Click on this link May the fall at your feet to watch a sermon Alan Storey preached during a visit to the Central Lutheran Church, Yakima, Washington State, USA in January 2014. It can also be found under the Sermons and Videos tab on the home page.
One of my favourite quotes from John Wesley is about preaching:
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
As I write this I am stuck at JFK Airport in New York after a week of teaching in Yakima, Washington State. Apparently the aircraft is not fit to go so they’re putting us up in a hotel for the night. This unexpected day of doing nothing has given me an opportunity to chill a little in the relaxing sense which is a whole lot better than chilling in the snow — which I have also done on this trip. And no matter how often I travel I am never able to pack suitably for the cold when it is hot at home. It is difficult to dress for another climate. As it is difficult to live in the world and not of the world. As it is to live the Covenant Prayer we will pray today in a world of fearful selfishness.
On this day of “doing nothing” I have been reading a beautiful book of poetry by Mary Oliver called Thirst, and through her poems I am reminded again of what it means to live out our covenantal faith. She writes in
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Another called, Musical Notation 1:
The physicality of the religious poets should not be taken idly. He or she, who loves God, will look most deeply into His works. Clouds are not only vapour, but shape, mobility, silky sacks of nourishing rain. The pear orchard is not only profit, but a paradise of light. The luna moth, who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation. Have you noticed?
Another Mary Oliver poem called, When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention:
“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, joyfully.”
And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.
A Pretty Song:
From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
To live out our covenantal faith we need the poet’s gift of attentiveness. To pay attention to the miracle of life that is saturated with holiness. “Our [covenant] work is to love the world … it’s mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…”
With gratitude, Alan
Next week we renew our Covenant as a community of faith. I have included the words of the Covenant below and invite you to prayerfully live with it this week as an act of preparation.
Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work; and himself to 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 to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.
Lord God, Holy LORD, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours. 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 fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Last Sunday, together with Jesus, we heard the heavenly voice claim us as beloved children. The voice that powerfully called the cosmos into being now claims us as beloved — we have been chosen. To trust that we are beloved. This is where Jesus’ public ministry begins and it is where our relationship with the Divine becomes conscious — in “accepting that we are accepted”.
It is not easy to hear this voice because there are so many other voices disputing its truth. Voices that undermine our God-given worth and tempt us to fall into the trap of self-rejection. As Henri Nouwen says: “Of not feeling truly welcome in human existence.”
Nouwen also insightfully informs us that “to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected” and that this is difficult to grasp in a competitive and comparative world. “Our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosen-ness of others … it is impossible to compete for God’s love.”
To realise all have been chosen and that all are beloved of God must surely move us to love all whom God loves. A friend of God’s is a friend of ours. The purpose of the heavenly voice is to love us into loving. We can love those close at hand but to love those beyond our reach or beyond our shores or beyond our present times demands that we spread our love by seeking justice. As someone once said: “Justice is love distributed.”
In the Isaiah reading for last Sunday (42) we heard over and over again how God’s chosen servant is called to establish justice throughout the nations. To establish justice is God’s will and work for our lives. It is not the work of a few courageous people we sometimes call prophetic. It is the work of every follower of Jesus. No one is exempt! As we read in Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” [6:8].
When we talk about justice in the biblical sense we are not referring to the popular use of the word as in “punishing criminals”. We are referring to the social conditions of fairness and equity.
Julie Clawson has written a great book to assist us to understand some of what it means to “do justice” called Everyday Justice.
Clawson’s book begins with the words: “Don’t panic!” but that is exactly what I did. I felt instantly overwhelmed at the extent of injustice in the world and how dependent I am on injustice for the “normal” running of my day to day living. I don’t know about you but I often feel like I am going to drown under it all and it is not long before I feel paralysed by a feeling of inadequacy.
It is important to remember that injustice was created by human beings and therefore it can be undone by human beings.
One of the first things we need to do is develop a critical awareness of the issues of injustice in the world — and within our local area.
We should always see how we ourselves are complicit in establishing or perpetuating the injustice. This will help us to “walk humbly with God”. It will prevent us dividing the world into an “us and them”. When we start with ourselves we will also realise just how difficult it is to change our habits and behaviour and this should help us to be merciful towards those we may seek to persuade and pressure or even protest.
Further it is important for us to realise that all our decisions from what we eat, drink and wear have far reaching consequences. As Clawson says: “Our circle of influence is actually much larger than we think … every decision has a price tag.” We should therefore always ask: “Who is paying for this?” Are we paying, or exploited labourers or the Government through taxes or is the environment paying — which means future generations will ultimately pay.
Achieving justice is not a static act. Justice is a journey. When resources are in short supply or when perceived to be in short supply then the anxiety of getting “my fair share” and making sure others don’t take “more than their fair share” precipitates the need for doing justice. Who decides who gets what? Who decides who decides, etc.? All these questions are the continuous work of Justice.
Furthermore because there are multi-levels of decision-making — local, national and international to name three — all using different justice principles. Think for a moment about the conflict surrounding the allocation of fishing licenses. Those who did not receive a license say their jobs have been stolen. The ministry says that are trying to protect SA’s environment and natural resources to prevent the collapse of line fish stocks. Both have a “just point”. Doing justice is difficult work. But it is ultimately God’s work through us and therein lies the hope that God will faithfully bring it about.
“A bruised reed he will not break …” Isaiah 42
If we are ever privileged enough to be taken out to dinner, one of the questions our host is bound to ask us is: “So, what do you feel like eating?” There are some days we just crave a particular meal.
This craving does not only apply to our physical need for nourishment. It applies to our spiritual need for nourishment too. One of the ways I discern the hunger of my spirit is to move slowly up and down the shelves of my library. I have all my books sorted into various categories and I find myself drawn to those categories that touch my hunger. Granted this may sound a little strange, yet it really seems to guide me to what my spirit longs for.
Lately I have felt more numb than alive. More distant than connected. More doubtful than sure. I carry far more questions than answers.
So I have stood in my library staring at the shelves of books. And the book I was drawn to was what Henri Nouwen calls his “secret diary” that he wrote during the most difficult period of his life, from December 1987 to June 1988.
I am not really surprised that I have chosen (or did it choose me?) to re-read The Inner Voice of Love — A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen. I am not surprised because I have a greater longing for solidarity on this journey than I do for a solution. Before I want answers I want someone to share my questions. I need a companion in my doubt and not a champion of the faith.
Within the solidarity of disconnection and sharing the burden of impossibly heavy questions I find gentle comfort. I am not alone. There are others who have felt the same as I do. I am not the only one. Their doubting, questioning and anguished companionship becomes my umbilical cord to hope and life.
Psalm 13 and Psalm 88 as well as the final hours of Jesus upon the Cross carry the same umbilical-cord-like-connection to hoping against hope.
Great Grace to you at this time, Alan
Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60
Jesus our joy, when we realise that you love us,
something in us is soothed and even transformed.
We ask you: “What do you want from me?”
And by the Holy Spirit you reply:
“Let nothing trouble you, I am praying in you,
dare to give your life.” ~ Taize
Time does what time does — tick along. Time’s job is the continued collection and addition of seconds, minutes, hours, days and years.
Yet, time is not without grace. For once a year it gives us permission to rule a line across the page of our life and start a new one. It gives us the freedom to divide our life up into ‘old’ and ‘new’ and ‘past’ and ‘future’. It further reminds us that each step we take away from the womb is a step closer to the tomb. And this reminder of death drawing closer makes our living more precious. A strange grace indeed.
As time offers us the strange grace of reflection and renewal of our patterns of living I am reminded of the forthright words of Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” With this in mind we would all do well to take time on a daily basis rather than on an annual basis, to examine our lives.
St. Ignatius certainly agreed with Socrates as he recommended a daily practise of examination through prayer. He invites us to take a moment each evening before we sleep to quietly review our day. “To look upon yourself without condemnation and without complacency and thus be open to growth.”
Here is one example of an Examen prayer:
Recalling the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Review the day, hour by hour, searching for the internal events of your life. Look through the hours to see your interaction with what was before you. Ask what you were involved in and who you were with, and review your hopes and hesitations. Many situations will show that your heart was divided — wavering between helping and disregarding, scoffing and encouraging, listening and ignoring, rebuking and forgiving, speaking and silence, neglecting and thanking. See the opportunities for growth in faith, hope and love, and how you responded. What moved you to act the way you did?
Finally take a few minutes to ask yourself: What / who gave you life today? What / who took life from you today? Where were you free to be free today?
Strange Grace towards examined living, Alan
A few [wise] words to contemplate:
Something we were withholding made us weak. Until we found out that it was ourselves we were withholding from our land of living, and forthwith found salvation in surrender. ~ Robert Frost
The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one. ~ Shakespeare
Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will. ~ Bonhoeffer
A relationship that needs to be kept a secret is a relationship you don’t need. ~ Mogoeng Mogoeng
If the things we face are greater and more important that the things we refuse to face, then at least we have begun the re-evaluation of our world. At least we have begun to learn to see and live again. But if we refuse to face any of our awkward and deepest truths, then sooner or later, we are going to have to become deaf and blind. And then, eventually, we are going to have to silence our dreams, and the dreams of others. In other words, we die. We die to life. ~ Ben Okri
O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises… Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days … Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. ~ John Wesley
In God’s love and in God’s pity, God redeemed them;
the Lord lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old. Isaiah 63
As another year passes I wonder if there is still enough time to become the person I was created to be but am not. The difference between the two is an aching gap and sometimes it is just a gap without the ache which is worse.
The Jesuit priest, Karl Rahner, writes: “In bygone days, we wanted to become holy. Once we desired to wear ourselves out completely for God’s honour and for the kingdom of heaven, we wanted to burn our life in the ardent flame of love. And we did not become holy.”
He goes on to write: [But] “why should we think that the selfishness of our heart in its secret pride is so powerful that it could plug all the cracks against the pressure of God’s grace?”
He continues, “We want to shun the secret fancies (our ultimate pride) that our evil stubbornness could be victorious over God’s gloriously strong love, which, when it will, dissolves even the obstinate insolence of the heart. We also want to let God be greater in our life than our barren heart and admit that he can reap a harvest even out of the stony field of our soul, a harvest that praises the power of God’s grace. We have become holier.
“But we haven’t become holy. Not because we haven’t worked any miracles or converted any nations or directed the inexorable stream of universal history … but rather because we haven’t loved God as we really should, with the whole heart and with all our strength. We cannot yet forego this duty. We cannot be satisfied with ourselves yet. Our heart doesn’t love without measure and without bound as it could love and must love.
“It loves a little, yes; but a little in this matter is almost worse than nothing. For the heart that completely denies itself still hasn’t found its master. One thing is still left; the heart must surrender itself entirely and without division.
“But who will gather up this divided, disunited heart and make it sincere, so that it can surrender itself to God, all at once, without division? Alas! Our poor dilapidated heart! It is so strange: it yearns a little for stronger love, and conceals a wicked annoyance at the boundless demands of love; and bother of these together are covered over by a feeling of weakness and feebleness.
“The heart of a man (sic) who is growing old, and who did not become holy, feels like this. The heart is well disposed, but it feels too keenly its weakness. The real opportunities for unconditional, boundless love (can we want to love any other way?), the inevitable opportunities that are sent to us — not chosen by us — no longer present themselves. Did we really waste the best hours of our life, the precious opportunities for love God?”
Do you hear the regret in Rahner’s final question to us? Does it resonate within you? What of the gap between what we are and what we have not become?
As the date changes reminding us of the passing of time I invite you to pray the prayer of St Richard:
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
I cannot think of a more needed prayer to be prayed by anyone: May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace. Isaiah 52
I love the way Charles Wesley describes the incarnation: “Our God contracted to a span / Incomprehensibly made man (sic)….He deigns in flesh to appear / Widest extremes to join… And we the life of God shall know / For God is manifest below.”
Nothing could ever be so unexpected. The God of heaven has an earthly address. As Karl Rahner has written:Now we no longer need to seek God in the endlessness of heaven, where our spirit and our heart get lost. Now he himself is on our very earth, where he is no better off than we and where he receives no special privileges, but our every fate: hunger, weariness, enmity, mortal terror and a wretched death. That the infinity of God should take upon itself human narrowness, that bliss should accept the mortal sorrow of the earth, that life should take on death — this is a most unlikely truth. But only this — the obscure light of faith — makes our nights bright, only this makes them holy.
I met someone the other day from Belgium. She came to be in South Africa especially for the 10 days of mourning that followed Nelson Mandela’s death. She was irresistibly drawn to be here — to the soil and the people — to share and to love and to hold. Having visited South Africa before she carried a permanent sense of connection within herself for us. “I just had to be here at this time”, she said.
God’s earthly visit to share and to love and to hold is what Christmas is all about. And forevermore God carries a permanent sense of connection within God’s self for us.
Look around you. God is near. Look inside you. God is near. Take comfort because God is near. Tremble with awe because God is near. And get this … now it is impossible to escape God loving you.
Prayer of Preparation
YOU are with us!
YOU are with US!
YOU are WITH US!
YOU ARE WITH US!
O Lord give to us the gift of knowing your presence and the blessing of peace and courage that flows from it. Amen.
Look the young woman is with child… Isaiah 7
Since Nelson Mandela’s death we have experienced the resurrection of his life in myriads of interviews, op-eds, personal testimonies. From every possible quarter stories are being told and re-told. From politicians, neighbours, family members, sports people, jailors, presidents, priests, lawyers, factory workers, domestic workers, the poor and the rich — all adding a word about the Madiba they met. From every age group and from every cultural orientation — all sharing stories of his greatness, humility, humour, surprise, grace, inspiring presence, firmness, warmth. Seeming contradictions added to the brightness of the truth. A fighter. A forgiver. A father of a new nation. And then the reams and reams of comments — the words about all the words — in response. Forming the richest tapestry of the one we were blessed to share time with on this earth.
I therefore believe that we have not only witnessed a great person and moment in history but we may also have witnessed an echo of the greatest moment in history. In these past days we may have witnessed how the Scriptures and especially the story of Jesus found its way into print.
Then as now, the people began to tell their stories and it wasn’t long before a rich tapestry of Jesus’ character and what he stood for and why he died and how he lives on began to circulate. Stories complemented stories making a marvelous tapestry of liberating truth that could only be described as miraculous. Editors did amazing work in collating and communicating his core. His fully human core “reflected God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [Heb. 1:1-4].
The Gospel writers and editors of old all concluded with the same invitation — do as Jesus did. He has passed on to each of us his Cross (mantle) to carry. Imitate him. Follow him. Seek out his Spirit. Continue his long walk to liberation for all.
The age where faith communities alone mediated the meaning of memorials for the rest of society is past. Little “shrines” of memory were built in shopping centers, hospitals stadiums, entrance halls to businesses, the lobbies of hotels, etc.
Sunday 22 December 2013
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa.
We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future,
and our freedom.
Let there be justice
Let there be peace
Let there be work, bread, water and salt
Let each know that for each the body,
the mind and the soul have been freed
to fulfil themselves.
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.
We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…
Great peacemakers are all people
of integrity, of honesty,
Scroll down for Words of Reflection on Mr Nelson Mandela by both Rev. Dr. Peter Storey and Alan Storey.