Hagar vs. Sarah, Abraham and God

Friends,

This week’s reading focus for our CMM Chat on Sunday is Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:1-21. It is the harrowing story of Hagar. I invite you to read and re-read this 2-part story.

One of the things we are often reminded about at CMM is how important it is to understand the context of a scripture to understand its meaning. This includes the social, economic and political context of the time as well as the theological context. It also includes being aware of the context of the story within the Scriptures. We noted how important this is to do when we reflected on John 14 a few weeks ago and how it related to the context of Jesus’ last supper and Peter’s bold statement of faithfulness in John 13. All this holds true if we are to understand the stories of scripture more deeply, but this week I would like to ask you to do exactly the opposite.

This week I invite you to divorce the story of Genesis 16 and 21 from the scriptures entirely. Read it simply as a short story in and of itself. I believe that this approach will help us to read the story more honestly.

For it seems to me that some stories within scripture escape a truthful reading precisely because they are located in scripture. What I mean by this is that because they are in scripture, we approach them with a pre-understanding or interpretation that directs our final understanding or interpretation. This pre-understanding causes us to focus on certain aspects of the story while ignoring others. As a result, we raise certain questions and not others. We give certain characters the benefit of the doubt while we come down hard on others. We may brush over some people’s pain and anguish because we are caught up in the bigger story at play. Put simply, we sometimes apply an “end justifies the means” approach to our reading. This is most clearly seen with the dominant interpretation of the crucifixion itself. The bloody horror on Mount Golgotha is sanitised by our pre-understanding / interpretation of the larger story that “God is saving the world”. And if God is busy saving the world then any piece in the salvation puzzle, no matter how gruesome and no matter what ethical questions it raises about the Divine, are unquestioningly accepted for the sake of the final salvation puzzle to be completed. So, questions like what kind of God needs a human sacrifice to save the world are simply not asked.

This sacrificing of the single puzzle piece for the sake of the whole puzzle is what I think often happens with the story of Hagar. Hagar’s horrific treatment by Sarah, Abraham and even God (according to the narrator’s take on God) is ignored or even justified for the sake of the larger puzzle of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham.

Therefore, I propose we look at the two Hagar pieces of the puzzle, Genesis 16 and 21, on their own. I hope that our sharpened focus will provoke new questions to be asked and emotions to be felt. The ultimate hope is that Hagar will be honoured.

Hagar’s story is a painfully relevant scripture for us to be grappling with at this time. It intersects our own context on multiple fronts: This Sunday is Father’s Day and who can forget the Sunday school song: Father Abraham had many sons…? Abraham as a father of Ishmael and Isaac demand our critique. What does it mean to hold Abraham up as the epitome of faithfulness (Read Hebrews 11:8-18) in the light of his role with Hagar? The patriarchy of Abraham’s times demand we critique the patriarchy of our own times. In recent days we have had a renewed reminder of the horror of violence by men against women and how it continues unceasingly across our land. This intersects with Hagar’s horror. Furthermore, Hagar’s ignored rape anticipates the ignored rape of women through the centuries.

We will discuss together these intersections between this ancient text (short story) and our context on Sunday. I look forward to connecting with you all. If you would like the Zoom Link for the 11h11 CMM Chat please email welcome@cmm.org.za

This evening Bishop Yvette Moses will be delivering her Synod Address live via: Capemethodist Facebook page from 7pm.

Tomorrow the Synod will meet (be it a smaller version) online to complete all essential Synod work. This is going to be a challenge under the circumstances but hopefully we will be able to get everything done.

See you Sunday.

Grace, Alan

 

The Story of Hagar

This Sunday at 11:11 we will reflect together on the story of Hagar. For this reason I’ve added Genesis 16 to be read first and in conjunction with Genesis 21:1-21 for the fuller story.

I invite you to read Hagar’s story as for the first time. Try and set aside all previous interpretations. Be aware of your feelings as well as the questions that arise for you. One question to ask is: what would Jesus feel and say about Hagar’s story? And furthermore, where is Jesus in the story?  How does this story relate to the horror of gender-based violence today?

The scripture readings for this Sunday are:

Genesis 16; Genesis 21:1-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Email welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link.

Grace, Alan

The Gift of Religious Diversity

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the most beautiful things about Cape Town is the healthy religious diversity that flourishes among us. For some of us this religious diversity is planted within our own households. This is to be celebrated and cherished. To discover and learn from others what for them is sacred is a crucial part in honouring their humanity and loving them as our neighbour. This is especially so as we have just entered the month of Ramadan – a sacred time to Muslims of fasting for inner spiritual attunement.

At our Synod two weeks ago we were addressed by Mr Ebrahim Rhoda from the Strand Muslim community who shared with us a brief historical overview of the Strand Muslim community from between 1822 – 1966. In his talk he brought to our attention the relationship that early Methodists had with the early Muslim community. Some of the statements from the Methodist and other Christian clergy make you want to hide in shame. One missionary declared: “It has been my endeavour, within my humble sphere, to check this growing evil, but generally without success.” Another says, “With few exceptions they follow either a base, sinful course of life, or are ensnared by the awfully prevalent delusion of Mohammedanism.” From this we are reminded that we are often tempted to speak of another’s religion in the least charitable terms while taking a most generous view of our own. This is fueled by blind passion, hidden insecurity or both.

Rhoda also spoke of the great cooperation between Methodists and Muslims. One such story of collaboration resulted from a fishing disaster in which both Muslims and Methodists drowned. And from this we are reminded that shared suffering is often the knife that cuts through our shallow differences awakening us to our shared unity. Only when we know a person’s deepest hurt can we say that we know them.

There is a story of how Francis of Assisi (1181? – 1226) who rejected the call for war and instead during the Fifth Crusade went to meet Al-Kamil, a Kurdish ruler and Sultan of Egypt. His original intension was to convert the Sultan to Christianity but he left their time together with a profound sense that the Muslim Sultan was a person of God. Francis thereafter instructed his fellow monks to live at peace with Muslims with no need to convert them.

In these days where difference is often the basis for division may we learn to do difference differently. May difference be a lens through which we can learn and grow. And may we come to experience the mystery of how difference awakens us to our oneness at our depths.

In this may we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and a minute later he says, “They who keep my commandments are those who love me.” [John 14: 15 & 21]

Grace, Alan

Transforming Discipleship

Keeping Sabbath Holy

 Pause!  Rest! Remember!

Learn to say “NO”

Get into your diary first

 

Grace and peace to you

The following is an extract from our Presiding Bishop, Rev Zipho Siwa’s, Conference address:

“I call on Methodist people to encourage the culture of appreciation and acknowledging the good that God is doing through His people. I call for a culture of blessing and not cursing; a culture of painting God’s world with beauty and spreading a transforming fragrance. I call on all of us to engage in healing conversations and speaking transforming words even to the timid and the wayward. Words have power to create a new culture and build new people; a transforming trajectory and transformative discourse. Indeed we are called to be a transforming discipleship movement.

The basis of our calling:
Our conviction as people of faith is that our life together can be better and our calling is ‘to reclaim Jesus’s ancient and compelling vision of the common good’ (Jim Wallis). The common good has become very uncommon, writes Jim Wallis in his recent book ‘The (un)common good.’ In many areas of our existence, self-interest and fighting for political ideology has replaced finding solutions to problems in a genuine way. In so doing human beings continue to inflict pain, suffering and destruction on each other. Seeds of division are sown every day of our lives in different forms of actions and words. These seeds germinate and grow and when we least expect, it show up in families, communities, churches and nations causing unending devouring of each other.

What can be done and what does the Lord require?
It is a community that responds to the prophet Micah’s words in 6:8: “The Lord has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Justice, mercy and a humble walk with God are highlighted as the marks of a transforming discipleship movement…

It is possible to walk nicely and be a nice ‘church’ – but without God. The target of this transforming discipleship movement is not just doing nice things, planting new churches, or simply adding numbers and having a strong financial base, but transformation of persons and creation for a better social reality.

Pope Francis, in his address from St Peter’s Square on 18 May 2013 said; “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives.”

A story from Brazil told by Jim Wallis, illustrates this point well. A community of subsistence farmers were about to lose their land to a big Government project. No amount of engagement or protests helped. Instead protests were met with violence; even death.

Then when a final vote was to be taken a group of mothers went to the area where the senators lived. They sat on the lawns in big numbers. When the wives of the Senators came to offer them food, they refused, and when offered money, they did not take it. When asked, what then do you want? They said; “we have come here to die with our children. We see this place as a nice place to die.”

It was then that the wives of the senators listened to their story and began telling their own stories as mothers. Then telephones started ringing in the corridors of power. The weeping together of the women; sounded a call to the corridors of power. Justice prevailed. The vote was not taken as the senators rushed back home to listen to the weeping of their wives and in the process heard the weeping of the wives of the poor and understood the pain their votes would have caused.

The church of Christ weeps together for justice and liberation from all that dehumanises. It is a church without Christ that does not weep and it is easy to become a church without Christ.”

Grace, Alan

What is right is never impossible

1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825)

 

The 1779 painting is attributed to an unknown artist. It hung in Kenwood House until 1922. It currently hangs at Scone Palace in Perthshire, Scotland. It was one of the first European portraits to portray a black subject on an equal eye-line with a white aristocrat.

____________________________________________

I went to see the movie Belle showing at the Labia the other day. It is a period movie of historical fiction touching on the issues of love, racism, sexism, classism and slavery in nuanced fashion. The movie was inspired by a 1779 painting, which was one of the first European portraits to portray a black subject on an equal eye-line with a white aristocrat.

The movie begins with Royal Navy Officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay, who on finding his daughter Dido Belle living in poverty, takes her to the home of his uncle Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice who lived at Kenwood House estate in London. Dido Belle is the “illegitimate” mixed-race daughter of Lindsay who was born in the West Indies. Though the social mores of the time make Dido an outsider, she is educated and raised in the Mansfield home as an aristocrat alongside her cousin Elizabeth.

I won’t say any more about the movie except to share with you the opening dialogue between Captain Sir John Lindsay (Dido Belle’s father) and Lord Mansfield as the Captain attempts to persuade the Chief Justice to open his home and heart to Belle despite her colour:

Captain Sir John Lindsay: “I beg you, uncle. Love her as I would were I here and ensure that she is in receipt of all that is due to her as a child of mine.”

Lord Mansfield: “Do you have in mind my position?”

Lady Mansfield: “That is simply impossible.”

Captain Sir John Lindsay: “What is right can never be impossible.”

Lady Mansfield: “What shall she be named?”

Captain Sir John Lindsay: “Dido Belle Lindsay.”

Lord Mansfield: “She takes your name?”

Captain Sir John Lindsay: “I am not ashamed.”

“What is right can never be impossible.” Wow! what a hopeful and challenging statement. Too often too many of us throw up our hands exclaiming: “But that’s impossible!” I myself want to grow to trust this statement so that I will be more inclined to focus on the rightness of something rather than its possibility. Let’s trust if it is right, it is possible.

Grace Alan

We are all family

Cape Town is, without question, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it is the people of Cape Town that give the city its brilliant glow.

I have been in the city for just over a month, and my sojourn thus far has introduced me to the many faces of Cape Town.

I have met Thelma, a native South African, and found a sharing heart and a listening ear. By the end of our time together I felt that we were known to one another. I’ve met Gertrude, from Zimbabwe, via Dubai, who owns a prosperous business. By the end of our time together I was encouraged that, though the journey is difficult at times, and it IS difficult, God remains faithful. I’ve met Ziv, a Polish South African, by way of Israel, who has owned several successful businesses. Ziv was eager to talk to me, a minister, and to impress upon me the urgent need in society for moral instruction.

I have been greeted in isiXhosa and been delighted to be confused for a native daughter.

Mostly, though, I have been meeting you, CMM. Your kindness and hospitality have been so great as to allow no place for homesickness or lonesomeness. The cover of our church bulletin declares, “You are not a stranger or a guest. You are family.” I have, indeed, found this to be true.

My prayer for us, as we move through these cold winter days, is that I would not be alone in my experience. That Others would be drawn into the warm embrace of the CMM family. Let us be intentional in our efforts to include these Others at our tables, in our Warm Winter Worship, and in our prayers. And may we all encounter anew the life-changing fire of God on this Third Sunday of Pentecost.

Peace to you, Alease.

Claim this Covenant

Next week we renew our Covenant as a community of faith. I have included the words of the Covenant below and invite you to prayerfully live with it this week as an act of preparation.

Introduction

Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.

To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work; and himself to be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.

The Covenant

Lord God, Holy LORD, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.

We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Two emotions, two options

So on Thursday afternoon I was standing on my outside deck
and I heard a noise that sounded like a swarm of bees.
I looked up and saw a “drone” peering down at me.

Big Brother is watching … my garden grow.

 

It has been said that there are really only two emotions — fear and love. In other words whatever we do is rooted in one or the other. By asking ‘why am I doing what I am doing?’ we may discover this to be true. We may also discover that many of us are motivated more by fear than love. The fear of rejection. The fear of the future. The fear of death. The fear of being alone. The fear of not having enough. The fear of change. Even the fear of fear. Or the fear of …

When fear is our predominant motivation it becomes our “true north” that sets our direction. At this point fear has become our god (the most determining factor in our life). Even our prayers to God end up in the service of this god of fear. No wonder the most repeated command in Scripture is “Do not be afraid”.

The scriptures remind us that “perfect love casts out fear”. The opposite is also true: fear casts out love. And because God is love, fear then casts out God because it becomes our god.

Instead of being determined by our fear we may be tempted to deny our fear. The problem with denial is that instead of removing our fear all it does is mask it. Fear then becomes the hidden cause of much of our living, only now it is one step removed from being discerned and dealt with.

The two options of denial and determination are equally debilitating.

Scriptures injunction that “perfect love casts out fear” gives us insight into a third way to relate to our fear. Here we are invited to bring our fear into relationship with love. Remembering God is love, we are invited to bring our fear into relationship with God. In the very least, to love means to acknowledge and accept. This is our first task — to acknowledge and accept our fear. To do this it is sometimes helpful to personify our fear. In other words to give our fear a name, e.g. Wolf. And then to relate to the Wolf without judgement. To explore rather than to evaluate the Wolf. This loving (acknowledging, accepting, exploring without judgement) of Wolf — will over time transform Wolf. Slowly Wolf will determine our living (either consciously or unconsciously) less and less.

Grace, Alan

The cross of truth and grace

Our Holy Week reflections began with the showing of Incendies on Palm Sunday. The movie took us to the awe-full intersection of truth and grace. Both a terrible place and an inspiring place.

In Incendies a mother is tortured by her own son – though he knows not that she is his mother. He comes to this truth after her death when he is delivered two letters from her.

The first letter is addressed to him as her torturer. The second letter is addressed to him as her son. He is not one or the other – he is both. He is both at one and the same time. That is the truth of the matter. That is the grace of the matter. It is an awe-full intersection. A painful joy.

Letter to the Torturer

I’m shaking as I write.
I recognised you.
You didn’t recognise me.
It’s magnificent, a miracle.
I am your Number 72.
Our children will deliver this.
You won’t recognise them, for they are beautiful.
But they know who you are.
Through them, I want to tell you that you are still alive.
Soon you will turn silent … I know.
For all are silent before the truth.
Signed: Whore 72

Letter to the Son

I speak to the son, not the torturer.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I promised you that when you were born, my son.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I looked for you all my life.
I found you.
You couldn’t recognise me.
You’ve a tattoo on your right heel.
I saw it. I recognised you.
You are beautiful.
I wrap you in tenderness, my love.
Take solace, for nothing means more than being together.
You were born of love.
So your brother and sister were born of love, too.
Nothing means more than being together.
Your mother,
Nawal Marwan.
Prisoner No. 72

Today more than any other day we are drawn to the awe-full intersection – the awe-full cross of truth and grace. The truth of our skill to torture – our capacity to crucify. The grace of “whatever you do to me – I will always love you… nothing means more than being together”.

Let us keep company with each other today – in this awe-full place.

With grace and truth, Alan

Suffocating sadness

Last week’s sermon entitled: Suicide — When Sadness Suffocates is up on our website: www.cmm.org.za. The sermon by no means covers all that could or should be said about such tragedy, but the hope is that it will nudge us towards a less judgmental and more compassionate place of understanding. Here is a brief summary:

  • Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.
  • Suicide does not defeat God.
  • Suicide is most often the result of an illness called depression.
  • Suicide is often done as an act of love — thinking it will free others of the burden that one feels one has become.
  • Suicide causes immeasurable pain and grief (and guilt) for the living.
  • Suicide may end the physical pain, but I wonder when we meet Jesus face-to-face whether we will be invited by him to deal with all the unresolved areas of our lived life.
  • Suicide highlights the need for all of us to be sensitive and available to each other to listen.
  • Suicide highlights that we are (+) powerless to change/cause/control another person’s life.
  • Prayer, medication, counselling/therapy, diet, exercise, all can contribute to healing.

Suicide is not a desire to die so much as a fervent wish not to go on living.

In the light of this darkness I remind you of the promise-filled road to Emmaus that we walked three weeks ago: • Jesus meets us on the road paved with pain • Jesus comes to us even before we invite him • Jesus’ presence is not dependent on our ability to see him • Jesus has already defeated what has defeated us • Our eyes are open to Jesus among us when we do the Word.

I pray that these promises will pull us through the pain, Alan