2021 04 18 Alan Storey
Reading the First Letter of John
Cape Town, South Africa
2021 04 18 Alan Storey
Reading the First Letter of John
This past Sunday we noted that forgiveness is nothing less than an act of resurrection. In short: To forgive is to resurrect. We noted how the story of the forgiven prodigal is framed as a resurrection story: “My child was lost and is found, was dead and is now alive”. To say that we believe in the resurrection while withholding forgiveness is equivalent to saying we love God while hating our sisters and brothers. This makes us liars. [1 John 4:20]
Forgiveness is not only a gift of new life to the forgiven, but also a gift of new life to the forgiver. To forgive another is to be resurrected from our own death that results from us not loving. As we read in 1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.” Still further, to forgive someone is to resurrect them from the death of being “dead to us”. Our act of forgiveness brings them alive to us. Alive so we can be for them and no longer against them or indifferent towards them.
These were just two pieces of the forgiveness-jigsaw-puzzle that we mentioned last Sunday. We did not complete the puzzle, I am not sure one ever can, but our hope was to find and place enough pieces of the puzzle to give us a sense of what forgiveness is.
I ran out of time last Sunday to link the Acts 4:32-35 reading to the theme of Forgiveness and Resurrection. This link is crucial if forgiveness is going to be known at societal level. And what society is without sin? The recurring sin of society is the exploitative and exclusive debt economy that eventually makes slaves of the majority of people to sustain a small elite.
Forgiveness as resurrection is made real within society through the implementation of Jubilee. Jubilee is the “every-fifty-years-forgiveness-of-debt” policy. Financial debt. We would prefer forgiveness to leave our finances alone. No wonder we have changed the word “debt” in the Lord’s prayer, to the more general, “trespasses” or “sins”. “Forgive us our debt as we forgive those in our debt”.
Jubilee is a forgiveness-financial-policy of debt cancellation. To the extent that we practice Jubilee is to the extent that we will come alive as a society. If we don’t do so – we abide in death. And this death will eventually swallow us all up. Once again, the first letter of John asks the pointed question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” [1 John 3:17]. This question is even sharper for us who live in the most unequal country in the world and therefore the country that has the greatest need for Jubilee economics.
The difference of course between forgiving others who have hurt us and practicing forgiveness as Jubilee in a society, is that when we practice Jubilee and cancel the debts of others we do so as those who need forgiveness. We need forgiveness because (even unwittingly) we have benefitted from systems that carry the favour of some at the deathly expense of the many. It matters not whether we like or dislike the systems that benefit us or not. The reading from 1 John 3:17 does not ask us if we designed the system or not. It does not care how hard we have worked for what we have. John simply says that if we have and withhold what we have, while others do not have, then we can’t say that the love of God is in us. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible”. Practicing Jubilee is “the all” taking responsibility.
A Universal Basic Income Grant is one way in which we can practice Jubilee. It is probably the very least of ways. We could call it “Jubilee lite”. I believe that South Africa’s resurrection depends on it.
There is a lot of information about a Universal Basic Income Grant on the net. Here is an introduction via The Daily Maverick podcast called: Don’t Shoot the Messenger, by Rebecca Davis.
2021 01 03 Alan Storey: Doomsday and Being Loved with an Everlasting Love
[Jeremiah 31:1-14; John 1:14]
“I feel so overwhelmed by the desperate state of the world.” I have heard this from a number of you in response to what is happening in the world and especially in relation to our conversations on Climate Breakdown over the past few weeks. I feel it too. Some of us have moved from denial directly to despair, without passing GO. From, “there is no problem” to “the problem is too big”. From, “no need to change” to “no change will make any difference”. We are left stuck, staring at the oncoming headlights shining on our imminent destruction.
Our work is to pause. To pause between denial – – and – – despair. In the stillness we may realise that change is possible while knowing that it is not easy and that it comes with no guarantees. In the pause we may realise that perhaps the main reason we struggle to change is because: We are dependent on our sin for our survival. In other words: We are dependent on a way of life that is killing us, for our survival. Spot the problem? To survive off what is killing us, means our survival will not survive. Death alone will win this race.
One of the first things to die is the human imagination, and with it our ability to envision living life in any other way. Soon thereafter we find ourselves reciting the cynic’s creed: “The way things are, is the way things will always remain”.
‘Dependent’ may be too soft a word. ‘Addicted’ is more accurate. We are addicted to a deathly way of life for our survival. When we try to kick our addiction, it feels like we are dying, so we stop trying and return to our deathly ways that falsely promise life. No wonder Jesus says, if we want to be his disciples (i.e. people living life in life-giving ways) we must be willing to die, for we first have to die to our deathly way of living before we can walk in a life-giving way. To change is to die so we can live. This takes great grace and enormous courage. The type of grace and courage that accompanies the alcoholic to AA and through the 12-step programme. This journey to sanity (not simply sobriety) to unsuicide ourselves begins with confession of our powerlessness to kick our deathly way of living.
Once we are able to confess our addiction and our state of powerlessness then we are ready.
On Sunday at 11h11 we will explore this a little more. We will do so in relation to the Gospel reading (Matthew 21:23-32) for this Sunday. If you would like to be part of the conversation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the zoom link.
Below you will find a number of resources that may strengthen us to pause between denial – – and – – despair.
Last week we focused briefly on the grieving soil that YHWH invites us to listen to. Here is a new documentary on Netflix about the saving power of soil.
Basically, we need to save soil (at least stop destroying soil) so that soil can save us. Soil remember is 24/7 busy with the miraculous work of resurrection. And here is some great information on how we can “save” the soil to save us.
Also following on from last week I invite you to watch this brief animated video about “talking trees”.
This past week was Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – a time of fasting and repentance within the Jewish faith. During this time two traditional prayers of confession are repeated many times — Al Chet and Ashamnu. Below is an alternate version of Al Chet and Ashamnu for the #MeToo era. The authors invite us to take responsibility for our actions — or inactions — and promise to do better.
For the sin we committed through inappropriate use of power.
For the sin we committed by inappropriate sexual advances.
For the sin we committed by putting people in power without oversight.
For the sin we committed by not taking seriously the complaints of a colleague.
For the sin we committed by not believing victims when they spoke up.
For the sin we committed by not being aware of our own power or privilege when making an advance.
For the sin we committed by pushing forward when we should have waited and listened.
For the sin we committed by believing that sexual victimisation does not happen in the Jewish world.
For the sin we committed in choosing to think a person who is appropriate with us is appropriate with everyone.
For the sin we committed by choosing my own comfort over the safety of others.
For the sin we committed by focusing on my intent rather than my impact.
For the sin we committed by prioritising reputations and money over safety.
For the sin we committed by ignoring sexual victimisation as a problem until #MeToo.
For the sin we committed by performative wokeness.
For the sin we committed by failing to acknowledge my ignorance about sexual victimisation.
For the sin we committed by waiting to stand against a perpetrator until we saw others doing so.
For the sin we committed by making light of victims’ suffering.
For the sin we committed by contributing to rape culture.
For the sin we committed by causing survivors to doubt their truth.
For the sin we committed by misusing Jewish texts to promote silence.
For the sin we committed by not supporting survivors.
For the sin we committed by gaslighting victims and victim advocates.
For the sin we committed by cutting corners in best practice protocols.
For the sin we committed by talking more than listening.
For the sin we committed by prioritising convenience over moral clarity.
For the sin we committed by urging those who have been victimised to forgive, especially before their perpetrator did the hard work of repentance.
For the sin we committed by prioritising some victims’ voices over others. For the sin we committed by requiring vulnerable people to depend on me, rather than investing in the development of healthy, decentralised systems that empower the entire community, and hold us accountable.
For all of these sins, God, help us rectify the evil we have brought about, help us to restore justice through the hard work of repentance. Only then, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.
~ By Danya Ruttenberg, Shira Berkovits, S. Bear Bergman, Guila Benchimol
We Abused our power, we didn’t Believe survivors, we were Complicit, we Demeaned. We Echoed the majority, we Focused on our own self-interest over safety, we Gave abusers opportunities to further harm, we Humiliated survivors, we Ignored our impact, we Justified inappropriate behaviour. We Kept abusers in power, we Laughed at jokes that supported rape culture, we Marginalised narratives that weren’t easy to digest, we Normalised problematic behaviour, we Ostracised victims, we Participated in the erasure of survivors’ voices. We Questioned survivors’ motivations, we Reinforced harmful myths, we Silenced voices trying to come forward, We Trivialised. We didn’t Use safe protocols, we Violated boundaries, we Waited too long to take action, we eXonerated perpetrators who didn’t repent, we Yielded to our basest impulses, we Zealously defended perpetrators of harm.
~ By Danya Ruttenberg, S. Bear Bergman, Leah Greenblum, Emily Becker, Abby Citrin
Read more: https://forward.com/life/faith/409841/the-atonement-prayers-we-should-all-say-in-the-metoo-era/
I had a conversation with a friend this week about the ‘S’ word. The dreaded ‘S’ word. Yes we were talking about SIN. Our discussion revolved around whether the word was still “useful” or whether there are such negative connotations attached to the word that it is a stumbling block to itself. Has sin become a sinful word? Well I guess it all depends on one’s definition. And what I was reminded about in our discussion was that we definitely meant different things when we used the ‘S’ word.
A few years ago I attended a set of five economic lectures. I remember how surprised I was when the professor used the entire first lecture to simply clarify a number of economic terms. He justified taking up so much time on a glossary, saying: “Without the use of these specific terms I am unable to explain the discipline of economics to you.” There is a new language that must be learnt first in order to fully understand the particular discipline.
As it is with economics, so it is with theology. There are certain words that are unique to the discipline. They have a history of meaning that will be lost if the word is replaced by a modern “equivalent”. Words like: sin, salvation, grace, faith, death, life, justice, healing, eternal life, heaven and hell all carry important and peculiar meanings that are lost in the common day-to-day usage of them. In fact they can even end up meaning the very opposite to their original meaning.
Some of you attended Connections a few years back — well I have decided to run it again on Wednesday evenings starting on the 9 October. Even if you have done it — come again because it’s always new. It will be an opportunity to clarify our understandings of the words we use to hold the meaning of our lives, as well as grow community.
Yom Kippur the Jewish Day of Atonement was observed on Sept. 13-14, 2013. The Day of Atonement is considered the most important day of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur marks the end of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of teshuvah (Jewish reflection, repentance and return) that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
During the Days of Awe, Jews seeks forgiveness from friends, family and co-workers, a process that begins with Tashlich, the symbolic casting off of sins that is traditionally observed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah by throwing bread into a body of water. On Yom Kippur, Jews attempt to mend their relationships with God. This is done, in part, by reciting the Vidui, a public confession of sins. The holiday has the most extensive prayer schedule of the Hebrew calendar and arduous abstinence from food, drink, sexual intimacy and animal-based clothing, such as leather.
All major Jewish holidays, including Yom Kippur, consist of four main prayer services: Ma’ariv, Shacharit, Musaf and Mincha. Yom Kippur, though, is unique. It begins with Kol Nidre, a legal document that is hauntingly chanted and emotionally charged. The Book of Jonah is read during the afternoon prayer service on Yom Kippur day.
The Day of Atonement is the only Jewish holiday that includes a fifth prayer service, called Ne’ilah, which is a final plea of repentance before the gates of heaven are said to close. The Ne’ilah service precedes the shofar blowing and the end of the fast
While Yom Kippur is characterized by solemn fasting and marathon prayers of repentance, it is actually considered the most joyous day of the Jewish year because it commemorates God’s forgiveness of the sin of the Golden Calf, the Israelites’ slip into idolatry after the giving of the Ten Commandments, and is considered a time to spiritually start anew. (Via Huffington Post)
Last week we heard the piercing question from the letter of James asking us: “Do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (James 2:1). James was referring to the different ways his congregation treated the rich from the poor. It made James question whether they really believed in Jesus or not. That is heavy stuff!
James is correct to connect his congregation’s behaviour to his congregation’s beliefs — because ultimately it is our behaviour that reveals what we truly believe — not the songs we sing or sermons we preach.
One of the areas we have struggled with as a congregation is how we can share tea/coffee after worship with one another — and with the homeless that visit. Many of us feel overwhelmed, inadequate and uncomfortable. We leave rather than stay. We “hand-out” rather than share. In so doing we miss an opportunity to imitate God’s free welcome and undeserved hospitality of us. We also miss attending to Jesus who comes to us in those who society says are the “least”. How we behave around the tea/coffee table is probably more important to God than what we do around the Holy Communion table. In fact, the tea/coffee table is the real Holy Communion table that we should “do in remembrance of Jesus”.
I know this stuff is not easy — but we must wrestle with it as a community if we are to try to hold Christ at the centre. The truth is that we are all family. No one is a guest. No one is a visitor. No one is a stranger. We are one. Maybe this is the great underlying sin — that leads to so many other sins, and that is the belief that we are separate from God and others when the truth is we are all ONE. We do not have to become one — we are one already.
When we resume tea/coffee again let us accept Jesus’ invitation to live out our oneness.
The Presiding Bishop, Rev. Zipho Siwe has called on the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to fast and pray during September to “push the frontiers of evil back, especially in the area of education” and violence in our land. There are many different ways to fast. Here are some options for us to consider. With each option we would have to decide how long we would implement the fast for — a day or month.
• A complete fast, going without food and drink
• A liquid fast
• A fruit-only fast, or raw food only
• A sunrise to sunset fast
• A one-meal-a-day-fast
• A fast from certain foods and drink.
Substitute the time for eating with a time for prayer as well as an extra generosity in sharing with others.
Lord have mercy on us, Alan.
Do you remember Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes? Prof. Njabulo S. Ndebele reminded me of it again in his Sunday newspaper article entitled, “The Emperor is Naked”. It tells the story of a fashion-obsessed Emperor who has no time to govern his country, care for his people and show leadership. With a coat to show off “for every hour of the day”, he spends all his time and money on clothes.
One day two swindlers come into town posing as master weavers. They claim to make clothes out of the most fabulous fabric. The clothes made from this fabric become invisible to anyone “unfit to hold office” or who is “unpardonably stupid”. Such clothes, the Emperor reasoned, should enable him to discover not only those in his service unfit for office, but how to distinguish the clever from the stupid. Without hesitation, the Emperor advances huge sums of money for this wonderful “fabric” to be manufactured.
Soon, through astute marketing, the weavers ensure everyone in the city knows of their wondrous creation. The entire population is curious to see who among them will be found unfit for office and stupid, nogal!
So afraid of being thought of as unfit for office or stupid, everyone including the Emperor is convinced that the non-existent new clothes of the Emperor are magnificent. It was a child who recognised reality for what it was and called it out: “The Emperor is Naked”.
This story has stood the test of time because it contains great truth about our human condition. I was reminded again of how pride and fear so easily prevent us from seeing things as they are and how they also silence us from speaking the truth.
Jesus said, “You must become like a little child if you want to enter the Kingdom of God”. Indeed …
When we exclude people in the name of the Lord, we may be committing one of the greatest of all sins.