In the midst of the challenges bedeviling South Africa, anti-apartheid activist, academic and cleric, Rev Prof Allan Boesak, has urged the church in South Africa to invest in and look with hope to the future.

Prof Boesak was preaching to the SMMS community in a service to mark the end of the seminary’s commemoration of 500 Years of the Reformation, on 6 August.

Reflecting on the passage in which the prophet Jeremiah buys a piece of land in the midst of a raging war, when Judah is besieged by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 32), Prof Boesak said the prophet is acutely aware that beyond the war, there is going to be a future in which houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought.

“God tells Jeremiah that the city will be totally destroyed. The people will suffer. The king will be led away to exile. But Jeremiah must go and buy the land properly, according to the law. God lets Jeremiah understand that he is not just buying the land but is buying into the future that he does not as yet see, a future that he cannot conceive but must believe that it will come to pass,” Prof Boesak said.

He said South Africa is technically at war and many forces want us to believe that it is a war that we cannot win, but no matter how difficult things might be, there is a future to look forward to.

“When only a few years after the struggle our people begin to ask whether their sacrifices and all the years of the struggle were in vain, and if they have to wonder whether our reconciliation process was a fraud or just playing political pietism, you must know that there is a war. When the gap between the rich and the poor today is greater than it ever was in the days of apartheid, we ought to know that there is a war. When the LGBTI find the courts against them despite our constitution, find the church against them despite our professed love for Jesus, because we think we know better than Jesus, because we want to sit on God’s throne of judgement over people God made in God’s image, and we target them, hunt them down, rape and murder them in the name of a terrifyingly homophobic Jesus, know that there is a war going on.

“Jeremiah is saying to South Africa, ‘I know there is a war going on but do not give up. Do not despair for there is a future. Go out and buy that land for there is a future. It doesn’t matter how dark it looks right now, there is a future. It doesn’t matter that it seems as if our future has been stolen by our own people and sold to the first person with money. Maybe the future is not the kind we believed in during the struggle, but there is a different kind of future. We have to take it, shape it and believe in it,’” he said.

Prof Boesak challenged the seminarians to go out and ‘buy that land and believe in that future’ like the youth of 1976 who put their lives on the line to invest in a future they did not know about.

He said, “The students of 1976 stood up and gave the struggle a new life. They took the struggle out of the darkness of silence, when nobody was able to say a word, when most of us ran away to hide underground. They did not know if they would come back alive. They had no guarantee that they would survive. Yet they marched facing police dogs, guns, tear gas, torture and death, because they believed in the future. They were not afraid to go out and buy a future; not for themselves but for us and our children and their children.”

Prof Boesak expressed sorrow that the future that the 1976 students invested in with their lives, seems to have been sold off at a bargain price, and called on the church to go out and buy that future again, even if it is with blood.

“God says go out and buy that land right now; take your witnesses with you, sign your name, even if it means with blood, because there are generations to come who must claim that land for themselves. The struggle for justice and prophetic resistance is not just for the long haul but there are costs involved and it demands sacrifices. You have to pay the price.”

He warned against being like Jesus’ disciples who lost hope when he was crucified: “When the Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus that night, they actually came to tell him that there is no future. When they bound him, mocked him, flogged him and nailed him to the cross, they were actually telling him it’s all over; there is no future. When he was crucified, the disciples were hiding because they thought there was no future and it was all over. But Jesus refused to believe that there was no future and appeared to them on Easter Sunday in a room where they were hiding.”

Prof Boesak applauded President Jacob Zuma for asking the church to pray for him, because, as he said, it is not every President who thinks they need prayer.

He said, “If he comes in the spirit of humility to ask for forgiveness for what he and his government have done to our country; if he is contrite about what happened at Marikana; if he is more worried about the future of our children than he is about his own future and if he comes and asks the church to pray for guidance and has the courage to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God, then we should pray earnestly, fervently and expectantly. But if he comes to the church to plead powerlessness and victimhood, then we must be very careful how we pray, what we pray for and who we pray to. Don’t knock on the doors of heaven in order for God to justify the pain of God’s children. ”

He said prayer is a powerful weapon and so we should not waste our prayers.

“Prayer is a powerful thing. In 1985 we prayed for the down fall of the apartheid government and by 1989, the walls were crumbling. By February 1990 the regime was saying everybody should be unbanned and on 11 February, Nelson Mandela was out of jail. That is because the church prayed,” Prof Boesak concluded.