Below is the sermon given by Reverend Frank Chikane on 30 December 2021 at the memorial service of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, held at The Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin in Johannesburg.
I would like to thank the Bishop of Johannesburg, The Rt. Revd. Dr Steve Moreo for inviting me to share the Word of God (sermon) at this memorial service of our beloved “Arch”—Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
I recognise all our leaders who have joined us here and welcome all those who are participating in this service via various forms of media.
May the Lord bless you.
I would like to join the people of South Africa and the rest of the international community and express my deepfelt condolences to Mama Leah and to Trevor, Theresa, Naomi, and Mpho; to the grandchildren; and to the rest of the Tutu family.
We know that the passing away of your spouse of more than 60 years will leave a void in your life and that of your children.
It is our prayer that the Lord comfort you as the gospel reading assured us in Matthew 5:4.
It is our prayer that the Lord assist you to accept that the Arch has been released back to his maker where “there will be no more death… or pain” (Rev. 21:4) again.
In the language of Paul, the Arch has “fought a good fight”, “he has kept his faith”, and “has finished the race”. Now, “there is in store for him the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to” him “on that day” (2Tim 4:7-8).
Whilst we mourn the passing away of our beloved “Arch”, we have cause to celebrate this Prophet of God who lived among us and served God and God’s people in our midst here in South Africa and globally. We must celebrate his life and ministry, particularly his prophetic witness here in South Africa and internationally.
Desmond Tutu’s spirituality, the secret that made him the prophet he became among us
As I meditated on the sermon for this occasion, the Spirit of the Lord impressed on me that I should let the life of the “Arch” speak for itself and speak to us as it has been since the announcement of his demise last Sunday.
The Arch’s illustrious life and public witness would have made it within the Book of the Acts of the Apostles if it happened during the Apostolic age. But I would like to take it further to the status of the Epistles in the New Testament.
So, our sermon today is going to be based on the Epistle (that is, the Letter) of Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Mpilo Tutu to the people of South Africa and the global community.
The coronavirus has robbed us of a real celebration. If it was not of the coronavirus the whole Body of Christ (that is, the Church Universal) and the rest of the international community would be represented here to engage with this Epistle.
The first question I asked myself about the “Arch” was, “What made him the extraordinary servant of the Lord that he was—way beyond his peers and his generation?”
The second question I asked myself was, “What made him so fearless in his prophetic witness and ministry to an extent that he was ready to die for the course of the gospel?”
As I reflected on my experiences with him (unfortunately there is no time to share these experiences), and as I walked through his life, I became convinced that the secret to what he became—that is, what God made him to be, was his unique form of spirituality and deep understanding of, and commitment to, his faith in God.
Coming from the Pentecostal tradition, I entered the Arch’s world with preconceived ideas and perspectives that were proved to be very wrong. Those who entered into his life from a conservative religious perspective that limited spirituality to the private sphere also had a rude awakening. The Arch’s understanding of his faith was a holistic one which covered all spheres and aspects of life. No politician could tell him to “stick to his lane”, as some tried to do so.
The first thing about his spirituality was that he took his faith and calling seriously. God was not just a game for him or part of a religious tradition or practice. He took God seriously! And God was part of his life.
The Arch’s God was also a God of all of humanity, and all of the created reality. You will note that the word ‘ALL’ characterised his ministry and witness.
To make this point clear, he said something that sounded very heretic, that, “God is not a Christian!” Because, for him, if God were a Christian, he would exclude all those who were not Christian, which would not be compatible with the fundamental text of the scriptures that ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believed in him should not die but have an everlasting life’ (John3:16).
For him, God was not just a God of the Jews and Palestinians alone, but a God of all of humanity and all of the created reality. In short, God for him was not a ‘tribal God’ or a ‘sectarian God’.
This takes us to the Arch’s starting point theologically (in black theology) that all of us, all of humanity, black and white, rich and poor, believers and non-believers (or people of no faith) are made in the image of God.
That is why racism and apartheid were incompatible with this God he believed in. Oppressing or undermining the humanity of anyone or treating them as less than human was like taking on God! Or treating God like less than God. Treating God like less than God is like worshiping idols! For a god who is less than God can only be an idol.
If all of humanity is made in the image of God, then the justice of God must be justice for all (black and white, rich or poor, the powerful and the powerless, etc.). That is why Martin Luther King made the point that “justice is indivisible”. That an “injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere”.
This God, the Arch’s God, enjoins us to go beyond just loving our neighbours (which is tough on its own) to loving our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Why? Some would ask. The answer is because God also loves your enemies as well. Otherwise, he would not have died for them as well.
For, how would God save them if God did not love them?
Secondly, he took seriously the scriptures (the Bible). He believed that the Bible was the most revolutionary book on earth. Whilst others were saying that the white western missionaries gave us the Bible and took away our land, he retorted, that this was precisely the greatest mistake missionaries made, to give us the most revolutionary book to secure our liberation. That is why the security police denied me a Bible during my long detention because they said, “Die Bybel maak jou a terroriste.”
You will recall that he threatened one day—in the heat of the struggle, that he would “burn the Bible” if he found out that it supported apartheid. That’s how seriously he took it.
Thirdly, the Arch spent lots of time with his creator God.
Even when you were in a serious meeting, when 12h00 struck, he stopped everything and spent a moment of prayer (talking with his God).
Whenever I travelled with him, his chaplain would make arrangement for the Arch to have time to go and pray in a chapel in that vicinity or city. I must say that I used to feel awkward about this because it felt like those of us who were left behind were like “Baheteni”.
The most dramatic was when I was dying in a hospital in Wisconsin in the USA because of chemical and biological substances (chemical weapons). I was attacked with by the apartheid security police. My sister Hlophe Bam (who was the deputy general secretary then) searched for the Arch and could not raise him from his prayer retreat. They had to get someone to physically walk to the place (his sacred place) to tell him that “Frank Chikane was dying in Wisconsin!”
Once he got the message he went into action and found a Bishop in Wisconsin, USA, to go to my hospital bed to say the last prayers for me, and that’s when I regained my consciousness.
His deep form of spirituality, for me, is the secret that made the Arch to be the fearless prophet he was among us. No amount of threats or intimidation could stop him, even threats to his life or to his loved ones.
The last encounter I had with the Arch was when I visited him together with the CEO of Kagiso Trust (I was the chair of the Trust at that time and was a Patron of the Trust). Although he was frail, he took the trouble to express his deep pain about what was happening in the country, which was not what we fought for. He was so concerned… he was so disappointed… and so distressed about it that I felt this could shorten his life.
I then pleaded with him to leave this challenge to those of us who were younger as there was nothing he could do at that age. Since then, I knew that we had no option but to work as hard as we can to change the trajectory the country was following for the sake of the people, especially the poor and marginalised.
Jesus said, in John 8:31-32, “If you remain in my Word or hold to my teachings, then you are truly my disciples.” He further said that you will “know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. For, “if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
The Arch got to know the truth of the gospel and became a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the truth set him free.
Free from fear;
Free from the entrapments of this world;
Free to tell the truth as it was irrespective of who was involved;
Free to speak truth to power during the apartheid time and in a democratic era;
Free to speak truth to power globally irrespective of the risks attendant to it. His stance on Palestine is the clearest in this regard.
Our dear Archbishop Tutu, you have spoken to us; you have lived as a public witness among us; and you have left your heritage with us.
Rest in peace with the understanding that we will not rest until we have achieved the ideal society you were a champion for.
We release you to be with the Lord in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reverend Frank Chikane is a South African civil servant, writer, and cleric.