What is your story?

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…
Joan

Where do we draw the line?

Grace to you

When I finished preaching last Sunday – someone in the congregation called out: “But where do we draw the line?” The book of Acts records the early church wrestling with this very question: Who is in and who is out? Who is welcome and who is not? Where do we draw the line?

In fact the first Synod, called the Council of Jerusalem, had only one item on the agenda: “Are uncircumcised people welcome as is?” Peter thankfully convinced the assembly that God “made no distinction between them and us” [Acts 15:9].

The same question has topped the agenda of many synods since. Of course the issue is no longer circumcision but something else that is used to other and exclude, like gender. Regardless of the difference in ‘category’ it’s the same question: Does God make a distinction between us or not? “Where do we draw the line?”

Sadly, history shows that as we learn that God does not make a distinction between others and us in one area, we find another area to make distinctions in and we have to learn the lesson all over again. The lesson being that we have done evil believing we were doing good and we have caused pain while thinking we were being kind.

We seem to need endless reminding that God’s including mercy and love is for all – and all actually does mean all. This is why we often sing the hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind.

At our 190th Synod last week we witnessed the incarnation of God’s wide mercy among us as women were elected into the office of Bishop and Presiding Bishop. A great celebration even though long overdue. We also voted overwhelmingly for our Church to stop discriminating against LGBTI clergy and in favour of allowing LGBTI clergy to enter into a civil union – while the church continues to wrestle with its theology around marriage. (Please note that these decisions are not the new policy of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa because they would need to first be debated and accepted at our Conference in September for that to be the case. But this localised expression of God’s mercy at our Cape of Good Hope Synod is not without significance.)

Jesus crossed every possible distinction and barrier of his times – so nothing less is expected of those of us who desire to follow him.

Grace,
Alan

Be foolish enough

Grace and peace to you

Anthea and I first attended CMM in January 2013 following a painful journey of conditional acceptance and rejection at many churches. When the benediction was read I was struck by the phrase “and may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done,” it seemed like foolishness to believe that we, as a gay couple, could find a church community to serve, journey with and together make a difference in this world. So it was with the thought that we were being foolish that we turned up at the Donkey meeting that same week where we were welcomed without condition and afforded the opportunity to serve and be a part of this community.

Our time with CMM has provided healing and enabled us to re-remember that we are made in God’s image and are unconditionally loved by our creator who made us in love, for love and by love. We walked into CMM as strangers and have been healed by being known and knowing others. Every Sunday the faces of our young people change, there are new names to learn and pain or joy to share. If Jesus were to walk into our church on a Sunday we would hang around after the service to shake his hand, to know him and be known. I would urge each person at CMM to embrace our young people and in so doing bring life into the prayer of foolishness we pray each week.

Till my next visit, Sarah

Artwork: © 2011 Daniel Erlander Publications

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We believe in the Merciful One

who calls us to reject all idols and who seeks a deep communion with us.

We believe in the Merciful One

who is not remote but who is immersed in the life of this world sharing its hope and feeling its pain.

We believe in the Merciful One

who identifies with the poor and the oppressed and those who long for faith and who calls us to stand with them.

We believe in the Merciful One

whose love is vulnerable, whose heart is aching and whose covenant with all people
is unshakeable.

Christian Conference of Asia News1

We are already one

Last week we heard the piercing question from the letter of James asking us: “Do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (James 2:1). James was referring to the different ways his congregation treated the rich from the poor. It made James question whether they really believed in Jesus or not. That is heavy stuff!

James is correct to connect his congregation’s behaviour to his congregation’s beliefs — because ultimately it is our behaviour that reveals what we truly believe — not the songs we sing or sermons we preach.

One of the areas we have struggled with as a congregation is how we can share tea/coffee after worship with one another — and with the homeless that visit. Many of us feel overwhelmed, inadequate and uncomfortable. We leave rather than stay. We “hand-out” rather than share. In so doing we miss an opportunity to imitate God’s free welcome and undeserved hospitality of us. We also miss attending to Jesus who comes to us in those who society says are the “least”. How we behave around the tea/coffee table is probably more important to God than what we do around the Holy Communion table. In fact, the tea/coffee table is the real Holy Communion table that we should “do in remembrance of Jesus”.

I know this stuff is not easy — but we must wrestle with it as a community if we are to try to hold Christ at the centre. The truth is that we are all family. No one is a guest. No one is a visitor. No one is a stranger. We are one. Maybe this is the great underlying sin — that leads to so many other sins, and that is the belief that we are separate from God and others when the truth is we are all ONE. We do not have to become one — we are one already.

When we resume tea/coffee again let us accept Jesus’ invitation to live out our oneness.

Fast and Pray

The Presiding Bishop, Rev. Zipho Siwe has called on the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to fast and pray during September to “push the frontiers of evil back, especially in the area of education” and violence in our land. There are many different ways to fast. Here are some options for us to consider. With each option we would have to decide how long we would implement the fast for — a day or month.

• A complete fast, going without food and drink
• A liquid fast
• A fruit-only fast, or raw food only
• A sunrise to sunset fast
• A one-meal-a-day-fast
• A fast from certain foods and drink.

Substitute the time for eating with a time for prayer as well as an extra generosity in sharing with others.

Lord have mercy on us, Alan.

A man’s place is in the army

Why men should not be ordained …

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

This list is compiled by Dr. David M. Scholer, a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. I came across it from Eugene Cho, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle where I hope to visit in two weeks’ time.