All are welcome

“So what is this church stuff all about…?” I have carried this question on my sabbatical journey.

Just because we call ourselves ‘church’ does not mean we are church, it just means that is what we call ourselves. After all, by calling myself an astronaut doesn’t make me an astronaut. And by being an astronaut in name only is a real turn off to others considering being an astronaut themselves – after all, who wants to join a bunch of astronauts who never go up into space?

Surely we are only ‘church’ to the extent that as a community we incarnate the life and teachings of Jesus in the world in which we live? So what does it mean to incarnate Jesus in our living?

We incarnate Jesus by hungering for what he hungers for – and he hungers for no one to be hungry.

We incarnate Jesus by bravely loving those who he loves – and he especially loves those who others especially think should not be loved.

We incarnate Jesus by forgiving those who he forgives – ourselves and others, when we least deserve it.

We incarnate Jesus by trusting in what he trusts in: that truthfulness is liberating; that gentleness is real power; that generous giving is actually abundant receiving; that we have come from love and to love we will return, and therefore we need not fear to love here and now.

We incarnate Jesus by believing in what he believes in, and he believes that we should not discriminate against people according to what they believe.

We incarnate Jesus by living out this hymn by Marty Haugen called: All are Welcome…

Grace, Alan

All Are Welcome

Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

 Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.

Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

Marty Haugen©

Limitless, fathomless and all-embracing love

This past week we have been reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son or as other more accurately call it the parable of the Waiting Father. The parable is one of death and resurrection – as the Father later confirmed: “This son of mine was dead but is now alive again.”

None of the characters in the parable have names. Their identity comes through their relationships: father, son and brother. To break the relationship is to lose your identity. To lose your identity is to die. No one is an island. I am who I am because you are who you are. We exist in togetherness or not at all. We call it Ubuntu.

Death in the scriptures is not reduced to whether we have a pulse or not. The younger son was still breathing but he was dead because he was no longer living in relationship with his father and brother. He was tempted by the illusion of independence and the lie that you can live a separate selfish life and still live.

Both sons in different ways separate themselves from the Father – or as Miroslav Volf says they try and “un-son” themselves. The younger one travels to a distant land while the older son remains outside in anger. Both cause the Father grief. Grieving. For he has lost a loved one.

When the child returns to relationship he is resurrected. He is born again. We are born again when we live life lovingly again.

On Monday evening I read an extract from a beautiful book called: “Father Joe”. In it the author records a time when he came to Father Joe for confession after many, many years of being in a “distant land” and with “the pigs”. After he shared some of the gory details about his life, Father Joe says to him:

These are great imperfections, dear. But they’re not what you really want to say, are they?” He was right… there was something, but I couldn’t quite reach down far enough to find it. “Say what’s in your heart now, dear.”

“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe. Utterly incapable of feeling it, even thinking it. Even wanting it. No, that’s not true. I want to love, terribly. But it won’t come … I hate love. It feels the way a sin used to. Like when you got a present as a kid and for no reason at all you’d smash it into little pieces…”

“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved. You are loved, dear, with a limitless… fathomless… all-embracing love.”

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus is alive and that Jesus is Lord. And we also celebrate that by allowing him to love us we too are resurrected to new life. To a loved life. To a life lived lovingly.

Peace, Alan

Gratitude and Faithfulness

A car crash. A moment of Gospel-witness by those involved.
The one responsible came across and immediately owned up —
apologising and taking responsibility while the injured innocent one
offered him his forgiveness: “It’s all okay — these
things happen — relax and take a seat and have some water”.

 

Last Monday afternoon I was driving along Boyes Drive to my parents’ home. Just past where the Shark Spotters for Muizenberg beach sit and stare at scary shadows in the water, I heard an almighty crash. In the fraction of a second that these things happened, I remember thinking that the noise was so loud that I thought someone had crashed into me — yet I was surprised that my car continued smoothly forward. Simultaneously I saw in my rearview mirror that the car behind me had spun across the road having been hit by the oncoming car that had passed me a split second earlier. What had happened was that the oncoming car had drifted across the center line and hit the car behind me head-on. The car following me was only about 20m behind me — so had he drifted across the road a 100th of a second earlier it would have been me. All this on a perfectly clear and sunny afternoon.

I have shared this story with a couple of people yet the following response by some disturbed me: “Oh Alan — see how the Lord was looking after you”. My immediate reply is: “Well if that is so — then why wasn’t God looking after the person driving behind me? In fact why didn’t God keep the person alert enough in the oncoming car to prevent him from crossing the center line in the first place?”

Now don’t get me wrong. Am I thankful to God that it was not me that was crashed into? Absolutely. Does it mean that God loves me more than the person driving behind me? Absolutely NOT! You see God does not discriminate and none of us have done anything to deserve increased love and Godly favour. Life is vulnerable by its nature — this is part of what makes life so precious. We are not robots who have our every move (or drive) controlled by God. We are created with freedom to drive as we will — thoughtfully or recklessly. And sadly, thoughtfulness is not a guaranteed protection against recklessness. But the Gospel reminds us that whether we have been crashed into or not, God’s love and presence is permanent and herein lies our deepest safety and protection — that of our relationship with God, the Giver of Life — in this life and the next — is forever secure. To grow in this trust is to be given the gift of peace and to be set free from the fear we have for our personal safety that for so many of us is our ultimate priority which is in fact a false god.

Yet moments like these remind us of the precious gift of life we are invited to live with gratitude and faithfulness.

Peace, Alan

PS: Remember Covenant Preparation on 23 January (Jesus’ Invitation) and 24 January (Jesus’ Dream) at 19:00 in the sanctuary – see post of 1 January 2013 for more info.