All Saints Sunday, 5 November 2006
Eureka Congregation, ELCSA, Cape Orange Diocese, Elsies River
Texts: Acts 16.6-10 and Matthew 5.9 (Mt 5.1-10)
Hans S A Engdahl
Mission to the Whites
When back in South Africa in 2001 again I was shocked by the common usage of racial terminology. Even the present Premier Ebrahim Rasool said in 2001: We need the terminology otherwise we do not know where we are with our transformation and affirmative action.
My students at UWC have repeatedly discussed this issue. They say roughly as follows: Racial terminology like white, coloured, black and one has to add, African, Indian, may be needed in order to be able to talk about or discuss realities as they are. At the same time these terms are a hindrance towards moving away from race as a definition of a person or group. One would therefore wish that we soon enough could move away from such terms.
A casual glance at our congregation today may indicate an unusual big number of whites present. But what you first see is perhaps not what you see. All present here (?) seem to come from elsewhere (Sweden) and not from South Africa. In Sweden we don’t call ourselves whites.
In addition while ‘black’ and even ‘coloured’ could be seen as words that refer to some kind of real identity, ‘white’ in South Africa is a highly problematic word. A South African white would hardly introduce herself in London saying: Good day, my name is Mary Thomsen and I am a white South African. People would laugh at her scornfully.
These are sensitive issues that must be discussed. Afrikaners may still claim an identity (of course the conservative ones will always do) but that is also highly problematic as it must be seen as the very in-group among the whites.
The term white has no future. The only way forward in terms of identity seems to be to affirm some kind of South African-ness – not too far from what was claimed in the previous sermon: we are all Coloureds.
However, while there still is a very distinct group in South Africa that could be labelled white, I will today use the term to achieve three things: (1) reverse the tendency to be at the receiving end in relation to whites and break with the strong tendency of indifference, a “couldn’t care less” attitude, (2) demonstrate that there is a direct calling to do mission among whites and (3) to convince you to see such a movement in mission as a mission of peace and as part of the ministry of reconciliation.
What is said today should also be seen in the light of the programme for the Western Cape Circuit of ELCSA-COD, where the theme is mission for the coming year.
A church without a mission outreach is dead. We cannot survive only by sustaining ourselves. So we are somehow bound to the task of mission.
Secondly, mission can only be undertaken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, may we pray today that we, as Christians and as church keep the calling to mission and that we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us in this undertaking!
Then we read about St Paul’s endeavours in the region of Phrygia and Galatia. It says that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus forbade them speak the word in Asia. Here different words are used for the spirit reminding us that it is God that comes to our rescue being the Spirit of the Father and of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. Being on a mission to extend God’s church and not on his own business, Paul could rely on the Spirit speaking directly to him through continuous prayer and meditation.
As we can see in the text Paul is literally led by the Spirit in a certain direction, not Mysia, not Bithynia, but they came to Troas.
At night in Troas Paul sees a man in a vision, of Macedonia, which is Europe, saying to him: “come over to Macedonia and help us”.
This is indeed a very crucial text in all mission. At this moment there is no distinction between word and action. Already the next morning Paul and those accompanying him among them probably Luke, the doctor, without delay sought to go on into Macedonia absolutely convinced that “God has called us to preach the Gospel (evangelise) to them”. The rest is mission history. Of interest is perhaps to note that this first Christian mission into Europe had a very significant outcome: the first convert was a woman by the name Lydia, a seller of purple goods; she was most likely a well-off woman, a merchant dealing in the very expensive purple dye used for wool etc.
What we should recall at this stage is not only the central role of the Holy Spirit in mission. It is also that one person may be enough, the man from Macedonia calling for help, in order to embark on an enterprise that would eventually reach more than 300 million people.
Secondly, and here the Europeans are learning from their mistakes, Christian mission must be a peace mission.
We therefore underline the seventh beatitude in Matthew chapter 5: “blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God” (5.9). This is the literal translation and one could well say “sons and daughters of God” with the explicit meaning that those who make peace are like God; great words, to be taken literally. It is in fact very simple. Those Christians that also could be called saints as they lived out God’s will here on earth in a visible way, have been peace-makers, and are the ones we remember. The others, however clever, we would forget. The peace-makers will forever inspire those coming after, so let’s pray that we can become true peace-makers.
Remember, peace-making is now seen in a mission context. It is therefore not a matter of peacefully remaining where you are with what you have; on the contrary. It is to go out there where no one or perhaps only one has asked you to go and be a peace-maker.
The only criterion is the Holy Spirit’s guidance, which could be difficult to verify. However the Spirit knows no bounds. The question comes, are we prepared to follow the Spirit into that which is new, into that which is surprising?
When talking about peace-making I also want to link that to the work of reconciliation. It is another way of expressing the same thing. The 3rd September we talked about “How to make friends out of enemies” and the 1st October it was about the fact that in the end there is no pure race, therefore we are all Coloureds, we are all of one blood, redeemed with the one blood, that of Jesus Christ.
In other words, to be in mission as peace-makers is to be in the ministry of reconciliation.
The final question is, how do we apply these insights from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Beatitudes in the gospel of St Matthew? Let me first tell a story that mercilessly reveals attitudes at the time. Around 1980 we had become quite strong in the Lutheran Youth Movement in the Cape. We had more than 20 youth leaders who had undergone leadership training and we had an intensive programme on circuit level and in most local congregations. We were just completing the Lutheran Youth Centre in Athlone. I thought it was about time with some exchange across the racial lines. So I talked to the Anglican priest at St Thomas in Rondebosch, whom I knew, and asked, could we have some youth exchange? He answered: Yes, perhaps, we have a couple of youths who could come and play the guitar for you in Athlone. That was it. There was never any exchange.
Things may have changed dramatically since then, or have they?
Identity formation in black and coloured communities may have to do with this: stop seeing oneself at the receiving end of the whites who think they know best… However important though it may be to search for one’s identity, we may be left with another problem. We are left with a situation of indifference or “couldn’t care less”, if not intensive dislike of those who used to rule and dominate.
Here today’s call to mission is a real challenge. Due to the guidance of the Holy Spirit it may well be a mission to the whites. Such a mission task must be triggered off by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus may say, not here and not there. Doors may seem closed. And then something might happen. Somebody from the other side of the railway and from the other side of the hills (of Tygerberg) may appear and say: “come over and help us”.
On the 16th of October the first meeting ever took place between parishioners at this church Eureka and parishioners from the Dutch Reformed Church in Durbanville. During that meeting, which took place here in this church, a clear wish was expressed from the fellow-Christians from Durbanville: come over and help us. God knows, through the Holy Spirit, whether this call will lead to a surprising renewal of our church in the next 20 years for the sake of the kingdom of God.
It is also obvious that such a mission would mean a clean break with racial barriers. It would have to be a peace mission, where concrete peace is made.
I want however to end off on a more general note, highlighting the role of the African church vis-à-vis Europe. It is true that Europe received the gospel thanks to St Paul via Macedonia, and the first convert Lydia. We thank God for that. Looking back at European history however it stands out clearly that there is one thing in which Europe has failed utterly. That is in peace-making.
Divided nations, divided churches have led to a very violent continent never at peace with itself. What is worse however is that the violent conflict was exported to the other continents, not least Africa, through colonialism. To talk about Europe as a Christian continent brings up very mixed feelings and a bad taste. We even exported racial and racist thinking to places like Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, South Africa and Rwanda/Burundi.
We cannot undo what has been done and others on other continents might have been just as cruel, but I am saying this from the perspective of Christian faith having been an integral part of European national life for between 1000 – 2000 years.
The story of the man from Macedonia will repeat itself. He will again say: “come over and help us”. This will be the second call from Europe as peace-making never took place in a proper way. This time the church from South Africa will get this call, in a vision or via other more modern means. Will the church hear the call? Will this church in mission do like Paul?
“And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16.10)
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be for ever, Amen.
[My sermons will be available online. If you give me your e-mail address I will send them to you.
Welcome also to a discussion on reconciliation this afternoon at 17.00 at the church. The Swedish choir from Karlskoga (kör-resan) will give a mini-concert as well. Welcome.]