing else than earthenware jars so that the power of God in us may be made manifest. So our task in our journey; our task as we follow Jesus; our task as we carry our crosses daily, is that each day when we wake up each morning we seek the divine power to enable us to carry our crosses. Just like manna in the desert we ask God each day to give us His grace, to carry our cross and be with Him and seek to fulfill his will.
In my country of South Africa, we have emerged from a crucible of fire. What sustained us throughout was the unshakable faith in God. That God reigns supremely in the universe. That He cares very deeply for humanity. That God so loved his world that He gave us His only son that through him we might have eternal life. By raising Jesus from the dead, God made a public declaration once and for all that evil will not have the last word. Goodness in the end prevails and we are , therefore, more than conquerors to Him who loved us. And the challenge that faces us in our pilgrimage of faith is to have a renewed consciousness. The single most important challenge facing us in our Global Village at the dawn of a new millennium is the need for a new consciousness and a new relation in shaping of the world's way of doing things and a discovery of what it means to be fully human. It was said the glory of God is a human being that is fully alive.
Some two years ago UNICEF said the day will come, "When the focus of nations will be judged not by their ministry or a college stint, nor by the splendor of your capitol cities and public buildings, but by the well being of their peoples. By their labors of health, nutrition and education. By the opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labors. By their ability to participate in decisions that affect their lives. By the respect shown to their political and civil liberties. By the provision that is made to those who are vulnerable and disappointed. And by the protection that is afforded to the grave minds and bodies of their children."
We cannot let the status quo continue in our world where the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer. We must create models of hope that will give the vast majority of people in the world a new chance. We have a responsibility as we prepare for the next millennium in our Global Village to ensure that all people have the same opportunity to reach their full potential.
I have a vision of a church, a church with a sound spiritual base for reconciliation, reconstruction and renewal. Such a church which will have a different spirituality. A spirituality that is God centered; a spirituality that is Biblically based; a spirituality that cares for all God's people; a spirituality that will enable us to have a church without wars; a spirituality that will awaken all of us as God's people.
As we are called to take up our crosses as we approach the dawn of a new millennium, may we remember the presence of God with us. May we remember that the risen Lord is with us. May we remember that He calls us to participate with Him ~ to share with Him. In his words he said "Behold I make all things new." And he challenges us to join him in bringing new life and new hope to a dying world. And may God bless you as you seek to be faithful followers in this pilgrimage that He has called us to be in.