Speech at Lady Day – 19th April 2008 at St Michael’s Mbare
(delayed due to elections)
Theme: “You are my witnesses” – Isa 43: 1-2 and 10
The theme for our Maria Day comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah in the OT. During these times of uncertainty and manifold challenges in our life as a church and a nation, the Bible seems to have come alive to us in a new way. At his installation the Bishop spoke about Nehemiah and his vision of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and especially the temple. The Bishop invited us all to be Nehemiahs and rebuild our Diocese of Harare. Those of you who have taken the time to read the book of Nehemiah, will have discovered that it has a lot to tell us about the situation we find ourselves in in 2008 in Harare Diocese.
Today we are taking our inspiration from another OT book, that of the prophet Isaiah. In order for us to find out what the verses from Isaiah 43 can tell us today in Zimbabwe and in this diocese, we need to first of all understand the situation of the people who are addressed in this passage. As we relate the story of the people of Israel more than 2500 years ago, we may discover our own story today, and how God speaks to us through the words of the prophet.
The Babylonians had conquered Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and they had taken the Israelites with them to Babylon where they lived in captivity for over 50 years in the Diaspora. Many of them had been born in exile in Babylon. But they continued to yearn for a return to their homeland and for Jerusalem throughout these years in Babylonian exile. They were expecting God to deliver them from captivity in Babylon, just as he had delivered the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt many centuries earlier. Their deliverance from Babylonian exile was to be a second exodus to freedom, a second liberation. We can only imagine how the Israelites felt far away from home at the mercy of the Babylonians who worshipped other gods. How many of our children who are in the Diaspora may feel the same way living among people of a different culture – yearning to return home to Zimbabwe. Some of the Israelites may have felt despondent with little hope to ever return to Jerusalem while others kept the hope alive that one day Yahweh would deliver them and they would be free again to return home.
The message that Isaiah has for the Israelites in Babylon is threefold:
1. He promises them that the end of their exile is near and that God will redeem and deliver his people from bondage once again, just as he had delivered the Israelites of old from Pharaoh in Egypt.
2. Isaiah’s message is a message of consolation and reassurance that God is still in control and will intervene and redeem his people.
3. God will judge the Babylonians because their idols or gods are nothing before God who is the creator of all things. The Babylonians will bring their own witnesses to try and proof that their gods know and predict the future.
In the face of all this Isaiah prophesies in V.10: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me that I am he. Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.”
First truckload of riot police arrives
My dear sisters in Christ
You are my witnesses – what does this mean to us in Zimbabwe in 2008? Indeed we have witnessed and continue to witness many things:
We cannot find most of the food items needed to feed our families in the shops
when we find them, we cannot afford them
we queue for cash, for bread, for sugar, for mealie meal or whatever else
we see children left behind after both parents have died of AIDS
we see so-called priests beat up innocent people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time
we see some of our MU members arrested and taken to court because they stood up for their church
One may ask – what have we not seen?
Second truckload of riot police arrives and we are made to leave, but the women prayed first before they left slowly and gathered outside the church yard premises to sing hymns as loud as they could. That marked the abrupt end of our Lady Day’s celebrations.
But the message from Isaiah is a message of consolation for those who are tempted to give up all hope for a better future. Isaiah comforts God’s people with the words:
“But now says the Lord, he who created you, o Jacob, he who formed you, o Israel: Do not fear, for I have called you by name, you are mine.” (V.1)
Calling someone by name means to know the person or even have a relationship with that person. It expresses some form of closeness or familiarity. This is our God who has called you and me by name. We are his, and therefore we do not have to be afraid. He calls us to be his witnesses to a world that pretends – just like the Babylonians who believed in the power of their gods – to have all the answers, a world that promises us a better future if only we follow the right track or may be the right party. But how often have we experienced how these are nothing but empty promises.
God invites us to be his witnesses, witnesses of a loving and caring God who can intervene where human beings have created chaos, who alone can lead us to a better future where we respect and love one another different though we may be. Being God’s witnesses means speaking the truth where the truth is denied; it means standing up for our faith where it is being distorted by power hungry individuals. Being God’s witnesses means standing up for justice and peace where these are violated. It ultimately means to follow Jesus on the path to Golgotha – not an easy path, but a path that leads to the resurrection and to eternal life.
Let us therefore take this opportunity of meeting here today from different parts of our diocese to share our stories and to comfort and reassure one another that God has called each one of us by name, that he is with us in the midst of the difficulties we are experiencing in our church and in our nation. Let us encourage each other to be witnesses to the one God who alone can redeem us and who is already ahead of us. To him be glory for ever.
Ruth Bakare’s speech at Lady Day – 19th April 2008 celebrated at St Michael’s, Mbare
Speech at Lady Day – 19th April 2008 at St Michael’s Mbare