Listen!

June, 14 2020 The Sermon this week comes to us through the words of Rev. Victoria Safford, a minister in the Unitarian Church. They are words from 2005 but I believe them to be very connecting with our times. You decide if that is true for you. You may also want to see how the scripture readings for this week connect with her words. [Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7); Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)]

See you tomorrow at 11h11 for CMM Chat … “the holy occasion of hearing one another, of beholding one another.”

 

Friends,

Psalm 116 begins:
1 I love the Lord, because the Lord has heard
 my voice and my supplications. 
2 Because the Lord inclined his ear to me,
 therefore I will call on the Lord as long as I live. 

Basically, the psalmist is saying: Wow I have been listened to!! Being heard is the basis for the psalmist’s love and lifelong commitment. What is so wondrous according to the psalmist, is that the All-Powerful One, who by rights does not have to listen to anyone, has indeed listened to this psalmist’s cry.

The Lord heard my cry, is no small claim. In fact, it is this very claim that sparked the liberation of the Hebrew slaves back in the day. Back then the dominant theology of Empire taught (as Empire theology always does) that God only spoke and listened to the king who then represented or incarnated God on earth. It was treason to suggest that God listened to anyone besides the king. In Exodus 3:7 we read the radical declaration from the lips of the Lord: “…I have heard their cry…”. Being heard by the Lord helped them to discover and trust their true identity. They were the Lord’s “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5) and not Pharaoh’s slave. On the basis of being heard by the Power above all other powers, the Hebrew slaves demand their freedom and are prepared to walk through oceans and deserts to get it.

The declaration that the All-Powerful One listens to the lowly and trodden upon, is one of the most radically subversive statements of the Scriptures. It is also the primary instruction for those in positions of power to imitate. Listen longest to the lowliest. In truth most of us practice just the opposite.

One of the reasons “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is that our desire to listen seems to decrease in direct proportion to the increase of our power. Perhaps this is because listening and humility go hand in hand and if anything tests our humility it is power. After all, “why do I need to listen to you, if I have the power to just tell you what to do?” This is especially tempting when we are pressured and rushed or feeling vulnerable and afraid ourselves.

If power is not bridled by accountability, we can be almost certain that there will be abuse. The refusal to listen is the beginning of this abuse. It is to treat another as if they do not count. And if they don’t count, it raises the question why do they exist at all? From here it is a slippery slope to doing them further harm.

When institutions constantly cover for those among their ranks, right or wrong, then a culture of impunity soon saturates the structures of that institution which make the abuse of power by members of the institution not just possible but probable. We have witnessed this among the police and army, both here and abroad in recent weeks. We have also witnessed it within religious institutions who have covered up sexual abuse over many years. And in recent days we have heard again of how multiple forms of discrimination are routinely ignored and go unaddressed within elite schools. This occurs when institutions exist to protect and preserve themselves above all else. The moment an institution closes ranks to save itself in this way, it begins to die. And while dying it causes death. This is the public law of self-destruction that Jesus spoke of in personal terms: “If you want to save your life you will lose it.”

Conversely, to listen to another is to affirm their existence and honour their being. To listen is to help another discover and trust their true identity as precious. To listen is the beginning of the liberation journey.

Many are asking, what can we do? We can start by checking who we give our ear to. We can start by listening. We can start by listening to the cries of people, especially the people from the margins of society. And in these June days we are called to listen especially to young people. To listen without argument or the need to answer. To listen to feel and to learn for the sake of liberation.

Please email welcome@cmm.org.za if you want the link to Sunday’s chat.

Grace,
Alan

PS: From June 2018 in the States

Ascension of Love

May, 24 2020 Alan Storey: Problematic Praise [Psalm 68; Acts 1]

Over the years I have repeatedly recommended Nan C. Merrill’s Psalms For Praying – An Invitation to Wholeness. Her rendition of all 150 Psalms is exquisitely beautiful. It is also imaginatively courageous. She writes as a jazz musician plays. Keeping true to the original and underlying score while improvising on the surface in ways that allow us to hear the original melody with renewed wonder and appreciation.

Merrill’s artistry carries the distinct influence of Jesus, who also did with words as a jazz artist does with strings and keys. Allowing Jesus’ baseline to influence her own, Merrill demilitarises the Psalms. The trumpet of vengeance is silenced. The hum of humility replaces the beat of triumphalism. The enemy that must be fought is no longer out there, but within. To be fought with forgiveness, not fists. The childish schoolboy boast: “My God is bigger and better and stronger than yours” is quietened by the mature realisation that God is always for all … ALWAYS FOR ALL.

This is clearly witnessed in Merrill’s rendition of Psalm 47 – one of the Psalms set for Ascension Day. A Psalm that traditionally shrieks of nationalism and conquest with the psalmist boasting about the Lord’s kingly power that “subdued peoples under us”, biblically entrenching an ‘us versus them’ that too many throughout the ages have blindly followed. Read Merrill’s account to hear what the Psalm sounds like when the performing artist is tuned into Jesus.

Psalm 47

Clap your hands, all peoples!
       Acclaim the Creator with
             loud songs of joy!
For the Beloved of our hearts
       is mighty,
the Most High over all the earth.

Love invites the people to
     co-creation,
     the nations to peace.

Love is our birthright, our heritage,
       to be shared with all.

 

Let Love rise up to shouts of acclamation;
       join in the cosmic celebration!

Sing praises to the Creator,
       sing praises!

Sing praises to the Beloved,
       sing praises!

For Love has created the universe,
       let us dance to the flute
             and the harp.

Love reigns over nations,
       awaiting an answer to its call.

May the leaders of the nations
      gather to bring peace and
             justice to all.

For the earth belongs to Love,
Who yearns to see creation healed!

Sing praises to the Beloved!

 

©Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

I remind you that the CMM Chat at 11h11 on Sunday will be a discussion with three healthcare practitioners from CMM who are directly involved in responding to Covid-19 on the ground in the Western Cape: René Goliath, Yvette Andrews and Ian Proudfoot. Please email welcome@cmm.org.za if you want to receive the link to the Sunday CMM Chat.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Grace,
Alan

I am the way, not the route

May, 10 2020 Alan Storey: I am the way, not the route [Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14]

Hi everyone,

It was lovely to see so many of your faces on Thursday evening during our Zoom test / connect. It felt Easter-ish: Facial recognition resurrects relationships! To hear familiar voices and laughter is life-giving.

A group call with so many people can be quite chaotic. But as the angels say: “Be not afraid” for there is beauty in the chaos, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory. As we keep open to learning how to be with each other in this new way, let’s double up on patience, kindness and a sense of humour. When in doubt, breathe and smile. We are not all the same. What energises one, drains the next. As we are attentive to our different experiences, may we feel free to express our learnings, ideas and suggestions so that we all take responsibility for the space we share. The feedback, since Thursday has already been helpful. Thank you.

It would be rather entertaining (and concerning) were someone to get out of a swimming pool and walk on dry ground while continuing to wave breaststroke arms. In other words, a new medium invites a new way. Similarly, it is not possible nor wise to try and replicate the actual with the virtual. This means there are going to be some things we simply miss as they are irreplaceable because they are bound within a particular medium.

Learning what we miss can also be a gift. I have realised over the last few weeks that preaching is a particular medium that cannot (certainly not for me) be replicated by a podcast. I was always taught that true preaching is relational, but I have only now come to see that to be true. Missing the congregation has revealed this to me. If I am honest, podcasts feel kind of dead. (Please stop reading and take a moment to pray for the resurrection of dead podcasts … and a particular struggling podcaster.)

I have also missed liturgy, prayer, readings and song in their own right, but also in the way in which they support and stretch the sermon. Sunday services are more than the sum of their parts. A sermon is a thread, while Sunday services are a tapestry. I miss this greater sense of wholeness. The different voices from different perspectives addressing life as we know it from the uniqueness of our hearts, hands and voices.

In the light of all of this we are going to try something new this Sunday. At 11:11 we will have a conversation (on Zoom). The springboard for our conversation will be the Sunday readings and reflection. Please email Adrienne at welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link if you would like to be part of this. We will stick to 50 minutes max (like therapy – except it will not be therapy!). In our quest to be a questioning community, this Sunday we will simply ask the question: “What questions arise for us from the readings and reflection?” Instead of brainstorming answers, we will brainstorm questions.

One of the concerns about all this online stuff is how exclusive and excluding it can be. It is dependent on having access to data and internet access as well as the technology in the first place. We know therefore that many at CMM are excluded from this form of gathering. This is a concern. I am not exactly sure what the answer is but would like us to be mindful of it. If you can help bridge the gap with those who you know from CMM who are not online, please do. Any suggestions?

On Thursday I shared a bit about the present state of the sanctuary (stripped bare) and the new opportunities it presents for us, especially in relation to a different form of seating that will allow greater flexibility for the use of the sanctuary and to make it more functional in the service of the community. This discussion is important not only regarding the historical nature of the building, but because it raises questions about who we are, and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

Yet the challenge is, this window of opportunity coincides with restricted interaction and limited channels of communication. We would like as many people as possible to be part of these conversations. I therefore appeal to you, if you have thoughts and questions about this, please contact me. We want to make this journey together.

I am mindful that as a community we moved straight from housing refugees for 5 months to Covid-19 lockdown. In other words, from one challenge to another even greater challenge without time to process the first. This is not healthy. We have much to learn from the last 6-7 months as a community. We need to be deliberate about coming back to it when we are able to do so.

Lastly, a big thank you to those who continue to generously support the ministries of CMM as well as Stepping Stones Children’s Centre.

Grace,
Alan

 

Hearing the voice of Love

2020 03 15 Guest Preacher: Rev. Andrè Buttner: Hearing the voice of Love.
[Mark 10:17-31]


This is Martin Luther’s approach as he faced the plague “Black death”, which killed 60% of Europe’s population:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” 

The Annotated Luther, Volume 4: Pastoral Writings, page 404.

Refugee Update

February, 09 2020 Alan Storey: Jesus: The Preacher, The Prophet
[Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20]


February, 02 2020 Guest Preacher: Rev. Dr. Peter Storey:
Being a broken open church.

[Micah 6:1-8; Mark 2:1-14]


On Tuesday the High Court reserved judgement until the 17th February in the matter of the City of Cape Town and Refugees.

So we all continue to wait. Please refer to my previous update on how we are called to wait – with eyes and hearts open.

The situation remains desperate. There is a precarious mix of vulnerability and violence.

On Wednesday 29th January in the evening, stun grenades were once again used to separate the two factions of refugees who were fighting. This volatility makes interventions potentially problematic.

As a Church we continue to consult and explore our options to find a peaceful way forward.

Thank you for your love and concern.

Grace,
Alan