On Sunday the 29th December there was conflict among the refugees – effectively a fallout between the refugee leadership resulting in a split among the refugees into two hostile groups (leaving one group inside the church and the other outside). For about five hours we tried to get the two sides to end the standoff without success. Violence erupted between these two groups in the late afternoon. The police intervened to restore order and to keep the two groups apart. The police remained at the entrance of the Church for nearly a week. It was due to this violence and the continued threat of violence that we decided to cancel the worship service at Central Methodist Mission (CMM) on the 5th January 2020.
And it is due to this violence and continued hostility between groups of refugees that there cannot be a worship service at CMM this Sunday. Therefore, until further notice CMM’s Sunday services will be held at the Observatory Methodist Church at 10am. [Corner: Wesley and Milton Street, Observatory].
The ongoing health and safety risks that exist within the over-crowed sanctuary are exacerbated by the day. As I have repeatedly warned, the sanctuary is no longer a safe space and therefore, asked the people present to vacate. Now on top of these health and safety risks is the unpredictable volatility of the present hostile situation.
This has been a very difficult time and as a church we have struggled to find the balance between providing sanctuary to the refugees while they engage with international bodies and local authorities and take steps to prevent fire hazard and the spread of disease and basically keep people safe. You will know that we have asked the refugees to vacate the sanctuary numerous times. They have not done so. Sometimes simply reneging on their word and at other times due to circumstances beyond their control, like the tragic drowning of the four teenagers in Sea Point.
As the Church we have taken the long road of listening deeply and graciously. However, on the 29th December things changed. The sanctuary was turned into a battle ground by some and our welcoming space into a blockaded fortress. Hospitality was replaced with hostility. As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups, nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address this situation.
This matter is not simple. There are layers within layers being played out. We must be able to hold more than one truth at a time and resist the temptation to simplify the situation to a soundbite. We have every right to feel angry and saddened and yet we must guard against our feelings having the final say of how we respond. When our desire for things to “return to normal” becomes greater than our desire for the wellbeing of people – especially the very vulnerable (there are between 50-100 children in the sanctuary) then we need to stop and check ourselves and hold each other accountable to another way, truth and life. A way that attempts to be faithful to Jesus’ call on our living.
As difficult and stressful as all this is I continue to invite you to seek out the gospel-ness of this moment. We must be especially mindful of what moves us: fear or love? May we be alert to complacency and cynicism. At all times let us resist the limiting binary of condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion. Compassion that is ever-open to critique and growth.
This Sunday we break bread together reminding us that we are one body … one body yet broken. We will share the cup of forgiveness … a joyful celebration, yet also a gruesome reminder of blood shed world over. We will remember our Baptism and be thankful as we are invited to accept the good news that we are God’s beloved and to live out the good news for the world that everyone … everyone, is God’s beloved.
Look what arrived in my junk-email box on Thursday morning:
I am Mrs. Mercy John from United Kingdom, a 60 years old dying woman who was diagnosed for cancer about 4 years ago. I have decided to donate to you for charitable goals. Please get back to me if you are interested in carrying out this task, so that I can give you more details and arrange the release of the funds to you. Hoping to hearing from you soon.
Mrs. Mercy John”
Normally I would send such an email straight to trash, but the sender’s name paused my deleting finger mid-air – as mercy does. And I am glad it did because it gave me an opportunity to read the email in full. I can see why it ended up in my junk mail. It is obviously spam and it is obviously a scam of sorts, but on a fuller reading it does contain great grace. And isn’t it just like grace to attach itself to junk and thereby transforming it into a jewel? So here are The Seven Steps from Junk to Jewel:
So Mercy hopes to hear from us. Isn’t that the truth!?
The other day I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to get people to change. The article explains the “Banana Principle”. It goes like this: On the office counter there are two bowls of fruit for all employees to freely help themselves. A bowl of bananas and a bowl of oranges. Every day without fail the banana bowl is emptied first. And many of the staff who arrive after the bananas are finished, choose to leave without taking an orange even though there are plenty of oranges still to be had. On reflection and research they realised that the reason for this is not because bananas are deemed that much more delicious than oranges, but rather that they are easier to eat. They are easier to manage. Easier to peel. Bananas are less messy than oranges.
So according to the authors, if you want people to start doing something that they are not – give them a banana-like-option. In other words make it easy. And if you want people to stop doing what they are doing – give them an orange-like-option. Make it more difficult or costly, because people employ the principle of the least effort. This is obvious in each of our lives I am sure.
But it raises this question for me: what if the change needed is not easy and cannot be made to be easy? What if the change needed is messy – like much meaningful change is.
This raised another question: is easy really what we want? Surely we have enough insight into our lives to know that easy seldom hits the spot within us that is crying out for transformation.
More than easy I think we desire truth. The truth that we can change. The truth that it is difficult. The truth that it is costly. The truth that it may happen in hidden ways over long periods of time. The truth that we will be helped along by grace again and again.
This is why I think the Covenant Commitment still holds our attention over 250 years after it was first prayed. It holds our attention because it holds the real desires of our heart. In our depths we want truth, not easy. As it states in the introduction: “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.”
We are no longer our own but yours O God.
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.
*NOTE: “Put me to suffering” – does not mean that we are asking God to make us suffer! Rather it means that we are even willing so suffer if that is a consequence of being faithful.
Hope for the Flowers was one of the first books I remember my mom giving to me. I have never stopped reading it and never stopped trusting in its truth. It could have been called The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe.
It is about two caterpillars named Yellow and Stripe. Yellow and Stripe were in love with each other. They decided that there was more to life than getting to the top of the caterpillar pile and decided to journey in a new direction. To live for each other instead of themselves and to focus on loving. For caterpillars this meant that they did a lot of hugging – well actually caterpillars don’t hug, they curl. They really are good curlers!
I won’t spoil the whole story for you … but just to say at some point they had to make a big decision. It was full of risk. The decision terrified them both. They had to give up the only life they knew in the hope of a new life they barely thought possible and yet somehow they could not give up the belief that it was possible. They had to die … in order to live more fully — yes even fly.
For me this is the most beautiful and clear picture of the new life that Jesus invites us into when he invites us to walk in his ways. It is a huge risk and it is terrifying. It involves dying to oneself and giving ourselves to each other in love. Just the idea bubbles with promise within my belly — how about yours?
In today’s Covenant Service we are invited to risk giving up our lives for Love’s sake. When we do we die. When we do we are re-born. When we do, we soar like on the wings of eagles … or is it butterflies?
“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”
– St Augustine