Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Greatest in the Kingdom

 Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel of Matthew is written at a time when there was deep conflict in the Christian Church:
This was all about culture:
Some from a Jewish background were insisting that all new followers of Jesus must follow Jesus the Jewish way.
Others, who were not Jewish, wanted to contextualize the teachings of Jesus into their own Greek, or Roman cultures.
And this conflict was painful – two centres of faith were emerging: one in Jerusalem and the other in Rome.

Matthew’s Gospel is an attempt to find answers: we are taken to a moment when the disciples of Jesus were faced with internal division:     
Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Why did the disciples ask this question?
Clearly they had been arguing about their status!
Look at the way Matthew sets up this story...
Matt 16: Jesus tells Peter that he is key to the mission of Jesus: you are Petros – and on this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Think how this would have made the rest of the disciples feel?
One is singled out for special recognition.......
Matt 17: Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain to pray:
Who were they? Peter, James and John. As they go up the mountain I see the other disciples looking at each other and feeling left out.
How do think the others felt....
So Jesus makes his selection and leaves the rest behind.
To make matters worse – the disciples who had remained behind tried to cure a man of epilepsy and they failed. And we read that Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

The disciples now come to Jesus to settle their argument  “Who is the greatest amongst us?”   
Jesus recognises this and so instead of answering their question he addresses their conflict.
When you are in disagreement .... here is how you solve it.
Mat 18:15  "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
Mat 18:16  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Mat 18:17  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

1.    Meet with the person....
Which means that we do not meet with everyone else but the person concerned and discuss the character of that person!
2.   Take others to help solve the dispute
3.   Bring in the church leadership
Both of which involves the person concerned and does not meet behind that person’s back.
4.   Treat the person as a Gentile and a tax collector:
Which begs the question – “what does this mean?” Note that this is not rejection or banishment ..... remember that Jesus had special compassion for Gentiles and Tax Collectors
He visited them and prayed with them.
Ø Remember Zacchaeus?
Ø And the Roman official’s daughter?
Ø And the Canaanite woman?
Here is the point:
We do not have permission to stop talking to someone
We do not have permission to divide from another person. 
We do not ever have permission to give up on someone.

So the challenge is for us to find our essential unity in the challenge of Jesus to solve our conflicts instead of running away from them.  

Ø Internationally – Israel and Palestine need to keep talking, calling in outside mediation, speaking to each other “like tax-collectors” if necessary – but never reaching a place where they stop talking.  
Ø At a national level – Jacob Zuma needs to sit down with the Public Protector and resolve his dispute with her instead of avoiding her questions.
Ø In our own community – we commit to solving our conflict, talking, talking, talking, and talking some more.


Monday, August 25, 2014

You are Peter

I have not posted here for some time....
But seeing that Sunday's lectionary reading was about this amazing chap called Peter - here goes with my sermon from yesterday: This was preached at 9am at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.

A New Name
Mat 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
Mat 16:14  And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Mat 16:15  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Mat 16:16  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Mat 16:17  And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
Mat 16:18  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Mat 16:19  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Mat 16:20  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Introduction: How many of us have our name in the Bible? I am privileged to be one of this group – bearing the name of Peter, a close disciple of Jesus: Today I am inviting us to reflect on the story of the naming of Peter - the name given to Simon, Son of Jonah.
Simon lived in Bethsaida with his brother Andrew, his wife and mother in law. He was a fisherman who, like his brother Andrew, and his friends Philip, James and John, had all decided to follow Jesus.  

Today’s story comes at a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Matthew Ch 14 tells how King Herod silenced John the Baptist because of some very pointed preaching about the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus takes time out to recover from this tragedy, and when he returns he takes up where John has left off. Only instead of sermons – he puts the values of this Kingdom into practice. Matthew 15 tells of Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for failing the people; he then goes to the people on the fringes of society where he prays for a Canaanite woman, embraces the outcast and the unclean, and feeds the crowds.

Jesus now turns to Peter and asks him if he has understood his mission...”Who do you say that I am?” This is is about how Peter understands the identity and purposes of Jesus.
This is a good moment to pause:
I am inviting us to imagine that we are standing in front of Jesus – and he asks us “ Who do you say that I am?”
I suspect some of us might answer:
·        You are my personal saviour.... the one who rescues me from my sin and gives me purpose.
·        You are the one who has called me to follow you into the ministry.....
BUT
I wonder if we sometimes have other answers:
·        You are the one who must answer my prayers: when I pray “In the Name of Jesus” I expect to get my way.
·        You are the one who will help me find status, and authority and power: Jesus gives me religious and social superiority.
·        You are the one who I will look to when I need religious entertainment: when I need a break from life I will turn on God TV for a bit.

This is the moment for us to be challenged by Peter’s answer .....
“You are the Messiah”
        you are the promised one of God ...
                you are the one who owns my life ....
There is no half-way here / no lukewarm answer
This is absolute commitment
This is not about getting something from Jesus and is instead about offering total loyalty to Jesus.

and in reply Jesus says to him
I see potential in you: you are the foundation for the new movement I am beginning. I will call you Petros – a rock: a foundation stone.
Now....
Jesus was not stupid. He knew that Peter was not perfect.....
But he saw the potential of what Peter could become.

This then is the good news of our faith: God looks beyond our failures and shortcomings and sees the potential for what we can become.
Here is my question: If Peter had been standing in front of us what would we have said to him:
“You have a short temper”
        “You promise stuff that you do not deliver on.”
                “You have a big mouth.”

Jesus knew those things.... but he saw the potential: “you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”
So if anyone feels inferior, or inadequate – hear the whisper of the Spirit of God saying .... “You are more than a Simon...you are my Peter”! God sees potential in us.

But I would fail us if I did not point out the moment of challenge to us all:
Just like God sees beyond our failings to our true potential – so we are challenged by Jesus to look for potential in the people around us.
I suspect that we often see each other’s faults before we see the human potential that lies within.
The challenge of this week is to look beyond the Simon.... and to discover the Peter in the people we meet 

Ø When we encounter a tired, grumpy shop assistant – will we see the mother who is caring for her family?
Ø When we meet an old man struggling to park his car – will we see a father and a grandfather who is loved by his family?
Ø When we see man on television pleading for peace in Gaza – will we see someone who pleads for justice for his community?
Ø When we see poor miners who are pleading for wages – will we see men and women who generate wealth for our nation at the expense of their health and their families?  

Let me sum up.....

The Invitation has been: to offer Jesus our absolute commitment: “You are the Messiah”

This was followed by a Challenge: to show our commitment by looking for the potential in the people around us.


The answer lies with you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

All you need is Love

Today was graduation at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary where I teach. I was asked to lead the opening devotions, and so I read the following, drawn from 1Corinthians 13:1-13  

If I get a diploma or a degree from SMMS and have not love, I am nothing more than an empty braggart; if I get academic colours and an academic gown and have no love, I gain nothing more than some fancy dress; if I gain all the knowledge in the world – and know how to reference footnotes and bibliographies, and am able to publish clever articles in Journals and Books – and I have no love, I am nothing more than a noisy wordsmith stirring up clever words.
Love is patient and kind towards those who do not know as much as I do; Love drives us to share what we know so that others are empowered with the knowledge; Love desires education for all, a sharing of our knowledge with the weak and marginalised, and the education of women, children and the lowest workers in society.
For a time will come when old age causes all our learning to escape us; and when new knowledge replaces all we have learned; and when younger, brighter minds surge ahead of us;
The fact is that we do not know all there is to know, and we shall never cease learning new things and discover the unimaginable.
While academic knowledge has great value, and life skills are vitally important: when everything that makes sense in our lives is over – one thing of value shall remain:
And that one singular attribute is to Love and be Loved.



Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Voting for 20 Years

Today I voted for the 5th time as a South African citizen.

I was eligible to vote for five elections before this – but these were elections that excluded black South Africans. I as a white South African believed that participating in the racist structures prevented justice for black people, and therefore I could not in good conscience vote for this system. Instead I committed my energy to changing the system to include all our citizens.

It was therefore with great sense of liberation that I participated in our first democratic elections in 1994. I was a community monitor for the Independent Electoral Commission in the Helderberg Basin. I celebrated the way the whole community pulled together to vote – Strand, Rusthof, Lwandle, Macassar, Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass turned out with joy and enthusiasm. I voted for the first time in my life, and proudly voted for my political heroes in the African National Congress. While I have been exceptionally moved by the leadership of Nelson Mandela, I also acknowledge my deep regard for people such as Steve Biko, Trevor Manuel, Joe Slovo, and Kader Asmal. 

Since then I have watched as the ANC has lost the great leaders of our nation. Some have moved on to retirement, while others have moved on to other roles. Now I watch with great sadness as this once great liberation movement has crumbled into a kleptocracy that closes ranks around thieves and self-serving opportunists.

As I look back over the past 20 years, my confidence in our political leadership has waned. I feel like I have gone back to the politics of my youth, where the political leadership used their office to serve their own narrow interests. I see little difference between the posturing of PW Botha and Jacob Zuma. Both claimed to have done no wrong, and used state security systems to protect themselves. For this reason I no longer vote for the ANC.

Neither do I vote for the Democratic Alliance.  I cannot stomach the thought that it eagerly absorbed the voters and leadership of the National Party. Neither do I like the way Helen Zille tries to project herself as an anti-Apartheid fighter for freedom.  While her work for the Black Sash is admirable, she has not lived and worked amongst the poor in a way that allows her to claim the platform as their spokesperson. This too is political opportunism.

So I voted today. I voted because the right to vote is a precious gift that was won at the cost of the energy and lives of our political heroes of the past. But today I registered my protest at the present political leadership.

I continue to be hopeful for our future. The fact is that we have a young democracy, with regular, peaceful elections and a strong system of civil accountability in the Constitutional Court and the Public Protector.  I await the results of these elections with interest, happy that nothing will stay the same.       


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunrise

The alarm rang at 4:45am.
No one else in the house moved... only I was up. I dressed with scattered intent, and sleepily drove my way through the silent city streets. The mist-darkened sky reflected the glow of the street lamps back at my passing vehicle. Finding a parking place I joined other huddled figures as we made our way to the edge of the playing field of a local school where we set up deck chairs, or perched on the school’s wooden benches. 

The clergy people gathered around a small wooden table as they arranged the sacramental offering for the morning, while the technician fussed over his portable sound system, ensuring that the microphones and speakers were correctly placed. And then we cracked into life as Rev Diane welcomed us all to a sunrise service on Easter Sunday.    

I had joined a motley collection of people who gathered to watch the sun rise. We were united by our faith’s conviction that just as the light will conquer the darkness, so Jesus will conquer fear and death. Along with many, many other Christ-followers around the world, we sang Easter hymns, read from our sacred scriptures and prayed together. This was not the glamour and glitz of a well-organised “special event”. It was just a few people singing off-key, praying from the heart, and sharing hot-cross buns and instant coffee


In many ways this is the stuff of my faith. While I do not deny my satisfaction at the conclusion of an efficient, well strategized and technically excellent service of worship, this morning takes me back to the essence of my faith: the reminder of Jesus that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).  I found my faith revived through fellowship with other Jesus-followers.

And I am grateful.


Monday, April 14, 2014

A Wedding

 My daughter Jess married Greg.
So much is contained in this simple sentence – and I have spent the past week thinking about this. I have decided to mark this milestone in my life by recording it as a blog.  

My first reaction to the wedding was joy at the evident happiness of both Jess and Greg. They both positively glowed with contentment throughout the celebrations. In addition to our delight at welcoming Greg into our son-less family (or was it Greg’s family welcoming a daughter into their daughter-less family?) was the arrival of Amy, our youngest daughter. She is teaching English in Japan, and took leave to join this celebration.

The ceremony took place in the Church of the Good Shepherd-Protea, a stone chapel across from the entrance to Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens in Cape Town. This Anglican Church resisted the removal of its members under the notorious Group Areas Act, and these resilient members continue to offer sacred space to the wider community. My colleague Kevin Needham officiated at the wedding. He has been both a personal friend, and a friend to the family for many years.  I am grateful that he could share this event with us as he adds enormous value to our lives.

Greg’s bestmen - all members of his band - played the Trumpet Voluntary on their brass instruments for Jess’s entrance. Jenny and I walked in with her and I loved the relaxed informality of the occasion. Kevin helped make everyone feel welcome, and the music was great. Jess and Greg shared vows that Kevin had helped them design, and at the appropriate moment Jenny and I stood up and answered the question of “Who gives this bride?” with an affirmative “We do, with all our love”. And before I was ready for it, Jess and Greg were pronounced husband and wife and we were outside the church blowing bubbles over them.

They then led the way across the road to the Kirstenbosch Manor House for afternoon tea. This consisted of tea and coffee organised by O’Ways Tea Cafe, who offer the best tea and coffee in Cape Town. Mingwei offered expert advice on tea, while Sandson was the ever obliging barista. This was accompanied by cheese and biscuits and cake – all gluten-free to cater for my family’s gluten allergy. 

Greg’s brother Adrian made a speech on behalf of the Abraham’s family, and I offered words from our side of the family.
Here is what I said:
Jess & Greg

Speeches at weddings can be hard... Not only for the one making the speech – but also for those who have to endure them. I am therefore not going to make a speech: but instead i will tell three stories: two about Jess & one about Greg.

Let me tell you about Jess soon after she was born in 1988
We had her baptised at the Historic Methodist Church in the centre of Somerset West. This was a community service where all the Methodist Churches of the region had come together: English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa.  Jessiw was baptised by Charles Villa-Vicencio – who read the scripture passage today. Charles turned this into a community celebration. He carried her down the aisle holding her above his head like a trophy. And everybody cheered.
Charles asked Jenny and me if we would bring her up with good moral and religious values, and if we would teach her how to serve her community.
Wwll  Charles – we did our best. She is a mature young woman who serves the community as a teacher; she is loving and compassionate.
Jess: we are proud of you.

I will Tell you about Jess at school.
We wanted our children to learn two things:
·         to learn to love reading
·         to learn to love music.
And so we bought many, many books. We read our way through the whole Harry Potter series. We also bought them each a recorder. Then we began piano lessons – which Jessica hated! The day came when Jess came home and announced: “I don’t want to play the piano. I want to play the saxophone”. We knew nothing about the sax – except I have a friend who plays sax for a jazz band called N2. And I often played KennyG around the house.
So we found a second hand sax – and I acknowledge Merwina Taljaard who left us some money in her will to do this.
Jess was disappointed with this instrument, because all the other kids had shiny instruments but hers was dull. It was probably 60 years old, and had been played in a Cape Minstrel band for many years. But she felt better after we took it to be serviced and discovered that shiny instruments are not the same as good instruments.
So she went to UCT music school with the sax as her instrument... and as they say in the classics: the rest is history.

The third story flows out of this: Jess began to talk about Greg. Well it was Greg and Harm and Lincoln. Then it became Greg. Greg this and Greg that. Then Greg’s first visit.  This was on Wednesday 10 September 2008:
I quote from my personal journal entry of that day: .

“Jess brought Greg home, which produced very mixed feelings in me. She likes him because he is gentle... It is hard to be a father and to allow her space to grow. I understand that I must step back and allow her space to grow – but I do not want to see her getting hurt!”


 Greg: Jenny & I want to thank you for being gentle and kind to Jess.
You have given her courage when she has struggled
And you have calmed her down when she got stressed.
   
Jenny and I want to wish you both the very best for your future.
We will be supporting you all the way.
You have all our love.  
  


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Partner

I deeply appreciate my running partner. Mark is the one who keeps me running. Because I know he will appear at my gate, he gets me out of bed every morning. He offers me ridiculous stories, laughter, and equal measures of courage and sarcasm to keep me mobile.

So when I woke up at 5am this morning, despite feeling tired and wishing that I could burrow back under the covers, the impending arrival of my running partner led me to pull on my running kit and head for the back door. Dash, the Springer Spaniel, looked eagerly in my direction and I nodded: “Let’s go boy”. Despite my heavy mood, he rushed out the back door to the gate. I placed the lead on him and we both looked down the road in the direction of Mark’s home. Nothing! The road was empty. No sign of him.

As I peered down the empty road, the realization hit me – today is Thursday. Mark and I had spoken a week ago about running the time trial with the club on Thursday afternoon. So he was safely ensconced in his bed while Dash and I stood in an empty road. We looked at each other, and returned to bed. We would run this evening.

Postscript: I sent my faithful, dependable, indispensable running partner a message at 5pm to confirm our run at the time trial. He answered: “Not today – I had a hard day and will not make it”.

Aaargh. 
      
(I did run the time trial)