Last week we wrestled with the puzzling parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-8. It was puzzling because on the surface it sounded like dishonesty is being honoured by suggesting that we can do right by doing wrong. This would contradict everything else Jesus said or did—so it is highly unlikely that the surface reading is even remotely instructive to our following Jesus. Therefore we are compelled to reject the surface meaning and dig deeper.
With regard to digging deeper I find the work of Paul Duke very helpful. Instead of trying to tidy this parable up he invites us to find ourselves in the mess. He says:
Whatever open questions remain in the parable, this is the core of the storey: a participant in a crooked system, pronounced guilty and facing catastrophe, takes quick, risky, unauthorized action to save himself. He does it in a crooked way—how else? – dispensing crooked cash, reducing debts, making friends. The aim of his flurry of action is his survival; what he receives is his master’s praise.
It is a messy little story. It invites reflection on the messy systems we are part of, our own compromised and accused situation, our mixed motives and mixed means for acting redemptively….The parable, in the end is kind to us. It relieves our illusions of being good or of having to become good. It knows where we live and what we are and, remarkably, holds out gracious praise for the hopelessly wicked, like us, who will do what they must to be saved.
May God give us courage to reflect on the messy systems we are part of….and to give up the illusion of being good. Grace, Alan
Over this weekend I have been facilitating another Manna and Mercy course—going through that special book written by Dan Erlander that not only takes us on a journey from Genesis to Revelation in a humorous yet profound way, but also helps us to question our own faith understandings from a radical Jesus perspective. One of the hopes I have for CMM is that we continue to be a questioning community. A community that feels free to wrestle with God like Jacob of old. To test long-held beliefs and refuse to settle for shallow answers, and to do all this without judgment or the fear of rejection—remembering that our aim is not to always agree with each other but to grow. The letter quoted below is written by a friend of mine when she was 11 years old. I find her courageous to go toe-to-toe with God and I find her 11-year old logic compelling.
I’m not very religious in the sense of the Christian religion. I believe you gave us life to live it and not to praise you. You already have enough self-confidence, you don’t need me to praise you, well that’s what I believe. I love you Lord, you know I do so, why then should I praise you? Is praise not saying that I love you? I don’t praise my family. But I love them more than anything in the world. Why can’t we enjoy life? After all it’s the most precious gift given to us. I don’t believe most of the stories told in the Bible. They tell us how you helped kill Goliath. Should you not be a peaceful God? Aren’t there other ways of dealing with problems? Do you have to kill people? Why can’t you break his leg or something? No actually, I suppose that’s violent too. Well you could have thought of something. Still I don’t believe you did it anyway, so I’m not accusing you. When I go to a church service about you being an almighty God, and if we sin we will burn in hell. We shouldn’t feel threatened by you.
Encouraging you to question…Alan
Today is a very special day in the life of CMM. It is the day that we celebrate the confirmation of Gillmore Manter. In my mind only a wedding service comes close to the significance of this day. A wedding is not only of comparative significance but is also probably the closest analogy for what we are doing here today.
You see, today we gather to confirm the love and life-long commitment Jesus has always had for Gillmore, and we also witness Gilmore confirming her love and life- long commitment to Jesus. Today, like a wedding, is all about lovers declaring their love for each other out loud for the entire world to hear and honour.
In a wedding service vows are made … for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. These wedding vows connect very well to what we are celebrating today. Gillmore is confirming that her love relationship with Jesus is not going to be dependent on her state of wealth, health or comfort. This is a brave confirmation to make and points to the glorious truth that Jesus’ love for the world and each one of us is constant despite the changing circumstances of our lives.
Let us rejoice as Gillmore confirms her love for the One who has been in love with her since the very foundations of the world. Today more than any other we can declare: “They are a match made in Heaven”. May Gillmore’s love for Jesus grow to match his love for her.
A very special welcome to Rev Trevor Bosman who will be proclaiming the good news this morning. Trevor is a retired Methodist minister who reminds us that we never retire from doing God’s work. Thank you Trevor for your witness.
Today I am in Pietermaritzburg celebrating the opening of the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary [SMMS]. The new seminary now makes it possible for every Methodist probationer minister to begin their journey towards ordination with three years of full-time study—study that will engage their heads, hearts and hands—preparing their whole person to proclaim the Gospel with grace and in truth. I am pleased to let you know that CMM has given a gift of R20 000 from our tithe account towards the seminary.
Someone asked me why we were giving money to the [SMMS] when CMM itself is struggling financially. Well the answer is quite simple really. CMM as a community not only teaches tithing—it practices tithing. This means that 10% of every offering or donation given to CMM is inturn given away to bless, heal, comfort, equip, feed, educate, inspire, love etc. etc. others beyond our own community.
I invite us all to re-look at our own relationship we have with money in the light of our relationship with Jesus. This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary if we are serious about naming Jesus Lord of our life. It is also necessary if we are going to be faithful in living out God’s dream for the city through CMM. Ministry costs money, and in the next few months we are not only going to be restoring this grand old building—but we are going to be venturing out in new and creative and hopefully life-giving ways to the city like never before. As we share the vision I invite us all to actively share the cost. Grace, Alan.
A very special welcome to Rev. Debbie van der Laar who will be proclaiming the good news this morning. Debbie is the minister at Sea Point Methodist Church and she is doing exciting things there. I encourage you to visit Sea Point and see for yourself – or if you know of people in that area, to encourage them to pop in. I am preaching in Salt River and Observatory today. It is always important for us to remember that we are not an entity on our own here at CMM, but that we belong to a larger body of other Methodist Churches.
There are a couple of important events coming up in the near and distant future that I would like you to commit to prayer. Next week on the 4th September the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary is opening in Pietermaritzburg. This is a very significant step in the life of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa regarding clergy training. Thank you to all of you who have made financial donations towards this ministry.
On the 7th September at 19h00 we have our first planning meeting for Synod 2011. Our circuit (including Sea Point; Salt River; Observatory and Kensington Methodist Churches) will be hosting Synod on the 19th-21st May 2011. This means for three days we will be caring for 250 delegates. We are yet to secure a venue – so if any of you know of such a venue with parking etc. please speak to me. If you would like to be part of this event simply write your name down on the yellow pad and hand it in during the offertory.
On the 12th September we celebrate Gilmore Mantis’ confirmation. Confirmation is like a wedding ceremony where before a congregation of witnesses a person declares their life long loving commitment to Jesus. Please hold Gilmore in the LIGHT.
In the next month or two we hope to start maintenance on the leaking roofs of this sanctuary. And after the damp has been removed from the walls we hope to re-paint in the new year. This is going to be a huge, costly and delicate job. The LOAN for this restoration work is being provided to us by the Kinsman Trust.
Finally please pray for in-spirit-ation around starting the AS IT IS IN HEAVEN coffee lounge on the sanctuary balcony. You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks.
And even as I am asking you to commit to pray for these things I am so aware of the trauma that persists around wages for labour and closed hospitals and schools – please God may we carry these struggles in our hearts!
I will be facilitating Diversity Engagement next weekend—and I hope you will join me. There is room for 15 people. Today may be the last opportunity for you do register—please speak to Sharon at the information table at the back of the Sanctuary.
Diversity Engagement is an amazing personal growth opportunity that really does hold out the real potential to heal relationships and transform this country. Diversity Engagement provides a respectful and safe space for each participant to uncover and explore our own tendencies to stereotype and prejudice others because of the colour of their skin, gender identity, age, nationality, sexual orientation or religion etc. The weekend gives us an opportunity to wrestle with our own internalised identity. To be sure this is emotionally stretching but also hugely liberating—again not just for us as individuals but for our nation.
My hope is that every person of CMM will attend Diversity Engagement at some point—this can only contribute to the healing and growth of our community. It would be wonderful to be able to train others to facilitate Diversity Engagement as well as to offer this relationship healing tool to organisations, businesses, schools etc. in the area. More often than not we are taught to fear difference. In Diversity Engagement we learn how to “do difference differently”…. Please join me next weekend. Alan
Last week’s sermon was entitled “Worry about your Worship” inspired by Psalm 50 and Isaiah 1:10-20. Both readings record God’s anger at our human tendency to worship the way we worship. To turn a means into an end in and of itself and to forget that telling God we love God is not the same as actually loving God.
Both readings (Psalm 50:7 and Isaiah 1:10) command us to listen to God’s voice. For us to listen we must first keep silence. So, seeking to honour this scripture we decided last week to spend 5min in complete silence after the sermon. I hope that this will become a permanent part of our worship liturgy.
As we sit in the silence I encourage you to be conscious of your breathing and deliberate about smiling. This may seem trite, but in actual fact it is an ancient form of prayer/meditation. The reasoning behind it is as follows: we breathe because God first breathed into us—it is the very origin of our life. We are alive and this is the greatest of miracles and so we rejoice—we smile. It is not a smile of happiness, but rather a smile of gratitude. Gratitude is the sacrifice that God longs for (Psalm 50:14).
Breathing and smiling, Alan
I am not sure about you, but I am still living with the rich symbolism of the movie that many of us watched just over a week ago: called AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. The day after the movie a number of us gathered to reflect on the message of the film with specific relevance for us at CMM. I asked those present if the movie contained any “miracles” for them—and if so what they were. I was surprised to hear just how many miracles were mentioned and very struck by the type of miracles that were mentioned. Here are some of them:
· Each person found their own unique voice…
· The fear that prevented them from really living was broken…
· There was no longer any finger pointing…
· There was no longer any name calling…
· People began to challenge the unfair status quo…
· The choir grew in confidence to sing on their own…
· Set free to say “the three words: I love you.”
Wow, what a list of miracles! But hang-on they sound so ordinary—yes but if you have seen the movie you will agree—they really are miracles and when added together with each other they literally transform the earth as it is in heaven! I hope you have a miraculous week!
[We are still having problems with our sermon down loads – hopefully the problem will be sorted soon – we are also in the process of re-designing this entire site with better sound quality assured for the sermons]
On Friday night many of us watched the amazing movie: As it is in Heaven, about a famous conductor who returns to his remote home town to recover from burnout. He ends up conducting the church choir, by which the entire community is transformed.
The movie is propelled by a dream. “A dream to create music that will open people’s hearts.” Gabrielle, a woman who breaks free of an abusive relationship, has her heart opened and this is what she sings:
It is now that my life is mine, I’ve got this short time on earth,
And my longing has brought me here, All I lacked and all I gained,
And yet it’s the way that I choose, My trust was far beyond words,
That has shown me a little bit of the heaven I’ve never found,
I want to feel I’m alive all my living days
I will live as I desire I want to feel I’m alive
Knowing I was good enough
I have never lost who I was, I have only left it sleeping maybe,
I never had a choice just the will to stay alive,
All I want is to be happy being who I am,
To be strong and to be free, To see day arise from night
I am here and my life is only mine
And the heaven I thought was there
I’ll discover it there somewhere
I want to feel that I’ve lived my life.
May our hearts be opened that we may truly feel we have lived our lives! Alan
[We are having problems with this website regarding the sermon down loads – hopefully it will be up and running soon].
Last week we met Jesus in Martha and Mary’s house. No sooner had Jesus taken a seat and the sisters started fighting! We would think that when Jesus visits us in our home he would restore calm, as he did to the stormy sea of Galilee, but that is not what happened. The good news however, is that Jesus still visits families that fight!
Martha’s accusing conversation is blunt with blame. It is bossy—telling Jesus to tell Mary what to do. Conversations with a blaming and bossy tone seldom make for healthy relationships because they lack respect. If we are always telling others what to do it really shows that we do not fully respect them. This includes our relationship with our children!
We also witnessed Martha speaking to Mary through Jesus and learnt that it is far more helpful to speak directly to people rather than through others which can be so manipulative. So in these coming days let us have the courage to speak to people and not about people. Let us pray for a growing respect for those who we struggle with. May we find Jesus in these relationships. Alan