Tag Archives: Freedom

How do we live in such a world? A sermon


[A sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany at Prestbury Methodist Church, 25 January 2015]

SCRIPTURE:    1 Samuel 3:1–20; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; John 1:43–51

How do we, as Christians, respond to the Paris massacre at Charlie Hebdo or the Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria?

We may be protected somewhat from violent extremism, but even here we have xenophobia, racism, intolerance, poverty, corruption, you name it. We live in an angry, desperate and violent society. Look at our roads….

How do we live in such a world? Are we, in fact, any different from society around us?

Paul tells us we are the body of Christ. What does that mean? What difference does it make to our responses, to the way we live? If the community who follows Jesus provides an alternative to the ways of the world, how alternative are we? What do we do differently? Do we project something that is better and more desirable than the way people are living now?

I want to suggest three things that stood out for me in the three readings. Three ways in which we can be different.

1. LISTEN
First, from the book of Samuel, we learn to listen.

How often do you get into a conversation with someone where you sense that the person is really listening to you? Listening doesn’t come naturally to us. We are so busy, for one thing. But we also feel vulnerable, so we listen with half an ear while the rest of us is trying to think of a response that will keep us safe.

And we live in a society and in a world that is so divided along crisscrossing lines of race and gender, of religion and politics, of poverty and power. So we don’t listen to what people say anymore. We ask who is speaking, then we know if we need to listen or not.

Samuel had to learn to listen to a different voice, to the voice of God. And God had a tough message for Eli.

Eli’s sons
Eli’s sons had been abusing their position as sons of the trusted priest for years. God had been talking to Eli about it for years, too. But Eli wasn’t listening. Perhaps he thought it was just the exuberance of youth; they’d soon grow up and become responsible. Perhaps he thought it wasn’t really so bad – just a little bit here and there. After all, no one is perfect.

And perhaps it wasn’t God who had spoken to him, anyway. After all, God hadn’t done much speaking to people lately, and he hadn’t appeared in visions. Perhaps Eli had imagined it. But perhaps the visions were rare, not because God didn’t have something to say, but because people weren’t listening.

Sometimes we treat God like the politicians on the front page. We know what he wants to say, and it’s all bad news and condemnation. So we’d rather turn to the sports or the comics.

But God’s message to Eli wasn’t his message to Israel as a whole. Eli and his family were a blockage to the message of God for Israel. God couldn’t get through. So he said, either let me through or get out of my way and I will work with Samuel.

Samuel began to listen
What happened when Samuel began to listen?

‘As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and made come true everything that Samuel said.’ (verse 19)

Samuel’s life, his words and actions, began to reflect God’s activity in the life of Israel.

‘So all the people of Israel, from one end of the country to the other, knew that Samuel was indeed a prophet of the LORD.’ (verse 20)

God was speaking to them again.

The gift we can give to our broken and divided world, to our broken and struggling families, to our fear filled and divided communities: we can offer an ear that is tuned to the heart of God. An ear that can hear God saying, I love this world so much; I love this community so much; I love this family so much; I love you so much.

Like Samuel, we can learn to listen to God, who has so much to say to us that we so desperately need to hear.

2. REFLECTION
The second gift we can give the world is reflection. We can reflect before we act.

Not everything is good for you
In 1 Cor 6 we read about those who say, ‘I can do anything I like.’
‘Yes,’ Paul says. ‘Of course you can. In Christ we are free. There are no rules, no laws. You can do anything you like. BUT … not everything is good for you.’

‘You can eat anything you like, too. But some things will make you very uncomfortable; some things will even kill you.’
You can do anything you like, but not everything is good for you; not everything is good for your family, not everything is good for your neighbour.

‘Yes,’ we can say to the cartoonists. ‘You can draw what you like.’ And to the journalist, ‘Yes, you can write what you like.’ BUT, not everything is good for you. Not everything is good for your neighbour. Not everything is good for the world.

Do we want to live in a world where everyone does whatever they like and says what they like, just because they can? And if everyone else is speeding on the road, then I will, too; and if everyone else is cutting in front of everyone else, then I will, too – why should I be left behind; I also have an important meeting.

Or we can learn to reflect before we act and before we speak. We can ask the question, ‘What would love look like here, in this relationship, in this conversation, in this activity, in this community?

Slavery
We can do anything, but Paul said: ‘I’m not going to do anything that will make me its slave.’

And believe me, we don’t just become slaves to alcohol and drugs and gambling. Perhaps more insidious is that we become slaves to irritation; we become slaves to negativity. We become slaves to fear, so that we never reflect and speak the truth to our partners, our families, our communities. We fail to take action because we are afraid of what might happen.

But we don’t escape such slavery without reflection. Without learning to create a gap between actions and our reactions:
Someone does something – we get irritated.
Someone says something – we get angry.
Something happens – we are afraid.

Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl says we need to get into that gap. When something happens, we need to stop and reflect before we respond. And as we learn to do that, the gap gets wider and we empower ourselves to make new decisions, to take new actions that can transform our lives and the lives of those we interact with.

I can do anything I like. Yes. But what would love look like right now?

I have a sign in my office: ‘How can I make it easy for you to do great work?’
And what if, before we react to people around us, we were to ask ourselves: ‘How can I make you feel good about yourself?’
Imagine how different our interactions with spouse, children, employees might be.

It’s so easy to criticise, to be negative, to be irritable, to put people down. And we become slaves to those reactions. But what if I were to stop and ask how can I make you feel good about yourself?

Wouldn’t that transform our relationships?
Wouldn’t that transform our families?
Wouldn’t that transform our communities and places of work?

What can we do that is different?
We can listen to the heart of God who loves this world he has created so much.
We can learn to reflect; to consider how love would act, what love would say in each situation and every conversation.

3. BRING PEOPLE TO JESUS
The third thing we can do is found in Phillip’s action in John 1. We can bring people to Jesus.

Phillip said to Nathanael, ‘We have found the one whom Moses wrote about…. He is Jesus … from Nazareth.’

When people ask, ‘What’s happened to you? You used to be so irritable; you used to be so angry; you used to be so fearful,’ we can tell them, ‘We have found the one who makes all the difference. It is Jesus.’

If there is anything good in me – and there is a whole lot of bad stuff that still needs to be fixed; the work has only just begun. But if there is anything good in here, you are looking at Jesus. It isn’t me. It’s what Jesus is doing. If you like it, he can do the same for you

How do we make a difference in this world? How do we live differently?

We can listen. We listen to the one who has a message of love and of healing and of hope.
We can reflect. We can ask how would love respond? How can I make it easy for you to do great work? How can I make you feel good about yourself?
And we can point people to Jesus.

 

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The spirit of Easter: A sermon for Easter 2


Easter 2 – Freedom Day

SCRIPTURE:    Acts 2:14a, 22–32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed.

Today is the second Sunday of Easter; the day Jesus appeared again to his disciples in the upper room, and in particular, to Thomas.

Today is, of course, also Freedom Day (South Africa’s 20th ‘birthday’). I think that South Africans in 1994 had a lot in common with those who were around Jesus.

Change
The difficulty that the Jews had with Jesus – whether they were part of the establishment, or Zealots working against the status quo or the disciples themselves – the problem they had didn’t lie with Jesus, but with what they expected from their Messiah: what he should look like, how they expected him act, what he would teach.

That the Messiah would change the status quo was pretty much a given, whatever party you belonged to. But to what extent, and how ruthlessly was up for grabs. Much the same as South Africa in the early 90s. Apartheid had to go. That was a given for everyone, except for a few diehard denialists. But how it was to go and what would take its place was very much under discussion (to put it politely). Continue reading

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A prayer for Madiba


Almighty God,
We thank you for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,
our beloved Madiba.
We come to celebrate his life:
A hard life, but a life well lived;
A life committed to the freedom of others;
Unselfishly seeking freedom and justice for all.

Thank you for keeping and moulding his spirit
Through those 27 years of imprisonment.
Thank you for keeping his spirit
from the seduction of power.
We know how easily we become grumpy
When we do not get our own way,
Angry in the face of perceived injustice,
Ready to use power for revenge.
Yet you moulded Madiba’s soul in the furnace
of intolerance, violence, injustice and imprisonment
And helped him find true freedom.

Lord God, we celebrate Madiba’s life.
Not a perfect life, but a life well lived.
Thank you that, whatever he may have gotten wrong,
He got the big things right:
He learned how to forgive, and showed us how;
He learned reconciliation,
And ‘he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.’¹

Lord God, we celebrate a life well lived.
A life that allows us to live in freedom and peace,
That demands that we, too, strive for the freedom of others.
‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’²
We pray for this freedom for ourselves, our children and our communities.

We ask it in the name of the one whose birth we celebrate
And whose coming as a baby sets the tone
of vulnerability and peace our world so desperately needs.
Amen

A prayer shared at a brief interfaith memorial service for Madiba held at Shuter & Shooter Publishers (where I am privileged to be a consultant) on Friday 13 December 2013

1  FW de Klerk
2  Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995

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Freedom Day: an inconvenient truth


Freedom Day: commemorating South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, and celebrating freedom everywhere.  Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  A most inconvenient truth as Al Gore would say.  It does rather suggest that those who justify their conspicuous consumption, and their greedy accumulation of wealth, by telling us they didn’t endure the Struggle to be poor, have rather missed the point.

Jen and I too, no doubt, missed the point of Freedom Day by hiving off to enjoy our own private freedom, meandering up the Midlands Meander.  It was a beautiful day, spent in beautiful countryside enjoying good coffee and good food, practising the three Rs: reading, writing and relaxing.  But Mandela’s challenge is that there can be no individual freedom that ignores the freedom of others.

Companies and organisations, in pursuit of their own freedom, often ignore the freedom of others.  Signal distribution company, Sentech, has had to lower the height of the World’s View tower that provides Pietermaritzburg with its SABC TV signals (“Fuzzy TV to last weeks”, The Witness, 27 April 2012).  The process has resulted in poor reception, driving residents to TV repair shops, but their TVs have been declared satisfactory because no one knew what was going on.

The SABC didn’t bother to warn anyone because it wasn’t its problem.  “We only warn people if the problem is from our side and is going to affect the whole country.”  Forget the needs and expectations of individuals who pay for one’s product; forget the freedom of others.  We’re all right, thank you; our freedom to make money is intact.

Sentech was also not interested; they were forced to make the changes by the aviation authorities.  “Unfortunately this is inevitable.  Our guys are working there every day.”  And, almost as an aside, “reception should improve by the end of May.”

The Civil Aviation Authority, however, tells us that Sentech created the problem 40 years ago when they increased the height of the tower by 20 metres without permission.  It sounds like the classic tale from the Garden of Eden: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Sentech and the SABC seem not to understand that while the work and the disruption may be unavoidable; failing to inform your customers is not. 

On a grander scale, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the Department of Transport failed to appreciate the national mood, and ignored the freedom of others.  They went ahead in the face of legal and industrial protests, with an exceptionally unpopular and excessively expensive method of tolling the national roads in Gauteng province (e-tolling).  Their actions brought business, labour and ordinary citizens together onto the streets and into the courts in an unprecedented display of solidarity and cooperation.  As a result e-tolling has been put on hold.  The battle has been won, although the war is far from over.

On the advertising front, fast-food chain, Nando’s, well known for its cheeky, in-your-face advertising, created a spoof of an advert flighted by short-term insurance giant, Santam.  Creative advertising is one thing but stealing another company’s ideas is quite another.

Santam might have risen up in righteous anger to protect its own freedom.  Instead, South Africans have been privileged to enjoy a rare exchange of banter that inhibited no one’s freedom, and from which a group of children emerged as the ultimate winners.  Santam responded with another advert inviting Nando’s to pay up for their cheek.  However, the “payment” was to be in the form of 74 specified meals donated to the Johannesburg Children’s Home.  Nando’s rose to the occasion, and rushed the 74 meals to the children almost before the advert had finished airing.  They went the extra mile, and committed to a similar delivery every month for the next year.  So Santam and the children won this battle, but this “war” is also far from over.  Nando’s marketing director Quentin Cronje is quoted as saying, “We might even be doing a little response back to them.  We might even be working on it as we speak.”

Large organisations, and many individuals, ignore Mandela’s challenge and deny the freedom of others.  But there are some who tread gently enough to protect those freedoms, and children are fed.  Neither option is inevitable; each results from choices made every day by people such as you and me.

This post was published in The Witness on Tuesday, 1 May 2012.

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