The Shepherd Politics of Abundant Life

May, 03 2020 Alan Storey: The Shepherd Politics of Abundant Life. [Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-11. Also in PDF format.

 

Grace and peace to you,

Lock-down tiredness and other puzzlements and paradoxes …

Days during lockdown kind of roll into each other without any difference or distinction. It doesn’t seem to make the slightest difference whether the day is a Tuesday or a Saturday. There is movement but no progress. As if Sisyphus got hold of the calendar. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why many people have felt so tired during Lock-down? A tiredness that seems out of place because there is no glaringly obvious reason for the exhaustion. Some of us can’t point to anything we have done to make ourselves tired, yet tired we feel.

I wonder if the exhaustion results from absorbing the suffering and struggle around the world and throughout the country without being able to do too much about it. Feeling like an insignificant drop in the ocean. We have constant input about what is happening all over but like the Dead Sea very little outflow, so for most of the time we are just left to hold it. It feels like a dead weight. We might name this dead weight “Overwhelm”. And if we put “Overwhelm” down because it is too heavy then another weight steps in to replace it called “Guilt”. After all, how can we be chilling while others are crying? The knowledge of the vastly different social conditions of Lock-down weigh heavily and yet does not stop us from moaning about the trivial.

Some of us wish we could just stop eating while others wish for food to eat. Some of us share space with the one we love while others with the one we resent or fear.

Waiting on tender hooks is tiring. Waiting for the Tsunami of death to knock us off our feet as it has done in other countries. Some have already been swallowed up by the economic Tsunami – having lost their business and means of income and sit frozen in trauma. For these it’s the ‘cure’ that has taken their life rather than the disease.

Meetings via ZOOM are also said to be a reason for tiredness, because you literally have people “in your face”. https://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/zoom-fatigue-video-conferencing?utm_source=TreeHugger+Newsletters&utm_campaign=150c8b8395-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_11_16_2018_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_32de41485d-150c8b8395-243784813

For some of us the peace and quiet is driving us bats, while others covet a single second of silence because we have children climbing up the walls. The desire for connection with people does not correlate into having the energy to make a phone call.

You have probably got your own Lock-down puzzlements and paradoxes. My invitation to you is that you honour your puzzlements and paradoxes without censor or judgement. Be attentive to them all. To deny our own experience is no less violent than to dismiss the experience of others. When in doubt, go with ‘both / and’ rather than ‘either /or’.

Grace,
Alan

Notices

  • We would like to have a “test” CMM gathering via ZOOM (Not more than 30 minutes. Hopefully not too exhausting!) at 8pm on Thursday evening 7th May. If you would like to participate please send your email address to Adrienne: welcome@cmm.org.za It will be good to check in with each other.
  • Thank you to those of you seeking to support Stepping Stones Children’s Centre. Here are the bank details:
    Stepping Stones Children’s Centre
    NEDBANK
    St. George’s
    Branch Code 100 909
    Account Number 1028 204 973

 

Promises for the Resurrection Journey

Grace and peace to you all,

African Harrier-Hawk

One of the joys during lockdown is to have seen an African Harrier-Hawk fly up and down Church Street on three separate occasions. When one is only used to seeing pigeons in the city, the wingspan of a hawk is very impressive. While perched on the roof top of Deluxe Coffee it ate its prey, which I guess is some consolation for the Coffee shop being closed.

Some of you have asked about the state of the Sanctuary. The work of restoring the Sanctuary is starting slowly. We will communicate with you in the near future about what needs to be done and what we will need in order to do it. After the clean-up and stripping bare of the Sanctuary, that was enabled by a generous donation, we presently have electricians working on the electrics to make sure that it’s all in safe working order as well as plumbers enabling the bathrooms to once again be functional. This is all we are really able to do at the moment due to the lockdown and our budget.

Restoring the Sanctuary is going to be a big task. It will also take money. We are, however, very mindful of the fact that the Covid-19 Lockdown has not only reduced many people’s financial means to contribute to our situation, but created widespread and urgent human need that demands the generosity and priority of us all. In the very least I want to encourage you to keep paying people in your employ. There are also many online opportunities to support food distribution and not least to contribute to the national Solidarity Fund (which to date has received over 75 000 individual contributions). Think too of those small businesses that lost all income the instant the lockdown occurred. Think of a hairdresser for example. Perhaps you can pay your hairdresser in advance to enable them to pay their bills in the meantime. We all need to generously trust and be creative, doing to others as we would love them to do to us.

At CMM we continue to commit to paying people in our employ (permanent and casual, working and not working) as well as a commitment to the staff of Stepping Stones Children’s Centre as the need arises. We have entered into compassionate rental agreements with our tenants with the hope of enabling them to see this difficult period through. We are not sure where all this will take us, but we are committed to continue to care for those dependent on us as comprehensibly as we can. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and generosity that enable us to take these steps.

According the President’s address to us all on Thursday 23rd April, we will not be gathering as a community any time soon. Lockdown eases only slightly from the 1st May. We are in the process of exploring fresh ways to connect as a community.

Please do communicate with Sharon, Adrienne or me, if you are going into hospital over this time. Even though we are still not allowed to visit, it can be a source of strength to know that others know where you are and are with you in prayer.

Grace, Alan

Today you can either listen to the reflection – click on the heading below:

Promises for the Resurrection Journey on the road back to Jerusalem

OR spend time reading it – click on PDF.

 

[Luke 24:13-35]

 

Easter: Good Friday Reflection

The Little Calvary: Praying on a Covid-19 Good Friday

A reflection on prayer by Rev. Dr. Peter Storey.


 

Good Friday Meditation

You are invited to spend some time on Good Friday
with this meditation by Joan Proudfoot.


 

Service & Sermon Resources

Sermons by Rev. Roger Scholtz of Kloof Methodist Church can be downloaded from Kloof Methodist Church Sermondrop and can also be found on i-Tunes.

Rev. Roger Scholtz: A Calvary Called Covid-19. [John 19:16-30]

A service by Presiding Bishop Purity Malinga & General Secretary, Rev. Michel Hansrod will be broadcasted on DSTV Channel 344 on Good Friday at 12:30.

 

 

Easter: Maundy Thursday

 

Maundy Thursday: Tenebrae Service

Traditionally on this night we would gather together in the candlelit sanctuary. Readers would lead us by the ear through the story of Jesus’ Passion.

After each ancient word a candle would be extinguished leaving us in complete darkness with the horror of our capacity to crucify  … to the tune of hammer blows.

With these ancient words we walk as a community into the heart of darkness … to discover the Light. The Light that comes to those who refuse to deny the darkness.

We would then strip the altar bare and leave the sanctuary in silence. Hammer blows still echoing over two thousand years.

I hear hammer blows echoing from last week. The hammer blows against the sanctuary doors still echoing in the empty sanctuary now stripped bare.

I invite you:

  • To light a candle.
  • Read Matthew 26-27.
  • Extinguish the candle.
  • Sit in the darkness.
  • Embrace the emptiness – the emptiness as ending.
  • Listen to the echoes in the silence.
  • Embrace the emptiness – the emptiness as new beginning.
  • Do not be afraid.
  • Be at peace.

Grace,
Alan

Where do we draw the line?

Grace to you

When I finished preaching last Sunday – someone in the congregation called out: “But where do we draw the line?” The book of Acts records the early church wrestling with this very question: Who is in and who is out? Who is welcome and who is not? Where do we draw the line?

In fact the first Synod, called the Council of Jerusalem, had only one item on the agenda: “Are uncircumcised people welcome as is?” Peter thankfully convinced the assembly that God “made no distinction between them and us” [Acts 15:9].

The same question has topped the agenda of many synods since. Of course the issue is no longer circumcision but something else that is used to other and exclude, like gender. Regardless of the difference in ‘category’ it’s the same question: Does God make a distinction between us or not? “Where do we draw the line?”

Sadly, history shows that as we learn that God does not make a distinction between others and us in one area, we find another area to make distinctions in and we have to learn the lesson all over again. The lesson being that we have done evil believing we were doing good and we have caused pain while thinking we were being kind.

We seem to need endless reminding that God’s including mercy and love is for all – and all actually does mean all. This is why we often sing the hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind.

At our 190th Synod last week we witnessed the incarnation of God’s wide mercy among us as women were elected into the office of Bishop and Presiding Bishop. A great celebration even though long overdue. We also voted overwhelmingly for our Church to stop discriminating against LGBTI clergy and in favour of allowing LGBTI clergy to enter into a civil union – while the church continues to wrestle with its theology around marriage. (Please note that these decisions are not the new policy of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa because they would need to first be debated and accepted at our Conference in September for that to be the case. But this localised expression of God’s mercy at our Cape of Good Hope Synod is not without significance.)

Jesus crossed every possible distinction and barrier of his times – so nothing less is expected of those of us who desire to follow him.

Grace,
Alan

Practice Resurrection

Grace to you

In the light of our Resurrection Reflections over the last few weeks here is a folktale to help us reach truth and a poem to help us practice resurrection:

“When the world was still young, Truth walked around as naked as she was the day she was born. Whenever she came close to a village, people closed their doors and shut their windows, for everyone was afraid to face the Naked Truth. Understandably Truth felt very alone and lonesome. One day she encountered Story who was surrounded by a flock of people of all ages who followed her wherever she went. Truth asked her, ‘‘Why is it that people love you, but shy away from me?’’ Story, who was dressed in beautiful robes, advised Truth: ‘‘People love colourful clothes. I will lend you some of my robes and you will see that people will love you too.’’ Truth followed her advice and dressed herself in the colourful robes of Story. It is said that from this day on, Truth and Story always walk together and that people love both of them.”

(Adapted from WEINREICH, B. (1997). Yiddish folktales. New York, NY: Schocken.)


Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbours and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from 
The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry

Grace,
Alan

Truth and grace lead to resurrection

Grace to you

Two weeks ago 2x Olympic Champion Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Accordingly if Semenya is to compete in distances from 400m to a mile she will be forced to reduce her natural levels of testosterone. History will show this to be a terrible act of discrimination. As some have said, this decision is the “Sara Baartman” moment of the 21st century. Thankfully organisations like the World Medical Association have come out against the judgment and warn that any doctor who complies with the (IAAF) regulations, in relation to any athlete, will be breaking their oath to “do no harm”. Hopefully it does not take long for sanity to prevail so that people like Semenya can be free to do what they love – run fast.

In these days of Easter I was struck by a resurrection story that is connected to Caster Semenya. A story not dissimilar to the resurrection of Saul that we reflected on last Sunday: Remember Saul’s breath? He had a murderous breath towards those who were different to him. He wanted to correct, change and control other people who were worshipping and praying in different ways to himself. For Saul, difference was to be “regulated” rather than “celebrated”. His Damascus road resurrection took a while because it not only involved hearing heavenly truth but also personally meeting the people he believed should be corrected, changed and controlled. Deeper truth and grace-full relationship finally unlocked Saul from his tomb of deathly prejudice.

The two ingredients of grace and truth continue to resurrect people. Take for example of the resurrection of Madeleine Pape from Australia who competed against Semenya at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Pape said: “I was sore about losing to Caster Semenya … her performance [was] unfair”. Four years later she was doing her PhD in Sociology and began to learn the “heavenly” truth about women with naturally high testosterone. This deeper truth brought her to question her previously held convictions. Then, “critically, during this time I also befriended some women with high testosterone. [The question arose for me] “Was I willing to recognise my friends as women outside of sport yet deny them the right to compete alongside me on the track?”, reasoned Pape. Now she declares what is unfair is not Semenya’s performance but the way she is being treated. Truth (PhD) and Grace-full relationship (Friends) have resurrected Pape from her deathly othering of Semenya.

Now as we work and pray for the resurrection of the (IAAF) what about the church? The (IAAF) is an organisation that prevents Semenya to do what she loves – namely run. The Church is an organisation that prevents Semenya to love who she loves – namely Violet Raseboya – Semenya’s wife. Surely the Church is in far greater need to be resurrected?

Grace,
Alan

Picture: OkMzanzi  |  EPA/John G. Mabanglo

The Blessing of Anger

Grace and peace to you

We end each Sunday service with what we call the “Benediction of Disturbance”:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we
may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression
and exploitation of people, so that we may work for
justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who
suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to
believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and
the poor.

In God’s grace we say – Amen – so be it.

This benediction does not beat about the bush. There is nothing superficial about it. It cuts deep. The words hauntingly echo long after they have been spoken. The blessings jar any spiritual serenity we may seek.

Take for example the second blessing: “May God bless us with anger…” I mean who prays to be blessed with anger? We are more likely to confess our anger and pray for God to remove it. Anger is not something we associate with a blessing – let alone a blessing from God. Many of us believe that anger is somehow un-Christian or un-holy, but anger is a feeling and feelings need to be felt to be honoured. If we do not honour our feelings they will demand our attention by other means – often by increasingly destructive means. One thing that is clear is that they will not go “quietly into the night”.

We remember the verse in Scripture that says: “Even if you are angry, do not sin because of it. Never let the sun set on your anger or you will give the devil a foothold.” [Eph. 4:26] We may hear this verse saying that we should not be angry, yet it doesn’t say that. It says we must be careful what we do with our anger and wisely warns us about how long we hold onto it because if we hold onto our anger too long it eventually holds us prisoner.

Yet there is a time and place for anger. I am not talking here about hurtful and destructive expressions of anger. For this we need anger management therapy to get to the root – which is often hurt, fear and shame. I am referring to anger that aims at preventing hurt and destruction. This was the root of Jesus’ anger. He got angry because people were being excluded from the temple and exploited while there. Jesus tossed over some tables to make his point clear.

I think some of us need anger management of a different sort. We need therapy to give ourselves permission to actually be angry. We need help to get over the fear of being angry.

As Richard Rohr writes: Anger is good and very necessary to protect the appropriate boundaries of self and othersI would much sooner live with a person who is free to get fully angry, and also free to move beyond that same anger, than with a negative person who is hard-wired with resentments and preexisting judgements. Their anger is so well hidden and denied—even from themselves—that it never comes up for the fresh air of love, conversation, and needed forgiveness.” 

Grace,
Alan