Important lessons

A special thank you to all those who made last week’s camp
such a connecting time.
For the day visitors who made the trek  —  thank you.
It was great to be together.

Take note:
Next year’s Weekend Away will be on from 17 to 19 October.
I dare you to put the date in your diary!

 

What are the two most important lessons you have learnt in your life? Go ahead and take some time to think about it…

I asked this question to the group I meet with on Wednesday mornings at The Carpenter’s Shop. Here is what was shared:

Respect!” Respect as in being “considerate to the person in front of you” and “seeing a person’s dignity”. “Everyone must respect everyone — even old people must respect younger people”

Discipline of myself. Without discipline you are nothing. Self-discipline to get up at 5 a.m. — to wash myself and to iron my pants and eat before I catch the train to look for work…”

I have learnt that I must be “wise with my words”. “Unwise words make trouble.”

Honesty is the lesson I have learnt. It is always better to be honest.” At this point the conversation became very interesting. Another person said, “but sometimes you have to be dishonest”. And he went on to explain that when he was in Pollsmoor Prison a member of the 28s was killed in his communal cell. When the prison wardens asked him who was responsible he said he didn’t know. “If I had been honest I would have been killed just like that gang member” he reasoned. “I have learnt in life that sometimes it is best to be dishonest, but to be dishonest is not the same as lying. Lying is bad. Dishonesty is not.” “Yes”, explained another, “like when you go for a job interview and they ask you if you can do this or that and whether you have experience, you say ’yes’ because you want to impress them even though you do not have the experience — this is not lying because you do want to impress them”. This was a new insight for me!

“Well, yesterday I went to fill in a form for a job’, said another, ‘and on the form they asked if I had ever been in prison. I thought to myself: ‘why don’t they find out that information themselves’. I then changed my mind and told them. They asked me the nature of my crime. I told them and they wanted to know how long I was inside for. I told them and then they said that I was not ‘inside long enough’ so I did not get the job. It would have been better if I were dishonest”. Others nodded in agreement with him. And I found myself agreeing too. How unfair it is that the very people who were born with so many obstacles in their future now are held to ransom by their past. Let us pray…

God of Grace — God of forgiving love for all and forever. We praise you for the treasured lessons you have gifted us with in our living. Thank you for the people who have respected us and by doing so taught us how to respect others. Heal the wounds that we carry as well as the wounds that we have inflicted due to a lack of respect.

For the examples of self-discipline that have challenged and inspired us we are grateful. Give us disciple-like-discipline to shape of days in your service.

Tame our tongues O God. They are too sharp for us to handle on our own. We have witnessed them cut and tear others apart. Help us to fast from unnecessary talk. Erase all words of unkind judgement from our vocabulary and make us generous with words that heal, comfort and liberate.

Lord your word invites us to trust that the truth will set us free and yet we have heard how it may get one killed. Some of us struggle to be truthful if it means we may disappoint another — so how difficult it must be if a job or our life were on the line. Set us free from fear to be truth-tellers we pray.

Amen.

Grace, Alan

 

 

We, the people

Do you remember that day? That day when we stood in the longest of queues as if we were entering the holy of holies, knowing that what we were about to do was of sacramental significance — consecrated by the courage, blood and prayers of too many people to name.

On that day of new beginnings it was as if God said again: “Let there be light — and there was light.” We were separated from the darkness and given light to recognise each other as the gifts of God that we all are. Now as this light flickers vulnerably in the encroaching breeze of secrecy, I invite you to return to the Light-shining words of our Constitution’s Preamble:

We, the people of South Africa:
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

As with the liberation of the Hebrews of old, 27 April 1994 was a watershed day for our beloved country. We stood on dry land with the ocean of oppression behind us and the uncharted sea of promise before us. To the extent that we remember God’s deliverance in our past is to the extent that we will be set free to trust God’s promise of service delivery in our future.

May be never forget.

In hope, Alan.

Hoping against hope

On Wednesday morning I was introduced to a new group of participants attending the second semester at The Carpenters Shop. Over the next 10 weeks they hope to learn new skills that will help them find a job. A job is the Holy Grail all of them are seeking. A job and the money that comes with it so that: “I don’t have to steal”; “I don’t have to be part of a gang”; “I can support my family”; ”I can be a man”; “I won’t ever go back to living on the street”; “I can start over”.

I have never really understood St. Paul’s phrase: “hoping against hope” but if it means what I think it may mean then it resonates with this situation. The longing to have a future that is different from the past – “I want a new life” – was said with blunt clarity.

I felt their longing but I also felt the underlying doubt upon which their longing rested. I confess I shared this doubt of whether change was at all likely – after all, where are these jobs going to come from? I felt a despair for our future. To use Melanie Judge’s words that I quoted in last week’s sermon, there are just too many people who have been “actively locked out of livelihoods of dignity”. Locked out by things like a failing education system. This is the primary violence within society that is seldom ever recognised as violence. It results in rage. Suppressed rage. Expressed rage. And ultimately rage that will probably end up being jailed and beaten into submission … resulting in ever more rage.

During the session I had with the group I was peppered with questions: “Where was God when I was stabbed in my face?” “If God loves me then why doesn’t God protect me?” “If God cares for me then why is my life such a mess?” “God may love me but God is up there somewhere – and I am down here”. Each question revealing how locked out they feel. Even locked out from God’s goodness and mercy.

The Easter narratives tell of Jesus coming and standing among his disciples who were locked behind closed doors. With this we are invited to trust that Jesus will always find a way to break into our lives no matter what we are locked behind or locked out of.

He comes, breathing peace and not judgement. He comes focused more on our future than our failed past. He en-courage-s us to start over again believing that we can change.

Payment for receiving this gift is to make it our task. To do to others what Jesus has done for us. To stand among those locked out of livelihoods of dignity. To stand among them breathing peace while hoping against hope that change is possible.

I believe Lord. Help my unbelief,
Alan

Conversation at the Book Lounge:

Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church spilled out onto a Sidewalk by Christa Kuljian

Thursday 25 April, at 6 p.m.

After years of sporadic media attention and posturing by politicians, Kuljian has made it her business to find out exactly what has been going on at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, where the Church acts as a gateway to the city – an Ellis Island for South Africa, the place where many migrants first go to get their bearings. How did a place of worship turn into a shelter for thousands of refugees? Where did they come from? Why are they still there? Seeking to answer such questions, Kuljian fluently combines many elements: interviews with members of the refugee community and residents of the Church, and key figures like Bishop Paul Verryn, who has often been at the centre of the storm; historical material on the church and its role in the city since the early years; and an understanding of urban dynamics, migrancy, and South African and southern African politics.

The result is a complex, open-eyed book that grapples with some of South Africa’s most urgent social problems as they are refracted through one appalling, frustrating, inspiring place.

Christa will be in conversation with Alan Storey at the Book Lounge.

Look and listen for Jesus on our streets

This plaque commemorates the first church radio broadcast in South Africa and took place in the CMM Sanctuary on 25 January 1925.

The plaque pictured above and which hangs in our “Time Tunnel”, is an amazing inspiration. I love it. It reminds us that the Methodist Church back in the day was at the cutting edge of technology for the sake of the gospel. It speaks of an imaginative people daring to do something which had never been done before – “to get the sound of the gospel out”. This is not only a challenge to this congregation but to the Methodist Church as a whole – as we easily get stuck in the way we do things.

Think back over the last 30 years. How has the way we worship on a Sunday changed? By and large what we do on a Sunday today we did in 1980. Yet in this time almost everything in the world has changed. Or if it has not changed, it has died.

Think about music for a moment, or at least the medium by which music comes to us. Vinyls have been replaced by tape cassettes and cassettes have been replaced by CDs and CDs have been replaced by MP3 players and MP3 players have been replaced by iPods, etc. All this has taken place in the last 30 years. Oh, people still listen to Beethoven and even Abba (Lord have mercy!) but the method people use to listen to the music has changed. It has changed so much that many teenagers of today would not know how to work a record player.

The other night some of us went onto Long Street to share Holy Communion. It was like going out with a vinyl into an iPod listening world – very few people knew what we were doing. Only a handful had any semblance of a record player to play our record and hear its song.

We do not need to change the music. The music of Abba Father’s Love will always be the top tune, but we need to be more imaginative and daring in how we let the tune go out of this place.

On 8 and 15 May we will go out on Long Street to look and listen (yes I know that is the name of a music store – quite appropriate) and learn where we are. What kind of neighbourhood do we live in and most importantly who are our neighbours?

We will look for signs of life and signs of death. We will be attentive to areas of pain and hope. We will look for Jesus on the streets and in the bars – remembering that the resurrected Jesus has wounds fresh and large – large enough for us to put our hands in his side. We will meet in the sanctuary at 7 p.m. and be finished by 9:30 p.m.

Grace, Alan

PS: Today’s service is being recorded by the SABC and will be broadcasted on SAFM Radio next Sunday at 11 a.m.

 

It is time to confess

No more excuses!

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:2

 

On Wednesday I received the following note from a friend of mine: “Not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is … but I hope that time of reflection will bring insight, inspiration and passion.”

It is true, we are not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is. “Happy Ash Wednesday”, just doesn’t sound right. Especially after one has just been marked with ash and told: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return – turn from your sin and be faithful to Christ.” Not even Cardies has figured out how to commercialise Ash Wednesday. I guess they figured there isn’t a market for cards that remind you that you are a piece of dirt.

And yet it is only when we are able to recognise our “nothingness” that we will be able to grasp the greatness of God’s grace. Until then we may be under the illusion that we deserve it or have somehow achieved it.

We acknowledge our nothingness, not with despair but in secure trust as we remember that in the beginning God created the cosmos “out of nothing”. So together with the psalmist we boldly request, “create in me a clean heart O God” (Ps 51). As we admit we are dirt we remember with confidence that “God formed humanity from the dust of the ground” (Gen 1:7). We may be dust – but in God’s hands even dust is filled with precious potential.

Ash Wednesday and Lent that follows, is not about beating up on oneself, but rather it invites us to be honest about who we truly are. After all who of us cannot join Paul in saying about ourselves: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19)?

Were it not for God’s compassion, our acts of confession would have no value. It is precisely because of God’s mercy, evident nowhere so vividly as in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are able to summon the courage to acknowledge our fault and ask forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness knowing that we have already been forgiven in advance – it is called grace. In fact to know that forgiveness is a free available gift is what emboldens us to ask for forgiveness in the first place. To do so under any other conditions would be to take a foolish risk. The order of our prayers: “Lord make me to know your love, so that as I grow to know myself I will know that your love covers the full multitude of my knowing”.

This Lent I invite you to confess your sin. To confess is to explore the real reality of who we are in the trusted and loving presence of another. Our sin consists of every love-less, truth-less, gentle-less, generous-less, just-less area of our lives. Only when we dare to plumb our depths will we appreciate the depths of God’s love.

Grace, 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.