Resurrection hope

Resurrection hope

April 20, 2014  |  Resurrection Sunday  |  Comments Off

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:12

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An Easter Prayer of Promise

I live each day to kill death;
I die each day to beget life,
and in this dying unto death,
I die a thousand times and am reborn another thousand through that love …,
which nourishes hope!

Julia Esquivel, Guatemala

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To trust in the Resurrection is the most radical of HOPE-HOLDING.  It is to hold onto hope regardless of anything and everything.  It is to hold onto hope even when all is dead and buried.  It is to hold onto hope when there is no hope left to hold….but to do so in any case.

I invite you to Meditate on the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves’ poem What is Hope?

What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…
The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness…
Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

With the HOPE that we will live with the love of what we will never see.

Grace, Alan

Wisdom

Wisdom

April 18, 2014  |  Good Friday  |  Comments Off

Where love finds its perfect form … cross-shaped love

I thought of Jesus on the Cross when I read the following from Ben Okri’s amazing novel called Starbook.  He is writing about an elder among a secret tribe of artists.  He speaks of the wisdom this elder had received.  A wisdom so powerfully embodied in Jesus:

From the ancestors he received signs that things must decompose if they are to give birth to immortal fruits of time. From the hidden masters of the tribe he learnt that evil must triumph for a season if an even greater good that will change the world is to come into being; that good, in its gentleness, needs its true character and resolve tested, primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil; only then will good have the moral force, and the great integrity, and the deep certainty, and the boundless power to step forth and overcome evil and transform the world into the reality of a higher vision.
From the oracles he learnt that only one who is not fit to be a suitor can possibly win the hand of his daughter, only one whom no one notices can truly rule, only one who is unofficial can be truly official, only the lowly can be on high. Also, from the oracles he learnt that an unlikely contest will decide all things; and that the future is a dark hole beyond which, in time, a great kingdom of unimaginable splendour will be found. Through sorrow and pain, all will be well. All things will be transfigured. All will be redeemed. A joy beyond description will crown all stories. These things the oracles told. The maiden’s father was comforted, and acted with perfect tranquillity. He ignored the rumours and set about a long-term plan; for he was a man who always regarded present problems as excuses for long-term vision and preparation.
He was thinking now of the future of the tribe, beyond the time of its disappearance. He began preparations for its rebirth out of the decomposition of its present state, a life after the death of a tribe.
… Only those who have accepted the death of their people can dream so clearly so miraculous a future. Only one who has accepted death can see so clearly that impossible things can be done beyond the limits that are there.”

May we trust “that good is primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil” rather than the norm of retaliating in order to protect the good.

Grace, Alan

Queers of Africa

Queers of Africa

April 15, 2014  |  Latest News  |  Comments Off

On Tuesday 15 April 2014 another yellow banner in protest against injustice – this time in solidarity with those persecuted for their sexual orientation – was raised by friends of David Olyn as well as a representative of the Triangle Project.

The banner reads:

To all the Queers of Africa:
Thus says the LORD:
“I love you as you are.”

From Ugandan Queers to David Olyn
murdered for being a “moffie”.
22 March 2014

Christians and Pagans

Christians and Pagans

April 13, 2014  |  Palm Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off
Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.
[Ted Loder]

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In preparation for Holy Week I have been re-reading some works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German Lutheran pastor who stood fearlessly against Nazi rule. He was jailed and finally executed on 9th April 1945 at the age of 39 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered.

I trust his words about the Cross for two reasons: First, not only did he write about the Cross but he carried his own cross. The cross that is the consequence of a radical faithfulness to the ways of Jesus. Second, because his entire understanding of faith and life and God was shaped by his primary understanding of God as the Crucified LORD…

ON PEACE …

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

ON SUFFERING …

“It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own, personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through the engagement of one’s physical being than through the Spirit. Christ Suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and soul, and likewise subsequently many Christians along with him.”

MORE WORDS ON SUFFERING …

“There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.”

CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS …

  1. “People go to God in their need, for help, happiness and bread they plead for deliverance from sickness, guilt and death. Thus do they all, Christians and pagans.”
  2. “People go to God in God’s need, find God poor, reviled, with neither shelter nor bread, see God entangled in sin, weakness, and death. Christians stand by God in God’s suffering.”
  3. “God comes to all human beings in need, sates them body and soul with His bread, dies the death of the cross for Christians and pagans and forgives them both.”

“Christians stand by God in God’s suffering” — this is a Christian’s distinguishing character. This is what Holy Week teaches us to do. See you in the week.

 Grace, Alan

Believing the right way

Believing the right way

April 6, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]

Denials and Taboos

Denials and Taboos

March 30, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off

The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.

Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.

Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.

 

LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

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I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.

This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:

“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.

My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”

Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.

Grace, Alan

Radical hospitality

Radical hospitality

March 23, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off

Prime Circle ~ 28 March at 20:00 ~ CMM Sanctuary

Last Sunday evening we once again hosted Moonlightmass cyclists, and skateboarders. What I mean by host is that we welcome Moonlightmass participants, completing their ride from Green Point Stadium zigzagging through the city to Greenmarket Square, into the sanctuary for free cup cakes and if they wish they can purchase coffee too.

On Sunday evening we added the gift of live Jazz — performed by Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink (who by the way will soon be introducing Midweek Mix at CMM on Wednesday evenings, including a Jazz Mix of the likes of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Sondheim and a Classical Mix of the likes of Debussy, Faure, Bizet and Puccini).

This coming Friday 28th the band Prime Circle will be putting on an acoustic show in the likes of the Just Jinger show we hosted a couple of months back. So why are we doing this? Well as I read the Gospels I see that Jesus met people where they were at Jesus met people in the ordinariness of their life — some were fishing, others were drawing water from a well while others were attending a wedding. Jesus broke down the false divide that exists between the sacred and the secular and so should we.

Jesus invited people into his presence and into the synagogue and temple who were not normally part of the guest list and so should we.

Jesus invites us to love our neighbour and with that goes loving our neighbourhood. One way of loving our neighbourhood is to join in when our neighbourhood does stuff — especially the stuff that gets us out of our private individualistic lives and moves us to bump into each other.

Lastly, many, many people outside the Church believe the church to be exclusive, judgemental and hypocritical. And we must confess that these judgements are not without substance. We have a long way to go to heal the damage of exclusive and judgemental religion. By inviting people on their own terms into the sanctuary they may discover a hint of Jesus’ radical hospitality among us. Well this is my hope and may it be our prayer.

Grace, Alan

The Uriah Challenge

The Uriah Challenge

March 16, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off

Lenten Prayer of Preparation
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.

 ~ Ted Loder

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Once again my Wednesday morning bible study with some of the interns at the Carpenter’s Shop was a mixture of disheartening despair and encourage-ing hope. Let me explain.

We read together the story of David and Bathsheba — you remember when David commits not only adultery but rape of Bathsheba — resulting in her pregnancy. David then tries to cover it all up by inviting her husband Uriah back from the battlefield with the hope that Uriah will “lie with her” so no one would know who the real father of her child was. Uriah refuses to indulge in any pleasure and choosing rather to remain in solidarity with his battle weary troops he sleeps outside. David then instructs Joab — a military general — to place Uriah at the front of the fiercest fighting and then withdraw leaving him exposed to the enemy. Joab follows David’s orders and Uriah is killed.

There are four characters in this story — David the king who abuses his power. Bathsheba the victim of abuse. Uriah the noble one and Joab who just followed orders without a question.

I then asked the group to think of times when they could identify with each of these characters. This started a lively discussion with a small group of the young men answering almost in unison:

“Ya when I have a gun and when I have money then I am like David, and I take what I want — even someone’s life.”

“When the guys arrive outside my place in a car and tell me to get in because they want to go and rob a place or kill someone and I don’t want to get in but I have no choice … then I am like Bathsheba.”

“When someone says lets smoke a lolly and I say no because I want to stay off drugs — then I am like Uriah.”

“When they say to me I must take the gun and kill that one to prove myself to them or when they tell me I must take the blame for a crime because I have less on my record … then I am like Joab.”

When I hear these responses I can’t believe how painfully different some people’s life-reality is to mine. I am reminded what a sheltered and privileged life I live.

I also stand in awe at their courage to be more like Uriah knowing even that it may cost their life.

Grace, Alan

Let something essential happen

Let something essential happen

March 9, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off

 “Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been ploughed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use … time spent is not work time yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space – for wilderness and public space – must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”

Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust: A History of Walking

This LENT let’s spend time wandering in the meadowlands of the imagination.

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Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

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On Thursday I presented a class to a group of Master’s students at UCT. I am guessing most of the students in the class were around 25 years old. I really enjoyed being in their energetic company and stimulating environment! Education really is a precious gift.

So I asked them where they saw themselves on the socio-economic class – upper class, middle class or lower class. Everyone said they fitted into the middle class.

Then I asked them if I wanted them to come and work for me after they graduate what would they be willing to work for. “Anyone willing to work for R10 000 p.m.?” There was no one willing to work for that sum. There was one person willing to work for R15 000 and only a handful willing to work for R20 000, but most were still hoping for more.

The trap was laid. (I felt like a certain advocate …)

Then I informed them that only about 10% of South Africans earn more than R10 000 p.m. So earning anything above R10 000 p.m. immediately places one in the top 10%. And there is nothing “middle class” about the top 10%.

I also grew up believing I was middle class – yet I too am well into the top 10%. In fact with my education, housing, secure job, car etc. I am probably knocking on the door of the top 1%. Just like the UCT students I struggle to confess the truth of my financial life: “Hi my name is Alan, and I am RICH.” But only when I confess the truth of who I am can I begin to have a more honest relationship with my money and a more generous relationship with those around me.

Secondly, only when I realise that I am on the top and not in the middle can I perhaps re-channel my energy from trying to reach the top (because I am there already) to making the system more just and compassionate for all.

Thirdly, only then may I be convicted and convinced that I can live with less myself – because after all so many others live with less than I do. When I am liberated to live with less I may be healed of my anxiety that comes with thinking I always need more.

May this be our experience this LENT.

Grace, Alan

Money, money, money

Money, money, money

March 2, 2014  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off

Heaven Coffee

If you buy coffee in HEAVEN you get to decide the price.

It has been great to see people’s response
to this new method of payment.
Disbelief, followed by laughter,
followed by generously paying more :)!

 

This letter is a continuation from last week’s letter on money – see post below.

Nowhere are we told in Scripture that money is inherently evil or that the possession of money as such is a sin, but if we are going to live life with Jesus at the centre we should note that the overwhelming number of times that he spoke about money he did so with a warning tag attached.

In what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus quotes from the book of Proverbs which steers through the dangers that having either too much or too little money can cause:

“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

How many of us pray not to be rich?

Money can be a wonderful gift when it is seen as a means and not an end in itself and when it is used to glorify God by serving those in need and caring for the wellbeing of all of creation (as we see in the story of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:35 and the way some well-to-do women supported Jesus and his disciples – Luke 8:3). But according to Jesus it is potentially a very dangerous gift that needs to be handled with care. In fact according to Scripture even the desire to be rich traps one in ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9), while the love of money “is the root of all kinds of evil”, (1 Timothy 6:10). “[Paul] does not mean in a literal sense that money produces all evils. He means that there is no kind of evil the person who loves money will not do to get it and hold onto it. All restraint is moved; the lover of money will do anything for it. And that is precisely its seductive character …” (Foster 1985, 1987:30). In fact James blamed killings and wars on the love of wealth (James 4:2). All this differs greatly from the prevalent cultural assumptions that say that money makes you free.

It is also in stark contrast to the widespread belief today that wealth is the sign of divine blessing. It must be asked: If Jesus considered money and wealth to be so dangerous why would he then go and give a great deal of it to people as a blessing? It seems as strange as a parent giving their child whom they love a box of matches to play with. This prosperity teaching is one of the most prevalent and damaging heresies of our time. Would-be believers are promised material blessings if only they give their life to Jesus. Poverty is therefore considered a sign of God’s disapproval, even a curse, but that which conversion will speedily remove. Within this false understanding the wealthy are simultaneously set free from feeling guilty and responsible for the growing inequality.

In short, Jesus taught that the more money one has the more difficult it would be to follow him and remain faithful to God. Jesus put it this way: “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24). Here Jesus turns upside-down the long held belief that wealth was the sure sign of God’s blessing for the present and insurance for the future. Jesus’ audience, both then and now, is left shocked by his words. No wonder we read in the next verse, “When the disciples heard this, they were astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).

It also turns upside-down the widely accepted definition of success in today’s world – that more is good and most is best. No wonder we struggle to hear it and try and rationalise that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said or say what he meant.

Jesus responded to his astounded disciples saying, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26). We see the impossible becoming possible in the life of Zacchaeus who we read “was rich” (Luke 19:2) and who in the presence of Jesus was set free to give his money away (Luke 19:8). With Jesus, Zacchaeus was enabled to restore his money-damaged relationships, especially with the poor.

Put plainly, money is dangerous and when it comes to managing money human beings need all the help we can get from God. We need God’s help to be faithful in how we earn money, share money, save money, spend money and even think about money. We need God’s help to be able to keep saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ call to follow him regardless of what the bank manager in our head is saying.

Grace, Alan