First Sunday after Trinity (The Feast of Bernard Mizeki)

18 jun 2017

9am Eucharist

Preacher: The Dean

Readings: 2 Chronicles 29. 1-19; Romans 5. 1-11; John 6. 1-11


In the classical world there were two kinds of plays, two ways of telling the stories of life, they were tragedy or comedy.  Shakespeare had a third category, the history plays.  But it was a particular way of looking at life, that it was divided into the comic and the tragic.

To be honest, I feel a little punch drunk at the moment and perhaps you do as well with everything that’s been happening in the last few months and the last few weeks.  We’d not even reached the 14th day after the terror attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market, hardly had time to come to terms with any of that before more horror appeared in our city.  In fact Wednesday was the day that the Borough Market reopened and the day on which, before the market bell was rung, the bishop with the clergy headed out of the Cathedral armed with holy water and incense to re-hallow the community, to cleanse and bless it after such horrific events,.

Then we faced another horror, the fire in Grenfell Tower.  It’s a nightmare that we share... fire, a tall building, no escape.  It’s the stuff of the disaster movie ‘Towering Inferno’ that many of us remember from back in 1974, a hero, fantasy drama that turns into reality for people in our own city, for a community devastated by the loss of – well we don’t know how many lives, the loss of people's possessions and homes and identities. 

The aftermath of the fire has not been good.  Whereas the support in this borough was exemplary in helping the community to begin to recover after the terrorist attack the response in Kensington appears to be lacking and government, local and national, has been the focus of grief and then anger.

We will learn more about what caused such devastation in so short a time.  The loss of life is tragic but the event does not appear to be a tragedy but the consequence of so many things that should not have happened.

There are no words that adequately help in these circumstances.  Pious platitudes are useless in the face of such devastating events.  But St Paul in our Second Reading suggests something which does help me when he says

‘Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.’

Scripture often uses the image of metal being tested and purified by fire, by the intensity of life, like gold in a furnace.  We know that life toughens us up, that the inner resources that we need to have are built up as we experience things.  People call it resilience and in the last two weeks I’ve been asked many times about it.  Londoners are meant to be resilient and to have dogged determination that will not allow them, will not allow us to be cowed by events.  There’s a certain truth in it but we should not suppose that such resilience does not come without a price, that there are not limits to resilience itself.

We’re celebrating today the Feast of Bernard Mizeki.  This is a short biography of him

Bernard was born in Mozambique, but moved to Cape Town when he was about twelve years old. Through the work of the Cowley Fathers’ mission, he became a Christian and was one of the first to be baptized in St Philip’s Mission on 7 March 1886. Shortly after his baptism, Bernard started work at St Columba’s Hostel, which was run by the missionaries for African men. Within a few months he was sent to Zonnebloem College to train as a catechist. He was sent to work in the Marandellas (Marondera) district among the Nhowe people. Bernard built his home there, and took people who wanted to learn into his home to teach them the gospel. During the Matabeleland Rebellion, Bernard Mizeki was murdered outside his home. Bernard Mizeki’s work among the Shona bore fruit. The first Shona convert to be baptised was one of the young men whom Bernard had taught: John Kapuya. John was baptised only a month after Bernard’s death, on 18 July 1896. Bernard Mizeki is revered as a hero of the faith in Africa. Today, Bernard Mizeki College stands close to where he lived, and the Mangwende’s kraal, above the village, is crowned with a large cross to commemorate Bernard.

It’s important for us to celebrate him as we stand in solidarity with our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters who in their own situation have shown such resilience.

I suppose, to be honest, that some of us have been feeling that we’re running on empty.  You know what its like when you’re driving somewhere and you see the fuel gauge going down and you wonder if you can get to the end of the journey without filling up.  It feels like your running on the vapour – how far will the tank take you?

So the Gospel for today is real good news as a recognition that we all need feeding.  The people had been following Jesus for his teaching, for his miracles and they end up in a place outside of the city.  There’s no food and the people are hungry.  None of them can go on.  But Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it and shares it amongst them.  It was meagre but there was enough for all.

Bernard was a person who fed the people with the word of God and helped to create a resilient people, for whom endurance and character has brought hope.  We need to recognise that our own resilience needs to be fed, each of us, and that’s why we’re here, so that the Word of God and the Bread of God can feed us to live in both tragedy and comedy and recognise both as part of our history.