Good Friday Sermon
2021 04 02 Alan Storey
As the clock completes its annual circuit, we are invited to pause…
To pause to examine our lives. To go through each month of the past year – remembering what took place around us and within us. We do so without judgement and without the need to justify anything. We steer between the unhelpful cliffs of condemnation and complacency. Instead, we hold all things – all situations and all people in compassion. Compassion is the life-giving combination of grace and truth. Truth without grace can be mean, while grace without truth is meaningless. Together they convict and comfort (strengthen)… this frees us to make our confession (get real about our living).
We pray: Spirit of truth and grace come and convict and comfort me today, that I may get real about my living. Amen.
This past year:
These questions are simple signposts inviting us to explore a particular direction of our living. How far we would like to wander along each path is up to each of us…
Note: This time of pause is served best if we carve out unhurried time. We cannot “speed reflect” – like we may be able to speed read. We can only do 30 minutes reflection in 30 minutes – no more. If a question fails to connect with us straight away, we are invited to stick with it for a little longer …
Below are a few reflections from Augustine of Hippo. A person known for his confessions. The Augustine Confessions is, next to the Bible, the most widely read book in history. It is also the first autobiography as we know them. It is devoted to telling Augustine’s passionate journey of faith and life. We are invited to read and re-read his words – sensitive to what convicts and comforts us.
“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so…
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly, I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter of joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day.
This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician, and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.”
If you have been reading these updates since November 6th 2019, you will know that from the beginning it has been communicated to the refugees in the Church that the sanctuary is a “temporary safe place” and that we “offer a moment of calm” in which we hope “people can find one another to talk, listen and negotiate” and that “a way forward would soon be found that would include vacating Central Methodist Mission”.
In one of my sermons, I said that “it takes courage to protest but it also takes courage to negotiate”. Sadly, they have not shown courage to negotiate. I say sadly, because I believe that they have many legitimate grievances yet their singular demand to go to a “third country” is not in any way aligned to their grievances. No one takes this unrealistic demand seriously and therefore one is also tempted to not take the real grievances seriously. To therefore demand that which is at present so clearly unrealistic, does themselves and all other foreign nationals in South Africa a disservice. Many refugee organisations in South Africa have said as much.
Refugees across the country rightly complain that the Department of Home Affairs sometimes grants asylum papers that are only valid for a month or two. It is very difficult to get work if one is only “legal” for such a short period of time. Many also complain about how difficult it is to open a bank account in SA. These are serious grievances that must be addressed, but the leaders of this protest action over the past five months have not negotiated around these grievances at all. Were they to say we are protesting until all the major banks in the country make it easier for foreign nationals to open bank accounts, or were they to say we demand that our asylum papers be valid for a minimum of a year or three, they would have discovered greater solidarity and support in addressing these and other forms of administrative xenophobia. Instead, they chose to alienate and threaten everyone who pointed out to them that their singular demand to be moved to a third country is impossible and that it does not align itself with their grievances. This has not helped their cause in particular, and the cause of refugees in SA in general.
It has been disturbing to witness how people who themselves have been victims of violence have turned against each other in violence, becoming the very thing they hate and adding impetus to the cycle of violence continuing. The split into two factions on the 29th December 2019 gave rise to xenophobia and religious prejudice among themselves. Doing to each other as they have had done to them. This level of brokenness is tragic. One can only weep.
As I write this, I fear my words might contribute to a sense of self-righteousness and provide an excuse for us in the future to not respond with openness and compassion. We must guard against this if we ourselves are not to become what we hate.
On numerous occasions over the past five months, the refugee leadership gave me the assurance that they will vacate the church. They did not honour these commitments. Over the last few weeks I have put up notices (in all the languages of those staying in the church) requesting people to vacate the church. This request is being ignored. From conversations with the leadership of the refugees it is clear to me that they still believe that their demand to go to a third country will be met and that they will not vacate until it is met. It is also clear to me that they have nothing to gain by remaining in the church. They are literally wasting their time. In fact, I believe that due to health and safety reasons they continue to place their lives at greater risk by remaining in the sanctuary. The overcrowding and lack of appropriate ablution facilities, not to mention increased fire risk, makes the sanctuary an unsafe space to be in.
This leaves the church little choice but to go the legal route and seek relief from the courts. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in the process of doing so. This itself will take some time and I ask you to hold those involved in this sensitive matter in your heart.
Let me end with a few words about the Coronavirus. Like climate-breakdown the Coronavirus reminds us of the reality of our inter-connectedness with all of life. It has no respect for border posts and cares not about our nationality or any other social construct we like to use to carve up the world-wide-web of life. Our hyper-individualistic cultures live in denial of this reality. To live in denial of reality is self-defeating. The longer we persist the more devastating the defeat will be – as every other persistence in false separation can testify. South African history is a prime example of this.
Individualism cannot solve what individualism has caused. An example of this is people stocking up on hand sanitising products. To only look after oneself is self-defeating because we are all connected. Hoarding (in every form) is ultimately self-defeating. It is generosity, and not selfishness, that will save us. Jesus said this a long time ago: “For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will save it”. When Jesus says, “for my sake” we remember that he self-identified as the “least among us”. In other words the Jesus approach is not to hoard sanitiser but rather to share it with as many people as possible especially those who do not have access to these basic resources. And this goes with every form of preventative method of care and health services.
As we avoid hoarding-panic let us also avoid living in spiritual cloud-cuckoo-land by saying that “our faith will protect us” and the “Coronavirus is just like the flu”. This spiritualised denialism is dangerous and disrespectful to the people around us. For the most part we have a fragile health system in this country, and we must do all we can to not unnecessarily burden it.
The first thing that gets “touched” when we fall in love is our heart. The second is our wallet! This is true in all love relationships. Giving and sharing are the first signs of “being in love” with another person. To give and to share are the most natural things to do when we are in love.
The same applies to our relationship with Jesus. As we grow to love Jesus, we naturally grow in generosity towards that which Jesus was passionate about in the world, especially enabling good news for the poor. Our giving and sharing are signs of our sincerity and commitment to Jesus. In short, to love Jesus is to live generously. This is probably the easiest way we can see how much we love Jesus …
It begins with us looking at our hearts and not our pay slips (if we are fortunate enough to have a job). We do not have to be wealthy to be generous, but we do have to be loving. This means all of us, rich and poor alike can be generous. A generous life is rooted in the soil of gratitude. We love because God first loved us and we give because God first gave to us — and continues to give to us!
This is a reminder of the gospel-call on each of our lives. We are first and foremost called to become the generous people Jesus longs for us to be. This may include supporting the work and ministry of this community and it may not — but it will certainly involve supporting the work of others somewhere, somehow, in strengthening the vulnerable, healing the sick, including the outcast and feeding the hungry, etc. If you believe that CMM contributes towards what Jesus is passionate about then I encourage you to include CMM as one of the many avenues in which your generosity may find expression.
At CMM we believe that we are born in the image of a very generous God who lovingly shares with us everything that has been created. We also believe that we are called to partner God in mending our universe by generously giving back what God has already provided so abundantly. We may choose to do this through CMM or any other organisation or individual or initiative. It is not important where we give but it is very important that we give. In order to become more like God, we are encouraged to give justly and joyfully so that we can help God mend our universe!
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it, for the Lord has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” Psalm 24:1
Everything belongs to the Lord. We own nothing.
“There will, however, be no one in need among you … give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so … open your hand to the poor and needy.” Deut. 15:4,10,11
Everything of the Lord’s is to be joyfully and justly shared.
“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” 1 John 3:17
Sharing reveals God’s love in us.
As difficult as this may sound it is actually what each of us is born for – and here is why:
• God is joyfully and justly generous
• We are born in God’s image
• We are therefore born to be joyfully and justly generous.
We are on the journey from the image of God to the likeness of God!