Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascending...

Dirkie Smit tells the story of Chesterton, under the title ‘The Hammer of God’ where Father Brown investigates a murder in a small town. The victim was killed by a hammer crushing his skull. Everyone in town suspected the blacksmith. Its obvious – he has the tools, but moreso he has the motive.At the end, as the plot unravels, the investigator discover that its in fact the brother of the victim, the local pastor. This pastor had the habit of retreating from the daily life, high into the highest towers of the cathedral. From there, he would look down upon the townfolk, seeing all their movements. (This is what happens when you have all the time in the world!). But also, from there he saw the criminality of his brother, from there he grew so angry and on one faitful day he threw him with a hammer- killing his own brother.
Father Brown, the investigator in his dramatic concluding speech, to the case tells the pastor, that mountains (high places) are made to look up to, not to look down from, and church towers are meant to be pointers to heaven, not vantage points, from where we look down upon people. Towers are reminders that God is above, and greater then us (on earth), not places where we take God’s place. From here, we loose our humanity, we loose ourselves and don’t see the hammer in our hands.

Eph 1 also speaks of the enthronement in high and mighty terms. Ascension may be interpreted to mean that we also ascended to be higher, better then ‘the other’, those busy with their daily lives, those who remain earthly, worldly. We might also be in danger of looking down, of condescending, of judgement (with a hammer in the hand, ready to throw).
God’s reign in Jesus Christ is different. He reigns in love, in meekness, in forgiveness and patience. In His reflections Jungel ( as quoted by Smit), reminds us that we all want to sit on the thones, we all want the higher positions and we love to sit in the heavens from where we can affirm ourselves, our achievements. The danger, he states, as illusions of might (grandeur), illusions of becoming God, of belittling people and ruling over them.
The Bible reminds us that Jesus, ascended and reigns-he sits at the right hand of God and he reigns, not by might, nor by power, but by Spirit. This reign often is hidden, invisible, unrecognisable… small, but never insignificant. This reign, comes in the form of servanthood, of death, amongst crossbearers- it is a reign that is not militant, logical, but in faith. To believe in the resurrection and the ascension… the reign of Christ, is a confession of faith.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

congregational cell experience are life-enriching

I had a remarkable cell-experience last night. Our faith community is actually a community of communities, where cells and other smaller interest groups, function as small spaces for interaction, spiritual growth and change.

They ( the leaders of the cell) called me to be part of this experience, late in the day(!) yet I managed to move some other appointments to a later slot. I think I made the right decision. In the house the extended family awaited us, with some members of the cell, young people, parents and children already gathered. We were all taken aback by the numbers- but it was warm and comfortable, informal. The leader opened and together we reflected on the story of the merciful Samaritan, with some rich interaction between members, young and not-so-young. There was a time of prayer, (fervent ones for sure!)also for the needs of the household (the extended family again) and some refreshments and further fellowship afterwards, which I missed due to the other appointments ;-(

Upon reflection, I realized how blessed I was by the interaction, the warmth and the people. Even if we didn't pray (which we did) it was deeply spiritual... and that was touching the divine, I think. Sometimes we thank God, for touching us; this time I thank the people, who made me to touch God, in a real way.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

S A Council of Churches warn: “You reap what you sow”.

Statement by SACC on spat amongst political leaders:
The S A Council of Churches (SACC) is perplexed by the recently reported statements made by political leaders in the ANC Alliance (Youth League, MK Veterans Association and COSATU) and Democratic Alliance (DA). These statements are in such bad taste that one would not want to repeat them. It is noted that such “politics of disgrace” started during the build up to the elections campaign. The SACC then already warned against this practice and called for restraint.

It is rather sad that now when the people of South Africa ought to celebrate and give thanks (to God) for the peaceful and historic elections and the appointment of new political administrations we are exposed to political mud-slinging. Such behaviour can only be interpreted as expressions of political intolerance and immaturity. South Africa deserves better than this.

The SACC calls on all involved (within the DA and ANC) to with immediate effect STOP this disgraceful behaviour. We are committed to respecting each other and expect our political leaders to set an example in demonstrating tolerance and respect.

Whoever has been elected (and appointed) in government must be reminded that they are responsible to serve the interest of the entire South African people. The electorate and citizenry are looking at you with great expectation, particularly within the global economic crisis. All political leaders are expected to lead by example and to help rebuild the morality that will make us all to be proud citizens of our beloved country.

Millions of poor and unemployed people went to the polls because they pin their hopes, their fears and their aspirations on responsible and democratic leaders. We strongly reject this situation where political mud-slinging is the order of the day, instead of the real concerns of people. Let us all and particularly those in authority remember that “we reap what we sow”.
There are more millions of people in Africa and around the world that envies South Africa. We have to guard the image that was build with the blood and sacrifice of ordinary people with extra-ordinary commitments to a free South Africa. We have to reconsider the messages that we send to those who will inherit our legacies. We will be remembered by what we said and what we did.
Let us therefore do what is just, what builds peace and what we can all be proud of. Let us demonstrate mutual respect, reminding ourselves that ‘we are what we are because of other people’. May God the Almighty grant us the gifts to serve in humility.
Eddie Makue
General Secretary
S A Council of Churches
Tel. +27 11 241 7817
Fax. +27 11 492 1448
Cell. +27 82 853 8781

Reading Acts 21-28, from a South African angle with Scott McKnight

We've been reflecting the last 2 days on the book of Acts with New Testament scholars, Scott McKnight and Gert Steyn, on the question: what does it say for us today here in South Africa. Of course it would be difficult to cover the whole book, so I will briefly reflect on the chapters that our group worked with, namely Acts 21-28.

For us, the notion of the journey (difficult as it was) towards Rome, driven by a passion for the Kingdom or the reign of Jesus, the Christ, stood out. In our time we find passionate followers and passionate causes, yet, the content of our passion should remain the notion of the Kingdom of God, the plan of God,(one could maybe (?) speak of the Mission of God). God acts beyond the nationalistic ideals of Judaism, beyond the church's walls and Paul aims to descern this mission of God, as he charts his way, via Jerusalem, Rome, etc.

There is another reality or theme, which is the reality of crossing borders and experiencing tension, fracture, but also inviting conflict. Crossing borders following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, being driven by the vision of the Kingdom, expose and challenge the existing powers and the powerful. There is also violence, militant resistance, conspiracy, physical danger; but then, there is also grace, miracles, progress for the vulnerable and contested witnesses of the Kingdom. Paul's life, his enduring legacy is painted in the difficult journey for the sake of the gospel.

There was a third theme: Paul's onward journey is where relationships are central. Often these are under pressure, often it is tested, often renegotiated, yet it remained critical in his mission. It becomes the mission. The gospel witness comes via real relationships. Behind these are power relations, vested interests, and histories- yet, this remains the terrain of God's redemptive, healing and liberating work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

preaching on Mother's day-Quiet Strength


Preaching on Mother’s day can be a dangerous exercise. On other days you might be forgiven to make a mistake here and there- not on Mother’s day. Therefore I am treading on eggs and would hope and pray for understandning. My only plea is that I love my mother and my wife, who has been a inspirational(and strict )mother for our two daughters.

Why is it in our churches, that Mother’s Day is so popular? Why, in some cases it is more popular then any other day on the church’s calendar. (and we don’t even serve communion on Mother's day!). That is however not the question I want to deal with today. I want to rather make the statement that motherhood in itself, is not a virtue. Let me put it another way- there is nothing redemptive about giving birth to a child. Hence, we should not confuse motherhood with being virtuous in itself.

Mothers can also be cruel.The story we read, in 1 Sam 1, out of the history of the Ancient Near East, is story of cruelty, but also a story of hope. But also, it’s a story where, the religion of the day, sanctify this violence. I’m not going to dwell on the issue of the polygamy and the fact that only the men were allowed to marry two of more wives. With our new president inaugurated, we need to, as a Christian community seriously engage on the gender issues behind a culture where only men are allowed to have more then one wife. If that is right, then surely it cannot only be right for men. If its ethically wrong, then we need to say it. But this is not the point of today, mother's day.

Whilst, in the Biblical context, this is a story about Samuel, this is also a story of mothers, Peninah and (mother-to be) Hannah. Peninah is some-one who experienced the love care of her husband. She had children, but she remained a deeply flawed mother, a cruel mother, who used ridicule and humiliation to violate the Other. The story does not say much about her own background or the circumstances around her marriage, except the fact that this was a deeply religious family. The husband maintained the religious commitments and adhered to the doctrines of the day.
What could have been the seedbed for Pininah’s power: was it the fact that she was a mother and the other not, was it beauty, was it Hannah’s childless-ness? All these answers could be correct, but it was not…. The real reason is because her religion otherfied, the child-less. In two occasions the writer states, “The Lord kept Hannah child-less.” She was cursed, nothing, some-one to be despised- she could yield to the dominant view that she was the reason for this curse upon her- even the religious leader looked down upon her practices of devotion.

The key question is, what was her response,this is the kind of turn-around in this story:
•She kept on praying- speaking out to the Lord, refusing to accept what everyone else is saying about her
•She kept her faittfullness to the Lord and the temple
•She responded in kindness (calm-ness- maintaining her dignity) - telling of her pain
•She remained committed to the covenant she made

Whilst there might be other more mighty women or men around, here the vulnerabiilty and pain of a mother, became the source for virtuousity. She had in the words of another mother, Rosa Parks, quiet strenght