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Bishop Stephen Diseko’s sermon at Bishop Patrick Djuulume’s Consecration

The sermon preached by the Right Revd Stephen Diseko, Dean of the Province and Bishop of Matlosane, at the Consecration of the Right Revd Patrick Djuulume, Bishop of Namibia, on 27 August 2022:

The Word of God as we commemorate the beheading of St John the Baptist, who was made to suffer, and eventually killed in a gruesome way for his fearless and uncompromising witness even before the powers of the world.

What I regard as my key verses from the gospel reading are 7 – 10 of chapter 12 in Matthew’s Gospel, “therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask, so she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “give me John the Baptist’s head here on the platter”. And the king was distressed/some say he was troubled; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he ordered it to be given to her.

This occurs in the context where king Herod Antipas, the son of king Herod the Great who once ordered the killing of boy infants in Bethlehem, was celebrating his birthday. He had invited dignitaries and high ranking persons to come join and celebrate with him at the banquet. Such parties, as one commentator puts it “were often characterized by drunkenness and debauchery”. Among his guests, were his wife Herodias whom he had taken from his half-brother Philip to be his wife, and his step daughter, Salome. And as you can expect, there was plenty of everything including booze, a great temptation to ignore or to resist, which of course may suggest that the king might have not been sober.

Remember that Herodias had an irreconcilable grudge against John for John had publicly condemned them both for their immoral marriage, and this was the very reason that landed John in prison. And that he was in prison, it was not punishment enough to please Herodias who actually wanted more pain and suffering inflicted on him.

During the course of the celebrations, Herod’s step daughter who happens to be Herodias daughter, made her way to the stage and danced to the pleasure of Herod who might have not been sober at that particular moment, who then stupidly and without thinking, committed himself under oath that whatever the girl would ask, would be granted. To that effect, the ask when it came along, was not a simple one for the daughter had gone to her mother and sought advice from her as to what to ask for from the king, and the advice was, ask for John’s head meaning, get the king to get John killed. A golden opportunity had presented itself to Herodias then gave a devastating and final blow to John.

We can confirm the following weaknesses or blunders committed;

  • We can confirm an element of lack of morals in Herod, how can you take your brother’s wife to make her yours.
  • We can confirm an element of weakness in him, and lack of firmness; he actually didn’t want to imprison John nor to kill him for fear that people might revolt against the killing of a Prophet, but also, it was against his will and his conscience, but because Herodias pressurized him, he conceded.
  • We can also confirm that Herod could not handle peer group pressure, we are told the two reasons why he could not avert the beheading of John, it was the promise he had made under oath to the girl, but again with all eyes on him, it was going to be a huge embarrassment for him not to fulfil the promise he had publicly made before his guests.
  • There is great suspicion that he might have not been sober and as we may be well aware, booze paralyses the ability to think properly and to apply your mind correctly, so, he might have not been in his right state of mind, he might have not been his real self as a result he compromised himself.

But then, one thing positive about this king was that, he was a man of his word, he honoured promises he made whether right or wrong. The beheading of John in prison was not what he actually wanted to do, but when he remembered the promise he had made, very much against his will he ordered his beheading.

Herod was king and a leader and had responsibility of leading and being a father to his subjects. But sadly we see him focusing more on pleasing his family, his friends and colleagues, and his people, ordinary men and women in the street are not in the picture, the impression painted here is that they have been left out in the periphery and the king had lost touch with them. A good leader is the one who will worry when not everybody is present. A good example here is Jesus the great shepherd, he left the 99 sheep and went back to the bush to make sure the missing sheep does come home as well.

A good leader is the one who will ensure that for the greater part of time he/she is sober as a judge, and does not get into making impulsive and dangerous decisions, and who does not recklessly commit him/herself. A good leader surrounds him/herself with honest, wise, sober minded and God-fearing men and women who will advise accordingly and pledge their support.

Bishop Patrick be aware that some people may want to get very close to you just so that they can control you, abuse and manipulate you, take advantage of your weaknesses and limitations and cause you to make serious mistakes, so “watch out” as the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would say.

Of course you do have your own strengths, skills and capabilities and God-given talents, don’t suppress or suffocate them do express yourself in your own unique way as you lead and shepherd God’s people in you Diocese.

I also need to mention that this country of the brave, is a country rich not only in mineral resources and fisheries, but she is also blessed and rich in human resources, and so is your diocese, rich in both houses of Clergy and the Laity. Do tap in in those human resources and utilize them for the growth of your Diocese and to the glory of God.

Trials and temptations are rife, and so are everyday challenges. Our source of strength is none other than God the father, none other than Jesus and none other than the Holy Spirit. In the words of the Psalmist, our God neither slumbers nor sleeps. If we trust in Him and hold on to Him, he will lead and guide us, and make us better leaders and better shepherds of his flock, his people, so do take God for your strength.

You are becoming a Bishop at a very difficult time in the life of the church, having been hit by the impact of Covid-19, the church is still reeling and struggling to regain herself. The revenue of the church has been affected in a very bad way. Churches and communities are hurting, and still in shock and pain having lost their loved ones and did not have much time to mourn and bid them proper farewell due to Covid-19 restrictions. Then there is ongoing injustice, corruption and scandal after scandal that are corroding and eroding our governments and institutions, and the church is not exempted from these crimes, there is a need for courageous and fearless leaders to raise up and become the voice of the voiceless, and to take action.

Then there is poverty, unemployment, suffering, deliberate abuse of women and children by irresponsible men and boys, high statistics of crime and theft in cities and towns, alarming use of drugs and abuse of alcohol by mostly young people, these are some of the issues needing a leader of John’s calibre to stand his/her ground and call a spade a spade.

And lastly, using Paul’s words, the universe is in pain and groaning due to human error. Climate change and global warming is so real we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye and do nothing. We are called to act and do something to prevent further damage to God’s creation before it is too late. If nothing is happening to address climate change, it is the leadership that must stand up and raise awareness in churches and communities so that something gets done.

As I end, let me highlight a few things to take home and perhaps to reflect on:

  • John’s attitude helps us to understand that the Word of God, the prophetic message should not be compromised, and one should be prepared to suffer for it, and worst scenario to be killed for it.
  • The Word of God should be employed to correct error, and to reprimand those who commit sin irrespective of their status in the society.
  • Bishop Patrick, be aware and be warned that your ministry will not be without challenges and distractions seeking to derail you from doing God’s work.
  • An important lesson to be learnt, refrain from committing yourself especially under dubious circumstances en nog slegter when you are not in the right structure of mind lest you compromise yourself and are then compelled to do things very much against your will and against your conscience.
  • Promises you make, make sure you honour them, avoid making reckless, senseless and dangerous promises, you can understand why it is so important to remain vigilant and sober-minded most of the time.
  • Lastly know that God has chosen you my brother, fear not as he will be with you as he did with Moses, Joshua and his disciples, believe and trust in him, he will walk with you all the way. May your ministry be blessed, and may God raise God-fearing and God-loving men and women who will be there for you, support you and together build the Kingdom of God in this Diocese.

Amen.

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