Atonement

 

Friends,

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, began yesterday evening and will conclude this evening. Rooted in prayer and fasting Yom Kippur centres on  confession. Confession is the terrifyingly liberating work of truth telling. Truth telling to another. Truth telling in community. Terrifying, because to reach the truth we need to lay down our defence mechanisms that protect us from the truth and that enable us to live comfortably with falsehood. Numb and blind. Yes we have an almost endless ability to lie to ourselves. We self-deceive. Confession admits this before it admits anything else. And this truth is piercing, leaving us feeling exposed and vulnerable. In other words confession takes courage. Great courage.

The truth is we need help to be truthful. We need help to confess. For this reason, every Yom Kippur the words of Isaiah are read. We read of an ancient people’s vulnerable exposedness to the truth to stand in their shameful shoes and to expose ourselves to our truth.

Please note the communal (systemic) nature of the confession. The confession of neglecting the poor and vulnerable of society and the deathly consequences that follow. The confession goes deeper, reaching to the primary sin of the religious and that is believing that one can have a relationship with God while by-passing one’s neighbour through the conduit of religious ritual. Note too that the moment we prioritise the poor through just policy the light of the nation will shine. In other words there will be no more load-shedding. Anyone want to say, Amen?

Isaiah 58
Shout out, do not hold back!
  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
  to the house of Jacob their sins. 
2 Yet day after day they seek me
  and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
  and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
  they delight to draw near to God. 
3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
  and oppress all your workers. 
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
  and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
  will not make your voice heard on high. 
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
  a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
  and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
  a day acceptable to the Lord? 
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
  you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 

If you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday. 
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail. 
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in. 


13
 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
  from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
  and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways,
  serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
  and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
  for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

With grace, Alan

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Jubilee Justice

 

Sunday 12 September 2021 Prayers

Please click here to download the Opening Prayer by Terence Parker.

Please click here to download the Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice  by Rose-Anne Reynolds.

 

Friends,

This is the week of Rosh Hashanah. Hebrew New Year. Rosh Hashanah is in fact more than New Year; it is the commemoration and celebration of creation. Rosh Hashanah starts 10 days of awe and reverence concluding on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Awe and reverence for creation and the Creator that invite our introspection and call us to repent (change) and realign our living in honour of the Creator and care for the creation.

According to the ancient biblical calendar this week is not only the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, but the celebration of a Jubilee Rosh Hashanah. The 50th year of release and rest. The Jubilee year is called Shabbat Shabbaton, when the tired Earth is given time to rest and restore (Leviticus 25:1-7) and called Shabbat Shmita, when those who are suffering under crushing debt are released from the burden (Deuteronomy 15:1-4). Jubilee is the great re-set of the economy and environment towards Justice. Jubilee is an economy of jubilation for the poor and the most vulnerable. It courageously and creatively contrasts the status quo economy of exploitation, exclusion and extraction.

Jubilee is not only the most radically just piece of legislation ever thought of, but it is also the most humble. In Micah 8:6 we called to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. Emphasis is most often placed on justice and mercy forgetting about humility, but humility is crucial for there to be justice and mercy. Jubilee is the humble recognition that even our best efforts will fail over time. Missing the mark of justice and love by one degree today and another degree tomorrow adds up over 50 years. The great fear of the freshly freed Hebrew slaves was that it would add up to slavery again which is what they feared more than anything else. Their honesty about the human condition humbly acknowledged that after 50 years the economy would be skewed in favour of some while others would be at risk of becoming debt slaves, which was the first step to chattel slavery. In order to mitigate against this they built a reset mechanism into their system of governance. The Year of Jubilee is the reset mechanism when the gap between those who have too much and those who have too little is formally closed. It is also known as the Year of the Lord’s Favour. Yes, the Lord favours equality among people and a restoring and regenerative relationship between humans and the environment.

The question for us is: how can we honour this Year of Jubilee? In what ways can we contribute to the re-distribution of wealth in general and our wealth in particular? Who and how can we gift with release and rest? How can our relationship with the environment – the soil, air, water, and all creatures great and small – be more just, merciful and humble? What systemic change is needed beyond our individual change? What does living this year deliberately look like for you? I look forward to having these conversations with you.

In grace, Alan

P.S. Don’t forget to email welcome@cmm.org.za for the Sunday Service zoom link. This Sunday 12th September Brandan Reynolds – the cartoonist – will be sharing his creativity with us and on the 19th September Tim Attwell will be opening our eyes to the wonders of Western Cape fynbos. Siphiwe Ndlovu will be preaching on the 26th September. All in celebration of creation and the Creator.

P.S.S. Due to a kind and generous donation we are in the process of up-grading our tech. We hope to provide a stable platform for all our services going forward. This remains a learning for all of us. Thank you for your understanding when things have not always gone as planned. The fine-tuning of this process will take place during the Sundays in September while we are led by people via Zoom from their homes.

I will be back in the pulpit on 3rd October and my hope is that we will re-open for in-person services on this Sunday. To this end I plead with you to make sure you are fully vaccinated so that our gatherings will be safe. The opportunities to be vaccinated are now unlimited and the evidence of their life-saving effectiveness is beyond doubt. For our own health and the health of those around us please vaccinate. Being vaccinated is the least we can do to honour the incredible healthcare workers who have selflessly given of their lives to save ours over the last 18 months. Being vaccinated is probably the best gift of thanks we can give all our healthcare workers because it spares them of over full ICUs and having to go through the trauma of triage day in and day out.

 

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God-stirred Comedians

 

Sophie Joans is a theatre-maker, comedian and producer, who hopes to make humans connect with each other through laughter and storytelling. Some of her notable performances include: The Flower Hunters (NAF 2021) and her ukulele stand-up comedy act which she has toured around the country. She founded @Scenes_on_Screens – a virtual theatre on Instagram in response to lockdown. She has recently joined the team of writers at The Regular Post, a satirical news show. 

Phillip Dikotla is an incomparable stand-up comedian, with a boundless, thought-provoking, insightful, and laughter-lashing tongue. The funniest and most important upcoming comedy voice in South African comedy today with a background as a multiple award winning actor and writer.

Arlene Petersen is a local comedienne hailing from Lavender Hill who started her career as an MC, mostly at community church events. She has performed all around Cape Town and even in the Mother City Comedy Festival 2020 just before everything shut down. She has broadened her career by tapping into the acting, online entertainment and plus size modelling industry, and stand-up comedy has become a leg to stand on when auditioning for various industry opportunities. Not only is she funny, she can cook too. As a two time national TV cooking show champion she is convinced that food and laughter is the best medicine.

Neo Masiko was born in Johannesburg 22 years ago. He has always wanted to be a singer since the 3rd grade but sadly puberty had other plans. Neo graduated in April 2021 with a bachelor degree in live performance from afda. Turns out he is actually good at acting. His whole life he had known that he wanted to be an artist but didn’t know what type of artist he’d be. Neo loves music, comedy and drama and by drama he means the “real house wives “. Neo enjoys writing poetry and songs and one day he hopes to start a music career. All he wants is to heal people through art. 

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The Buried Giant

Friends,

While referring to the story of Saul and David, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, notes: “We do not know if we are dealing with … historical report, theological conviction, or literary strategy. Perhaps all these factors are operative.” This is worthy of remembering as we read scripture. In fact, it is worthy to remember regardless of what we are reading. Seldom is anything simply a historical report. Convictions, be they theological, ideological, cultural, or economic are most often lurking just beneath the surface. And all writing comes to us in some form or other and as they say, the medium is the message. So indeed “perhaps all these factors are operative” all the time in all writing. Part of our reading work is to understand how these three factors are rolled into one, and to discern the due emphasis of each.

Sunday past I referred to Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2016 novel, The Buried Giant. The reviews are so spectacularly varied, leaving us asking what this book is about!

Here are some of the reviews:

  • “Lush and thrilling, rolling the gothic, fantastical, political, and philosophical into one.” —The New Republic
  • “Devastating. … As emotionally ruinous an ending as any I’ve read in a very long time, and it made me circle back to the opening pages, to re-enter the strange mist of this sad and remarkable book.” —Mark O’Connell, Slate
  • “Splendid. … The Buried Giant is a simple and powerful tale of love, aging and loss.” —The Wall Street Journal
  • “A beautiful, heartbreaking book about the duty to remember and the urge to forget.” —The Guardian(London)
  • “A novel of imaginative daring that, in its subtleties of tone, mood and reflection, could be the work of no other writer.
    … In the manner of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Ishiguro has created a fantastical alternate reality in which, in spite of the extremity of its setting and because of its integrity and emotional truth, you believe unhesitatingly.” — Financial Times
  • “Ishiguro is a deft gut-renovator of genres, bringing fresh life and feeling to hollowed-out conventions. … The love story at its center shimmers with a mythic and melancholy grace.” —Vulture 
  • “A literary tour de force so unassuming that you don’t realize until the last page that you’re reading a masterpiece.”
    USA Today
  • “A profound meditation on trauma, memory, and the collective lies nations and groups create to expiate their guilt.”
    The Boston Globe

 

I invite you to read The Buried Giant to see for yourself, and don’t be surprised when you reach the end of the book that you discover that you were reading a totally different story to the one you thought you were reading. This new story may awaken you like a splash of cold water awakens a sleepy face in the early morning, or it may emerge slowly in the days and weeks after having long finished reading, like a bud stretching slowly toward summer.

Now why would it be any different with the Bible? The stories in the Bible are as multi-layered and therefore carry the potential to provoke as spectacularly varied insights and interpretations? All being worthy to the extent that they bring justice, healing, and freedom in the world. I am willing to wager that not one person who reads The Buried Giant will ask if it is true or not? As in, is it factual? As in, did it happen or not? Why? Because intuitively we know that truth is larger than fact. Some truth is so large it can only fit into fiction. With fiction we do not ask if it is true or not, but rather what truth is in the story? We ponder for days, months, even a lifetime, what this or that symbolises? Again, why would we think the Bible is any different?

In grace,
Alan

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Love and Truth

 

Friends,

A follow on from a few weeks back …

What can we do? We can fast and pray.

I know fasting and praying sounds like religious escapism, and of course it can be, but it can also be just the opposite. To fast and pray can be radical engagement with the world. Not least because we are part of this world. If we are attentive, we will see that what is happening outside in the street is taking place inside the corridors of our own heart. To clean the one is to make a difference to the other. Therefore, any healing and liberation within us, is healing and liberation of the world.

We heal and liberate the world from where we are. One place where we all are, is who we are. In our own life we carry more responsibility than anyone else to engage the principalities and powers within us, because these principalities and powers carry our name. “Naming, unmasking, and engaging” these powers is our lifelong liberation struggle. These principalities and powers are the stubborn patterns of self-deception and comfortable self-centeredness within us. They constantly confuse death with life and good with evil. As we come to realise that patient persistence together with fierce determination is demanded of us in the struggle within, so we realise no less is demanded of us to bring life-giving transformation to our communities, country, and world.

Through prayer and fasting we gain sharper insight into our own demons. We are moved to make the ancient confession our own, “that I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” [Rom 7:19]. In this we admit we are complicit with all that needs changing in the world. Complicit even regarding all we are opposed to in the world, and that we want to change. Knowing we are not innocent; our fierce determination is transformed by humility into a merciful determination. We therefore address the principalities and powers with love and in truth trusting that regardless of whether our ends are ever achieved, the very means we have employed make for a more beautiful, just, and peaceful world.

Fasting and praying, in the sense that I refer to here has nothing to do with trying to get God to act, change, wake up or be moved in any way. The One who loves the world with “an everlasting love” does not need changing, and nor does the One who “neither sleeps nor slumbers” need to be woken up. It is you and I that need to wake up, change and act differently, and therefore we fast and pray.

To fast.

To fast is to voluntarily go with less.
It is to taste a tiny morsel of hunger.
To voluntarily feel a fraction of the hunger of the hungry.
To be moved into the slightest of solidarities with the poor and marginalised.
To have our conscience pricked as much as our stomach pinched.
To go with less to have more to share.
To carry within us an everlasting hunger and thirst for justice … that those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little.
To attain the blessedness of a world where all have enough.

If we cannot bring ourselves to go without food for a day, or in the very least to intentionally miss a meal, then let even this be our teacher. Not for guilt’s sake, but for truth’s sake. What grace and truth lies buried in us not fasting? Surely if we are not willing to embrace the irritable discomfort of missing a single meal, then we can begin to understand the deepening despair and growing rage of those who miss multiple meals without choice? Therefore, let even our reluctance to fast move us to hunger for justice.

To pray.

What is it to pray? I never stop asking myself this question. I wonder some days whether this question itself, is not a type of praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I could forward you a booklist of those who I have found wise in matters prayer, but they will not satisfy. Indeed, they are not meant to satisfy and we best fear if they do. Their insights may enlighten us, but they will not nourish us. They are gifted with words to speak of these things that lie beyond words, but when it comes to prayer, we cannot live by the words of others alone. At best their wisdom may awaken a hunger within us to prepare our own meal of prayerfulness. Their answers cannot be our answers. Yet, their answers can be where our questions are birthed and is this not the most hope-filled gift of any author or teacher?

“Prayer is being present to the presence of God.” I remember highlighting these words in a book, the name of which I have long since forgotten. Aaah that’s it, I thought. I have the answer. Yet, this answer soon spawned questions: “What does it mean to be present?” “What is God’s presence?” These questions, however, were not looking for answers as much as they were inviting me into a practice of my own. A place to discover and describe prayer for myself. Simply put: the meaning of prayer will not be decided outside of a practice of prayer.

From within the limits of my own practice I have discovered that:

To pray is to be present to the presence of Love and Truth.
This Love and Truth is the Real Reality of all that is.
This presence of Love and Truth is within me and beyond me.
To pray is to be drawn within myself.
To pray is to be drawn out of myself.

To be present is to take up a posture of attentiveness.
Attentiveness as focus and openness.
Attentiveness as longing and surrender.
Attentiveness as grief and gratitude.
Attentiveness as aching desperately for transformation and of accepting myself as I am and the world as it is. With wonder.
Attentiveness is ultimately a posture of vulnerability.

To pray is to become vulnerable to Love and Truth.

This is what I hope for when I sit in silence. This is my prayer for my prayers.

In these draining days of lockdown, filled with grief and loss and change, I encourage you to deepen your own practice. Your own embodied practice of fasting and praying, even if they are known to you by a different name. A practice that you discover for yourself and can describe in your mother’s tongue. A practice that grounds you in Love and sets you free by Truth. A practice that becomes a life sustaining reservoir from which you can draw strength to remain open and vulnerable. A practice that makes you brave because it fills you with love. A love that casts out fear.

Hear the words of John Wesley. They are words that nourish a hunger within me to begin … and to begin again and again.

“Oh 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.”

In grace,
Alan

 

 

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