Christians and Pagans

Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.
[Ted Loder]

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In preparation for Holy Week I have been re-reading some works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German Lutheran pastor who stood fearlessly against Nazi rule. He was jailed and finally executed on 9th April 1945 at the age of 39 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered.

I trust his words about the Cross for two reasons: First, not only did he write about the Cross but he carried his own cross. The cross that is the consequence of a radical faithfulness to the ways of Jesus. Second, because his entire understanding of faith and life and God was shaped by his primary understanding of God as the Crucified LORD…

ON PEACE …

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

ON SUFFERING …

“It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own, personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through the engagement of one’s physical being than through the Spirit. Christ Suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and soul, and likewise subsequently many Christians along with him.”

MORE WORDS ON SUFFERING …

“There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.”

CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS …

  1. “People go to God in their need, for help, happiness and bread they plead for deliverance from sickness, guilt and death. Thus do they all, Christians and pagans.”
  2. “People go to God in God’s need, find God poor, reviled, with neither shelter nor bread, see God entangled in sin, weakness, and death. Christians stand by God in God’s suffering.”
  3. “God comes to all human beings in need, sates them body and soul with His bread, dies the death of the cross for Christians and pagans and forgives them both.”

“Christians stand by God in God’s suffering” — this is a Christian’s distinguishing character. This is what Holy Week teaches us to do. See you in the week.

 Grace, Alan

Day by day

In God’s love and in God’s pity, God redeemed them;
the Lord lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old. Isaiah 63

As another year passes I wonder if there is still enough time to become the person I was created to be but am not. The difference between the two is an aching gap and sometimes it is just a gap without the ache which is worse.

The Jesuit priest, Karl Rahner, writes: “In bygone days, we wanted to become holy. Once we desired to wear ourselves out completely for God’s honour and for the kingdom of heaven, we wanted to burn our life in the ardent flame of love. And we did not become holy.”

He goes on to write: [But] “why should we think that the selfishness of our heart in its secret pride is so powerful that it could plug all the cracks against the pressure of God’s grace?”

He continues, “We want to shun the secret fancies (our ultimate pride) that our evil stubbornness could be victorious over God’s gloriously strong love, which, when it will, dissolves even the obstinate insolence of the heart. We also want to let God be greater in our life than our barren heart and admit that he can reap a harvest even out of the stony field of our soul, a harvest that praises the power of God’s grace. We have become holier.

“But we haven’t become holy. Not because we haven’t worked any miracles or converted any nations or directed the inexorable stream of universal history … but rather because we haven’t loved God as we really should, with the whole heart and with all our strength. We cannot yet forego this duty. We cannot be satisfied with ourselves yet. Our heart doesn’t love without measure and without bound as it could love and must love.

“It loves a little, yes; but a little in this matter is almost worse than nothing. For the heart that completely denies itself still hasn’t found its master. One thing is still left; the heart must surrender itself entirely and without division.

“But who will gather up this divided, disunited heart and make it sincere, so that it can surrender itself to God, all at once, without division? Alas! Our poor dilapidated heart! It is so strange: it yearns a little for stronger love, and conceals a wicked annoyance at the boundless demands of love; and bother of these together are covered over by a feeling of weakness and feebleness.

“The heart of a man (sic) who is growing old, and who did not become holy, feels like this. The heart is well disposed, but it feels too keenly its weakness. The real opportunities for unconditional, boundless love (can we want to love any other way?), the inevitable opportunities that are sent to us — not chosen by us — no longer present themselves. Did we really waste the best hours of our life, the precious opportunities for love God?”

Do you hear the regret in Rahner’s final question to us? Does it resonate within you? What of the gap between what we are and what we have not become?

As the date changes reminding us of the passing of time I invite you to pray the prayer of St Richard:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

I cannot think of a more needed prayer to be prayed by anyone: May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.

If we make this our prayer then just maybe we will in fact “burn our life in the ardent flame of love.”

Grace, Alan

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

 

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

 

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa.
We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future,
and our freedom.

 

 

Let there be justice
for all.
Let there be peace
for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt
for all.
Let each know that for each the body,
the mind and the soul have been freed
to fulfil themselves.
 

 

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

 

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

 

As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…
Great peacemakers are all people
of integrity, of honesty,
but humility.

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for Words of Reflection on Mr Nelson Mandela by both Rev. Dr. Peter Storey and Alan Storey.

 

Disarm and rethink

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”

 

Happy New Year on this first Sunday of Advent. Yes, Christian New Year begins with four weeks of preparation for the coming of Jesus. And in Jesus we welcome God’s life enabling vision for all of creation. In Jesus we witness true humanity and true divinity walking hand in hand. In Jesus we witness life lived as life was intended to be lived — in love, by love and for love.

The prophet Isaiah is going to be our guide through these Advent days. The One thing we will soon learn about the prophet Isaiah is that he was not short on imagination when it came to expressing God’s heavenly dream for earth.

For Isaiah the first step for us to prepare for the coming of the prince of peace is to convert our weapons of destruction into instruments of nourishment — ”swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks”.

Sadly his words are yet to be taken seriously. We are still addicted to the lunacy of war. As John Wesley so clearly wrote many years ago:

Here are forty thousand men gathered together on this plain. What they going to do? See, there are thirty or forty thousand more at a great distance. And these are going to shoot them through the head or body, to stab them, or split their skulls, and send most of their souls into everlasting fire, as fast as they possibly can. Why so? What harm have they done to them? O, none at all! They do not so much as know them.
But a man, who is king of France has a quarrel with another man, who is king of England. So these Frenchmen are to kill as many of these Englishmen as they can, to prove the king of France is in the right. Now, what an argument is this? What a method of proof? What an amazing way of deciding controversies!
What must mankind be, before such a thing as war could ever be known or thought of upon earth? How shocking, how inconceivable a want must there have been of common understanding, as well as common humanity, before any two governors, or any two nations in the universe could once think of such a method of decision! If then, all nations, Pagan, Mohammedan, and Christian, do, in fact, make this their last resort, what farther proof do we need of the utter degeneracy of all nations from the plainest principles of reason and virtue? Of the absolute want, both of common sense and common humanity, which runs through the whole race of mankind? 
From: Works (Jackson) 9:221 The Doctrine of Original Sin (part 1)

Our first Advent task is to disarm and to rethink the way we “decide controversies”. None of us are excluded from this task. It involves how we decide controversies within our most intimate relationships as well as the most expansive public policy.

Manenberg Interfaith Prayers for Peace

Grace, Alan

Jesus first

Focus more time and energy on what we are for
than on what we are against.

Today is Christ the King Sunday — it is also the last Sunday of the Christian year. This is perfectly appropriate for it reminds us where all of time is headed as well as the purpose of our year-in and year-out living — putting Jesus first in all things. As the author of Colossians puts it: “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created though him and for him … so that he may come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:15-16 and 18).

I was listening to a preacher the other day that left me feeling very perturbed. The sermon was saturated with devil talk — even though the text made no mention of the devil (in fact very few do!). I was hearing more about the devil than I was about Jesus.

Aldous Huxley — of Brave New World fame wrote a book called, The Devils of Loudun. This 1952 non-fiction novel is a historical narrative of supposed demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and mass hysteria which occurred in 17th century France surrounding unexplained events that took place in the small town of Loudun.

This is what Huxley says:
The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous. Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptively worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself, (p.192)…

No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected. To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him. (p 260)

On this Christ the King Sunday we are reminded to put Jesus first in everything we think, say and do as our years focus. To focus more on what we are “for” than on what we are “against”. This will protect us from focusing too much on others and not enough on our own need for transformation. It may also prevent us from being perpetual faultfinders with nothing better to do than issue complaints. Even if our complaints have some validity it is tiring to be in the presence of one who only ever finds fault.

As our New Year begins next week — on the first Sunday of Advent may our default stance be for Jesus. What does it mean to be for Jesus? It means to be for what he was for. To be for: truth, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion for the vulnerable, to live lives of prayer, peace, joy and justice etc. This stance for Jesus is the most faithful way we can prepare for his birth among us.

An Alcohol-Free December

Why an alcohol-free December? Well why not?

Alcohol is very very expensive! I am not referring to the cost in Rand terms — although this is no small amount. I am referring to its cost in relationships and ruined lives. So many arguments, ugliness, child neglect and abuse, fights, killings, road accidents … you name it … are all exacerbated by alcohol.

For those of us who struggle with addiction December is one of the most difficult months and it would be great to know that others are FASTING in SOLIDARITY with us.

Peace, Alan

Mindfulness

Thích Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France.

Below follows Thích Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings which represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.

Remember the first key (Manna and Mercy) of Christian interpretation is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to this?” I invite you to hold this question as you read through these Five Mindfulness Trainings…

The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

By: Thích Nhat Hanh | www.plumvillage.org

The Jesus Test

This picture was painted on a garage door…

Those of you who have attended Manna and Mercy will remember that the first key that we learnt to help us to live out the Scriptures in Christ-Like (life-giving) ways is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to our interpretation?” or “Would Jesus be pleased if we were to imitate the Word as we understand it?” So for example, Samson may have killed 10 000 Philistines believing it was God who equipped him to do so, but would Jesus (who instructs us to love our enemies) say ‘Amen’ to that behaviour? Surely not, and therefore we should not be imitating Samson in our relationship with any Philistines.

This question: “Would Jesus say amen?” is a simple enough question to ask — but which Jesus are we referring to? You see the question presupposes that we know who Jesus is and what would either please him or trouble him. Our answers will largely be influenced by how we see Jesus’ overall purpose.

For example if we see Jesus’ primary purpose to secure our place in heaven — then it is likely that we are going to interpret his teachings and actions in that light. In this light the parable of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20) who kept employing labourers throughout the day and paid them all the same — would mean that no matter when we give our life to Christ (early or late) we all receive the same reward. In this heavenly light we are blinded to any relevance the parable may have with regard to the payment of a just wage on earth.

There are other “Jesus’”. Jesus the miracle worker who aims to prove the existence of God in whom we are to have faith. Jesus the ethical teacher calling us to live a morally upright life. Jesus the spiritual guru offering us inner peace. Jesus the motivational speaker promising rich rewards for doing things his way. Jesus the doomsday prophet coming to notify us of the end of the world and urgently pleading with us to repent or perish.

This can leave us confused asking: “Would the right Jesus please stand up?” To help us apply this “Jesus test” we need to remember the most important thing about Jesus’ life, namely his death. No doubt this is the reason why the Gospel writers all spend a disproportionate amount of text describing Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. To help us have “the right Jesus to stand up” we must check whether our understanding of Jesus would give the Roman authorities and religious leaders any cause to have Jesus crucified. Why would the Romans be threatened by someone who promised to get you into heaven if you just believed in him and his heavenly father? Why would they kill him for performing miracles or teaching ethics or promising peace and prosperity. Even announcing the end of the world would not disturb them. In fact, all these “Jesus’” would probably have been welcomed by them because it would have distracted the peasant masses from their oppressive struggles and calmed their desire to revolt against the powers.

So even though there are aspects of truth in all of these pictures of Jesus, none of them even remotely account for his crucifixion and this should make us wary of holding onto any of them too tightly. If the Jesus we are praying to or preaching about was not enough of a threat to get nailed to a cross among criminals, then the odds are we are not speaking about Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the political power and economic privilege of the ruling classes. Therefore, whenever we interpret Jesus’ words and deeds we must ask how our interpretation threatens the rich and powerful — if it doesn’t, we need to look again and again…

Parables as Subversive Speech, by William R. Herzog II is a book I highly recommend to assist us in interpreting Jesus as a threat to the powers.

Grace in the disturbance, Alan

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©

Jesus of the outcast

As a young artist, Timothy Schmalz faced some tough times. For the first few years he says he lived on a wooden bench in an old warehouse without heating or running water. He knows what it feels like to be on the outskirts of society. So he wanted to create a Jesus that the poor and outcast could relate to. Schmalz’ Jesus lies on a park bench. His face and hands are hidden under the folds of a heavy blanket. The only evidence of the Bible story is the statue’s pierced feet.

In these cold winter wet days we are reminded that Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. He was a refugee at birth and died on a state-owned cross at death. Jesus was homeless from Alpha to Omega. A park bench may have been his only option on occasion.

I invite you to use this picture of Timothy Schmalz’ ‘Homeless Jesus’ as an icon. Take time to reflect on what you see. Maybe imagine yourself sitting on the bench next to Jesus. Are you moved to speak to him or do you sit in silence? How do you feel?

Peace, Alan

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

During a recent lesson series in Sunday School,
the children explored the healing hands of Jesus and
also how they could use their hands in the service of Jesus.
Drawing their own hands helped the children explore the possibilities.

 

Some of you may recall a programme “Children say the Darndest Things”, aired on Springbok Radio on a Saturday morning. We would interpret that as “out of the mouths of babes”.

Through Bible stories I have read to our children over the past three years, these are some of their questions and comments:

The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest, so why do we come to Sunday School on a Sunday?

Instead of letting people die and making new ones, why doesn’t God just keep the ones he’s got?

Is God really invisible? I think he just likes playing ‘hide and go seek’ with us.

How does God know he is God and who made him?

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

These are profound questions that only God can answer and interacting with these little ones can be both joyful and challenging. Their view of life is uncomplicated and simplistic and is it fascinating to observe and listen to their thought processes and what delights their curious minds. They live ‘in the moment’, where the small stuff of only the “Now” matters.

Children are a reminder that to view life through their eyes is to see a beautiful, colourful world, devoid of angst and lived with joy and a sense of wonder. Sadly, this is not the reality for many children in our society today.

For those in my care on a Sunday morning, it remains humbling to help them grow in the grace of Jesus, and they keep me focused on the God of the Small Stuff.

Grace and peace,
Malia Parker (Sunday School Co-ordinator)