2022 06 05 Alan Storey
Yes, today is Pentecost. If you didn’t know this, don’t feel bad – I can understand why. You see, there is zero advertising for this day. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is yet to be used by marketing managers to get us to buy more stuff.
It seems Pentecost is too hot to handle and therefore unwise to cover in chocolate and uncomfortable to dress in a red jump suit. Besides, Cardies has not figured out how to come up with an equivalent to cute bunnies or red-nosed reindeer to mark the day. Most thankfully, Boney M has not written a song about Pentecost. But regardless of whether you know it or not, today is Pentecost.
Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish harvest festival (Shavuot), a prominent feast in the calendar of the ancient Hebrews, celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost (fiftieth day). Years later, it marked the day when a bunch of discouraged and defeated followers of Jesus were set on fire to live out his dream of justice and mercy for the world. A great wind swept their fear away and set them free to speak truthfully and live justly.
This resulted in a radically new community that we are told “had all things in common”. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds … and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common … [and] there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold … it was distributed to each as any had need.” [Extracts from Acts 2 and 4].
In other words on this 50th day after Passover, these Spirit inspired disciples began to fulfil the Year of Jubilee – the year of economic redistribution to reset society on an equal footing. This economic Sabbath is recorded in Leviticus 25: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.” [Lev. 25:10]
A truly Pentecostal people practice Jubilee and petition for its implementation within society. This means that the issue of landlessness and inequality are Pentecostal issues. “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, says the Lord, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” [Lev 25:23]. In other words, long before Section 25 of our Bill of Rights calls for “land reforms”, the Spirit of Pentecost calls for reparations through the redistribution of land. The year of Jubilee lived into being at Pentecost reminds us that the land belongs to God and not to us, and God longs for all to share in its hospitality and nourishment.
If we are not moved by the Spirit of justice and healing to address the issue of landlessness in SA, we will ultimately be moved by the Spirit of resentment and rage. If we are not moved by the fire of the Spirit, we will be moved by the fire of burning tyres. If we do not address this voluntarily, it will be addressed violently. A nation that has bricks to build high walls to insulate the wealthy but has no bricks to build houses to shelter the poor, can only collapse.
Come Holy Spirit and set us on fire for justice and Jubilee.
Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest
By now you would have heard that President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1st June 2020.
I know that we have all missed gathering together during the Covid-19 Lockdown. It will certainly be a wonderful celebration when we do gather together under one roof. I look forward to that day as much as you do, but at CMM we will not be doing so just yet.
At this time, the most Christ-like (life-giving) thing we can do as CMM, is to continue not to gather in person.
There is still much we do not know about Covid-19, but what we do know is that increased gatherings of people, increase the potential for the virus to spread. Therefore, if meeting as a congregation endangers people’s lives, we will not meet. “There is life and death before you, choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
We are very fortunate not to be faced with the ethical conundrum that many sectors are faced with at the moment. For many the continued Lockdown means economic collapse and family hunger and therefore for them choosing life involves a painfully difficult decision. They are stalked by both disease and hunger. Whatever they decide carries high risk. Therefore, all the more reason why those sectors with less painful choices, make the least risky decisions. Our continued aim is surely to spare the health services as much as we can.
It is worth repeating that we are not deciding whether to open the Church or not. The Church, as a community, was never closed under Lockdown and therefore does not require opening. We are deciding about opening a building and as many have said, we do not need a building to pray or praise.
The question, “is now the time we are reopening CMM?” sounds very much like the question that the disciples asked Jesus in last week’s scripture reading (Acts 1:9). Jesus told them that there were more important things to focus on than dates and times. Instead he invited them to be witnesses to his life-giving ways wherever they were. Similarly, we are invited to witness to justice, mercy and humility wherever we are. When we do this, we are an open church. When we don’t do this, even if the doors of our building are open, we are a closed church.
An open church opens others to life. A small example of this may include CMM’s decision this past week to assist all the traders outside our office block in Church Street to re-open. We will be assisting them with “seed finance” as well as helping them meet the Level 3 regulations. In this regard, let me tell you about Max. Over the years I have watched Max grow his fruit selling business. He began with a few bananas and apples a couple of years ago. As his business has grown, he arrives to set up his stall every morning at around 05h30 and packs up after dark each evening. He is the inspirational epitome of hard work. Just before Lockdown his fruit stall was a beautiful rainbow of nourishing colours shading under two umbrellas. Sadly, fruit doesn’t last too long. Max lost around R6000 of stock due to the Lockdown. Next week we help Max open again. Wherever we are, may we look for opportunities to help people like Max to open again. An open Church opens others to life.
An open Church opens us to the dignity of all. I hope that our very brief experience of not being able to gather together will sensitise us to the pain of those who have seldom experienced the Church as open. To this day LGBQTI people are not fully accepted in many churches. The building is open, but the community is closed, resulting in fearful and closeted Lockdown for years if not forever. An open Church is a radically welcoming community that celebrates the sacred worth of everyone. An open Church opens us to the dignity of all.
Let us reflect more on what it means to be a church that is open. I hope that by using the lens of Pentecost, we can continue this conversation on Sunday at 11h11 during our CMM Chat via zoom. If you would like to be part of this, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
Grace and love to you
One evening, a number of years ago, while driving in Kruger Park we came across two lionesses with their cubs. The lionesses were peering very intently into the distance while the cubs played around them. After a while we decided to move on, heading off in the direction the lionesses had been looking. Not more than 200 metres along the road we came across a mother and her two children sitting by the side of the road. It rapidly dawned on us that they were refugees taking their chances at crossing into South Africa through the park. Aware that they were headed straight towards the lionesses we urged them to get into the car. After much persuasion this fearful family eventually climbed in, weak from hunger and dehydration. We were able to connect them with some people leaving the park and know they made it out safely, carrying with them just a small rucksack and the phone number of a contact. Sadly many others like them have not made it alive through the park.
We walk through Greenmarket Square every Sunday to come to church and I find it almost overwhelming to know that nearly every person working there has a story to tell, not only of how they made it into South Africa, but of the desperation that made them take the chances they did. These very courageous people have become our neighbours… in every sense of the word.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, a God-coming moment when we remember visitors from all over the world coming to Jerusalem and marvelling as they heard their own languages being spoken, telling of God and God’s wonderful ways. I’m not suggesting that we all learn to speak Lingala, Swahili, French, Somali, or Arabic, although that would not be a bad thing, but I wonder what language our visitors from various parts of Africa hear from us in South Africa.
So far it has been a language of indifference, hate, disregard, exclusion, avoidance and ignorance. They hear this language through their treatment by home affairs as they stand in queues from early morning till late only to have to return the next day and the next. They hear it in the exclusion of their young people from tertiary education because they have not been able to obtain I.D. books and therefore do not qualify for bursaries and grants. They hear it as their shops are burnt and those who were their customers one day become their killers the next. They hear it when they are made to pay private fees at hospitals because the system does not acknowledge their refugee status. They hear it in their exclusion from SONA speeches. They hear it… over and over and over.
Yet all over the world God is coming to us in the guise of a refuge-seeker yearning for us to open our arms to do everything we can to welcome those with whom God identifies. God comes to ask us, to plead with us, to speak a language that conveys a different message. A language that says, “We see you. You are welcome. You are home.”
May we learn to take God seriously…
Grace and peace to you and through you
Today we celebrate Pentecost. Today we celebrate the searching Spirit of God seeking out a dis-spirited bunch of fearful and failed disciples. We watch them being set on fire, burning with resurrected conviction and courage to live out the radical teachings of Jesus as their chosen way of life. The most radical of all Jesus’ teachings involved the love of enemies and the sharing of possessions with all who had need. Empowered by the Spirit the disciples forgave as they had been forgiven and they generously gave as they had generously received. In this a new community was formed. It was a community of mercy and justice. In other words it was a Pentecostal community. May we at CMM endlessly grow into being an authentic Pentecostal community.
Today we also celebrate Holy Communion. Holy Communion is the dramatic reminder of how we need to mercifully and justly share the ingredients of life with all, in order for all to have life in all its fullness. In other words Holy Communion reminds us to be a truly Pentecostal community.
Today we will be celebrating Holy Communion with bread and water – rather than wine/juice. In our drought-stricken context we do so to acknowledge that water is sacred. Water is priceless. Water is the basis for life. Without water nothing would exist. We would not exist. In his memoir, Speak Memory, novelist Vladimir Nobokov recalls his Great Aunt Pascha’s final words: “Now I understand. Everything is water.” 70% of the human person is made up of water – just like 70% of this planet is water. Yet less than 1% of earth’s water is drinkable. The paper and ink of this leaflet would not exist without water. The water that watered the seed that grew into a tree that was cut into logs that could be smashed into pulp etc., etc. Every aspect of the process from seed to paper was dependent on water. Indeed everything is water.
Water is a gift and not just another commodity. Perhaps only when we have a reverent or sacramental relationship with water will we cherish every drop, curbing our wastefulness and preventing our pollution of it. And perhaps only then will we passionately work for the just sharing of water, for some of us have multiple water inlets into our home, while some have none. As we partake in Holy Communion today may it strengthen us to work for the day where all experience Holy Communion. As we celebrate Pentecost today may we be inspired to give of ourselves towards a Pentecostal future of mercy and justice for all.
Grace and peace to you and through you
One of the most beautiful things about Cape Town is the healthy religious diversity that flourishes among us. For some of us this religious diversity is planted within our own households. This is to be celebrated and cherished. To discover and learn from others what for them is sacred is a crucial part in honouring their humanity and loving them as our neighbour. This is especially so as we have just entered the month of Ramadan – a sacred time to Muslims of fasting for inner spiritual attunement.
At our Synod two weeks ago we were addressed by Mr Ebrahim Rhoda from the Strand Muslim community who shared with us a brief historical overview of the Strand Muslim community from between 1822 – 1966. In his talk he brought to our attention the relationship that early Methodists had with the early Muslim community. Some of the statements from the Methodist and other Christian clergy make you want to hide in shame. One missionary declared: “It has been my endeavour, within my humble sphere, to check this growing evil, but generally without success.” Another says, “With few exceptions they follow either a base, sinful course of life, or are ensnared by the awfully prevalent delusion of Mohammedanism.” From this we are reminded that we are often tempted to speak of another’s religion in the least charitable terms while taking a most generous view of our own. This is fueled by blind passion, hidden insecurity or both.
Rhoda also spoke of the great cooperation between Methodists and Muslims. One such story of collaboration resulted from a fishing disaster in which both Muslims and Methodists drowned. And from this we are reminded that shared suffering is often the knife that cuts through our shallow differences awakening us to our shared unity. Only when we know a person’s deepest hurt can we say that we know them.
There is a story of how Francis of Assisi (1181? – 1226) who rejected the call for war and instead during the Fifth Crusade went to meet Al-Kamil, a Kurdish ruler and Sultan of Egypt. His original intension was to convert the Sultan to Christianity but he left their time together with a profound sense that the Muslim Sultan was a person of God. Francis thereafter instructed his fellow monks to live at peace with Muslims with no need to convert them.
In these days where difference is often the basis for division may we learn to do difference differently. May difference be a lens through which we can learn and grow. And may we come to experience the mystery of how difference awakens us to our oneness at our depths.
In this may we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and a minute later he says, “They who keep my commandments are those who love me.” [John 14: 15 & 21]
Life is mysterious, it presents great challenges and incredible moments of wonder, but ultimately life is to be lived as gift. The unfolding of each new day presents for us opportunity to be a part of something so much greater than ourselves. There is wonderful music being threaded together all around us and our opportunity is to be still and quiet and see if our spirit can get caught up in the spirit of the music that is the sacred song meant for all of God’s creation. There is a song that is beautiful enough for the inclusion of us all.
During my travels, I sat with a man who taught me so much about the Spirit of God at work in the world, Rev. Keith Tonkel. He is celebrating his 80th birthday this year and his 48th year ministering at Wells Memorial United Methodist in Jackson, Mississippi. It is unheard of for a United Methodist Minister to serve so many years in one place. Keith believed his ministry was to grow a community lived love. Love is the ultimate creation song.
During the Civil Rights years, Keith was one of 28 ministers who signed a statement called the “Born of Conviction” statement. They were naming their commitment to spend their lives working to end segregation in the church. Keith was sent to Wells Memorial UMC as punishment for signing the document. The church was understood to be a dying congregation. He shares there were 13 people there when he arrived. His sermon was prepared and ready and when he touched the handle of the front door of the church something in his spirit made him think there was another sermon he was to preach.
Keith began to preach a sermon on the valley of the dry bones. After he was done, a member of the church came up to him and slapped him on the back and said, “We had decided if you didn’t have the courage to preach to us from that very text we were going to close the doors of this place.” Over the years, Wells has grown in number and the congregation is described to be the most inclusive congregation in the state of Mississippi.
Keith is one who truly drinks life. Outside of his house sits a cooler that says, “Drinks here are for postal workers.” When I shared I loved the cooler, he said, “Baby, you can’t have their drinks, but I have your favorite coffee right here, just for you!” I smiled and drank my coffee and drank the joy of being with one who reminds you to drink life and who knows how to live love!
Sitting with Keith, one might think his full spirit comes from an easy life, but that would not be true. His spirit song has lived through cancer, the death of his wife, the illness of children, and the harsh reality of being thought odd in a state like Mississippi for singing a song his whole career long that is a song that has rhythm and harmony for—ALL!
We live in a world where people need to hear music rising above the chaos, music that rises above anxiety filled hearts, and music that is a witness that stands against any doubt that there is a God with love great enough for all. This is our story. This is our song.
With you on the journey,
Grace and Peace to you …
Today is Pentecost. The forming of authentic community was one of the miracles that took place that first Pentecost. The author of the Pentecostal story writes that every nation under heaven was present. The author’s exaggerated point is clear. No one was excluded. In fact the author does something even more imaginative. Out of the 16 nations that the author lists, some of them no longer existed at the time. They were literally extinct. Pentecost is therefore the forming of what is deemed ‘impossible community’. Yet this type of community where no one is excluded is the only community worth striving for because it is the only community that will save us in the end.
As deep and as difficult as the race issue is in South Africa I think class is our biggest challenge when it comes to forming truly diverse community. Having worked in many non-racial church communities, I am yet to find much evidence that the rich and poor can come together to form any sort of authentic community. It seems impossible.
In short, the rich fear the poor and therefore avoid the poor. Who am I talking about when I refer to the rich? I am speaking about myself and others like me. According to www.globalrichlist.com when I plug in my +R15 000 p.m. (R180 000 p.a.) net salary into their smart little app, I end up in the top 0.95% of the world, making me the 56,932,476th richest person on earth by income. It further tells me that I earn R93.75 per hour while the average labourer in Zimbabwe makes just R2.89 in the same time and that it will take the average labourer in Indonesia 44 years to earn what I do in a year. This means the next time I protest about the world’s wealthy 1% I should bring a mirror. [www.globalrichlist.com uses 2008 figures for their calculation so they may be a little out of date yet the point still stands.]
These sobering stats should give us a clue why the rich fear and avoid the poor. I fear and avoid the poor because I know that for authentic community to exist the inequality must end. And for the inequality to end means that I must change my lifestyle, which feels too much like loss, until of course my eyes are opened to the richness of a truly diverse community where no one is excluded.
Rich and poor forming authentic community may seem impossible but what really is impossible is the continued sustainability of the divide. If this divide is not addressed voluntarily then in the end it will be addressed violently. A nation that has bricks to build high walls to insulate the wealthy but not houses to shelter the poor will collapse because God will not be mocked.
Grace and Peace to you
This past week we earthlings managed to catch a ride on the back of a comet. Since blasting off in March 2004, Rosetta and its lander Philae have traveled more than 6 billion kilometres to catch up with the comet, which orbits the sun at speeds up to 135 000 km/h. Touchdown for the lander played out 510 million kilometres from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, on a comet hurtling through space at more than 18 km/s. At so vast a distance, even radio signals travelling at the speed of light take nearly half an hour to travel from Earth to the spacecraft, making real-time control of the landing impossible. Instead, the entire descent was pre-calculated, uploaded and run automatically.
The safe, if precarious, touchdown of the lander gives scientists a unique chance to ride on-board a comet and study from the surface what happens as its activity ramps up as it gets closer to the sun.
The £1 bn ($1.58 bn) Rosetta mission aims to unlock the mysteries of comets, made from ancient material that predates the birth of the solar system. In the data Rosetta and Philae collect, researchers hope to learn more of how the solar system formed and how comets carried water and complex organics to the planets, preparing the stage for life on Earth.
This sort of stuff just astounds me. I am filled with wonder and awe at the logistics and mathematics involved in such a mission. It is also profoundly humbling to be reminded how crazily huge the universe is, and how miniscule we are.
The stuff of creation is not only a gift from the Creator but a reflection of the Creator — like a painting is a reflection of the artist. Jesus tells us that God alone is good. And in Genesis God calls all of creation “good”. In creation then we are invited to see God’s goodness.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel warned us: “Forfeit your sense of awe and the universe becomes a market place for you.” This is why scientific exploration is so important, namely to expand our vision into the mystery of matter.
Did you know that rye plants have roots that are 11 000 km long and that they grow 5 km per day? Did you know that it would take one million earths to fill our single sun? Did you know that it took 15 billion years of birthing, dying and resurrecting the universe before we humans arrived? Yes, homo sapiens has only been around for a tiny fragment of time.
As Mathew Fox asks: “How aware are we of the wonders of our own bodies? Consider how, for example, every person has enough blood vessels in them to go around the earth two times (96 000 km worth when extended end-to-end). If we were to extend just one person’s DNA end-to-end it would travel from the earth to the moon and back 100,000 times! Our hearts do the daily work equivalent of lifting a ton five stories high and our bones are literally stronger than steel or reinforced concrete — yet when they break they grow back on their own.”
All this should move us to wonder and praise for the Creator and reverence for the creation. Humility should be our default position towards the planet.
Sadly, “we tear down forests, despoil the soil and the fisheries… and other species — we are destroying ourselves. We are living in the greatest period of destruction of the last 60 million years and the truth must be told: anthropocentric religion contributes to this devastation” says Matthew Fox.
We have been taught not to “worship creation” as divine (pantheism) but in the process we have lost all reverence for God’s handiwork. The pendulum has swung to the opposite end. We unthinkingly cut, exploit, mine and chisel away for profit and apparent progress without counting the actual cost.
I confess that I think God would be more pleased if we worshiped the tree (that cleans the air we breathe) than not. In fact, many of us practice something far worse than pantheism — let’s call it bricktheism — which is the worship of buildings. This is especially true of places of worship. Too often they become places to worship.
May our eyes be opened to the mystery of matter and wonder of creation. Grace, Alan
Pastor Xolo Skosanna was elected as the chairperson of the Western Cape Religious Leaders’ Forum this past week.