Independence is an illusion

Independence is an illusion

February 3, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Independence is an illusion

This vine grows inside the prison courtyard on Robben Island — offering shade, fruit and hope.

This Harvest Festival we pray for farm workers.

 

Last week we witnessed Paul’s prophetic plagiarism — taking an accepted social theory of his day and turning it on its head. Instead of using the human body as an analogy for the State to protect and promote inequality, as many of the Greek philosophers before him had done, Paul used it to reveal the innate equality and interdependence of all.

Paul reminds us that a body is made up of diverse yet unified parts. To have one without the other is to result in death. The body only works because of its diverse parts all working together for the good of the one body. For the hand to say that it only wants to associate with other hands — that it does not want to be associated with the eye for example is very shortsighted 🙂 Similarly for one group of people to only want to stick together with those who share some common feature is equally shortsighted. Or, for the hand to say I want to be on my own and have nothing to do with any other part would result in its own demise. Independence is an illusion — we are not separate — we are one.

This means to cut someone out of our life is self-mutilation and to kill another is suicide. For when one part of the body suffers (read: another person) then all suffer (read: all people).

In the little book written in the 1970s by Martin Bell, entitled The Way of the Wolf, a little boy is able to hear the wind talking. The wind tells the boy:

Anything that hurts anyone hurts you. Anything that helps anyone helps you. It is not possible to gain from another’s loss or to lose from another’s gain. Your life is immensely important.

Spoken by the wind. Paul would say they were spoken by the Spirit — God’s wind of love — reminding us who we really are — we are one in all our rich diversity.

Grace, Alan

Where have you given your heart?

Where have you given your heart?

January 27, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Where have you given your heart?

Ask not what you must do to keep God on your side, but rather ask what God has done to keep on your side.

It may surprise you but the Bible is not really concerned about atheism. Meaning it does not waste too much print in convincing people that there is a God that we should believe in. It takes God’s existence as a given.

The Bible is far more concerned about idolatry — the belief in false gods — and as such it uses an enormous amount of print on helping us to see the real nature of God. Remember in the Garden of Eden the sneaky snake did not try and convince Adam and Eve to doubt whether there was a God or not. Rather the temptation revolved around the nature of God, which in effect was saying: “Do you really trust that God loves you? Really? I think not! God is denying you freedom and knowledge. You need to look after yourself. Take, eat and become like God yourself.” [A sneaky paraphrase].

Granted we don’t carve out little statues to bow down to anymore (although TVs do come to mind) but all too many of us bow down to what the dominant culture has determined to be of greatest value. And what is that when all is said and done? Money. The dominant culture — world over — says millions of times per day in millions of different ways that “you are nothing without money”. Money is the god above all gods — because with it we can acquire all the others — happiness, acceptance, success, validation, security, freedom, health and control (just to name a few). Now these are not necessarily bad at all — but when they become our ultimate concern we make them into an idol — and idols always, always demand sacrifice — and this leads to so much destruction and death in the world.

Now here is the really crazy thing. We can even end up praying to Jesus to help us to worship these other gods. In fact there are churches who exist and grow purely on the promise that if we pray just right (and contribute just enough) then Jesus will bless us with more and more money. As if Jesus were interested in helping us to worship another god. At the end of the day our “God” is whatever we place our ultimate trust in and what we have given our heart to. And even atheists have given their hearts to something — so this makes us all believers. The question is not whether we believe or not — but rather what we believe.

So, what is your God like?

Fierce or friendly? Merciful or judgemental? Generous or stingy? Inclusive or exclusive? For all or just for some? Nationalistic or universal?

These are worthy questions to wrestle with. In fact, the Bible is filled with people who wrestle with God. Remember Jacob — he refused to stop wrestling until he grew in understanding of who God is. And he was subsequently re-named Israel. We are all called to be Israel — ”God Wrestlers”.

The invitation of Jesus is to trust that what he says and does represents God’s nature and so we are invited to wrestle with him. To refuse to let go until we grow in understanding.

Wrestling takes effort and energy. It also takes rest and reflection between rounds, not to mention fitness and technique training. What does your training programme look like? How much time per day/per week does it take? What exercises does it include? Have you got a training partner(s)?

As we train, question and wrestle, may we be set free from fear to confess our idolatry even (or especially) if our worship of Jesus has turned into a means to worship idols itself.

There really is no more exciting question to carry than to ask ourselves: “What is my God like?” “Where have I given my heart?”

Grace, Alan

Magi Curiosity & Courage

Magi Curiosity & Courage

January 20, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Magi Curiosity & Courage

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It is Martin Bacchus from CMM all dressed up during the last Moonlight Mass cycle ride.
Moonlight Mass is a fun cycle ride each month during full moon.
The ride ends on Greenmarket Square and cyclists are invited into the sanctuary (with their bikes) for coffee and free cupcakes.
The next ride is Sunday 27th at 9 p.m. All welcome.

Two weeks ago we reflected on the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. Propelled with curiosity they followed the night star until they came to Jesus. Then courageously they refused to return to King Herod and in doing so they saved Jesus from a certain early death. We noted that before the Saviour of the world saves us — he himself is saved and instead of being obsessed with being saved by Jesus we should spend our energy on saving him. We “save him” by protecting the vulnerable, marginalised and oppressed.

The two qualities of the Magi that standout for me are their curiosity and their courage.

We are taught rather negatively that “curiosity killed the cat”, but curiosity also invented life-saving medicines and explored far-flung galaxies. The Magi were curious. They not only carried gold, frankincense and myrrh but they carried questions. Questions about the mystery of being and the meaning thereof. Questions about life and the giver of life and their life and the way to live life. The Magi were a curious and questioning people and we are called to be like them. Jesus has often been referred to as “the answer” but he also comes among us as “the question”. In relation to Jesus we are invited to curiously question the nature of the Divine as well as our own humanity, not to mention the beautiful majesty of creation.

The Magi also inspire us to be courageous. They risked their lives and future well-being to protect Jesus who lay exposed and vulnerable to Herod’s cruelty.

What a journey 2013 will be if we ask God to fill us with questions that make us curious about Jesus and courage to risk our reputations and lives to protect the vulnerable.

Make us curious and courageous Lord — for your sake, Amen.

Grace, Alan

PS: Remember Covenant Preparation on 23 and 24 January – see invitation below.

The most dangerous prayer

January 16, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The most dangerous prayer

Remember that “…Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both… Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.”

Because Jesus longs for us to be of service, I invite you to join me for two evening discussions to deepen our sense of belonging at CMM as well as to prepare us to renew our Covenant relationship with God on Sunday 27 January.

7 p.m. on 23 January: Jesus’ Invitation
7 p.m. on 24 January: Jesus’ Dream

This may give us the courage to pray the most dangerous prayer we will ever pray … and the most fulfilling!

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Be courageous! Alan

Gratitude and Faithfulness

Gratitude and Faithfulness

January 13, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gratitude and Faithfulness

A car crash. A moment of Gospel-witness by those involved.
The one responsible came across and immediately owned up —
apologising and taking responsibility while the injured innocent one
offered him his forgiveness: “It’s all okay — these
things happen — relax and take a seat and have some water”.

 

Last Monday afternoon I was driving along Boyes Drive to my parents’ home. Just past where the Shark Spotters for Muizenberg beach sit and stare at scary shadows in the water, I heard an almighty crash. In the fraction of a second that these things happened, I remember thinking that the noise was so loud that I thought someone had crashed into me — yet I was surprised that my car continued smoothly forward. Simultaneously I saw in my rearview mirror that the car behind me had spun across the road having been hit by the oncoming car that had passed me a split second earlier. What had happened was that the oncoming car had drifted across the center line and hit the car behind me head-on. The car following me was only about 20m behind me — so had he drifted across the road a 100th of a second earlier it would have been me. All this on a perfectly clear and sunny afternoon.

I have shared this story with a couple of people yet the following response by some disturbed me: “Oh Alan — see how the Lord was looking after you”. My immediate reply is: “Well if that is so — then why wasn’t God looking after the person driving behind me? In fact why didn’t God keep the person alert enough in the oncoming car to prevent him from crossing the center line in the first place?”

Now don’t get me wrong. Am I thankful to God that it was not me that was crashed into? Absolutely. Does it mean that God loves me more than the person driving behind me? Absolutely NOT! You see God does not discriminate and none of us have done anything to deserve increased love and Godly favour. Life is vulnerable by its nature — this is part of what makes life so precious. We are not robots who have our every move (or drive) controlled by God. We are created with freedom to drive as we will — thoughtfully or recklessly. And sadly, thoughtfulness is not a guaranteed protection against recklessness. But the Gospel reminds us that whether we have been crashed into or not, God’s love and presence is permanent and herein lies our deepest safety and protection — that of our relationship with God, the Giver of Life — in this life and the next — is forever secure. To grow in this trust is to be given the gift of peace and to be set free from the fear we have for our personal safety that for so many of us is our ultimate priority which is in fact a false god.

Yet moments like these remind us of the precious gift of life we are invited to live with gratitude and faithfulness.

Peace, Alan

PS: Remember Covenant Preparation on 23 January (Jesus’ Invitation) and 24 January (Jesus’ Dream) at 19:00 in the sanctuary – see post of 1 January 2013 for more info.

Risk delight

December 25, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Risk delight

Have mercy on us O God. We are a forgetful people. We forget what it was like when others hemmed us in — behind and before with a wall of violent oppression topped with the razor wire of bigotry. So we do to others as they have done to us. There used to be a Wall that ran through Berlin now another Wall runs through Bethlehem. Heal us of our amnesia and bring down the walls of division in our day. Amen.

 

This poem below by Jack Gilbert defends the right to delight in a world saturated with suffering and division. I share it with you because Christmas is God’s invitation for us to delight…

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Forget all the pictures you have seen of Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus painted in serene holiness. This modern day picture from Palestine is probably much closer to the truth of their experience.

Pray for the children like Jesus who see too much
too soon!

 

Mary courageously consented …

Consent

Denise Levertov

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
Spirit,
suspended,
waiting.

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Source: “Annunciation” in Breathing the Water

Bring Jesus Joy

Bring Jesus Joy

December 23, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Bring Jesus Joy

As we enter the last week of Advent we remind ourselves of how it all began. Four weeks ago we celebrated the beginning of a New Year. The New Year of the Christian Calendar is very different to the New Year of January 1st. Instead of making a list of resolutions based on our good intentions – Advent invites us to practically and prayerfully prepare for the coming of Royalty into our midst.

The question we need to ask is: How do we make room for Jesus in our life and world? To wrestle with this question is how we start a truly New Year. It is a question that is not focused on ourselves but on Jesus. Yet, to answer it we need to have some insight into what brings Jesus joy.

And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to Jesus… (Luke 21:38)

In his own words Jesus called those who recognise their need for God and who feel the grief of their neighbours as blessed. He rejoiced in those who hunger for justice and practice mercy while praying for the light of the Holy One to make their own hearts pure. Jesus claimed the peacemakers as his family. To focus practically on these things will go a long way in preparing for Jesus’ presence among us, but not all the way.

We are called to underpin our practical preparations with prayer. To pray is to recognise our limits – it is to recognise that we do not have what it takes and that we need help from beyond ourselves to make room for Jesus.

May the next few days begin early in the morning in prayerful listening to Jesus.

Jesus is coming, Alan

Make room for Jesus

Make room for Jesus

December 16, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Make room for Jesus
The first solar bulbs installed in Cape Town by Touching the Earth Lightly and Liter of Light Foundation. Take a 2 liter empty plastic Coke bottle, fill it with water and a bit of bleach to prevent algae growing, cut a hole in your tin roof, whack in the bottle and jam in some silicon glue around the sides, and – BAM! – you’ve just built your own solar roof light. Visit www.wakawakalight.com for more information.

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Advent invites us to practically and prayerfully prepare room for Jesus in our lives and world. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are given such a beautiful example of prayerful preparation.

He begins the book with these words:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:3-6

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:4-9

Paul invites us to pray for one another in joyful gratitude for each other and with bold hope in Jesus. I pray that you wade into the depths of these prayerful words in your own prayers.

Peace, Alan

Occupy Church Street

December 9, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Occupy Church Street

Toronto’s Walk A Mile in Her Shoes March
to end violence against women

Today we “occupy” Church Street in the most Jesus-like way! We set out a banquet table with an abundance of food to share with the hungry and homeless of this city. Those who are forever told to “move along” will be invited, welcomed and served. It is probably as close as we will ever get to truly sharing Holy Communion. Lord help us to do so with reverence for each other.

And here is the thing — those of us preparing and serving are the really fortunate ones — far more so than those receiving the meal. We are fortunate for the incredible privilege to serve. If we think our service is a “sacrifice” we still have not understood what it means to live life centred around Jesus. Service is a privilege not a sacrifice because we are all born in the image of a Serving God and therefore to serve is to be who we are originally designed to be. To serve is to speak in our mother tongue — though sadly many of us have not learnt to speak it fluently.

It is a privilege not only because we have an opportunity to live out our Godly design, but also because we get to serve Jesus in our midst. Jesus who comes to us hidden in the swollen face and torn feet of the vulnerable. If the Gospels are to be believed we are more likely to meet Jesus out on Church Street than inside this church building.

It is a privilege to live out the teachings of Jesus who told us that when we throw a party we should invite the blind, crippled, deaf and lame. Jesus also instructed us to be sure to invite people who would never be able to return the favour.

Today is not a “once off” event. It is the culmination of a consistency of service shown throughout the year by a dedicated group of people who have provided a meal and an affirming grace for the vulnerable of the city every Sunday lunch time. Thank you for your witness. Alan

The Situation in Khayelitsha

Despite declines nationally in key crime indicators, Khayelitsha has seen an increase in the number of murders, attempted murders and sexual assaults over the past four years. Between April 2011 and March 2012 there were 360 murders in Khayelitsha. During the same period, there were 648 sexual offences. Complaints by organisations prompted the National Police Commissioner to commission a task team to investigate the efficiency of policing in Khayelitsha. The report revealed that the community police forums in Khayelitsha are not operating effectively. At Khayelitsha Police Station, only one vehicle and one officer are assigned to each sector for visible policing; suspects are often held for more than 48 hours without charge – a severe violation of people’s constitutional rights; and police officers also often fail to take witness statements, resulting in cases being thrown out of court.

Given the lack of trust in the police to provide safety and security, some Khayelitsha residents have taken the law into their own hands, resulting in an explosion of vigilante killings – according to the SAPS, 78 such killings were reported between April 2011 and June 2012 in Khayelitsha. Residents explain that because police and the courts are failing their communities, people are taking the law into their own hands to ensure that justice is done. More recently we have witnessed brutal warfare between rival gangs of schoolchildren, resulting in the deaths of a number of young learners and many children not going to school fearful of being caught in the violence.

GOING FORWARD On 13 December 2012, the first hearings will be held in the Cape Town High Court to determine if the SAPS interdict application will be successful. In the build-up to the hearing we will be actively campaigning to raise awareness of the Commission of Inquiry.

There will be a gathering outside the High Court at 10 a.m. on 13 December 2012.

Do time differently

Do time differently

December 2, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Do time differently

Happy New Year — yes it is that time of year again — Advent. Today is the first day of the new year according to the Christian calendar. The Christ-ian Calendar is centered around Christ — his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension and reign — that invites us to “do time differently”. To live according to a different time — God’s time revealed in Jesus. Having just returned from a short trip overseas I know what is it like to live according to a different “time zone”. When everyone is asleep I am wide awake and vice versa! It is not easy to be “at odds” with local time — and yet that is the consequence of following Jesus — or as he said: “be in the world but not of the world”.

Instead of speaking about New Year Resolutions we speak of Advent Repentances. Repentance means to turn around to face God again. The purpose is to ready ourselves to receive the coming of Jesus into the world. To be alert and watchful for his coming because we know that Jesus comes in the most unlikely ways and to the most unlikely places — a stable instead of a palace. During Advent we repent — we change. We look inside ourselves and ask what of us Jesus longs to touch and heal and cut out or add in. We look at our families and ask which relationships Jesus longs to transform. We look at our communities and ask where there is a hunger for justice and a thirst for fairness. And in these four weeks of Advent we make the commitment to fast and pray — to reflect and act on these areas of our living — so that when Christmas is celebrated the Christ child finds room in our lives and world.

If we knew that Royalty was coming for a visit on 25 December to our home, business, church, city, etc., surely we would not be sitting around idly? We would have a sense of urgency and excitement about us. We would make preparations. We would change. We would repent.

Strength for your Advent preparations, Alan