It is time to confess

It is time to confess

February 17, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on It is time to confess

No more excuses!

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:2

 

On Wednesday I received the following note from a friend of mine: “Not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is … but I hope that time of reflection will bring insight, inspiration and passion.”

It is true, we are not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is. “Happy Ash Wednesday”, just doesn’t sound right. Especially after one has just been marked with ash and told: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return – turn from your sin and be faithful to Christ.” Not even Cardies has figured out how to commercialise Ash Wednesday. I guess they figured there isn’t a market for cards that remind you that you are a piece of dirt.

And yet it is only when we are able to recognise our “nothingness” that we will be able to grasp the greatness of God’s grace. Until then we may be under the illusion that we deserve it or have somehow achieved it.

We acknowledge our nothingness, not with despair but in secure trust as we remember that in the beginning God created the cosmos “out of nothing”. So together with the psalmist we boldly request, “create in me a clean heart O God” (Ps 51). As we admit we are dirt we remember with confidence that “God formed humanity from the dust of the ground” (Gen 1:7). We may be dust – but in God’s hands even dust is filled with precious potential.

Ash Wednesday and Lent that follows, is not about beating up on oneself, but rather it invites us to be honest about who we truly are. After all who of us cannot join Paul in saying about ourselves: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19)?

Were it not for God’s compassion, our acts of confession would have no value. It is precisely because of God’s mercy, evident nowhere so vividly as in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are able to summon the courage to acknowledge our fault and ask forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness knowing that we have already been forgiven in advance – it is called grace. In fact to know that forgiveness is a free available gift is what emboldens us to ask for forgiveness in the first place. To do so under any other conditions would be to take a foolish risk. The order of our prayers: “Lord make me to know your love, so that as I grow to know myself I will know that your love covers the full multitude of my knowing”.

This Lent I invite you to confess your sin. To confess is to explore the real reality of who we are in the trusted and loving presence of another. Our sin consists of every love-less, truth-less, gentle-less, generous-less, just-less area of our lives. Only when we dare to plumb our depths will we appreciate the depths of God’s love.

Grace, Alan

Follow where Jesus leads

Follow where Jesus leads

February 10, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Follow where Jesus leads

This is one of the remembrance stones on the sanctuary wall.
In memory of Rev. Ernest Titcomb.
“His was a life of duty transfigured into love.”

Today we celebrate Tess Petersen confirming her faith, hope and love for Jesus. In so doing she confirms her trust in Jesus. To trust enough to follow him where he leads. To trust that the way of life Jesus calls us to live really is a life that leads to LIFE – eternal life – meaning, new life now. New life now that (by the way) death is powerless to destroy.

Today Tess confirms the way of life she desires to live. She does so before us as a community who promises to continue to share the journey with her. We promise to keep faithful practice of all means of grace from which Tess can drink and into which Tess can contribute.

I want to borrow the words of Craig Holdrege who when speaking about school/education said the following to young graduates:

My hope is not that school has prepared you well for college or for life.

My hope is not that school has prepared you for present-day culture and its existing forms and processes.

Rather, my hope is that you have been educated in such a way that the world is not prepared for you.

I hope you have not been hindered and that you may even have been nurtured and encouraged to develop ideas and to do things that no one expects – not in order to be different, but because you sense what needs to happen.

Don’t listen to people who tell you, when you are following a yearning or birthing an idea, that it can’t be done.

Tess, when you follow the yearning and birthing of Jesus, may you be graced with courage to persevere. I am grateful to Jane Lawrence for the mentorship she has generously offered Tess throughout this confirming journey.

Grace, Alan

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.

Journey with Jesus on the single track

Journey with Jesus on the single track

January 6, 2013  |  Epiphany Sunday  |  Comments Off on Journey with Jesus on the single track

The Gospel in Brief by Leo Tolstoy – a fascinating read.
You will be relieved to know that it has fewer pages in it than
War and Peace but it is equally powerful.

After the New Year’s Eve Service I felt like I had eaten a beautifully nourishing and tasty meal. You know that feeling when your body rejoices – when the meal “hits the spot”? Well that is how I felt. And I don’t know why I was surprised really because we have been told that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. And on New Year’s I was fed by the word.

The two hours of shared silence provided the sacred setting to read a single passage of scripture (Colossians 3) over and over and over again – until it literally became part of me – like food fully digested. As I read the scripture, the scripture read my life – convicting me and inspiring me – and leaving me energised to run the race of faithfulness set before me.

Not only did I need this nourishing time, but even more, I needed the reminder that without silence and meditation I would be left malnourished and without the necessary strength to journey faithfully.

Like the other day when a friend took me mountain bike riding; it was my first time out on the dirt. He chose a single track going up past Rhodes Memorial. It was too much for me. My level of fitness and skill were not up to it so we sought out an easier path – a broader road that was not as steep. As any mountain biker will tell you, it is the single track (narrow way) that you live for (even born for), but this takes hours in the saddle. It takes training. It takes practice.

Jesus invites us to journey with him on the narrow way, the single track that we were born for. It is the way of compassion and kindness. The way of humility and gentleness. The way of truth and mercy. It is the way of generosity and justice. It is the way of accepting the grace-full gift that we have been forgiven and we should forgive ourselves and learn to forgive others for therein lays our peace as well as the peace of the world. This all takes training – training in silence and meditation.

Let’s start, Alan!

PS: Remember Covenant Preparation: 23 and 24 January at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary – see post below.

Be warned, this Baby grows up quickly!

Be warned, this Baby grows up quickly!

January 1, 2013  |  Happy New Year  |  Comments Off on Be warned, this Baby grows up quickly!

Today we welcome Jesus the baby, but he does not stay a baby for long!

Soon Jesus will be inviting us to leave all our Christmas presents behind to follow him on the narrow road of generosity, gentleness, justice and infinite mercy. A road that includes ridicule and death yet never will we be more alive. This radical-world-healing-way is a difficult road but strangely it is the very road we were designed for and the road we desire to travel more than any other.

To prepare for this baby that grows up quickly as well as to deepen your sense of belonging at CMM, I invite you to join me for two evening discussions:

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

These evening discussions will also prepare us to renew our Covenant relationship with God on Sunday 27 January, remembering 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.”

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.

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