Be brave and trust in the word of God

Be brave and trust in the word of God

February 21, 2016  |  Second Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be brave and trust in the word of God

Held in the Spirit …

A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a youth retreat. After I was done preaching, I shared I would be outside at the picnic tables should anyone want to talk. I will never forget a young woman coming up to me and sharing that she had a secret she needed to share. She was dressed in black from head to toe and seemed to be hiding within the hoodie she was wearing. Her secret she told me was that she was being physically abused. She didn’t know what to do and she had been cutting her wrists, not to die, but in order that she might feel alive. She had lost the ability to feel her life she said. At least ten other young people shared their stories of pain and the reasons why they too were cutting themselves in order that they might feel alive.

The journey I went on with the youth at that retreat and the youth pastors that served them was one I never could have prepared for. It was painful, laborious, and held so utterly in response to the work of the Spirit that I was left feeling overwhelmed with a sense of certainty that holiness was in the ground. Now years later, I see that same young woman wearing pink, flowers even, and it makes me smile. She shares her story with others and has asked me to share it as well. Yet, underneath the surface of the colors she has allowed back in her life will always be the story of her pain that runs deep. She has learned to make friends with it, but it will always be there.

Trevor Hudson has shared that “everyone has a pool of tears.” There is such truth in these words. We all carry a hidden pain, insecurity, or a truth we hope for others never to know. During our first Wednesday in Lent, Alan spoke about the importance of confession. It is important to share our stories with others, to release some of the pain we carry in order that our brokenness does not become the gift we give to others. Yet, I want to challenge us all during this Lenten season to reflect on the holiness of sharing life together. Life together is a precious gift.

In order to be a confessing community, we have to understand the holiness that exists when someone shares with us. Are we a people who can hold a story and not breathe it into the wind for all the others in our circle to hear? Are we a people who witness the pain in others and hold it gently recognizing the fragility of their reality and the fragility of trust? Are we willing to be available? I must confess that I have always loved young people, but in small numbers. Had I known twenty of them would come to me that night, there is a strong possibility I might not have availed myself. Yet, I was blessed in a way that changed me that night. I can still catch the holiness of it in my breath.

When I think of confession, listening, and being real, those young people were heroes. They were brave enough to trust in the word of God I spoke of that night and brave enough to share their particular pool of tears. They were brave enough to do the hard work it takes to begin the journey towards wholeness, healing, and life. Let us in our life together be people that help each other along on the journey by listening, confessing, and holding each other in the light and love of the Spirit of God.

With you on the journey, Michelle

Mountains and Valleys

Mountains and Valleys

February 14, 2016  |  First Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Mountains and Valleys

Grace and peace to you …

Following on from last week’s sermon about mountains and valleys being joined at the hip we noted that because they shared the same landscape that we couldn’t have one without the other. After last week’s service I had a number of people use the metaphor of mountains and valleys to let me know where they are in their life or at least in which direction they felt their life was moving.

I have been thinking about this mountain and valley stuff in the last few days. I wonder if the following statement holds any water for you: It may not be obvious to us that we are moving from the mountain into the valley or from the valley up the mountain. Why not?

Well you see, when we walk down a mountain our head is normally held high as we breathe in the breadth of the view stretching to the horizon. As we marvelling at the view we may not notice that we are actually walking down and down into the valley – until of course we have no more vision of a glorious view and only then do we suddenly realise we are off the mountain and in the valley. Equally, when we are walking out of the valley up the mountain our heads are often down and our view is of the soil and rock a meter in front of us. Nothing changes step after step, until all of a sudden a single step settles us on the summit or if not summit then at least some lookout area on which we can turn around and see how far we have come and how high we have climbed.

When I lived in Johannesburg I would leave early in the morning and drive to work along Oxford Road turning into Corlett Drive and the sun would pierce my morning eyes. As I drove down into the valley of Corlett Drive before turning onto the M1 highway the sun would have disappeared and I would sometimes have to put on my headlights because of how dark it was. This reminded me that just because I was in the dark, it didn’t mean that the sun had stopped shining. This really is the challenge during the mountain and valley experiences of our living: To remember the light in the darkness and to hold onto the vision in the valley.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate the Light that it may guide us even when we only see darkness.

Grace, Alan


These two quotes were referred to during Alan’s sermon on February 7, 2016:

“When we are young and hear longing and
sadness in love songs, we think that the sadness
and disappointment are a prelude to the
experience of love and not really the result of its
experience. Later, with a deeper experience,
we realise that the sadness, longing, and
disappointment ultimately originate not from the
fact that love has not taken place but that human
love is finite. This insight helps us realise that the
first task in any love, whether in a marriage or in
a deep friendship, is for the two persons to console
each other for the limits of their love, for the fact
that they cannot not disappoint each other.”
~ Ronald Rolheiser

“A relationship is like a long trip and there’s
bound to be some long dull stretches.
Don’t travel with someone who expects
you to be exciting all the time.”
~ Daniel Berrigan

Let us be still

Let us be still

February 7, 2016  |  Harvest Festival, Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on Let us be still

Grace and Peace to you,

Along with fasting from wasting water this Lent we may consider fasting from wasting words. Yes, a water and word fast!

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book: When God is silent writes: “How shall I break the silence? What word is more eloquent than the silence itself? In the moments before a word is spoken, anything is possible. The empty air is a formless void waiting to be addressed.”

Such is the power of words. Anything is possible.

She continues, “…the most dangerous word God ever says is Adam. All by itself it is no more than a pile of dust – nothing to be concerned about, really – but by following it with the words for image and dominion, God sifts divinity into that dust, endowing it with things that belong to God alone. When God is through with it, this dust will bear the divine likeness. When God is through with it, this dust will exercise God’s own dominion – not by flexing its muscles but by using its tongue. Up to this point in the story, God has owned the monopoly on speech. Only God has had the power to make something out of nothing by saying it is so. Now, in this act of shocking generosity God’s stock goes public… human beings endowed by God with the power of the Word… This power of ours has no safety catch on it. We are as likely to make nothing out of something as the other way around…”

We all know how words can bring life or death because we have had such words spoken to us. This Lent let us watch our words. Let us not waste our words on trivialities and gossip. May we only speak words that bring life and fast from all words that bring death. If our words will not improve on the silence let us be still…

Grace, Alan


LENT 2016: Water Fast

In LENT we are invited to fast. To fast is to live with limits. The first fast was given as Divine instruction for daily living in the Garden of Eden: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” To live without limits is to die. To fast is to live. To fast is to bring life.

This LENT, in the year of one of South Africa’s worst droughts, let us fast – live with limits – in relation to water. Perhaps our water fast will help us to hear Jesus’ crucifying cry: “I thirst” more acutely. This is the cry of an ever-increasing number of people.

This is how we generally use water on a daily basis: about a third is for toilet-flushing, a third for body hygiene and another third for laundering, washing the dishes, cooking and drinking. For cooking and drinking we need about 5 litres per day.

This LENT let’s limit ourselves to a maximum of 50 litres of water per day – remembering that there are many in our land who are forced to live on much less.

A Few Water Saving Tips

  1. Turn the tap off when you brush your teeth – this can save 6 litres of water per minute.
  2. Place a cistern displacement device in your toilet cistern to reduce the amount of water used in each flush (a one litre bottle filled with water works well).
  3. Take a shorter shower. Showering can use anything between 6 and 45 litres per minute.

Who are we?

Who are we?

January 31, 2016  |  Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Who are we?

Grace and Peace to you

Probably the primary question that all religions and philosophies attempt to answer is: “Who are we?” Descartes famously said: “I think therefore I am” and placed human uniqueness in the realm of rationality. Every ideology or system is rooted in a particular understanding of the human person either explicitly or implicitly. Apartheid propagated an explicit understanding of the human person according to the colour of our skin. Capitalism propagates a more implicit understanding by relating to human persons as consumers or products whose worth is determined by the size of our bank accounts. Therefore while critiquing any social, political or economic system it is important to ask what is it saying about who we are.

Because of the primary nature of this question it is not surprising that the Bible deals with it in its first few chapters. Here are three things I understand about who we are from Genesis 1-3.

  1. All people are born in the image of God. Therefore we are each of infinite sacred and equal worth. This means that all systems and policies should seek to honour all people equally and in ways that appreciate, promote and protect everyone’s worth of being.
  2. God formed us from the dust. Therefore we are part of creation. We are not separate from creation. To appreciate, promote and protect creation and all life’s creatures is an extension of who we are.
  3. God took a rib from Adam (Adam in this instance means earth creature rather than male) and from that moment formed women and men. Therefore we are formed from each other. We are part of each other. We are not separate from each other. We are one. Oneness is our original form that we are called to honour and re-cover.

If this is who we are, the next question is how can we live more in tune with who we really are?

Grace, Alan


Covenant Prayer

Beloved in Christ, let us again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take the yoke of Christ upon us.

To take Christ’s yoke upon us means that we are content that God appoint us our place and work, and that Jesus be our reward.

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 material interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Let us give ourselves anew to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace. Today, we meet as the generations before us have met, to renew the covenant that binds us to God. Let us make this covenant of God our own: 

I am no longer my own but yours, O God.
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 wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blesse?d God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Live with limits

Live with limits

January 24, 2016  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday after Epiphany  |  Comments Off on Live with limits

Grace and Peace to you,

While visiting my brother in Knysna over New Year I had the opportunity to stay at a small home that was almost completely “off the grid”. The micro home was built in part using a shipping container together with discarded building materials that had been recycled. The entire roof structure was linked to a number of different JoJo tanks providing the only water on the property – which by the way tasted comprehensively delicious. There was a compost toilet – with a beautiful tranquil forest view. Gas was used to cook and heat water. I was so moved and inspired by how Dion, the owner, lives his life. What a gentle and respectful witness. I left there saying: “I want to live more like that”.

What moved me most was the fact that we had a limited amount of water. Knowing this made it taste and feel so sacred. To collect the water in a bucket from the JoJo tank to do the washing up, etc. was a conscious and deliberate act of using the water, instead of mindlessly opening a tap as would normally be the case. I also realised how little water I actually can get by on and thereby realised how much water I waste on a daily basis – by simply using more than I actually need to use.

Living in the way Dion lives assures that we live close to the consequences of our living. With a compost toilet one realises that we produce waste and that it actually needs to be managed and “go somewhere”. To use precious water to flush it “away” can end up mindlessly detaching us from this aspect of our living. To live with real water limits works wonders in shaping a respectful and even reverent relationship with the water we use.

So this LENT (which begins on 10th February) I invite you to fast.

To fast is to live with limits. The first fast was given as Divine instruction for daily living in the Garden of Eden: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” To live without limits is to die. To fast is to live. To fast is to bring life.

This LENT, in the year of one of South Africa’s worst droughts, let us fast – live with limits – in relation to water. Perhaps our water fast will help us to hear Jesus’ crucifying cry: “I thirst” more acutely. This is the cry of an ever-increasing number of people.

According to Institute – Water for Africa, the UN say that a human being needs 50 liters of water per day in order to prepare meals and to have enough for personal hygiene. 50 liters of water per day are necessary in order to avoid diseases and to retain efficiency.

However, many humans in Africa must get along with 20 liters water per day. Depending on the power output of ones shower – 20 liters is the quantity of water that we use when having a shower for 2-3 minutes. The practice this fast faithfully we are first going to have to calculate how much water we actually use on a daily basis and when. This will move our relationship with water from mindlessness state to a conscious state.

This LENT let’s limit ourselves to a maximum of 50 liters of water per day – remembering that there are many in our land who do not have the privilege of voluntarily reducing their water usage to less than 50 liters – in fact many are forced to live on much less.

Grace, Alan


Covenant Prayer Preparation

I am no longer my own but yours, O God.
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 wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blesse?d God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Please reflect on the words of this great prayer in preparation for our Covenant Service on January 31.

 

Dare to be curious

Dare to be curious

January 17, 2016  |  Second Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Dare to be curious

Grace and Peace to you

The last few weeks have allowed for some extra reading. I have been reading around the topic of racism and I will be sharing more about this in the next few weeks. One of the books I read was: What if there were no whites in South Africa? by Ferial Haffajee. I found it an informative read and I would certainly recommend it to better understand where we are as a nation.

What I would like to mention about Haffajee’s book is not so much the valuable information that she shares (I will save that for another time) but rather the way she went about writing her book. I found her approach to be full of humility, grace and courage.

She starts off by stating, “I feel freedom. Breathe it. Speak it. Enjoy it. I know it only because I know its opposite. Apartheid, in all its social, political and economic dimensions, imprisoned me.” As a result she begins by not agreeing with or understanding the “simmering resentment about a perceived white cultural and financial domination that has replaced formal apartheid”. She writes, “When I preach my gospel of change, of black accomplishment and of the good and healthy fruits of freedom, it is as if I am the anti-Christ. It is as if I have journeyed to a place where nothing has changed, where an oppressive minority controls thought and destiny. A place where black people labour under a system of white supremacy. Do I live in a different world? Am I crazy?”

What I value so much about Haffajee’s approach is that she doesn’t set about defending her position as much as she seeks to understand the position of those who she either does not agree with or fully understand. She holds round table discussion groups with people who have totally different opinions to her. She listens and asks tons of questions. Her questions are asked with the hope of increased understanding and not to make a point. Her exploration is genuine. Her curiosity is real. In her approach we witness mature humanity as she reveals to us how we should all deal with difficult differences that exist between us.

Our task is to ask. Rather than argue in order to win. In this way we are guaranteed to grow as human beings … as we seek to become an anti-racist people.

Grace, Alan


Our Covenant Service will be held on Sunday 31 January.
Please reflect on the words of this great prayer.

Covenant Prayer Preparation

I am no longer my own but yours, O God.
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 wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blesse?d God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

Just be

Just be

January 10, 2016  |  Second Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Just be
“I am not afraid of storms,
for I am learning to sail my ship.”
~ Louisa May Alcott

 

Grace and peace to you,

Central Methodist Mission is a beautiful place. I remember sitting in this sanctuary just before taking my first appointment as a solo pastor. I sat listening to Dana Cunningham’s piano music playing softly through the speakers and I felt so held by God in this space. The prayer I was praying all the way back in 2010 was that God might deliver a Scripture that would guide my leadership in the years ahead. The Scripture that was delivered was the text of Jesus walking out on the water. Churches like Central Methodist Mission that were built in the gothic tradition hold secrets in the ceiling. In all of them captured above is the hull of a boat, which is the symbol of the Church in mission to the world.

So many times the Church gets things wrong as we stretch beyond the boundaries of our front doors, but there is not a perfect science in the ways we are called to be alive and living in love in the world. We are just to be. It is what I call a bumble into beauty when we get it right. So often, in our passion, we seek to charge out on our own and lead and I would share that things that have real life, that offer real love, have a beautiful way of sustaining themselves if and when we should ever leave. This is why I always encourage beautiful ones with dreams to gather together in twos and threes, so that the dreams they dream have wings to fly like the symbol of the resurrection – the butterfly.

There is a sense I feel that this congregation like many others around the world is called to lead out in the waters of change that we are walking upon. There is strong leadership for the year ahead, Alan’s preaching is beyond what many can see and imagine, but leads to a place of truth that the foundations of what we know in this generation are shaking. I can’t imagine what Peter must have been thinking when he took that first step out upon the sea, but I can imagine it was a combination of fear and excitement. There before him was Jesus beckoning him, “Come.”

I always wonder whether Peter was a little hasty. Maybe he was never supposed to leave the boat that Jesus put him in. Maybe he was to learn how to live with courage, faith, and hope with those he was charged to serve with. The boat is always charged to leave the shores to the other side. Without stepping foot on the shores that are not ours, we don’t have a picture of the world we need to see clearly. Without hearing the cries of the people who are around the corner, but out of sight, we lose understanding of the way we are called to live.

Sailing is no easy thing. It takes skill, practice, and an ability to gauge the clip of the wind. Winds and waves have always threatened, but when two or three gather together in prayer, the Holy Spirit delivers the dream, guides the boat, and opens the sails in order that the Church might be a vessel of change in the world – guiding others towards the way that leads to life, love, peace, and transformation.

With you on the journey, Michelle

New things bring change

New things bring change

January 3, 2016  |  First Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on New things bring change

Grace and peace to you,

As we make the turn towards a New Year, I encourage us to make the turn with courage, with faith, and with hope. Thomas Merton did not share these words in vain. His journey through life was one of deep contemplation and intentional engagement. His writings help to center great leaders all around the world because they come from a place of truth that meets you on the ground and lifts you to new heights. New years are times for new thinking, new decisions, and the chance for us to begin again. New things always bring with them change.

The birth of Jesus did not happen in a time that was peaceful. It was a time of great uncertainty. There was a King on the throne who had murdered members of his own family. Joseph and Mary were on the run and chaos seemed to loom all about. The way of Jesus today rises in the midst of that same sort of chaos. The powers that rule today are not aligned with the needs of the people. The young are rising to name no more. The oppressed are raising their fists. It is into this day and this time that Jesus is beckoning to be born in us.

Jesus brings a new reign that promises to level the playing ground between the powerful and the meek. It is a reign that promises there will be food on the table when we all find our way home. It is a reign that is made real when people like you and I claim what we believe and live it. Releasing our lives to the promise of new life also means releasing our lives to the change that comes with it.

Change can be unsettling, confusing, incredibly challenging, but resisting change means resisting God. Embracing change means embracing the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the something new that is unfolding.

When Mary submitted to the will of God, her words were, “Let it Be!” She teaches us with that one decision, the way forward in a New Year. Mary is never the same after those three words are uttered from her lips. Yet, through Mary we witness the birth of hope into the world.

May you embrace the way of new life and change in this New Year ahead.

Questions for Reflection:

1) Name the areas of your life where you have experienced something new needing to be born.
2) In what ways are you resisting change?
3) How can you take steps to embrace the new?

With you on the journey, Michelle

The Invitation

The Invitation

December 27, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Invitation

The Invitation

By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Alan

Bring to birth

Bring to birth

December 25, 2015  |  Christmas Day  |  Comments Off on Bring to birth

Grace and peace to you

It may surprise us to know that back in the Biblical day the idea of God taking on human flesh was actually not such an outrageous idea. There were many emperors and pharaohs of the Greeks, Romans and ancient Egyptians who were considered deity in some form or other.

What made the declaration that Jesus was God born among us so outrageous is that he came from the under-class of society. His parents were peasant working people. What was worse was that his mother was not impregnated by his father – giving Jesus and his parents full marks in the social outcast category. The Gospel stories are clear that he was not born in a palace but rather in an overcrowded hovel – sharing accommodation with animals because they didn’t make the cut for anything more worthy. You don’t get lower than this.

And this is the shock of Christmas – not that God would share our flesh per se – but that God would share the flesh of the lowest among us. This turned the orthodox theology of their day up-side-down for in those days everyone believed that the healthy and wealthy were the ones who had been blessed by God while the poor and sick had been cursed by God. But if it were true that the lowly-outcast-Jesus was God’s en-fleshed representative then one’s entire perspective of God would have to change, as well as one’s perspective on life and living.

When the emperors and people in power are believed to represent God then the status quo will be bent in their favour. Any challenge to the status quo that serves the elite will not only be considered treason, but sinful. To challenge the king is no less than challenging God. This is very convenient theology for the King after all, who wants to mess with God?

But when God is represented by the lowest – the least – the ones society makes no room for then the elite serving status quo is given notice. Every day the status quo excludes and exploits the poorest of the poor God is aggrieved and offended. In short, the elite are messing with God and you don’t want to do that!

Christmas is the great challenge to all elite-serving systems. It declares: If you mess with the poor you mess with God. In South Africa, Christmas 2015 comes to us as a stern warning: Start honouring the poor or else …

Alan


A Psalm of Bringing to Birth

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the world of the new creation?
Wisdom and justice, peace and compassion, concern for all God’s little ones, for the homeless and the destitute, the hungry, and all who bear the brunt of indifference and oppression.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth on the earth of the new creation?
A deep respect for our planet, its winding and its waters, its topsoil and its forests, and a oneness with the wilderness that is image of our soul.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the church of the new creation?
A total disdain for power that diminishes or destroys, divestment of wealth and status, a sharing of human resources based on mutuality and the sudden surprise of grace.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the hearts of the new creation?
An unbreakable bond in the Spirit that binds as one all brothers and sisters, transcending class, colour, culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender, that treats no personal preference, no physical or spiritual difference as aberration or handicap.

One has been born among us who heralds such liberation. Human liberation, our liberation has taken flesh among us and in Spirit dwell with us.
Holy the woman who helped this happen. Blessed are we when we give birth to the Word made flesh in us.

~ Miriam Therese Winter in WomanWord [adapted]