2022 02 27 Alan Storey
Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice by Terence Parker.
Back in the biblical day it was custom for Rabbis to summarise their teaching in a prayer. Therefore what we call The Lord’s Prayer, is more than likely Jesus’ teaching summary. A summary that Jesus’ followers are invited to meditate on and act on. The core of Jesus’ teaching summary focuses on the need for daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. In other words, justice and mercy are central to the Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living.
Story after story in the Gospels invite us to grow in justice and mercy and to do so not only with our neighbours but also with our enemies. In short, with everyone.
This seems impossibly difficult, yet many of us are both recipient and practitioner of this Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living on a micro scale maybe without even realising it. In every loving family Life-Giving-Living is practiced through the sharing of daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. Without fair sharing and repeated forgiveness a family would not last.
Returning to Jesus’ teaching summary, we are reminded that it begins with the words: “Our Parent…” Jesus’ teaching begins by informing us that we belong to one human family. To call God “Our Parent…” is to recognise that we are each other’s siblings. Jesus’ teaching summary invites us to claim this as the real reality of every relationship we are in. Jesus knows that unless we are able to recognise each other as family we will not be able to practice the justice and mercy necessary for Life-Giving-Living. The saving of the world will be determined by those who trust and live out the truth of this three letter word OUR.
From Jesus’ perspective of universal family, the language of “love of one’s own” or “these are my people” or “God is on our side” is made obsolete. This language often defines “one’s own” or “my people” or “our side” by nationality, language, culture, skin colour, religion, etc. It leads to the feeling, “When I walk the streets of the Johannesburg CBD, I become a foreigner in my own country”. And this leads to the slogan, “Put South Africans First”. And this leads to the formation of Operation Dudula. It is the language of nationalism, sectarianism, xenophobia and war. It is the language of Vladimir Putin. It is also the language of many of us.
For this reason Jesus kept opening the eyes of the blind. The blind being those of us who fail to recognise a sister and brother in the person next to us and across the way from us. On this Transfiguration Sunday let us pray for our eyes to be opened that our seeing of each other may be gloriously transfigured. This was the amazing gift given to Thomas Merton in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut … may it happen to us.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream…
“This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself (sic) gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake…
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship (sic). It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
“I have no program for this seeing. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. And on Wednesday Lent begins with smudges of ASH. The hope is that the vision we receive on the Mount of Transfiguration somehow sustains us when we are in the wilderness valley surrounded by sickness and suffering and sand and more sand. May this be so…
Our ASH Wednesday (zoom) service will begin at 8 p.m. We will meet every Wednesday of Lent at 8 p.m. for a Lenten reflection. A zoom link will be sent out on the CMM WhatsApp group. If you would like the link please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This past Wednesday some of us gathered online to prepare for Lent. We were reminded of the beautiful documentary called: My Octopus Teacher. The reason for the documentary in the first place was that a certain film maker who was suffering from burnout, made a commitment to enter the ocean every day for a year with the hope of renewal and reconnection to self and Life. In this act of daily “baptism” / commitment, the film maker was doing what people seeking renewal in just about every faith tradition have done for centuries: and that is to deliberately design one’s day to Pause. Pause consisting of a combination of silence, stillness, solitude. This Pause often involved an immersion in nature. We learn from The Octopus Teacher – that when a person honours their journey for healing with deliberate daily pause – they are gifted with renewed reconnection with themselves and Life and all that lives, and over and above that, the world is given the gift of a beautiful reconnecting story.
This Lent we are invited to deliberately design our days with Pause – silence, stillness and solitude. Our Wednesday Lenten reflections will draw partly from these moments of Pause.
Please note: We will not be opening the sanctuary for in-person services any time soon, even though Covid-19 regulations make this possible.
The reason remains that it is still too risky even though we are coming to the end of the “second wave”. In all likelihood there will be a third wave before we have all been vaccinated. And if trends continue, the third wave may prove to be more deadly than the first and second. For example, this week we were informed by our Covid-19 advisory team that “during the first wave it took three months to reach 5 000 deaths while the second wave took only four weeks to reach 10 000 deaths.
We therefore need to be very vigilant in these days. Keep practicing the Trinity: wear a mask, wash hands, keep 1.5 m distance.
Nathanael said to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” [John 1:46]
I was thinking of Nathanael’s question when I read last week about a tiny beach restaurant in Paternoster. And I thought: Can anything good come out of Paternoster? Well apparently so, because Wolfgat restaurant was named Restaurant of the Year as well as top Off-Map Destination at the recent inaugural World Restaurant Awards, held in Paris, France.
Now besides the fact that I am allergic to fish and would only be found dead in a fish restaurant, the truth is that fancy food is totally lost on me. And I mean totally – pass the peanut butter please. Therefore I wouldn’t have a clue whether Wolfgat restaurant was a worthy winner based on the taste and presentation of their food or not. But what I am sure of is how worthy they are of the prize for a whole host of other reasons. Reasons I find extremely nourishing and much needed in our world today.
I believe the inspirational owner and Chef, Kobus van der Merwe, must make Jesus smile. Besides the obvious reason that Jesus was known to hang out on beaches in tiny fishing villages, I think Jesus would smile as a result of the beautiful life-giving choices that knit together Wolfgat behind and before. Here are a few:
With gratitude for those who follow Jesus in tasteful ways and who live the Gospel without words,
Today we are doing something totally different. Today the sermon and prayers will come to us through song!
It is a great joy to welcome two choirs who will be leading worship today. The Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir brings with it national and international tours and prestige in the venues of gospel music spirituals and soul. The choir of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) has performed extensively in our native area, including appearances at the Kimmel Center in 2017, one of a few church choirs to attain that honour. Furthermore, FUMCOG has taken its mission of social justice throughout the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993, forming a delegation to stand in solidarity with Nelson Mandela, in a voice of freedom to end apartheid.
Today is the last day of their mission pilgrimage to South Africa and it is really a privilege to have them at CMM.
The choirs will present a full 60 minute programme of various American music. There will be three 20 minute sets as follows: 20 minutes for Swarthmore; 20 minutes for FUMCOG; 20 minutes combined.
The repertoire from Swarthmore to be determined, out of the gospel and soul traditions while the FUMCOG repertoire to include: Salmo 150 – Ernani Aguiar; Spirituals by Moses Hogan: I Want to Thank You, Lord; Hear My Prayer; William Billings: Easter Anthem; Mark Miller: I Believe; Oh for a Thousand Tongues; Aaron Copland: Tis a Gift to be Simple; Zion’s Walls. Combined they will do: Freedom Trilogy – Paul Halley; Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and De Klerk – Sean Ivory/Paul Caldwell; Praise His Holy Name – Keith Hampton.
This picture shows 60 litres of water that was used for one machine wash on a 28 minute “daily express” cycle!
Please unplug your washing machine’s outlet; check how much water is being used; collect this water for re-use (like flushing toilet).
Listen to 28 January‘s sermon to “Getting to the source of the water crisis”.
“Fight or flight” are the two options we are easily socialised into believing are the only two options we have when it comes to engaging evil (deathliness) in the world. In myriads of ways we are taught that if we are “big and strong” we should stay and fight and if we are “small and weak” we should run away as fast as our little legs can carry us. As a result of these two options being presented as the only options we have to choose from, many people throughout the ages have attempted to validate either option by suggesting that one or the other is the option God or Jesus favours. Some have said Jesus teaches us to accept suffering without resistance (like a passive doormat) while others have said Jesus calls us to righteously destroy the wicked (like some Old Testament or Apocalyptic warrior).
But to say that Jesus favours either of these options demands a severe culling of the Gospels. The truth is closer to the bumper sticker that advises: “When faced with only two options. Take the third.” In a two-option world Jesus invites us to imagine and practice a third. This third option Jesus taught (in his sermon on the mount) and lived out (on mount Calvary).
Refusing to resist oppression denies our own sacred worth etched with God’s image, while destroying our oppressors denies their sacred worth etched with the same Godly image. Jesus invites us to resist but not to retaliate. In other words, we are to oppose evil without imitating evil. “Satan cannot drive out Satan” says Jesus. Equally, violence cannot drive out violence.
In this world that teaches us to “Do to others as they have done to us” Jesus teaches us to “do to others as we would have them do to us.” Our actions towards our enemies according to Jesus are meant to expose to them the evil (deathliness) of their ways with the hope that their eyes are opened and they change. But if they fail to see and change then our actions are meant to expose their deeds to the surrounding community who through collective action or non-cooperation, make it impossible for them to continue to practice their evil (death-creating deeds).
On the Wednesdays of Lent we will be reflecting on what this may mean for us at a practical level. This coming Wednesday is ASH Wednesday and we will be having a service at 7 pm in the Sanctuary. Each Wednesday thereafter we will be meeting in the Hall (cnr. Burg and Church Streets) for silent meditation at 6 pm and discussion and learning from 7 pm – 8:30 pm.
Along with fasting from wasting water this Lent we may consider fasting from wasting words. Yes, a water and word fast!
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book: When God is silent writes: “How shall I break the silence? What word is more eloquent than the silence itself? In the moments before a word is spoken, anything is possible. The empty air is a formless void waiting to be addressed.”
Such is the power of words. Anything is possible.
She continues, “…the most dangerous word God ever says is Adam. All by itself it is no more than a pile of dust – nothing to be concerned about, really – but by following it with the words for image and dominion, God sifts divinity into that dust, endowing it with things that belong to God alone. When God is through with it, this dust will bear the divine likeness. When God is through with it, this dust will exercise God’s own dominion – not by flexing its muscles but by using its tongue. Up to this point in the story, God has owned the monopoly on speech. Only God has had the power to make something out of nothing by saying it is so. Now, in this act of shocking generosity God’s stock goes public… human beings endowed by God with the power of the Word… This power of ours has no safety catch on it. We are as likely to make nothing out of something as the other way around…”
We all know how words can bring life or death because we have had such words spoken to us. This Lent let us watch our words. Let us not waste our words on trivialities and gossip. May we only speak words that bring life and fast from all words that bring death. If our words will not improve on the silence let us be still…
In LENT we are invited to fast. To fast is to live with limits. The first fast was given as Divine instruction for daily living in the Garden of Eden: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” To live without limits is to die. To fast is to live. To fast is to bring life.
This LENT, in the year of one of South Africa’s worst droughts, let us fast – live with limits – in relation to water. Perhaps our water fast will help us to hear Jesus’ crucifying cry: “I thirst” more acutely. This is the cry of an ever-increasing number of people.
This is how we generally use water on a daily basis: about a third is for toilet-flushing, a third for body hygiene and another third for laundering, washing the dishes, cooking and drinking. For cooking and drinking we need about 5 litres per day.
This LENT let’s limit ourselves to a maximum of 50 litres of water per day – remembering that there are many in our land who are forced to live on much less.
“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn’t think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn’t they understand? Had everything I’d gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not — and that would only serve to confirm my impotence — I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I’m hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, with all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity — or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…”
There are so many aspects of this piece from A Dry White Season that deserve our attention, but I would like us to pay attention to Brink’s ability at pay attention. His insight into himself and his relationships as well as the socio-political history and immediate context in which he lived is piercingly insightful. This does not come easily or quickly. It comes as a result of the longest of journeys — the journey within.
Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The journey of self-examination demands much contemplation (as Thomas Merton invites); as well as great courage to connect with others who see the world from a different angle to ourselves. And because they see from a different angle they will help us to see shadows where we only see light and help us to see light where we only see shadows.
The season of Lent more than any other invites us on this journey of self-examination. In other words, Lent calls us to deepen our contemplation and stretch our connections with others. This is not easy and nor can it be rushed but it is essential if we want to live life in ways that honour Jesus.
“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.
But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.
Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”
~ Thomas Merton
This letter is a continuation from last week’s letter on money – see post below.
Nowhere are we told in Scripture that money is inherently evil or that the possession of money as such is a sin, but if we are going to live life with Jesus at the centre we should note that the overwhelming number of times that he spoke about money he did so with a warning tag attached.
In what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus quotes from the book of Proverbs which steers through the dangers that having either too much or too little money can cause:
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9).
How many of us pray not to be rich?
Money can be a wonderful gift when it is seen as a means and not an end in itself and when it is used to glorify God by serving those in need and caring for the wellbeing of all of creation (as we see in the story of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:35 and the way some well-to-do women supported Jesus and his disciples – Luke 8:3). But according to Jesus it is potentially a very dangerous gift that needs to be handled with care. In fact according to Scripture even the desire to be rich traps one in ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9), while the love of money “is the root of all kinds of evil”, (1 Timothy 6:10). “[Paul] does not mean in a literal sense that money produces all evils. He means that there is no kind of evil the person who loves money will not do to get it and hold onto it. All restraint is moved; the lover of money will do anything for it. And that is precisely its seductive character …” (Foster 1985, 1987:30). In fact James blamed killings and wars on the love of wealth (James 4:2). All this differs greatly from the prevalent cultural assumptions that say that money makes you free.
It is also in stark contrast to the widespread belief today that wealth is the sign of divine blessing. It must be asked: If Jesus considered money and wealth to be so dangerous why would he then go and give a great deal of it to people as a blessing? It seems as strange as a parent giving their child whom they love a box of matches to play with. This prosperity teaching is one of the most prevalent and damaging heresies of our time. Would-be believers are promised material blessings if only they give their life to Jesus. Poverty is therefore considered a sign of God’s disapproval, even a curse, but that which conversion will speedily remove. Within this false understanding the wealthy are simultaneously set free from feeling guilty and responsible for the growing inequality.
In short, Jesus taught that the more money one has the more difficult it would be to follow him and remain faithful to God. Jesus put it this way: “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24). Here Jesus turns upside-down the long held belief that wealth was the sure sign of God’s blessing for the present and insurance for the future. Jesus’ audience, both then and now, is left shocked by his words. No wonder we read in the next verse, “When the disciples heard this, they were astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).
It also turns upside-down the widely accepted definition of success in today’s world – that more is good and most is best. No wonder we struggle to hear it and try and rationalise that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said or say what he meant.
Jesus responded to his astounded disciples saying, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26). We see the impossible becoming possible in the life of Zacchaeus who we read “was rich” (Luke 19:2) and who in the presence of Jesus was set free to give his money away (Luke 19:8). With Jesus, Zacchaeus was enabled to restore his money-damaged relationships, especially with the poor.
Put plainly, money is dangerous and when it comes to managing money human beings need all the help we can get from God. We need God’s help to be faithful in how we earn money, share money, save money, spend money and even think about money. We need God’s help to be able to keep saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ call to follow him regardless of what the bank manager in our head is saying.