Sunday, 19 November 2017

‘Guard the people of Zimbabwe
from harm. Let justice
and compassion prevail’

With Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare during his visit to Dublin in 2011

Patrick Comerford

Watching President Robert Mugabe’s speech live within the past hour, it seems incredible that he has refused to resign. It is possible that he tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the military leaders who sat beside them, and read his own speech.

It is difficult to understand that a military coup could fail so visibly, with everyone watches, and I wonder how he is going to facedown tomorrow’s move for an impeachment.

Perhaps the generals could not force him to resign, but they have no given him plenty of ground for his impeachment tomorrow.

Many years ago, I was frustrated and angry when I was invited to a lecture in UCD and dinner with President Mugabe. I had campaigned and protested for years on his behalf, joining marches and pickets demanding democracy and freedom in Zimbabwe.

That evening in the Belfield campus of University College Dublin, Mugabe was brusque, arrogant and rude. It was a personal source of curiosity that while the Irish Independent could invite me, as then Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times to dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela, my own newspaper was inviting me to meet Robert Mugabe, who had betrayed so much that I had campaigned for.

Over the past week, Anglican leaders in Zimbabwe have reported that the Church and the country are safe following the military takeover that appears to have taken place on Tuesday night.

The Right Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, described what was then though to be the ousting of President Mugabe by the army as ‘one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world’ and added that ‘people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened.’

However, Bishop Chad is also urging Christians everywhere to pray for Zimbabwe ‘during these uncertain times.’

The Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, also called for prayer, commenting that ‘this sad situation needs more than a political solution.’

I am a trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and have served on its council and committees. USPG is a long-standing partner of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, with a relationship that dates back to 1891.

I have known Bishop Chad since he was the USPG Regional Desk Officer for Africa, working from London. He bravely returned to Zimbabwe after his election as Bishop of Harare, despite Mugabe’s efforts to divide the church and his threats of violence.

Later, Bishop Chad gracefully accepted my invitation to preach in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in 2011, to deliver a guest lecture, and to visit Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

USPG has prepared the following prayer:

God of peace,
we add our prayers to those of the Church in Zimbabwe.
Into their political upheaval, we ask that peace, love and unity will prevail.
Give wisdom to those in authority.
Guard the people of Zimbabwe from harm.
Let justice and compassion prevail.
And bless your Church as is offers care and preaches hope, tolerance and forgiveness.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


These are the statements in full issued by Bishop Chad and Archbishop Chama:

The full statement from the Right Revd Dr Chad N Gandiya, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Harare (16.11.2017):

Beloved in Christ, Warm and cordial greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Anglican Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Political developments of Tuesday night in Zimbabwe have necessitated the writing of this letter to all our friends so that you are informed and know what to pray for as you think and pray for us.

We woke up on Wednesday morning to constant announcement on Zimbabwe TV by one of the army generals that the army had been forced into action to remove ‘criminals’ around the president and that the president and his family were safe, and that their security was guaranteed. He went on to say that they were targeting criminals around the president whose actions were causing social and economic suffering in the country. He also said that the situation would return to normalcy as soon as they had accomplished their mission. Obviously, this was a big shock to most Zimbabweans even though most people believed something was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

The army was in control of the airwaves in the country and had stationed tanks strategically around the city. They asked the nation to remain calm, limit their travels to when it was necessary, such as when going to work. It is true that in last few months we have seen purges in the ruling party, shortages of cash in the banks, and unprecedented [price] increases in basic food commodities among other things.

The situation in the country remains calm but tense and people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened. We had a clergy workshop in Harare without any disturbances. The diocesan office is open and functioning well. However, we have decided to cancel a big diocesan annual Thanksgiving service that we hold every year to mark our return from exile because we don’t want to take any chances, especially as we would be expecting thousands of our members to travel various distances to attend the important service.

The events in the country are still unfolding. We thank God that so far there is no violence on the streets, the atmosphere remains calm and everything has been done peacefully. I think that this is one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world!

We are therefore calling on you our friends to join us in praying for Zimbabwe and her people during these uncertain times. Please pray for the following:

Peaceful resolution of the current situation.

As the Army has appealed to the Church, pray for peace, love, unity and development.

Safety of all people in Zimbabwe.

That those arrested be treated humanely and that justice is seen to be done.

That the Church continues to offer pastoral care and preach a message of hope, tolerance, forgiveness and nation building as well as giving wise guidance to all people.

That respect for human rights is valued.

The prayer for Africa is very apt in our situation and so pray:

God bless Zimbabwe.

Guide her leaders.

Guard her people.

And give her peace. Amen!

The full statement from the Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (15.11.2017):

As Primate of the Province of Central Africa and chair of Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, I write to express our concerns as a Church over the recent political situation in Zimbabwe. We have received messages and calls from the Primates of the Anglican Church worldwide and also from Lambeth Palace assuring us of their prayers.

We are also aware of initiatives by SADC the political blog in the region. However, this sad situation needs more than a political solution. It needs all people of faith to pray, all citizens to engage and ensure a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe.

This call is based on our vision of Christ the prince of peace and the incarnate God who in dwelling with us affirmed the dignity of each one of us and our environment. We want to assure all our parishioners and all Zimbabweans of our prayers and support and hope for calm and stability at this time.

‘To each according to his ability’:
using our talents for the kingdom

‘To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability’ (Matthew 25: 15) … old coins in a table top in the bar at the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 17 November 2017,

The Second Sunday before Advent (Proper 28)


11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: Judges 4: 1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Christ continues to tell parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the previous parables, we have been told to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

The parable this morning is set in the realm of finance. Before leaving on a journey, a master entrusts his servants (that word deacon again) with his money, each according to his ability.

At the time, a talent (τάλαντον, tálanton) was a lot of money – enough to make any one of those slaves a millionaire, and enough to make them fret and worry about the enormity with which he had been entrusted.

One source says a talent was equivalent to more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. Another suggests a talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii. With one denarius equal to a day’s pay, a talent would work out at more than 26 years’ wages. So, a talent was extremely valuable, and the slave who was given five talents was given 85 to 130 years’ wages, vastly more than he could ever imagine earning in lifetime.

Earlier in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we have come across another parable of talents, when a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred denarii (Matthew 18: 21-35, 17 September 2017).

This morning, two servants invest the money they have been entrusted with and earn more, but the third simply buries it.

When the master returns, he praises the investors. He says they will be made responsible for many things, and will enter into the joy of your master.

But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath, simply returns the original sum. The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. He loses not only what he has been given but is also condemned to outer darkness.

That darkness into which he is condemned has a dread that is also echoed in Saint Paul’s warning this morning, ‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ (I Thessalonians 5: 7).

‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ … I Thessalonians 5: 7 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The catchphrase ‘Loadsamoney’ and the character to go with it were part of the sketches created by the English comedian Harry Enfield on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Loadsamoney was an obnoxious, Cockney plasterer who constantly boasted about how much money he had to throw away. The character took on a life of his own and adapted the song ‘Money, Money,’ from the musical Cabaret, for a hit single in 1988 and a sell-out live tour.

That year, the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock used the catchphrase to criticise the policies of the Conservative government of the day and journalists began to refer to the ‘loadsamoney mentality’ and the ‘loadsamoney economy.’

On the other hand, we all know people who are reluctant to flash their cash and would prefer to stash their cash. We have all heard of people who kept their savings in a mattress, thinking it was safer there than in the bank.

They may never have realised how right they might have been in the past decade. But leaving your money under the mattress is not going to put it to work. And, these days, putting your money on deposit in the bank may cost you money rather than earning it. With low deposit rates and taxation at source, you may end up collecting less than you had when you first opened that savings account.

But piling my money up has its risks too. At a time of rapid inflation in war-time Greece and Germany, people who saved their money as banknotes found it quickly depreciated in value. I have enough 5 million Drachmai notes in a tiny stash to make two sons multi-millionaires. Sad to say, those notes date from the 1940s, and the only value they have is curiosity value.

Saving them in the bank, or piling them up under the mattress would have earned nothing for their original owners.

What would have happened to the two investors in our Gospel reading this morning if they took risks with those vast sums of money only for their master to discover that they had they lost everything?

There was an old maxim that you ‘must speculate to accumulate.’ But every investor knows there are risks, and the greater the risk the higher the interest rates that are promised.

What if they had overstepped their master’s expectations in the risks they had taken?

What if this bondholder had been burned because of the folly of two of his risk-takers, and only one had been a careful steward?

After all, a rabbinical maxim commends burying money to protect it.

If this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, if the master stands for God and the servants for different kinds of people, what lessons does it teach us?

Does God reward us for our works but behave like a stern judge when we keep faith without taking risks?

Will we be judged by our work?

Will failure to use what God gives us result in punishment and our separation from God?

Of course, we cannot imagine that the two slaves who traded with their talents and produced a profit were engaged in reckless trading and speculation, still less in reckless gambling.

What was the third slave doing with his time after he buried his talent?

Was he doing any other work on behalf of the master?

Is he chided for his refusal to invest or speculate, or is he chided for his refusal to work, his laziness?

In his refusal or indolence, did he show disdain for his master?

What talents and gifts has God entrusted you with?

Are you using or investing them to your fullest ability?

Are they yours?

Or are they God’s?

Is my relationship with God one of trust and gratitude?

Or do I fear God to the point of thinking of God as the source of injustice?

‘Loadsamoney’ was a catchphrase of comedian Harry Enfield … but is a load of money worth stashing away? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

An alternative reading of this parable might question the behaviour of the master, as we have done with the passage a few weeks ago (15 October 2017) about the invitation to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14).

In an alternative reading, we could see here an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off the labour of his slaves, even at the expense of other more honest people. He would be seen to those who hear Christ telling this parable for the first time as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous.

The master tells the slave he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break the commandment against usury (Matthew 25: 27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ says ‘to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ (verse 29), is he, instead of teaching a lesson, expressing in an exasperated way the old maxim that ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’?

Is the behaviour of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate?

Is this the kind of behaviour that Christ expects of God’s people?

Could the servant who is thrown out, like the poor guest at the wedding banquet who is shamed and victimised before who is thrown out into utter darkness, bound hand and foot, represent the Suffering Servant?

Could the lesson be not to use and misuse what is not ours for selfish gain as we exploit others?

Could it be that this parable is still less about justifying those who make unimaginable wealth out of the labour of others?

Is it less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute?

Reading the parable this way would leave us wanting to be less like the master who is a symbol of all who are successful and ‘make it’ in the world, who have ‘loadsamoney’ and leave us more interested in the values of God’s kingdom, praying that it will come and that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If so, then what sorts of risks should we take for the sake of the Kingdom?

Or do we keep on devoting our lives to the values of the kingdoms of this world?

We shall explore more of this next Sunday [26 November 2017], when we reflect on the meaning of the Kingship of Christ, and then through the four Sundays in Advent in the month of December as we prepare for the coming of Christ, not just as the Christ Child at Christmas, but the coming of Christ again and his kingdom.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Some old coins from classical Greece … what was the value of a talent? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Ratkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 19 November 2017

‘Throw him into the outer
darkness, where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth’

‘Loadsamoney’ was a catchphrase of comedian Harry Enfield … but is a load of money worth stashing away? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 17 November 2017,

The Second Sunday before Advent (Proper 28)


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Judges 4: 1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Christ continues to tell parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the previous parables, we have been told to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

The parable this morning is set in the realm of finance. Before leaving on a journey, a master entrusts his servants (that word deacon again) with his money, each according to his ability.

At the time, a talent (τάλαντον, tálanton) was a lot of money – enough to make any one of those slaves a millionaire, and enough to make them fret and worry about the enormity with which he had been entrusted.

One source says a talent was equivalent to more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. Another suggests a talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii. With one denarius equal to a day’s pay, a talent would work out at more than 26 years’ wages. So, a talent was extremely valuable, and the slave who was given five talents was given 85 to 130 years’ wages, vastly more than he could ever imagine earning in lifetime.

Earlier in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we have come across another parable of talents, when a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred denarii (Matthew 18: 21-35, 17 September 2017).

This morning, two servants invest the money they have been entrusted with and earn more, but the third simply buries it.

When the master returns, he praises the investors. He says they will be made responsible for many things, and will enter into the joy of your master.

But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath, simply returns the original sum. The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. He loses not only what he has been given but is also condemned to outer darkness.

That darkness into which he is condemned has a dread that is also echoed in Saint Paul’s warning this morning, ‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ (I Thessalonians 5: 7).

‘For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night’ … I Thessalonians 5: 7 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The catchphrase ‘Loadsamoney’ and the character to go with it were part of the sketches created by the English comedian Harry Enfield on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Loadsamoney was an obnoxious, Cockney plasterer who constantly boasted about how much money he had to throw away. The character took on a life of his own and adapted the song ‘Money, Money,’ from the musical Cabaret, for a hit single in 1988 and a sell-out live tour.

That year, the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock used the catchphrase to criticise the policies of the Conservative government of the day and journalists began to refer to the ‘loadsamoney mentality’ and the ‘loadsamoney economy.’

On the other hand, we all know people who are reluctant to flash their cash and would prefer to stash their cash. We have all heard of people who kept their savings in a mattress, thinking it was safer there than in the bank.

They may never have realised how right they might have been in the past decade. But leaving your money under the mattress is not going to put it to work. And, these days, putting your money on deposit in the bank may cost you money rather than earning it. With low deposit rates and taxation at source, you may end up collecting less than you had when you first opened that savings account.

But piling my money up has its risks too. At a time of rapid inflation in war-time Greece and Germany, people who saved their money as banknotes found it quickly depreciated in value. I have enough 5 million Drachmai notes in a tiny stash to make two sons multi-millionaires. Sad to say, those notes date from the 1940s, and the only value they have is curiosity value.

Saving them in the bank, or piling them up under the mattress would have earned nothing for their original owners.

Is this morning’s parable less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

What would have happened to the two investors in our Gospel reading this morning if they took risks with those vast sums of money only for their master to discover that they had they lost everything?

There was an old maxim that you ‘must speculate to accumulate.’ But every investor knows there are risks, and the greater the risk the higher the interest rates that are promised.

What if they had overstepped their master’s expectations in the risks they had taken?

What if this bondholder had been burned because of the folly of two of his risk-takers, and only one had been a careful steward?

After all, a rabbinical maxim commends burying money to protect it.

If this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, if the master stands for God and the servants for different kinds of people, what lessons does it teach us?

Does God reward us for our works but behave like a stern judge when we keep faith without taking risks?

Will we be judged by our work?

Will failure to use what God gives us result in punishment and our separation from God?

Of course, we cannot imagine that the two slaves who traded with their talents and produced a profit were engaged in reckless trading and speculation, still less in reckless gambling.

What was the third slave doing with his time after he buried his talent?

Was he doing any other work on behalf of the master?

Is he chided for his refusal to invest or speculate, or is he chided for his refusal to work, his laziness?

In his refusal or indolence, did he show disdain for his master?

What talents and gifts has God entrusted you with?

Are you using or investing them to your fullest ability?

Are they yours?

Or are they God’s?

Is my relationship with God one of trust and gratitude?

Or do I fear God to the point of thinking of God as the source of injustice?

‘To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability’ (Matthew 25: 15) … old coins in a table top in the bar at the Hedgehog in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

An alternative reading of this parable might question the behaviour of the master, as we have done with the passage a few weeks ago (15 October 2017) about the invitation to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14).

In an alternative reading, we could see here an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off the labour of his slaves, even at the expense of other more honest people. He would be seen to those who hear Christ telling this parable for the first time as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous.

The master tells the slave he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break the commandment against usury (Matthew 25: 27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ says ‘to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ (verse 29), is he, instead of teaching a lesson, expressing in an exasperated way the old maxim that ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’?

Is the behaviour of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate?

Is this the kind of behaviour that Christ expects of God’s people?

Could the servant who is thrown out, like the poor guest at the wedding banquet who is shamed and victimised before who is thrown out into utter darkness, bound hand and foot, represent the Suffering Servant?

Could the lesson be not to use and misuse what is not ours for selfish gain as we exploit others?

Could it be that this parable is still less about justifying those who make unimaginable wealth out of the labour of others?

Is it less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute?

Reading the parable this way would leave us wanting to be less like the master who is a symbol of all who are successful and ‘make it’ in the world, who have ‘loadsamoney’ and leave us more interested in the values of God’s kingdom, praying that it will come and that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If so, then what sorts of risks should we take for the sake of the Kingdom?

Or do we keep on devoting our lives to the values of the kingdoms of this world?

We shall explore more of this next Sunday [26 November 2017], when we reflect on the meaning of the Kingship of Christ, and then through the four Sundays in Advent in the month of December as we prepare for the coming of Christ, not just as the Christ Child at Christmas, but the coming of Christ again and his kingdom.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Some old coins from classical Greece … what was the value of a talent? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Ratkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 19 November 2017