Convicted to Confess

Sunday Sermon

2021 03 21 Alan Storey
Convicted to Confess
[Psalm 51:1-12]

Making meaning

Soweto’s inspiring soccer gogos risk losing their home field to developers. Aspasia Karras

 

Hi Friends,

I saw a group of people playing soccer in a park the other day. The teams at play were the shirts vs. the shirt-less. The shirts of the shirt-less marked the four corners of the soccer field. A couple of stacked bricks formed the goalposts. There was no referee. Everyone was the referee.

I remember playing similar games of soccer when I was a kid. With makeshift goal posts and no chalk lines to mark the field.  I also remember that we would have many arguments about whether the ball was ‘in’ or ‘out’. We had graphic ways of “proving” how the ball passed either below or over the invisible goal post. When ‘they’ scored the goalposts shrunk. We ‘we’ scored the goal posts stood tall. Quite miraculous.

During every neighbourhood championship we were not only improving our soccer skills. We were sharpening our debating skills. We were learning ethics. With the help of a couple of t-shirt corner-posts and brick-stacked goalposts and argued-out ethics, the game remained enjoyable. It remained enjoyable because it continued to have meaning.

It seems to me that one of the consequences of Covid-19 is that many of the ‘lines’ that demarcate the field of our lives have been erased. Think of how the ‘lines’ of routine have been erased or the ‘lines’ of employment, and of roles and responsibilities. With each line erased there is a threat of enjoyment fading because of the loss of meaning.

To the extent that we are able to creatively improvise with a couple of t-shirt corner posts and brick-stacked goal posts, may be to the extent that we are able to hold on to meaning and the joy that flows from meaning in these days of Covid erasing. To the extent that we are able to argue out an ethic of what is fair, may be to the extent that we learn greater truth about ourselves and society than we would otherwise have learnt without this Covid erasing. A truth that offers us the possibility of a deeper freedom if we give ourselves to it.

[I realise that this analogy can play the other way: The erasing of ‘lines’ gives us an opportunity to redesign the ‘game’. No ‘lines’ allows for new ‘lines’ to be drawn, etc. Yay! This may be a wonderful act of liberation. Take the analogy whichever way you need.]

Here is a link to a joyful and meaningful soccer story from which the top photo comes.

This Wednesday for our Lenten journey of deliberately designing our days with “sacred pause” by surrendering to Silence, Stillness and Solitude will move from theory into practice. Instead of meeting for an hour or so online this Wednesday evening, we are encouraged to practice Silence, Stillness and Solitude.

The CMM Sanctuary will be open on Wednesday 10th March from 17h30 to 18h30 if you would like to hold silence with others. (All Covid regulations will be observed … in silence.)

We will pick up our Lenten discussion on Wednesday 17th March at 20h00.

If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday please email welcome@cmm.org.za or request via that same email to be put on the WhatsApp group.

In grace,
Alan

Lent

 

Friends,

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. And on Wednesday Lent begins with smudges of ASH. The hope is that the vision we receive on the Mount of Transfiguration somehow sustains us when we are in the wilderness valley surrounded by sickness and suffering and sand and more sand. May this be so…

Our ASH Wednesday (zoom) service will begin at 8 p.m. We will meet every Wednesday of Lent at 8 p.m. for a Lenten reflection. A zoom link will be sent out on the CMM WhatsApp group. If you would like the link please email welcome@cmm.org.za

This past Wednesday some of us gathered online to prepare for Lent. We were reminded of the beautiful documentary called: My Octopus Teacher. The reason for the documentary in the first place was that a certain film maker who was suffering from burnout, made a commitment to enter the ocean every day for a year with the hope of renewal and reconnection to self and Life. In this act of daily “baptism” / commitment, the film maker was doing what people seeking renewal in just about every faith tradition have done for centuries: and that is to deliberately design one’s day to Pause. Pause consisting of a combination of silence, stillness, solitude. This Pause often involved an immersion in nature. We learn from The Octopus Teacher – that when a person honours their journey for healing with deliberate daily pause – they are gifted with renewed reconnection with themselves and Life and all that lives, and over and above that, the world is given the gift of a beautiful reconnecting story.

This Lent we are invited to deliberately design our days with Pause – silence, stillness and solitude. Our Wednesday Lenten reflections will draw partly from these moments of Pause.

Please note: We will not be opening the sanctuary for in-person services any time soon, even though Covid-19 regulations make this possible.

The reason remains that it is still too risky even though we are coming to the end of the “second wave”. In all likelihood there will be a third wave before we have all been vaccinated. And if trends continue, the third wave may prove to be more deadly than the first and second. For example, this week we were informed by our Covid-19 advisory team that “during the first wave it took three months to reach 5 000 deaths while the second wave took only four weeks to reach 10 000 deaths.

We therefore need to be very vigilant in these days. Keep practicing the Trinity: wear a mask, wash hands, keep 1.5 m distance.

In grace,
Alan

CMM Refugee & Coronavirus Update

I was informed early in the week that the refugees in the church will be evacuated by Friday. They will be relocated to a designated area determined by the City of Cape Town. The evacuation will be in accordance with the State of Disaster Regulations relating to Covid-19. This is good news because it would be unsafe for people to continue to remain in such a completely overcrowded space, such as the church, during this pandemic. Please pray for all those involved in this transition. It is traumatic for all those involved.

As in the rest of the world, slowing down the spread of Covid-19 is going to be an incredible challenge, and this is why we all need to take the directive to stay at home very seriously. This Lockdown will potentially save tens of thousands of lives. There is no other slowing-down-solution in the world at the moment. I plead with you to stay at home.

The consequences of not going into lockdown are unimaginably dire, but there are also dire consequences that come from this slowing-down-solution. This is what made it such a courageous call by the President. In South Africa this pandemic comes on top of other pandemics like poverty and unemployment and millions of people with compromised immune systems due to TB and untreated HIV. Small and informal businesses are now to close, placing even many of the employed at risk of little or no income. In other words, though we are all vulnerable to Covid-19, many will suffer from the “slowing-down-solution” which will in turn make them more vulnerable to the actual virus. The homeless of Cape Town will have no one to beg from. Their nothing will become less.

One thing is for sure, Covid-19 will expose the ugly face of inequality in the world and especially in SA. I plead with you to consciously keep your heart open to others and creatively reach out in care. I am not sure how we will do this exactly – but I am sure ways will emerge. We can all prepare ourselves to be part of the emergence by praying this prayer: By Your Love, set me free from fear to love. To love, according to our tradition, is to be just, merciful, humble, gentle and generous.

Our fast-from-gathering is not a fast-from-caring. As a church I remind you that “the world is our parish” and we are all ministers. The profound lesson in this crisis is to see the reality of our radical interconnectedness. Only now do we realise how impossible it is to live an untouched life. The truth is that our life is relational or nothing. May this great truth take root in our innermost being (soul) over this time so that it is incarnated by us in the present and into the future.

If you need someone to talk with, please don’t hesitate to call or message me. If you become ill over this time from Covid-19 or any other illness please let me know. Hospital visits are not allowed over this Lockdown period. Funerals are allowed as per the National Disaster Regulations.

Our Lenten fast-from-gathering deepens from tonight at midnight. It is now a forced fast, but I hope we can “freely choose” it as Jesus did [John 10:18].

Like you, I will be discovering along the way how to live these days. To live these days in life-giving ways. Though a national lockdown is unprecedented I believe we can learn from those who over centuries have freely lived a “vocational lockdown”. I am referring to those who live a monastic life. And here I am thinking particularly of the daily rhythm and daily practice of monastic life. A practice that includes prayer (meditation) study (reading) meals (community) manual labour (exercise) and sleep (rest) at set times every day. I invite you to create your own daily pattern of practice. If you live with others you may want to invite them to join you (or online) – or in the very least to let them know of your intended practice which will therefore determine times of togetherness and times of spaciousness.

In closing I hope you will take courage from the beautiful and challenging insights of Fr. Rus Blassoples about our 21 Day National Lockdown:

 “Our beautiful Chapel is but a dim reflection,
a faint echo of the sanctuary found within every human heart.

May our national lockdown awaken us to this sanctuary within and make us not be so reliant on mediated experiences of everything ? including God.

Every human being is but a breath away from an unmediated, first-hand experience of the numinous. 

Good spiritual practices will teach you to access this. Bad theology makes you unduly reliant on others to fatten and feed you constantly. It is God’s Spirit within that groans, murmurs and knows how to pray. 

Perhaps now’s the time to delve into that forgotten or neglected part of our nature, and not ? dare I say ? be spoonfed a diet of spirituality that distracts us from being alone with ourselves, alone with our demons, and alone with God for days (21 or more). We do Lent such lip service!

Nor is it a time to be too glued to our small or big screens, to be fed a streaming diet of Eucharists. I mean, honestly!

We are so addicted to our screens anyway. Why are we so afraid to be alone with the Alone?

This is our wilderness moment. Our Jesus in the heremon moment (often translated as desert, but better still, Jesus in a place of solitude, devoid of others, distractions and addictions, tablets, laptops, podcasts, cellphones)…

Good liturgies will always take you to a place where you will find the courage to dispense of them ? put them aside – for a first-hand experience of God.

I pray you the blessing of one such liturgy. 
The blessing of truly being alone with the Alone”.

Grace,
Alan

 

CMM’s response to the Coronavirus

At CMM our Lenten Journey is about to change. Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus we have decided to suspend all worship services with immediate effect until after Easter at which time we will review the situation.

In Lenten language we are going to FAST from on-site worship services and meetings. Fasting is seldom easy or comfortable and I am aware that this particular fast will be challenging for us because of how deeply we hold onto our Lenten and Holy Week practice, which over the years has brought us much life.

The gift of fasting is a sense of heightened awareness. Absence heightens our awareness and paradoxically becomes a form of presence. Therefore, my hope is that as we cancel services, we will discover that Easter itself has not been cancelled. My hope is that we will live into a heightened awareness of the terror of crucifixion and the wonder of resurrection in the world and in our own lives. My hope is that as we cease to gather together that we will become increasingly aware of the excruciating pain of loneliness and the great gift of gathered community.

The hunger and the emptiness are the painful gifts of any fast. Let us therefore embrace this and resist the temptation to fill the ache and gap with something else. For this reason, we will not simply be “moving CMM services online”. Instead I encourage you to allow the fast to have its way with you. In other words, that we allow time for the restless emptiness to prune our inner being. Take note of what happens when we replace our singing with silence; our dancing with stillness and our gathering with solitude. Our Lenten work is to be attentive to the journey that our fast takes us on.

Now at risk of contradicting the previous paragraph I also realise that not all fasts are for everyone. Some have a “water only” fast while others choose to augment their fast with fruit. Please allow the same grace for yourself regarding this fast from gathered community. I invite you to explore other ways of connecting with people especially if this particular fast causes overwhelming anxiety within you.

Finally, fasting is never purely for the good of the individual but always for the sake of the whole. As I wrote last week, the Coronavirus has reminded us of our interconnectedness that we are inclined to forget in our hyper-individualistic world. We are one. Fasting is to awaken us to our oneness and deepen our sense of social solidarity.  Already the Coronavirus is exposing how deeply unequal our society is, and as a result, how fragile. My hope is that we will emerge from this with a clearer understanding of what a just and compassionate world looks like and that we will realise that changing the world is possible. It is long overdue that we called a state of emergency for the state of the world.

Now let me say a little more about the motivation behind this decision to suspend all on-site worship services. In point form:

  1. Our decision honours our Lenten theme this year: “Do no harm”.
  2. Our decision is based on the science and data from around the world over the past three months which shows that we need to “flatten the curve” (slow down the spread of the virus) if we are to limit deaths. To slow the virus from spreading we need to all act as if we already have it. Due to the fact that it is possible to be contagious (able to transmit the virus) without feeling any symptoms, we need to take precautions that are based on how the virus works rather than simply on how we feel. To slow down the spread of the virus will save lives because it will spare our health system from being completely overloaded at once.
  3. Our decision is rooted in love for all. We have not made this decision out of fear of others for our own individual well-being. Our physical distancing rests in our social solidarity.
  4. Our decision is based on the common good of all but, especially for the vulnerable, namely those of increased age and/or those who have a compromised immune system due to a pre-existing underlying condition like TB, HIV and chronic respiratory conditions. The vulnerable are also those who live in over-crowded areas as well as areas without running water. People in such circumstances known to us or in our employ will need active and generous support.
  5. Our decision is based on our faith that seeks understanding. A faith that invites our heart and our head to join hands. Christian faith is not an insurance policy against illness, but rather a way of life that invites us to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously. To say “the blood of the Lamb will protect me” is not faith. It is superstition. The way of living life justly, mercifully, humbly, etc. acknowledges that we are all potentially contagious and all potentially vulnerable. We will therefore refrain from blaming and scapegoating others.
  6. Our decision based on our faith to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously means that we will not panic-buy and hoard. Hoarding kills. It is generosity that will save us.

 

I realise it is an uneasy feeling to think we can actually be most caring by being physically distant, but this is the truth at this time. The sooner we honour this truth, the sooner we will be set free from it. Please call us at the office if you have any questions or concerns. (021) 422 2744. This is a dynamic situation and may change. We will keep you posted if things do.

In closing, I have a great concern about the refugees in the CMM sanctuary. I met with Environmental Health Officials a week ago about the Coronavirus risk. I have since written to and met with the refugee leaders within the sanctuary. There is sadly no movement on their side. Since Monday they have placed a sign outside stating: “We will not be allowing any visitors or tourists in the church (CMM) due to the coronavirus. This is for our health and well-being, as well as for many others. Thanks for understanding.” They are attempting to practice frequent handwashing, etc. But the truth is the conditions inside the sanctuary are ripe for a virus of any sort to spread, let alone the highly contagious coronavirus. As a result, our legal processes are addressing this matter with increased urgency.

Grace,
Alan

Look to See

“We can only be satisfied and happy when: 
every child wakes up in a warm house, 
has a good nutritious breakfast, 
is able to say a loving good-bye to both working parents, 
goes to school in safe and reliable transport, 
is met at school by teachers who are there on time, 
ready and able to teach."
21 August 2012 in Kliptown

Grace and peace to you and through you

Imagine for a second an elephant – a huge bulky elephant walking on her or his tip-toes. It strikes me as a ridiculously humourous picture. And yet, you won’t believe it, but it is true for every step an elephant takes. In Lyall Watson’s beautiful book, Elephantoms he describes how elephants have the
uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere and disappear into thin air without a sound:

“This is made possible, for a start, by the construction of their feet. The digits of each limb are so steeply angled that elephants walk almost on tiptoe with a very pliant step. Behind each heel lies a large spongy pad of fatty tissue that not only supports the fingers and toes, but distributes the great body weight evenly across the wide horny sole of the foot. This inner sole forms a shock-absorbing cushion that behaves like a lightly inflated tyre. When the foot is lifted, it bulges from the underside, but as soon as it is set down, the pad splays out and smothers leaves and twigs beneath it, muffling sound and giving even these giant animals an elastic step and the stealth of a cat.”

Not only is this fascinating about elephants, but it reminds us more broadly that we need people who can help us to see. We need guides who open our
eyes to what is. We need people to help us to pay attention. For this reason, when roaming the bush it is most helpful to have a game ranger at our side to point out to us what we do not see or to help us understand what we do see.

We need guides to help us to see what we are blind to in our world and country. As Former President Kgalema Motlanthe said this past week at the funeral service about one of the great guides of our fresh democracy, Ahmed Kathrada:

“Today is the day on which we close the eyes of comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours forever and saved us from the blindness of the heart. Along with countless men and women of a higher order of consciousness with whom he cast his lot in pursuance of deep ideals, comrade Kathy helped unleash human possibilities.”

Similarly we need guides to help us to see what we do not see about ourselves and to help us understand what we do see. Among other things Lent is traditionally a time of reflection. A time where we take time to look at ourselves and within ourselves. Some of us can only see the worst within ourselves while others of us exclusively focus on the best. This is why a guide or mentor or therapist or wise friend is needed – to help us to see and understand the deeper richness of who we are.

I am hoping each of us will honour this Lenten time by taking time to connect with someone who can help us to see.

Grace,
Alan

 

 


 

Be Salt & Be Light

Grace and peace to you and through you

I am sure you have been called many names in your life. Some you would probably prefer not to remember, while others you hang onto for dear life as they anchor your depths. Well, I want to remind you of an occasion when Jesus called you two names. Jesus said you are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” {Matthew 5:13-20}. Pause a moment to absorb the amazing affirmation and responsibility of these names. First, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus calls and trusts you to bring flavour to the world – his flavour of gentleness and justice. As salt you don’t do everything but you make everything you mix with more tasty. Yes you are tiny, yet your power is not connected to your size, but rather how willing you are to lose yourself for the sake of the whole – for the sake of the common pot – the common good.

In a world where power loves to be “on show” your power is only released and experienced to the extent that it is hidden. You know not to stand out. You are called to humbly hide. You spoil the taste when you can be seen shining on the surface, but you exquisitely enrich the taste when no one can see you. You are called to make that which surrounds you flourish with flavour. There is no limit to what you can achieve for good if you are willing not to take credit for it.

Second, you are the light of the world. At first this may sound like it contradicts the non-attention seeking salt, but think about it: who ever turns on a light in order to stare at the light? To do so is pointless because to stare at the light makes one blind. We turn on the light not to see the light but to see what the light reveals. Light is not the creator of what is but rather the revealer of what is. You are the light of the world says Jesus and as light the focus is not on you but on what you enable others to see because of you. True light, unlike the limelight, deflects attention rather than seeks it. Some things can only grow in the light while other things cannot survive in the light. What grows and what dies in our presence is a question worth carrying.

Now just to spin things around for a moment, the psalmist reminds us that “the darkness is as light to you O God” {Ps 139} and the prophet Isaiah states ‘I will give you treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places that you may know that I am the Lord…” {Isa 43:3}. So as we wrestle with what it means to be called the salt of the earth and the light of the world we do so not on a crusade to extinguish all darkness but with an inquisitive spirit open to discover the treasures of darkness. To help us do this here is a poem by David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Grace, Alan