Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mother Monster Jay Z and Pentecost 2011

In the past week, I’ve been blessed with various encounters ‘on the mountain’, so to speak. This has not only been informative, it has also been formative. I commend the speakers, especially our ministries for their earnest seeking of the word of God and for taking on the challenge In particular, I thank our members for preaching, for praying, for leading the encounters.In a sense I speak wrongly. It wasn’t our ministries and their members who led the encounters. They merely facilitated and created the space. It was the Holy Spirit who led us to the encounter on the mountain. [Now, I have to remind myself that mountains, is not something for which Joburg is known-for. If I say this, its simply because, a member of Riverlea reminded me, ‘Dominee, hier is mos nie berge nie’; No names mentioned] This comment, is critical because it does point to 2 things: context and communication.

1) context, or what some people call contextualisation; and
2) communication or better translation, meaning, we need to translate the message in symbols, language that connect, Holy Spirit language, fire language which creates the space to visualise, to imagine.

This morning, I simply want to make some comments, side comments at most, on these readings of Matthews 28:16-20. Let me make a general comment, which strikes me as I listen to a lot or sermons, the last few months:

Most of our preachers work hard with the text; they do research and read widely, for what some call ‘a deep understanding’. I appreciate that. I observe that some of you are making notes. That is great! It challenges me to try and go deeper, then merely trying to throw out slogans, and platitudes, clichés. It seems to me that there’s a need to get beyond biblical clichés. Whilst some people that do not know this congregation might scold us for being too quiet, it seems to me that there is a lot of depth that is developing, as I listen to members of our ministries. I will come back to this.

Back to the text that ran like a golden thread through the whole week; the well-known verse namely Matthew 28:16-20. The danger in speaking and preaching about with a ‘well-known’ text; is the deception that we ‘know it all’. This leads to ‘know-it-all’ preaching. What is the problem with ‘know-it-all’ preaching? ‘Know-it-all’ preaching is love-less preaching. It’s preaching that doesn’t love, nor respect the audience. More importantly for my little contribution here, it doesn’t love and respect the text of the Bible itself. The counter for know-it-all preaching is not ‘know-less’ preaching, meaning to strip your sermons of content, that alternative leads to a false humility, which despise and run down scholarship. This alternative also doesn’t love nor respect the sisters and brothers around the text. That’s not the alternative or the opposite of ‘know-it-alls’. The opposite of know-it-alls, is people who go deeper into living with and deeper into their understanding of the texts. The alternative is the painstakingly difficult living of the text, the patient love and respect for the audience, but also for the complexity of the texts. The opposite is ‘live-it-alls’, or better ‘love-it-all’ preaching. So let’s take serious our context first to live it all (that the text requires)

We are celebrating Pentecost, today, at a particular time. For us, this is youth month. Whilst others might want us to disappear into speaking in tongues (languages) that I do not understand, I am however haunted by stories of young men, single-mothers, breadwinners of families, who, like so many others have lost their jobs; by the desperation of drugabuse amd alcohol abuse and the suicide a week or so ago, but (so I am told ) one of the finest, most promising youngsters in our community, a suicide. What drives a young achiever to throw himself, in desperation in front of a train? What drives desperation in our communities?

LenkaBula shares the testimony of ‘Rosemary, the tailor’.

My name is Rosemary van Dyk. I am a women of mixed descend, known in South Africa as Cape Coloured. I worked in a clothing textile company for nine years, but the company was closed down because it could not compete with the international textiles that are being imported into South Africa. The Cut and Trim Company in Khaye Litsha sometimes call me when they have contracts from local clothing companies. In my pervious job, I had a permanent position as a tailor I had medical benefits, a pension fund and contributions to an unemployment insurance fund. Now, I am a casual labourer, I work for long hours and I am paid very little. I just wait to be called when there’s work to be done. Work has ceased to be meaningful, and there are many people competing for few jobs (LenkaBula 2002:164)

In the midst of what economists often call, ‘jobless economic growth’, there are people like Rosemary, who are called by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, South Africa’s ‘Door Knockers’ (2008). The report concludes,

Youth unemployment is very extensive, and dangerously entrenched. In fact, South Africa’s level of youth unemployment is among the highest in the world. Only small numbers of young job-seekers are successful, and many do not seek jobs for long before becoming disillusioned. (2008:5)

During Pentecost, as we were driving home, we listened to KhayaFM, interviewing a representative from LOVELIFE. She spoke on teen sexuality amongst others. She commented that we are living in a time where young people have a ‘high risk tolerance’. What does that mean, its means, she explains, young people can tolerate more risk, they are leading lifestyles that are risky and that OD on adrenaline. If drugs and risky sex is not the ultimate high anymore, then cutting might (at least) make you feel pain, alive or potentially dead. Young music artist are willing to play with this line, of risk. That’s what artist like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye did in the 70’s and 80s, that’s what Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (born 1986) Mother Monster and Shaun Corey Carter born in 1969, better known as Jay Z are doing and connecting to a fanbase, who are playing on this thin line.
Mother Monster, or Lady Gaga speaks of one of her latest songs, Born This Way, that its written for all her litte monsters out there, who like she was laughed at, ridiculed for being odd, for being different. With her big nose and way of looking at life, her childhood experience in a Catholic school was like hell. She states, that many young people (her little monsters) feel like monsters, for being born different.The song for her is about being different and celebrating it. Millions of youngsters get that message, they love her, their ‘Mother Monster’.
Jay Z writes in his latest book Decoded, that many people are too lazy to go into the real meaning of his songs. As an artist he plays with words, with metaphors, he grapples, in his view with the struggles of young people ‘in the hood’, young people who have experienced violence, the crack-generation, thegeneration who makes it for themselves, in the ghettos of New York, there where dreams are made off.
Of course, I don’t agree with all there is in pop culture, and I certainly struggle with the hypercapitalism and the fact that art has become a commodity. My point is that we have to ask the real questions to get real answers. This is not easy, yet we cannot pretend that easy answers will be enough for an audience, who grapple with serious questions. We might make mistakes on the way, but listen, ‘if you’ve never made a mistake in life or never failed, then you’re not trying hard enough’ (author unknown). Context, as the community member from Riverlea reminded me on the ‘mountain issue’, is crucial. The message of Matthew need to be read in context of our community, today and that I missed. The church is not our only context. God didn’t call us to be churchpeople, he called us to be the salt and the light of the world. Out there, in the mess, in the real world, not in here competing, falling over our feet to be centre stage.

Let’s go to the text: The text has been used as a foundation for the so-called ‘Great Commission’. This we take for granted, we don’t question this anymore. The danger is ‘buikspraak’ (what is that in the Queen’s language?) Buikspraak is when a performer gets on the stage with a puppet. We all see it’s a puppet, it looks like a puppet, its mouth goes like puppet’s mouth and yet he speaks, as if its his own mind. We know in our minds that this is not the puppet, its the puppeteer, yet we continue to be enthralled by the act…at some point, as children we start to speak… to the puppet. Well, folks, this is not for real. It’s a puppet. When Matthew 28: 19 is simply saying the same thing over and over again then we have to worry. Mission theologian, Bosch states,
The gospel of Matthew reflects an important and distinct su-paradigm of the early church’s interpretation and experience of mission. Howeve, in missionary circles much of the discussion about Matthew has, unfortunately, been obfuscated by the high prominence given to the …so-called “Great Commission” at the end of the gospel. He continues, Interestingly enough, NT asholarship for a long time appreared to have been very little inretested in thie passage.

Sugirtharajah (2003: 17) explains, that before the 18th century, Matthews command, was an unfashionable, under-exegeted, often absent, texts. It was William Carey (175101834) the Baptist missionary pioneer, who reactivated it as a missionary command for the modern period. For Sugirtharajah, this text was used to allow the white missionaries and colonialists to speak and justify their plundering of regions like India, Africa and Latin America. We need to remember that Africa was the place of refuge for Jesus, before the missionaries came. Simon of Cyrene/Libya, helped to carry the cross of Jesus, Acts speaks of the government official from Ethiopia, the first theological school, the bishops of the first church came from North Africa, so the myth that the gospel came with the white missionaries need to be killed. Most of the times these missionary texts used Matt 28:19 as a puppet.

It seems as if we need to ask the question what is the real meaning ? or Robinson and Combrinck, the text is the key to understand the whole of Matthew. Here we have linked from vers 16-20 the pulling together of all the texts in this gospel.
We must remember, when Matthew wrote the gospel, he had in his mind a particular audience, who he loved and respected. It was a first century community, who formed around the Jewish pay preacher, called Jesus from Galilee. They saw themselves as a part of the Jewish community, and like Jesus the real fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. They were a ‘venuwingsbeweging’ yes, they followed jesus radically, yes, but still they were part and parcel of the Jewish community. The role of Mathew, the author and Mark and Luke, etc, was to recollect the sayings, acts and story of Jesus, after his ascension. The book evolved as people shared their recollections, they had no Dictaphones ofr note pads, laptops, BlackBerries or IPads. They were telling these stories… in the midst of their own struggles. What were these ?
We see a stronger control, fundamentalism in the Jewish community. The Rabbis were to be the only interpreter of the law. ‘n bitter battle started to rage between the Pharisees and Jewish followers of jesus. Around 85 AD is was declared, Let the Nazarenes and heretics be destroyed in a moment…’ (Bosch 1991:58)
In this context Matthew grapple with the question, who are we… in the midst of tests, in the midst of being given a tough time, who are we.
His book/gospel states, that they are the true Israel, the people of God, no longer a small sectarian group, but a small yet, called community. Jesus is the new Moses (his flight from the new Pharao and his time in Egypt); his 40 days in the desert, in the transfiguration.
For Mathew, the congregation must gain self-confidence in their calling, and need to embrace a new future, which radically renew the Old, taking it beyond what they could evey imagine

This is what discipleship means, this is what it means to follow Jesus, it’s a life long journey of renewal of growing deeper, not growing fatter or growing more lazy, its growing in depth, in refining who we are in ever new contexts. Its being creative, in being imaginative, it in integrating the old and the new, it’s a remix…. A lifestyle of remixing…ever new revelations, in our context, to a new audience,

When Mat 28:16-20 is written then it forms part of this whole. These verses itself has a structure, which we cannot simply abuse:
A: Authority: To me has been given
a: go to the whole world
B: Make disciples (the only imperative)
b: baptising (deelworde)
c: teaching (deelwoorde)
A: Authority: I am with you

We need to make more of the authority announcement: I have been given and I am with you…
Jesus is not simply the Lord of the Church, he is the Lord of heaven and earth. He is the one who fulfil the Old Testament promise of God being the Creator, Sustainor Giver of all life… his reign is not simply in church, but in the world, its bigger then the community of disciples. His is the real new Human, who embody Love, Gods character. His authority is not domination, exploitation or violent; its not manupliative, his authority is (Matt 5-6) love your enemy, care for the weak, love your neighbour, his authority is in giving up himself… in dying, in rising up, so that we might have live
His authority is about the real world, school, work, bread and bgutter issues, about employment, about Rosemary van Dyk, Noordgesig, Syria, about the real life. Its about Lady Gaga’s songs,. About Jay z, its about the drugs, the sex, the violence… Its here that love is the key. You don’t need to be a good singer… be a real lover;

When we connect these to the rest of the book, it seems as if discipleship/deep growth is about the stuff in Math 5-7, its about emobodying the lifestyle of Jesus, serving, healing, caring, …. compassionate loving. Discipleship is about growing deeper into his live…discipleship is fallinf on love with Jesus; its about wanting to spend time with with him talking about him all the time and dreanming, imagining, Jonathan Butlet falling in love with Jesus
Its about knowing his is with us

Let me stop here and say this: Jesus is with us today, through his Holy Spirit. Remember that. He promised it… even when some doubted, even when Judas wasn’t wih them any more, even through they were only 11…. He was in their midst. Pentecost, Holy Spirit means God is with us, as we spread this presence, this live presence//

Any questions ?