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Sermon Transcript for Mandela Memorial Service
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, delivered the sermon at the state memorial service for Nelson Mandela held on 10 December, 2013, at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Abrahams is the former presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and joined dignitaries from around the world in honoring the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
The transcript of the sermon is as follows:
FUNERAL SERVICE OF NELSON MANDELA
THE MANTEL IS PASSED AND IT IS IN YOUR HANDS
Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-15
The State President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma,
Your Majesties and Highnesses,
Your Excellencies, heads of State past and present,
Mama Garcia Machel, Winnie Mandela and the Mandela Family,
Fellow South Africans and distinguished guests,
Compatriots and Friends,
“Grace and Peace to you from God our Creator and Sustainer”
Besides our heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family, we owe you all a sincere debt of gratitude for sharing your husband, father and grandfather with us and the world.
Thank you, Dankie, EnKosi, Obregado!
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes in melodic eloquence claims:
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to tear down and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak
Like Job we bow our heads and call out, “God has given and God has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:23)
At some time or another we have all experienced grief and journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death. Death and sorrow are no strangers to us, it is with us from the moment we are born, open our eyes and gasp our first breathe to the time we close our eyes and exhale that last breathe.
We gather today in grateful thanksgiving to God with millions of South Africans and people from around the world to pay tribute and honour a true patriot and one of the greatest statesmen of this century. He transformed the nation and changed the world. He was a man inspired and a man who inspires.
We affirm with Job. God, you have given.
You gave us a modern prophet who spoke with courage and conviction.
You gave us one purified through suffering to bring healing to a bruised and battered humanity.
You gave us a charismatic transformational leader, a comrade in the march to freedom.
You gave us a father of the South African nation, a colossus amongst world leaders and a friend to all and enemy to none.
You gave us one who managed to change the course of history for many South Africans and people across the globe.
You gave us one who boldly proclaimed that a different world is possible.
You gave us Nelson Mandela who stood as the collective conscience of a people and achieved what many, in their entire lifetime thought impossible, and he will stand out in history as a beacon of light, a lodestar inspiring many for generations to come.
What brings us here today is not so much GRIEF but LOVE. It is love for Madiba and the Mandela family that made us come from all corners of South Africa and around the globe.
The encouraging words, the sympathy cards, the many messages of condolences and tributes, the floral bouquets and prayers and our presence here today are all expressions of our love.
Madiba’s sunset days were as extra-ordinary as his life itself. He lived out his life to the fullest. As we reflect on his passing and try to make sense of it, we are reminded that people like Madiba do not die, rather they continue to live in the hearts and minds of people ever inspiring them to espouse the noble virtues and rare devotion that he embodied.
For this reason I point us to one of the most remarkable stories recorded in the sacred text of the Abrahamic tradition. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures all relate the story of Elijah the wise old prophet who passed on the mantle from his generation to the next to do even greater things; hence my focus on the theme, “The Mantle is Passed on and it is in Your Hands.”
“And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the water and said, Where is the Lord of Elijah? And when he also struck the water, it divided this way and that, and Elisha crossed over” 2 Kings 2:14
From the narrative in 2 Kings Chapter 2, we hear the story of the last days of the great prophet Elijah who was about to leave this old world behind and go into glory in a spectacular way with a whirlwind and chariots of fire. He becomes the icon, the example, the one who set the bar for all those in the prophetic tradition after him.
Our reading takes up the story at Gilgal . This was the place where the children of Israel came after they crossed the River Jordan. It was where Joshua erected 12 stones to commemorate what God had done in delivering Israel from slavery after 40 years of desert wonderings. Gilgal was the place where the manna ceased and where a new road of nationhood began.
We too have our Gilgal and it is right here at the First National Bank Stadium where Tata Mandela addressed more than 80 thousand people who gathered to hear him speak after 27 years in prison.
Here we met to pay our last respects when one of our young, charismatic leaders, Chris Hani, was assassinated, and it was here that we said our last farewells to Father Olivier Tambo.
We gathered here when our young democracy was birthed through the moral leadership, the power of Madiba’s ideals and the elegance of his humanity that bore no rancor and captured not only the hearts and minds of all South Africans, but people all around the world.
His moral standing and stature was not from economic or military might, but forged on the anvil of the struggle for dignity and freedom of all people in South Africa.
Since childhood I was deeply inspired and fascinated by British author and Literature Noble Laureate, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If,” dedicated to his son, which defines some of the characteristics of Nelson Mandela’s life. Allow me to quote the last stanza:
If you can talk to crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with kings, nor loose the common touch.
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you.
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiven minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And which is more – you’ll be a man my son.
If I may take liberty and amend the last verse: And which is more – you’ll be more like Nelson Mandela my daughter, my son.
Mandela was prepared to listen to the dreams, hopes and aspirations of those on the margins of society, and although exalted, almost taking on omnipotent qualities and immortalised as a saint, he simply saw himself as a servant called to dedicate his rare and gifted personality with unwavering devotion in the service of his country.
As the founding father of a democratic, South Africa he saved us all from the horrors of apartheid and fashioned a nation from the ruins of white minority rule.
In scripture and in many cultural traditions, a river symbolises a crossing, a time of transition, a time of ritual cleansing or purification, a time when one moves from one phase of life to the next, a time in which something new or dramatic happens.
Friends, this CAN become such a time when we as a people rise to the challenge of allowing Tata Mandela’s memory to be woven into every facet of our lives, our nation and our world.
At the Jordan, the seasoned prophet took his MANTLE, a SYMBOL of prophetic authority, wrapped it around his arm and smote the waters. It divided, and he and Elisha crossed on dry ground. This is reminiscent of Moses who reached out for his staff, a symbol of authority, which divided the Red Sea through which the former slaves passed while their pursuers, the Egyptians and their war horses, were engulfed in the waters which closed behind them.
Moses had the Sea of Reeds to cross for the slaves in Egypt to discover their identity as the people of God.
Joshua had to cross the Jordan to bring the wandering desert people into the Promised Land.
Naaman, the mighty supreme commander of the Syrian army, had to go to the River Jordan to be healed of his leprosy.
John the Baptist as well at Jesus were at the River Jordan to start their ministry.
The Jordan was a place of miracles, a place of power, a place of anointing, and a place of great opportunity.
Today we have to cross our Jordan River to begin an era after Mandela; the weary labourer has been taken home to join Almighty God, Modimo, Nkulunkulu and the ancestors, he is no longer with us but belong to the ages.
Once on the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asked Elisha if there was anything he could do before his departure. Elisha, like Solomon, did not asked for fame, wealth, position or long life, but requested a DOUBLE PORTION of the prophet’s blessing. This was not a strange request and was one well understood amongst the Hebrew people and many cultures. The inheritance law promised that the oldest son and heir would be given a “double portion” of the father’s estate. Elisha’s request was nothing more than asking what the first born was entitled to. This was a clear indication that Elisha was willing to be the heir and to continue the legacy of Elijah.
Friends, during Elijah’s dramatic departure his MANTEL FELL.
Mandela’s mantel has fallen and is within reach of everyone in this generation. After all, is it not this generation who has travelled with this great prophet, statesman and gentle spirit? Have we not breathed the same air he breathed? While others will only read of him in years to come, we are heirs – sons and daughters of the Mandela generation. We are his progeny and harbingers of hope for the future. We have been endowed with a rare privilege to take his legacy further. His MANTLE is in our hands. What will we do with it?
Two things are important in that the mantle IS NOT PASSED ON but DROPPED.
Elisha made a conscious DECISION to pick it up as a symbol of responsibility, service and sacrifice. Even during a time of sorrow when his tears flowed copiously, he tore his clothes as emblematic of his grief, but he did not sit down in despair, in inconsolable or disconsolate grief, but PICKED UP the mantle.
Later Elisha calls out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”
The God that demonstrated the mighty deeds of liberation in the history of Israel.
The God that guided and inspired Elijah and the prophets.
The God that destroyed the mighty prophets of Baal.
The God of Elijah that was not in the rain or the storm, the high winds, the earthquake or the fire but that came to Elijah in a still small voice.
Today some might cry out, “Where is the God of Mandela?”
The God that guided and kept his moral compass in sync.
The God that gave him the indomitable spirit to work for reconciliation, restoration and justice.
The God that made him earn the personal trust of South African and global leaders alike.
The God that helped him usher in the “rainbow nation.”
It is not enough to have the mantle in your hands. It is not enough for you to be a family member or a member of the national executive of the ANC. It is not enough to be an official in government to continue the legacy of this great man. No, WE have the mantle too and CAN and MUST participate in this legacy of excellent, dedicated service to all God’s people.
We must seek this God again who led and inspired Elijah, Elisha, the prophets, the saints throughout the ages and Tata Mandela. Let us remember that God is as near to us as our next breath.
Today, God urges us to pick up the mantle, for when we do so, we will honour the spirit of Mandela. When we do so, we will not just be a passive observer to inequality and injustice. When we pick up the mantle we say that we are committed to work for global justice and peace. When we pick up the mantle, we say we are willing to pay the price and sacrifice…the future is in our hands.
Furthermore, like Elisha, we must strike the water and take action to see how a double portion of the legacy will be manifest. When Elisha struck the water he experienced the power of God…we are told that the waters parted in the same way that it parted when Elijah was around.
Elijah was no longer present, but now it was the God of Elijah who promised never to leave or forsake us. Mandela is not physically present but in spirit he will always be with us to inspire us to face the challenges with a double portion of his blessing. Through his vision he will guide and accompany us in our work for justice and peace.
Elijah was credited with performing 16 miracles while Elisha performed double, 32. The mantle is within our reach, and God promises that through God’s power and Spirit we can do way more than we can think or imagine. As the generation after Mandela, I pray that we will offer ourselves in total commitment to see that all God’s children reap the fruits of the seeds that he has sown.
Scripture says; “Do not get weary of doing good, for in the proper time we will reap the harvest if we don’t give up.” (Gal 6:9) We need to redouble our effort and work hard to eliminate the legacy of inequality that still haunts us twenty years after democracy. We can’t grow weary as we work to rid our country from the blight of poverty that is still visible on the septic fringes of all our major cities and rural communities. If we wish to make Mandela’s dream a reality, all people in our country need a fresh commitment to promote social cohesion, nation building and healing.
The only way we can honour Mandela is to pick up the mantle of selfless service and sacrifice…it is now within our hands…the future belongs to us, let us serve it well.
G.K Chesterton, British philosopher, theologian and writer reminds us that there is something more to life beyond this world as we know it, and if we wish to honour tradition, “it means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” It is for this reason that those in the Christian tradition recite the Creeds Sunday after Sunday; “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come.”
We live in the assurance of life beyond death.
Today, we are gathered together because Madiba has died. As he made his way home to his maker, I pray that he experienced God’s promise in the words of the prophet Isaiah; “The Mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13)
Someday the journey of every person gathered here will also end. Every single one of us will someday, like Madiba, be united with our ancestors and Creator. The Palmist asks; “Who shall stand and ascend to the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands, and a pure heart; who does not lift up his soul in vanity, and does not swear deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Ps24:3). So may it be!
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord for they rest from their labour and their deeds will follow them!” (see Xhosa translation)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, servant of almighty God we salute you.
Hamba Kahle, Tata Mandela!
Sleep well in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection!