Sunday, August 11, 2013

Do Not be Afraid

Sermon preached at Plumstead Methodist Church

Psalm 23
Luke 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33  Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35  "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36  be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37  Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38  If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39  "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Hebrews 13:5  Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 6  So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" 7  Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Our scripture passage today begins with the words:
 “Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
So what is going on? Who is Jesus speaking to and why would they be afraid?
Let me provide a context to this Bible reading:
Luk 12:1  Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak    .......
Jesus has been preaching in the rural areas.  He is preaching to people who are really struggling for life.
Every Empire in history has marched through their land – the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and now the Romans. They have been hammered by soldiers.
·         They are very poor, living from hand to mouth
·         They are often sick with mysterious diseases, and little access to any kind of health care
·         They are poorly educated, and very few can read or write
Is it any wonder that they are afraid of life –
They are afraid of soldiers / of poverty / of illness / ... and of God.
Is it any wonder that the first words that Jesus speaks to them are “Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”?

Now let me take us forward in time by fifty or sixty years: to the next generation who follow Jesus:
·         The next generation are homeless:  this Christian community has seen Jerusalem burned to the ground by Roman soldiers, and has scattered across the empire.
·         They are bankrupt:  have fled for their lives, losing everything.
·         And now they are persecuted: the Emperor Nero blaming them for the great fire of Rome.
One of their leaders is St Luke: who looks for a way to encourage them – and he remembers these words of Jesus:
Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

So here is my question – do we have any connection with these people of the Bible?
Is there anyone here who is afraid?
·         Anyone afraid of the economy? Anyone who has checked the petrol price / return on your investments / cost of groceries?
·         Afraid for your health? How are your knees / Blood pressure / (I have to get out of bed by swinging my feet off the bed – and using the door handle to get me on my feet!)
·         Afraid of crime and corruption? Here I speak to those of us who have fences around our house / armed response / or a gun in the drawer!
·         Can I ask those who are New Parents
      Are you afraid for your children’s future - Do you shout at politicians on TV that they are messing up your children’s future?
-      Are you afraid that you will not cope – do you shout at each other... or at the in-laws?
Perhaps we too need to hear the words of Jesus:
Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”

And as Jesus says this, I can hear each group asking Jesus – so how do I stop being afraid?

This is not a simple question!  
Have you ever been afraid?
I remember as a child my job was to lock the Church after the evening service: This was the Simonstown Methodist Church. This is the oldest Methodist Church in SA, which makes it old and creaky! The light was at the door – lock the door from the inside, switch the light off – and sprint down the aisle and out the vestry.  Very scary! My dad said “Don’t be afraid” – do you think that helped?

So this is not a “Don’t be afraid” message that assumes you can stop feeling afraid because someone tells you to stop.

Jesus says that there are two steps to losing our fear:

 Step One:
Stop trusting our riches to take away our fear.
This is a common mistake that we human beings make.
Throughout history we have thought that if we have money we will be safe
That is why we enter the lotto – if only I had that money I would never be afraid again!
In fact: Having stuff will not take away our fear... this might make us even more fearful!Now aAdded to all our fears is the fear of losing our possessions.
Jesus is quite clear. Vs 33  “Sell your possessions, and give to the poor”
If you want to live without fear - Stop trusting your possessions

Step Two:
Discover that Jesus is with you.
Luke 12:36: “be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.”

We can lose our fear, because we have a friend who comes and knocks at the door of our lives at the moment of our fear.
Let me take us back to my story of locking the church:
There was a moment when I stopped being afraid of running through the dark church – It came when I told my dad that I was afraid.
Do you know what his answer was?
“Don’t be afraid – I am here with you”.
Jesus is able to tell the flock not to be afraid – because he promised to be with them:

Let us not be afraid
And let us not think that money is the way to stay safe
Instead – discover that God is with you every step of the way.

Allow me to conclude by pointing out – the best way of discovering the presence of God is through the people that God sends our way
·         people who encourage us,
·         people who support us,
·         people who provide us with strength.
In the same way – when we pray for someone else to have courage in life, we might have to hear God saying to us “So how are you going to become the encourager?”
The best way for us to lose our fear is for us to become a community that cares for one another / to become a community that gives each other courage / a community that rebukes fear by showing the Love, and the Grace, and the Strength of God.

These are the signs of the Kingdom of God. And when we practice these signs, then God’s peace is with us:
The words from Hebrews sum up the point I am making:
Re-read Hebrews 13: 5-8

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stanley James Grassow

27/10/1925 – 05/08/2013

Stanley James Grassow was born in Wynberg, Cape, on the 27th October 1925. He came from a missionary family: His Granny Hurrell was the first deaconess sent from England for the S.A. General Mission. Grandpa Hurrell, having worked his passage from England in a sailing ship, joined her in running the Cape Town Docks Mission during the Anglo-Boer War, before serving in the Salvation Army at the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home connected to the Simon’s Town Methodist Church.

Stan attended the Lutheran Mission Primary School, and then the Wynberg Boy’s High School. He wrote Matric, but did not pass, because he failed Afrikaans. He later obtained a Matric Exemption at Rhodes University by writing Afrikaans I.

Stan attended the Wynberg Methodist Sunday School from the age of two and a half years, became a Full Member in 1942, and then taught in the Sunday School for 2 years. He was always grateful for the example of the teachers in the Sunday School. It was there that he learned to appreciate Hymns.  He joined the S.A. Air Force in January 1944 while WWII was still in progress. After the war Stan worked at Iscor in Pretoria in their Cost Accounts section for three years. 

Stan joined the Wesley Church ( Andries Street), where he found friends in the Wesley Guild. The Guild had a tennis club and tennis became Stan’s sport. He encountered the Lord Jesus Christ personally in 1947 at a Youth Camp, and found his life turned around. Stan became Guild Devotional Convenor, A Sunday-School teacher in two Sunday-Schools, Choir member, and Mission Band member.

In 1948 at the September Youth Camp Stan experienced a call to the ordained ministry. The Rev. Alfred Salmon gave good advice to Stan who felt unqualified for this call:  “See if you can win one person to Christ in the next year. If you can bring one person you can bring more. Meanwhile become a Local Preacher.” Stan started as a Local Preacher.  Six months later Stan’s brother Ted started work for the Post Office. He was living in a tent at a Post Office construction camp outside Vanwyksvlei. He was converted mainly through Stan’s writing to him.

Stan could not escape the call to the ministry. 1950 saw Stan working at Capital Park and Wesley Church as assistant to the Rev. Alfred Salmon and as a Prospective Candidate for the ministry. Stan was accepted as a Probationer Minister in October 1950 and stationed at Primrose, Germiston for 1951 before being sent to Rhodes University in 1952.

Stan found academic life very difficult, but experienced spiritual nurture through the Rev. A. J. T. Cook’s “How Greater Flame” Campaign in the Eastern Cape, the dynamic preaching of the Rev. Charles Moore at Commemoration Church and the Saturday evening prayer meeting.  One very good result came from the Rhodes episode: Stan met Robin Beard who later became his wife. They had to wait 2 years to marry: he needed to be ordained, and she to finish her teacher training.

Stan then served in Durban County Circuit in 1954, the year of his ordination, before moving to Newcastle (1955 – 1956) where Stan and Robin were married in January 1956; This was followed by Matatiele for six months before a move to Mthatha  (1956-1962). The six and a half years in Mthatha was a time of growth for Stan. To keep up with preparation for preaching two sermons and a Bible Study each week Stan had to read and study. Both Stan’s and Robin’s children were born in Umtata. In the sixth year Stan got ill and was diagnosed as having epilepsy and was moved to a quieter station at Standerton (1963), before being moved again to The Pretoria East Circuit (!964 – 1967). Stan describes this as “one of the busiest, most challenging, and most satisfying times in my ministry. In addition to being District Youth Secretary. Stan started the process of joining small societies into what was to become the Valley Church.

Simon’s Town. (1968 – 1972). The next three years were heart-breaking. Under the Group Areas Act the Coloured members of his congregation were forcibly relocated. These people needed a great deal of counselling and practical and spiritual help. Stan’s emphasis here was to teach the people so that they could stand on their own spiritual feet wherever they went.  Stan was also District Youth Secretary and then District Missionary Secretary.

This was followed by periods in Camps Bay (1973 – 1975), Vanderbijl Park (1976 – 1980) and Primrose, Germiston. (1981 – 1991). The last lap ended where Stan had started as a Probationer in 1951. 30 years earlier Stan started at Primrose knowing nothing about ministry. Now he was able to start putting 30 years of experience into the work there.  

After retiring to their new home Stan assisted at the Fish Hoek Methodist Church, leading the morning Bible Study and preaching. The last three years of his life saw a gradual deterioration in his health, with a number of mini-strokes. Stan finally took leave of this life on Monday 5th August in the 63rd year of his ministry and the 88th year of his life.

I pay tribute to one whose passion was for teaching, training and encouraging faithful followers of Jesus. In addition to his Bible Study notes and preaching series, his passion for church camps, and his involvement with the Order of Christian Service, his ministry resulted in many effective Christian ministers: I think of people such as Mel vd Berg, Costa Stathakis, Joe Kruger, Peter Grobler, Eric Jurgensen, Gordon Edgar, Cathy du Plessis and Jimmy Ramage - and I am sure that I have forgotten to mention others.  

My father never wanted a tribute at his funeral. He was afraid that talking about him would take the attention away from Jesus. I hope that this account of his life would be seen as a tribute to the work of God in the life of a frail human being, who did great things because of Jesus.  

Stan writes: “Marrying Robin was the second best thing I did in my life; the first was responding to Jesus”.

 Thank to for all the support we have received.

The family would want especially to mention the special people who cared for Stan when he became frail: 
The carers - Eunica, Mandi, Valentia, Elizabeth
St John’s for their availability to help with anything we needed
Cape Medical Response – who always came again and again and always showed great compassion and support
We are grateful for the messages, email, and phone calls from family, friends and people we do not know.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Today I buried my father.

And I feel like I should mark this with some kind of profound comment. But I am somewhat overwhelmed.

I facilitated the tributes at his memorial service this afternoon. There were friends and colleagues at the service – some were his contemporaries, and some were mine. And we shared memories of ways in which he touched our lives. My Dad was adamant that he did not want tributes at his funeral – because he did not want adulation. He was a classic evangelical preacher, who wanted to honour Jesus, and was anxious that people should not be distracted from this by talking about by the life of a mere human being. I believe that we managed to speak about my father in a God-honouring way. I was humbled by the people who spoke of the way his teaching and encouragement touched their own living: humbled to see the size of the footsteps I walk in.   

Stanley James Grassow took leave of this life on Monday 5th August in the 88th year of his life. He was in the 57th year of his marriage to my mother. Dad has been a Methodist Minister for 63 years and has also been the pastor to our family, and extended family. I feel the weight of having no senior members of my family left: I have become the patriarch!  More than this, I feel my responsibility in taking over the role my father played in providing direction and values for the family.

And I ask your prayers as I begin a new chapter of my life – a life without a father to call on.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

My father is dying.

And I am 1 500km away from him, with commitments to life that prevent me from putting everything on hold to sit at his bed as he gradually fades away. I am grateful for my sister Jan who has taken over his care. She has organised nursing, and when there are no nurses – she sits through the night with him.

I wrote this for her to read to him from me:

Dear Dad
You have been a good father to me:
You gave me the skills and values I needed for life. From you I learned about faithfulness to my commitments, respect for my elders, and fair treatment towards all people, irrespective of their race, culture or social standing.

You set an example in your love for God, your passion for good worship, and your commitment to excellence in preaching.

Your love for singing rubbed off on me. You loved Methodist hymns. But you also loved fine choral music: I remember you singing parts from Handel's "Messiah" and seeing your obvious joy in carrying the baritone lines. I also learned to love poetry through your recitation of Wordsworth's "Daffodils" (I can hear you: "I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils").

Dad - I appreciate your sense of humour: you taught us limericks and doggerel that made us smile: here's one: "One fine day in the middle of the night, Two dead men got up to fight; one blind man to see fair play, one dumb man to shout 'hooray'; a paralysed donkey passing by - kicked the blind man in the eye ..."

One evening at Rocklands farm you took the time to teach me how to whistle - and after making me promise not to tell mom, you even helped me learn how to whistle at girls.

You taught me tennis, and we spent hours playing together at Camps Bay Club. I appreciated this father-son camaraderie.  During this time I learned far more than tennis: I learned the values of good sportsmanship: fair play, honesty, perseverance and a capacity to laugh at my mistakes.

Over the passing years we have not always agreed - as would be expected when the young puppy challenges the leader of the pack. But you never stopped praying for me - and I heard from others that you were proud of me - even when you couldn't tell me yourself.

So this is to say thank you for being my dad.

I love you.