Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flying Ants

There are tens of thousands of them flying at the moment - heavy rain predicted for tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Army deployed in Lavender Hill

Eyewitness News reports that the army has been deployed to the Lavender Hill community:

The Steenberg Community Policing Forum (CPF) has welcomed the deployment of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members in Lavender Hill. Seven people have been killed in what is believed to be gang-related shootings in the area over the past three months. The CPF's Kevin Southgate says the army’s intervention is long overdue. “Desperate times call for desperate measures and we are happy that the army has finally been deployed in the area. We’re just hoping that the government will sustain this,” he says.

It is a sad moment when conventional policing cannot keep a community safe. I have pastored people from this community for the past ten years. In fact I began my connections with this community in 1986 and have kept touch with its life since then. It is mostly concrete housing units that are home to people who were forcibly removed from their roots by the Group Areas Act. These people were dumped on sea sand – please disregard the pretty name for the area! It was not long before gangs became the way of life for many of the unemployed young people, and many of the residents live in fear of the gangsters. So I do understand the sense of relief when the army trucks roll in. But this cannot be a solution for urban living.

The police are trained to keep people safe, and ensure that we all live securely. The arrival of the army admits the fact we all know – that that there is something wrong with the police. I know many loyal police men and women who live with integrity and fairness. But we have lost faith in the police force as an institution to hold us accountable to the laws of our land. The wealthy have hired private security companies to keep us safe. And now the poor are calling for the army. We as a nation need a change of heart, mind and soul – to discover how to live within the laws of our land.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The King is Coming

My Sermon from Sunday 20 /11/ 2011

The King is Coming
Eze 34:11-17 & 20-24
Matthew 25: 31-46

We are at the end of the Christian year. Let me explain myself: we who follow Jesus use a religious calendar that helps us remember our faith.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of our Religious year – a year that begins with the anticipation of a Savior – takes us to Christmas, the birth of the Saviour, and then through his life. We then celebrate the events of Easter, followed by the blessings of the Holy Spirit, which we call Pentecost. After Pentecost we remind ourselves of how the followers of Jesus ought to live. The journey from Pentecost to this week is one that should culminate with the reminder that this life is temporary, and that the moment will come when the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, will return. This year’s lectionary used the passage from Matthew 25 to do so. It speaks of a time when “the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…… all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people

 Here is the teaching: The end of all time has come, and the Lord of the Ages has returned to judge the earth. This is an enduring theme, which has been the subject of many, many sermons. I have often heard it used to scare people into the Kingdom of God

-      “if you misbehave, God will come and get you.”

-      We might have suffered for our faith – but one day the powerful King will return and will wipe all the sinners off the face of the earth”

This sounds like Christian revenge to me!

 The fact is that this is an image based on Imperial Rome in the time of Jesus: the Emperor would leave Rome to conquer new lands – and would return in triumph: with rewards for the people who had faithfully served him, and vengeance for those who dared to oppose him. But this is not the way of Jesus – and such an image is a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus! I do not believe that this is what Jesus intended when he told this story. This is not a story about God rewarding good people and punishing bad people! This is a teaching about the compassionate King who comes for those rejected by the righteous.

 In order to understand this story we need to realize that we cannot just lift it out of the Jewish culture of first century Palestine and paste it in our post-modern world and expect to understand what is going on. We need to understand the culture in which this story was told.

This is a culture that divided people into two groups: the Righteous and the Sinners. The righteous were those who worshipped God in the temple. They obeyed the law, paid their temple dues, and kept themselves pure. The sinners were those who did not.

Which is not as simple as it sounds:
·                    If you were illiterate/uneducated, you struggled to keep track of the law and probably remained a sinner for life.
·                    If you were too poor to afford the required offerings and sacrifices – you stayed a sinner.
·        And you were a sinner if you did work that was considered unclean – work such as leather workers, traders, government officials. (Leather workers involved handling dead animals; Trade involved handling Roman coin with its forbidden engraved image; and Government officials meant dealing with the foreigners and suspected of taking bribes).
·        There were other categories of sinners too:

Ø Sick people were thought to be sinners – obviously they had done something wrong and God had cursed them with illness.

Ø The non-Jewish people were sinners: called strangers/aliens

So let us now return to the teaching of Jesus and see if we read it with new eyes:
Mat 25:31  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
Mat 25:32  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
Mat 25:33  and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Mat 25:34  Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
Mat 25:35  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Mat 25:36  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

The King is returning – and he tells us who the people are that he hangs out with:

·        “Hungry & Thirsty” – the poor people

·        “Strangers”  – aliens / non-Jews

·        “Naked” – those who have been publically shamed

·        “Sick” – those thought to be cursed by God

·        Prison – those who owed money/debtors

Jesus is emphasizing: God will return for those who were rejected by the righteous.This is not a triumphant King who comes to destroy the sinners: this is a merciful King who loves those who have been rejected by the righteous. In fact: those who so self-righteously rejoiced that they had kept themselves pure by throwing the sinners out: will find themselves thrown out.

Mat 25:43  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
Mat 25:44  Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'
Mat 25:45  Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
Mat 25:46  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life

 And so we ask ourselves whether this speaks to us today?

Good news: the King is coming: and he will gather all those who have been rejected and cast aside. If this is your experience of Life hear the good news: God loves you.
Eze 34:11  For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
Eze 34:12  As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

But there is also a very difficult place in this teaching:

Is it possible that we too have developed categories of people we call sinners. Do we think of people who are beyond God’s salvation, and we congratulate ourselves on keeping ourselves pure?

 Certainly there are some groups of people that are rejected by some Christians:

Some think that Muslim people are beyond the love of God. I find the current debate in the Vatican fascinating: an advertising agency has put together a picture of the Pope embracing an Imam and the Vatican says it will sue. I wondered why? Can the Pope not show the love of God to a Muslim. Or is this one group of people Jesus commands us to hate

 Some think gay people are the group to exclude. There are Christians who spend all their energy insulting homosexual people, assuming that the Lord will return and crush them. It is almost as if some believe Jesus said to us “Hate other people as I have hated you”.

 Often this is rooted in our own personal prejudices:
A good test is to ask who “them” is. Whenever you want to blame someone for the problems of your world, ask yourself “Who are ‘they’?”

Ø Everything was great before “they” arrived.

Ø If only “they” were not my neighbours

Ø If only I did not have to work with “them”

Ø Why do “they” always get first choice – said by everyone who has a brother or a sister.

 There is a warning:
Eze 34:20  Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
Eze 34:21  Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,
Eze 34:22  I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

Conclusion: So as this Christian year ends, excuse me if I don’t get too excited about the vengeful Christ the King. I am on my way to Christmas – and I can smell the straw and the cow dung at a manger. The baby who will be born came for those who needed to know the love of God – and that is where God has called me to be.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moving the Minister/Priest/Pastor

·         My friend and colleague Stafford Moses  noted the way clergy resist being moved by their bishop – and wondered why.

He received a really useful response from Jennie Liebenberg

I always thought it was because clergy are human, thus can't have ALL the gifts needed in a parish... so they give all that they are for however many years to their parish, then the bishop sees that the parish has grown in certain aspects and now needs a priest with different gifts to equip them further. And similarly, there's another parish that could grow further into the fullness of Christ by YOUR leadership”.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Invitation

We fail our children when we shut them out of our sacred rituals in worship. This was the challenge brought by Ansie and Willie Liebenberg, who led family worship at our seminary this week. Ansie used the analogy of a feast to teach about the Eucharist. They then helped us hear an invitation for the whole seminary family to share in Holy Communion as a "family feast".

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Bride

My niece Jenny got married this weekend. She was happy, spontaneous and relaxed - and I wish her and Etienne well for their marriage.

Come dance with me

My mother asking my 86 year old father for a dance at my niece's wedding.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Queue

I am in "The Queue". This is a great South African institution. We line up at the Post Office, the Bank, the Bus Stop - and in Government Offices.
I arrived at the traffic-office this morning with some trepidation because I knew I was in trouble. During idle chit-chat with friends on Saturday night we got talking about our driver's licenses, and their 5yr renewal. I got my card out to check when I needed to renew it, only to discover that my driver's licence had expired in February 2011. Oh crap!

And so I arrived at the building and looked around hoping for a clue where to go. Here's the sequence: Spot the information desk and find the friendly official who will hand you the necessary forms to complete. Look hopefully around for a surface to write on (and skip the first one because the glass on the counter is missing). Get to the second and fill in the form. Join the line waiting to be helped. This involved sitting on the empty chair at the end - and as the person at the head of the line is helped everyone shuffles up one seat. The chairs are closer than my western body space would like. And the conversation is louder than I would choose. But as I look around I see the gathering is inclusive and all are welcome to offer an opinion. We wait our turn with patient good humour. I reach the prized "window of opportunity" only to discover that I needed to have had my eyes checked and fingerprints taken ... at the room on the other end of the building!

OK. Another row of bums moving along another row of chairs. And I peer hopefully into a machine to tell the official where the shaded portion of the circle lies. I am reminded of the passing of the years when I discover that they are clearer with my glasses on. My fingerprints are captured in a computer, and do not disclose any unpaid traffic fines. I am safe to rejoin The Queue.

And in time emerge triumphant clutching a temporary licence and the invitation to return in a month's time for my new licence card. I am legal again.