Awakening Prophetic Agency and Urgency

2024 07 07 Sunday Sermon

Sikawu Makubalo: Awakening Prophetic Agency and Urgency
Ezekiel 2:1-5Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Dear Friends,

The ministry of the church ought to be prophetic: giving warning as well as offering hope and healing. We are urged to highlight what it means to be prophetic agents by the Presiding Bishop under the theme “Awakening Prophetic Agency and Urgency, Reviving the Church of Christ”. 

Prophetic agents should have the unwavering willingness to challenge the systems of oppression and exploitation with a deep commitment to justice motivated by the love of Christ and learning to love from Christ. The church should ask herself what it means to be prophetic agents in a constitutional democracy and 30 years after the first democratic elections. Prophetic agents are called to critique the status quo, exposing its flaws and calling for change. They articulate a vision of what could be, grounded in God’s justice, hope, peace and love and they have the moral and spiritual courage to advocate for the marginalised. They help people see beyond their current reality, helping them imagine a new world shaped by God’s justice, hope, peace and love.

This is the challenge before us: to see the marginalised, identify oppressive and exploiting systems, so that we can love courageously as we proclaim the Gospel by word and deed. So, this month we will ask God to awaken in us prophetic agency and urgency.

Grace and peace, Sikawu

 

Priorities

Dear Friends,

The past two weeks we focused on Child Protection and the Elections.

Child Protection Month
Childhood is a critical stage for character, moral, and spiritual formation. Early spiritual development of children that includes fellowship, mentoring, exposure to God’s love language can have a lasting impact on a child’s faith and values. It is for this reason that in our mission and ministry, children are prioritised.

It was exciting to host children from the Circuit’s Early Childhood Development Centres — Gateway (Kensington) and Stepping Stones (District Six) during Child Protection Week. This was done in partnership with FAMSA’s Wellness Hub (based at CMM during the week). Children were educated on what it means to be healthy as well as on their right to good health. They were offered vitamins and had great fellowship and playtime.

At CMM we will endeavour to include and prioritise children in our services where we can. We will continue to observe the principles of child protection week to educate adults on just and healthy relationships with children and the responsibility to nurture and shape children as responsible ethical leaders.

 

 

Elections
South Africa enters an unprecedented and critical stage of her democracy. Response to this stage by politicians may shape or further fragment the nation.

The Church’s mandate at this critical time is to insist on the project to unite people, uplift and develop the poor, educate and safeguard all children, and the provision of bread for all people (eliminating hunger). The church, in her prophetic mission, should question any agenda that protects the privilege of some at the expense of others (Brueggemann) as it is contrary to the commandment to love.

God bless South Africa (and all the world) guard her children,
guide her leaders and grant her peace.

Peace, Sikawu

 

The bell, banners and blasphemy

 

Friends,

The first Yellow Banner that CMM raised was in 2011. In solidarity with The Right To Know Campaign (r2k) and many other civil society organisations CMM decided to spread the disturbing news about The Protection of Information Act, more honestly known as The Secrecy Bill. A Bill that would seriously curtail the press and punish whistle-blowers. In short, it was a law that would make it easier to lie and more difficult to speak the truth. We figured Jesus would object to it, so we objected to it.

This kick-started CMM’s Yellow Banner Campaign that would result in 18 more Yellow Banners being raised up CMM’s steeple tower, covering topics as varied as: The Arms Deal; ARVs; Xenophobia; Gender based violence; Sex Work; Homophobia; COVID; Marikana; Housing and State Capture among others.

What they all had in common was 1] an abuse of power resulting in vulnerable people becoming more vulnerable and 2] a remnant of courageous resistance. 

I am excited to let you know that a book about CMM’s Yellow Banner Campaign is about to come out. It is called The bell, banners and blasphemy. This book hopes to tell a little of CMM’s story for the past 13 years or so. The book includes large colour photos of the banners and a social and theological commentary of each Yellow Banner. There is also a photo essay of CMM’s hospitality to the refugees.

As a result of a gift, a 100% of the sales for the first 250 copies will go directly to Stepping Stones Preschool.

You will be notified of a book launch as soon as a date is confirmed. If you have any enquiries or if you would like to purchase the book or host a discussion / launch, please email: aslowwalkbooks@gmail.com

In grace,
Alan

Learn… Unlearn… Relearn…

 

Friends,

Last week I visited Humanity, an evolution exhibition at the Iziko South African Museum of Natural History – situated in the Company Gardens. (It is time the Company Gardens be renamed!) I highly recommend this exhibition as it invites us to reflect on ‘What makes us the SAME’, ‘What makes us DIFFERENT’ and ‘What makes us HUMAN’.

The exhibition makes an important stand against discrimination and racism in particular. It states clearly that “Races are not real. Racism is”. We are reminded that every single human being shares 99.9 % identical DNA with the next person. How the world needs to be reminded that every painfilled legacy of discriminatory othering is based on less than 0.1% of a human being!

The exhibition that is profound in its simplicity and accessibility critiques how evolution studies have been studied and communicated over the years. In this way it ‘decolonises’ this discipline. Remember a couple of years back some people were asking how it was possible to ‘decolonise’ science, after all “science is science” they said. Well, this exhibition is a brilliant example of decolonising education. It reveals the historical biases (and blatant prejudices) of white men in the field of evolutionary studies. The exhibition exposes stuff that I took for granted and never even thought to question.

This example of decolonising of education is a challenge to all of us to critique our own fields of interest or expertise. For example, if we look at the inside structure of CMM with its fixed pews in straight lines, it is easy to see column of colonial soldiers marching in straight lines. Eyes front! Focused on the back of the soldiers’ head in front of them. No talking! Only one person speaks. The commander in the front – who shouts the commands. Everyone else must listen and obey. So instead of community we have columns. Instead of “braided” truth we have single truth spoken. Instead of seeing each other’s faces – we see the back of each other’s heads. We don’t know if a person is happy or sad, weeping or frowning. Sadly, this model is replicated over and over again – even in churches without fixed pews. Free standing chairs are placed in straight rows revealing how we willingly participate in our own “confinement” opting for columns over community, and so undermining the gospel we proclaim.

May we continue to learn… unlearn… relearn…

In grace,
Alan

War & World Cup Whiplash

 

War & World Cup Whiplash

 

Friends

Do you also have whiplash from Wars and World Cups?

News broadcasts flick from horrifying death and destruction to Ama Bokke Bokke celebrations. Division and death alternating with an inspiring team that is ‘stronger together’. One second overwhelmed with despair and then a second later high fiving the person next to us in uncontrollable excitement. We mourn the fact that there are only losers in war, as we celebrate victory in sport. This whiplash of emotion and spirit is real.

When I find myself questioning whether I should allow myself to celebrate anything at all – while people are being buried alive in rubble, I am reminded of a poem. A poem that has saved me from drowning in despair many times in my life. This poem does not deny the suffering that is awash in the world, while at the same time it refuses to allow this suffering to dilute joy and beauty that continue to exist despite everything.

May you have the stubbornness to accept your gladness…

In grace,
Alan

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come

-Jack Gilbert

 

Revenge

Revenge

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

*

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

*

Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school…
asking about him
and sending him regards.

*

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Nazareth April 15, 2006
Poem © 2006 by Taha Muhammad Ali. English translation © 2006 by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin.
Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011). Palestinian poet from Galilee that was first bombed then bulldozed during the 1948 War to make room for an Israeli settlement.

PS: Here is the link to Alan’s sermon on Gaza – Baptism against Brutality – from last week.

 

Baptism or Brutality?

 

Friends,

I have slowly begun to pack a few boxes. While doing so I came across a collage of photographs stuck on a piece of cardboard. Reminding me of my first year in the ministry at Rustenburg Methodist Church in 1991. In one of the photos, I am holding a baby. A photo of my first baptism. I remember the date. It was on 20 January 1991. Four days after the US started Operation Desert Storm – Gulf War. I spoke of how the war was a betrayal of Baptism. Baptism being the bold pronouncement that all are beloved of God and members of God’s family. Those who choose war, do so because they have forgotten their baptism – the belovedness of all.

Today will be my last baptismal service at CMM. Once again, I will hold a baby and we will declare with boldness that this child is beloved, as is every child. And we will covenant as a community to live in such a way that this child and all children everywhere will grow up in the knowledge of their and each other’s belovedness. We do so in a context of a world at war in so many places, but especially in and around Gaza today. We do so with scenes of death etched on our eyes and the sounds of agonising grief in our ears.

Behind and before, my time in ministry has been hemmed in by baptism and brutality. In this we are invited to make a choice about how we will live life and organise life to what end. Baptism or brutality? Belovedness of all or only for some? All are chosen or only a special few? Freedom for all or only some? Life or death?

May we choose life,
Alan

 

Education, Education, Education

 

Friends,

Today I am running – well trying to run – the Cape Town Marathon. I know they say it is one of the most beautiful marathons in the world – but trust me – I will not be looking at the view. Today is not going to be pretty. I have simply not done enough training for anything to be pretty today.

Two weeks ago, I told the story of being injured for much of this year – so I decided to try and keep fit by aqua-jogging. The pros rave about how effective it is. So, I went religiously to the Long Street Baths with my floatation device strapped around my waist and jogged lengths. This took boring to new depths. Anyway, there I was doing my lengths, and some kids were messing about – with one of them actually swimming into me. The others immediately scolded him saying, “Pasop vir die uncle – hy kan nie swem nie”. (Mind the uncle he can’t swim.) So basically, what I am saying to you is that I am not only hopelessly undercooked for today – but I also have suffered public persecution and humiliation to get here.

I therefore figure that in the very least you can offer some balm for my wounded ego and shattered body. Please be recklessly generous to Stepping Stones Children’s Centre. This alone will heal me. You can use the CMM banking account – details on the right hand side of the website – with the reference: RUN or go to the Stepping Stones website (especially you overseas people – yes I see you!) https://steppingstoneschildrenscentre.org.za (Please read the small print. Note: If I do not finish you do not get your money back).

On a serious note, we all know what people say is important when buying property: Location, Location, Location. Well, when it comes to eradicating poverty, what is important is Education, Education, Education. So, I would like to invite you to eradicate poverty by supporting Stepping Stones on a permanent basis – a monthly amount. Make a debit order. Do it now. No, Jesus will not love you anymore than he already loves you, but you will make a child smile and that makes Jesus smile.

 Or be generous towards any other Early Childhood Centre – perhaps one in your area. Visit to see if they need anything – especially those schools within challenging environments. Check out the remarkable work of https://startingchance.org.za run by Ali and Ian Corbett of CMM in the Mfuleni area – one of the most violent and poverty-stricken areas of Cape Town. There are literally hundreds of schools in need of supportive intervention. Funding a child’s education is never wasted. Never ever!

Here is the thing. The need and suffering that we are all surrounded by in this country can so easily leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Not having a clue where to begin and what to do to make a healing and liberating difference. Well, I cannot think of a single social issue that will not be enhanced for the better as a result of contributing to early childhood education. Early childhood education is a game changer in everything. No wonder the first Sunday Schools started by the Methodists back in the late 1700s were not so much about religious education but rather about teaching people numeracy skills as well as to read and write – plus teaching the good news of being preciously loved – done on a Sunday. Education that would ultimately set children free from child-labour and adult exploitation.

Okay I got to run…

Grace, Alan

Seven Observations

Vandalised Constitution

 

Friends,

Seven observations/parables from my daily walk:

1] Outside the office traders nod, greet and smile. I have heard them from just after 5am setting up their stalls. They will pack up again in the dark. An inspiration in their resilience and perseverance. They look after each other’s stalls for everyone to have an opportunity to find a toilet or get something to eat. They laugh loud and argue passionately. A caring and watchful community. Neighbours who Psalm 139-like, know my coming and going.

2] The rotating group of smokers from an office block huddle together on the corner. Ignoring me, they all greet Jubilee by name.

3] Past the Taj Hotel. It is so good to see hotels alive with activity after being empty and closed for so long due to COVID. A relief to see people crucially employed. Full tour buses. The melody of foreign languages. Luxury vehicles and luxury travel bags. Just across the road people sleep on the pavement on cardboard mattresses in the nooks and corners of Cathedral walls. The intractable inequality is wounding. Security guards make sure wealth and poverty do not meet. What feels like peace to some, feels like threat to others.

4] Under the woven wooden canopy – the arch for the Arch. 14 arched beams, each representing a line from the preamble of the Constitution. Circled on the ground beneath the arch, are 14 brass plates each bearing a line from the Constitution’s preamble. Three have been wrenched off, presumedly to be sold for scrap and possibly to score a hit. A fourth plate is not quite pried off. I speak to the cops who sit in a little booth only 5m away. They have not noticed but will keep an eye out. The next day the fourth plate is also gone. The desperate decaying state of things. The vision of Arch Tutu and the Constitution are struggling to stick.

5] I hear water running beneath my feet. Gushing beneath the paved surface. A reminder of the underground rivers that flow all year round. Free flowing water from the top of Table Mountain through the city gardens and eventually into the sea. A food garden no longer. Why? Surely we are surrounded by more need for nourishing food than ever before. Towering trees tap into the water below. They congregate so densely together that city buildings are hidden from sight. Benches full of people enjoying the abundance of beauty and life. Squirrels leap from branch to branch releasing a rain of leaves to the ground.

6] Then up past the burnt-out parliament buildings to where the avenue opens up left and right. Two children – around 8 years old are throwing stones at the geese on the pond. They are on their own. There are no adults around. I ask them to leave the geese alone. “Give us money” – they reply. I tell them that I don’t have money, but to please leave the geese alone. They continue to throw stones at the geese, saying, “We want money”. It is easy to be angry with the children. What they were doing was cruel. Yet, I am convinced that behind their cruelty lies further cruelty. They were ‘only’ doing to the geese what they have experienced society do to them. And when cruelty replaces care in one direction it is difficult to expect cruelty to be replaced by care in the other direction. When a “social-compact” fails a group of people or even worse, turns against them, then one has little-to-no moral authority to expect them to honour the very same social-compact. The same is true for the above-mentioned Constitutional vandalism. Removing brass plates is a response to a Constitution of justice and healing that one feels removed from. Behind this vandalism is a vandalism more difficult to photograph. The vandalism of the priceless worth of human beings.

 7] Then finally into the paddocks. Quadrants of grass guarded by trees. Seated upright on a bench beneath the trees a person blows into his saxophone. Like a call to prayer. The haunting beauty of jazz floats on the air. The volume rises and falls with the strength of the wind. He plays for himself and yet at the same time he plays for everyone and for all of life. An imperfect offering. A generous gift.

In grace,
Alan

Isaiah 59:1-16a

Friends,

Here are a few words from Isaiah. I do not know how accurately Isaiah’s words describe the context of his day, but I do know that his words are very accurate for our day…

Grace, Alan

 

Isaiah 59:1-16a

See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save,
    nor his ear too dull to hear.
2Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
3For your hands are defiled with blood,
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
4No one brings suit justly,
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.
5They hatch adders’ eggs,
    and weave the spider’s web;
whoever eats their eggs dies,
    and the crushed egg hatches out a viper.
6Their webs cannot serve as clothing;
    they cannot cover themselves with what they
    make. Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
7Their feet run to evil,
    and they rush to shed innocent blood;
    their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
8The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths.
Their roads they have made crooked;
    no one who walks in them knows peace.

9Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10We grope like the blind along a wall,
    groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among the vigorous as though we were dead.
11We all growl like bears;
    like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12For our transgressions before you are many,
    and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving lying words and uttering them from the
    heart.
14Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15Truth is lacking,
    and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16aHe saw that there was no one,
    and was appalled that there was no one to intervene.