State Capture: A Christian’s Response


This is an article I wrote just before Easter 2017. It remains relevant in the South African context.

The last week of March 2017 delivered a much scarier South Africa. President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle on 30 March 2017 threatened to take state capture to a whole new level.

However, he did not reckon with the timely and graceful death of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and the horror, determination and drive which that platform unleashed.

We should not be fooled, however. This is not the worst government or the worst crisis the country has experienced. It cannot be compared with the horrors of the apartheid government and the despair felt by the majority of South Africans in the 80s.

The Church, and Christians generally, should certainly be asking what we can do. However, we should never lose sight of the truth that our salvation does not lie in the downfall of a president. Our salvation does not depend on the overthrow of a government. We may pray for both of those, as Desmond Tutu has suggested, and join with civil society to rally towards those goals, but that is not where our salvation and the salvation of this great land lie.

As we near the end of Lent and move towards Holy Week, we are reminded that our salvation lies with One who chose to give his life a ransom for many.

Nothing will change that. Whatever the government, whatever our physical, social and economic prospects for the future, our salvation is secure. And it finds expression as we pray and reach out to each other in love and compassion, listening to each other’s stories and sharing each other’s pain.

Let’s not rally together because our taxes are being wasted and our comfort is at stake. Let us rally together because we have cared enough to listen, and we understand the pain and hurt of those who are most affected, those whose pensions and childcare grants are at stake.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community, Grace and Law

Easter Sunday Meditation 2017


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Reading: Luke 24:1-10 (GNB)

Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. (2) They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, (3) so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (4) They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. (5) Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? (6) He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: (7) ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

(8) Then the women remembered his words, (9) returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. (10) The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles.

Meditation

The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Death is destroyed.
Victory is complete!

Death and everything that destroys has been defeated. We stand before God stripped of our human frailty, our sinfulness, our physical weaknesses. We are, instead, bathed in his love, clothed in his righteousness, filled with his Spirit.

We are not yet complete. There is still work to be done. The last movement, the final steps will take place in an instant, in God’s time. But the Easter message is that the resurrection is now. The defeat of hurt and failure and death begins today. It takes place on every step of our journey. Every day as we open ourselves to the transforming work of the Spirit.

God invites us, today, to offer him our struggles and our joys, our failures and our successes. They are not what define our journey. Our journey is not defined by our strengths or weaknesses. It is defined by our companion on the road: the risen Saviour. Acknowledge his presence, and ask him to help you journey with him, starting today.

Prayer

Lord, we cannot comprehend the resurrection, it is beyond our human understanding. But we do know that we are in your glorious hands. We journey with you. We acknowledge your victory and we surrender today those things in our lives that hinder your work, that lead to death rather than to life. Thank you for walking with us, and thank you for our destination and the welcome you have prepared for us.

Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme.
See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, Lent, Prayers and Meditations

Easter Saturday Meditation 2017


Darkness

Reading: Luke 23:50-56 (GNB)

(50-51) There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honorable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action. (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used. (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

(55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it. (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body.

On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded.

Meditation

Those who knew Jesus stood and watched.
They watched him die.
They watched him being buried.
Then they went home to prepare spices to embalm the dead body of their Saviour.
And they waited for the Sabbath to end.
Just one last duty to perform.
It would be the final act. It would mark the end of their journey with him.

They had no idea.

We, too, have no idea of what God has in store for us, what awaits around the corner.

We watch, we make plans, we prepare the next step. We think we have everything under control. But like those first followers of Jesus, we really have no idea. And when things don’t work out, when someone or something puts a spanner in the works, we react, we struggle, we lose our temper.

But God has plans for us that are not dependent on success or failure in our life’s journey. God’s work in our lives does not depend on our comfort, our health or our wealth. God’s plans depend on our openness to him and availability to the Spirit whatever else may be happening.

Prayer

Lord, forgive us for thinking we can control our future and our surroundings. Forgive us when we are so focused on our detailed planning, that we miss the spontaneity of the Spirit. Forgive us for thinking that the cross is the end, rather than a new beginning.

Help us amid our struggles and tragedies to discover you in new beginnings and new relationships and to find our strength in you.

Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme.
See HERE for Easter Sunday and past years’ contributions.


See also:
Easter Saturday Meditation 2016
Easter Sunday Meditation 2016

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, Lent, Prayers and Meditations

Prayer of Welcoming


Prayer following the sermon, What’s Your Story: Forgiveness (2 April 2017)

Father God, Jesus told us about a Father who welcomed his prodigal son back home.
He wouldn’t listen to his son’s confession.
He didn’t lecture him on the need to turn his life around.
He wrapped him in his arms and received him with love and anticipation.

Thank you, Lord, for welcoming us like that.
Thank you for creating space for us to grow.
Thank you for welcoming us, unfinished and unpolished, into your family.
Thank you for the work still to be done in us.
Thank you for your kindness.

Thank you for those in our lives who have simply loved us,
For those who have allowed us the space to discover our own paths,
to walk at our own pace.

Forgive us, Lord.
We so seldom get it.
We prefer to explain what people have to do,
tell them how to change,
push them to do better.

Help us to listen to the stories of others,
to hear their pain,
to carry their burdens.
Help us to love more
and to leave transformation to you and your Holy Spirit.

Lord, teach us to be kind.

In Jesus name,

Amen

1 Comment

Filed under Meditation & Prayer, Prayers and Meditations

What’s Your Story: Forgiveness (A Sermon)


[A sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent at Prestbury Methodist Church, 2 April 2017]

SCRIPTURE:    Zechariah 7:8–14; Matthew 9:9–13; Colossians 3:8–17

This is the fifth and last in the Heartlines’ series ‘What’s Your Story?’ which we have been following during Lent.

The first week was called ‘The Power of Storytelling’, and Collin introduced us to the Heartlines’ framework for sharing stories: Ask. Listen. Tell. Then he explained the Heartlines’ method for telling our story called ‘The River of Life’. I wonder if you have written your ‘river of life’ story, yet.

On the next three Sundays, we looked at Love and the new commandment of Jesus to love one another, Understanding and how understanding comes from experiencing the world as others experience it and Acceptance and Respect, where Delme reminded us that we were all outside of God’s family, until the love of Christ brought us near.

Today, the subject is Forgiveness.

There are two aspects of forgiveness we are going to look at today. The first is being forgiven and the second is forgiving others.

Being forgiven
I am not talking here about being forgiven by God.

We are forgiven. We know that.

The cross is God’s forgiveness splashed onto the big screen. God, in his loving kindness, taking all the sin in our lives that destroys relationships – our relationships with God, with each other and with ourselves – Jesus taking all of that and dealing with it through his own death. Jesus opening the door into the Kingdom of God for each one of us.

We are forgiven.

That famous verse in John 3:16: ‘For God loved the world (you and me) so much, that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not die but shall have eternal life.’
Paul says in Romans 6:23, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
And in chapter 5:8 ‘But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! ‘
And in verse 10, ‘We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.’

We are forgiven by God. That forgiveness is the foundation for everything else. We are forgiven, therefore we reach out to others.

So, today it’s not about being forgiven by God. What we are talking about is how we need to be forgiven by others, by those we have hurt and are still hurting. Now that’s much more difficult. It is difficult not just because of the humiliation of having to say you’re sorry and to ask for forgiveness. That is hard. But it is difficult because we don’t always recognise just how we have hurt others and do hurt them.

I’d like to focus on just one way we hurt others without thinking and, sometimes, without even knowing. I want us to think about our language – what we say and how we say it.

You know, the biggest problem with communication (and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a formal presentation or a quick word as we pass in the street), the biggest problem is in the ‘decoding’ process. When we have something to say and, whether it’s a presentation to the board or a word to the children, our brains work out what we want to say. We take our thoughts and translate them into words or pictures, which we then convey to the person. And we might do that through a PowerPoint presentation, a WhatsApp message or by talking to them.

Now comes the tricky part. The message has reached the other person or group. And that person has to understand it, has to decode it, interpret it and make sense of what you are saying. And it is tricky, because that person, or that group, uses their entire history to interpret your words. Everything they have ever heard, seen or experienced goes into the interpretation process – including your relationship with that person. Or rheir relationship with people they think are like you.

Let me be controversial for a moment to make it more real. There has been a lot of talk recently about the use of the word ‘monkey’ in talking about people. And I know that a lot of white people have grown up using ‘monkey’ as a term of endearment. ‘Hey, you little monkey.’ But it is a term that, in this country, comes with a whole lot of painful and hurtful baggage.

Now we can say, as I have heard a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, please. They are so oversensitive.’ But until we have experienced the pain of that word (or any other) being used against us to oppress and to hurt, we dare not call other people oversensitive. We have to hear their pain.

‘But, I didn’t mean anything by it,’ we often say. What we mean by something is not important. We are trying to get a message across that we want others to receive, understand and respond to. If they don’t get the right message, we have a problem. It’s like advertising. If people are getting the wrong message, you have to change your advert. It’s no good wringing your hands and telling everyone, ‘That’s not what I meant.’

Jen grew up with the term ‘silly sausage’ being just about the worst thing her father would say about (for example) a taxi driver who swerved in front of him. I grew up with ‘silly sausage’ being a term of endearment my mother would use. Can you imagine the first time I called my wife a silly sausage!

So, when we talk about being forgiven, it is not enough to confess to God and ask for his forgiveness. We, as Christians, need to be humble enough to recognise that we contribute to the pain that others experience. And while that includes people of different race or gender, of religion or culture, it also includes our children and parents, our spouses and our friends our domestic workers or work colleagues.

We need to find ways to listen more, to listen to the stories of others that will help us understand what our words and actions might mean to others.

Forgiveness is not just about being forgiven by God; it is about recognising that we need to be forgiven by others day by day and about seeking out their forgiveness.

Forgiving others
The second aspect of forgiveness I want us to consider today is forgiving others.

Of course, we know that we have to forgive others. We are reminded every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

Jesus said, ‘If you do not forgive the sins of others, neither will you be forgiven.’ We can’t horde forgiveness. If we are not passing it on, we can’t receive it.

So, we know we have to forgive others. But how do we get that right?

One of the ways I have approached it is to remind myself by repeating that word throughout the day: ‘Forgive.’ A kind of mantra for every situation:

  • When something goes wrong – forgive.
  • The neighbour revs his motorbike – forgive!
  • The kids are annoying – forgive!
  • My wife is late – forgive!
  • Yes, even when the taxi swerves in front of you – forgive.’

But as I thought about it this week, I realised that there is a comforting little message that is perhaps getting through to us. Well, to me, anyway. You are probably much more loving than I am. You see, if I’m really angry, and I say ‘Forgive!’ I am not letting go of my negative thoughts; I’m not changing my attitude towards the person.

What I am often saying is, ‘He’s an idiot, but I forgive him.’
‘She’s irresponsible, but I forgive her.’
‘They are disgraceful, but I forgive!’

You see what we are doing here. Well, not you, of course. It’s probably just me.

I am saying, ‘They are terrible, but I am a good Christian.’ The focus is on how bad others are and how good I am.

I mean, why do I have to forgive people? It’s because they are bad; they have done something wrong. So, when I focus on forgiving others, there is a danger that I may be encouraging myself to think how wonderful I am compared with them.

But Jen read an article to me last week (Witness, Sat, 25 March 2017) about three-year-old Prince George of Great Britain going to school. And what struck us is that the school’s website says that its most important rule is ‘be kind’.

Be kind.

Now, think about that for a moment. What if ‘be kind’ became our most important rule. What if, instead of talking about love, we started to act out our love by being kind. So, ‘be kind’ becomes our mantra, something we say to ourselves throughout the day. Think how that would begin to transform our relationships. And isn’t transforming relationships what our faith is all about?

Now don’t try to second guess this being kind. Don’t start saying to yourself, ‘Well, the kind thing to do here would be to discipline him, to make her face the consequences, to….’ Just be kind.

‘Well, if they are going to benefit from this kindness thing, then I need to explain to them….’ Just be kind; be kind.

Picture the scene. There I am behind some scary taxi driver or some idiot driving erratically – probably on their cell phone! – and I grip the wheel and say to myself, ‘Forgive! Forgive!!’

I haven’t learned anything; I haven’t changed anything.

But, what if I relax my grip a little and start saying, ‘Be kind; be kind.’ What if I look for ways to be kind. What if I start saying ‘be kind’ before I respond to my child, my parents, my spouse, the teller, my employees?

What will happen is that we will begin to let go of the failures of others and focus on what we can do to make a difference in the world, to listen to stories, to create relationships, to encourage rather than tear down.

Just for today, let go of the negative, and speak words of encouragement.

Be kind.

Prayer: click here

1 Comment

Filed under Community, Grace and Law, Sermons

State Capture and the Christian Hope


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend has handed us a much scarier South Africa than we had last week. President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has taken state capture to a whole new level. However, he did not reckon with the timely and graceful death of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and the horror, determination and drive that platform unleashed.

We should not be fooled, however. This is not the worst government or the worst crisis the country has experienced. It cannot be compared with the horrors of the apartheid government and the despair felt by the majority of South Africans in the 80s. Which is why many black people are sceptical about the sudden white outrage.

The Church, and Christians generally, should certainly be asking what we should do. However, we should never lose sight of the truth that our salvation does not lie in the downfall of a president. Our salvation does not depend on the overthrow of a government. We may pray for both of those, as Desmond Tutu has suggested, and join with civil society to rally towards those goals, but that is not where our salvation and the salvation of this great land lie.

As we near the end of Lent and move towards Holy Week, we are reminded that our salvation lies with One who chose to give his life a ransom for many.

Nothing will change that. Whatever the government, whatever our physical, social and economic prospects for the future, our salvation is secure. And it finds expression as we pray and reach out to each other in love and compassion, listening to each other’s stories and sharing each other’s pain.

Let’s not rally together because our taxes are being wasted and our comfort is at stake. Let us rally together because we have cared enough to listen, and we understand the pain and hurt of those who are most affected, those whose pensions and childcare grants are at stake.

[Some thoughts shared at Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday 2 April 2017]

3 Comments

Filed under Community, The News, Uncategorized