The Holy Spirit as a Transforming Agent

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Full of the Holy Spirit

WOW! The Holy Spirit is alive and well in Johannesburg!! Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!

That is how I felt at the Cathedral on 30 January at the Ordination Service, a day I will never forget. It was indeed a mountain-top experience that transformed me forever. Thank you to all of you at St Michael’s for your prayers and support, which demonstrated great faith, as most of you did not yet even know me!

At the Cathedral, friends and family said how radiant and dazzling the 10 of us new deacons and priests looked, after Bishop Steve laid his hands on us, one by one, filling us with the Holy Spirit.

Shining, glowing, happy and glorious, they said.

Isn’t it amazing that these words are found in today’s readings for Transfiguration Sunday (31 January – Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36).

In our Old Testament reading, Moses has just undergone one of God’s biggest tasks in religious history – “presenting the covenant to Israel in the form of the Ten Commandments written on stones.”(NIV DSB 1988:1476) Moses had been in the desert talking with God – or praying – for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating food or drinking water. Imagine how he feels (apart from hungry, thirsty and tired!), carrying those tablets down the mountain, with such an important message for his people. He is so radiant, that at first the Israelites are afraid of him. But he calls them and explains how God wants them to live. They were amazed that whenever Moses prayed to God – his face lit up. That is the power of prayer, something we vowed to do many times a day.

Now Paul takes the idea of a covenant a huge step further. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the new covenant being about the Holy Spirit written, not on stone tablets, but on our hearts, giving us life and freedom. Paul says the more we believe in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the more we are transformed to be like Christ. Our example as Christians gives hope to others.

So the 10 of us being touched by the Holy Spirit in such a profound way, has lit a fire in us that will hopefully spread and inspire others to be transformed, and more like Jesus Christ.

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Prostrating ourselves on the floor

Today’s Psalm 99 is about praising God’s mighty power over all the universe. God is also a just and forgiving God who responded to Moses. We are nothing without God. Ëxalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain for the Lord our God is holy.”(Ps 99:9 NIV) As a symbol of humility and complete submission to God, we prostrated ourselves on the floor of the Cathedral. (pic above) To all our vows regarding our role as your humble servants, we replied “With God’s help, I will.”Over and over. What a powerful line. Imagine if every request we receive, we reply “with God’s Help I will.”How do we get God’s help? Prayer.

Our gospel reading is one of the most dramatic stories in the New Testament, with Jesus going up a mountain to pray with his three closest disciples and being transfigured from human to divine in what looks like a flash of lightning. The time of the this story is important as Jesus has discussed with his 12 disciples eight days earlier that he is the Christ and that he would be killed in Jerusalem. The three of Peter, James and John heard a voice saying that Jesus was his chosen son and that they must listen to him. Time was running out for Jesus to teach his disciples how to spread the truth after his departure. The three had a good lesson on the power of prayer, because Jesus could only be transformed through prayer.

The ordination was the culmination of many years of ministry, training, studying – and praying, all by the grace of God. The week before was spent in prayer on retreat. This service was not the beginning or the end – it was part of our journey of becoming stronger agents of transformation and reconciliation for God. The fact that we glowed was not from us – the radiance was merely a reflection of God’s glory combined with the love from all our communities.

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Thabi, Lilian, Sipho & Martha

The state of our country and the world begs all of us to be prayerful agents of God’s transforming love as we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. I look forward to serving God and all of you in the parish of St Michael’s and hope to witness the power of the Holy Spirit continue to transform us into dazzling, radiant, shining and glorious beings —– with God’s help.

Amen

 

Farewell St Andrew’s & God bless

St Andrews Garden

 

Cross by the late David Rousseau, in the garden at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Kensington.

 

I am so blessed to share some thoughts with you at my final service at St Andrew’s, which has been my home parish for the last 10 years. It is an extra blessing that my sister Andrea , my brother-in-law Jim, and two of my nephews Gilbert and Brady are here from Canada. To each and every one of you here today, thank you.

 

(Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55; Hebrew 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

As we patiently await the arrival of our Lord and Saviour in less than 5 days, it is a wonderful opportunity to take time away from the excited crowds and holiday frenzy to find a quiet place to pray and listen to what God is calling us to do. But as our readings today show, God’s message is often not at the time or place we’d expect. And God may have to try several times to reach us before we hear His message and do what He says.

Promise and Hope

Today’s readings beautifully combine the message of promise in the Old Testament with the message of Hope in the New Testament.

Starting with our Old Testament reading, Micah was a prophet living over 700 years before Christ was born. He spoke out against the injustices of the relatively newly freed Canaanite society that was becoming materialistic, inhumane, immoral and corrupt. So what we are experiencing in South Africa is common in a newly liberated country. That is not an excuse but rather a wake-up call that we have to work and pray much harder for our country. Micah tirelessly begged the Canaanites to stop their immoral behaviour and turn back to God instead of worshipping Baal, a pagan god, or there would be grave consequences. Micah also promised that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem of ancient ancestry and bring a kingdom of peace and justice that would reach the ends of the earth.

Bond among moms and babies

Now fast forward 700 years to the Virgin Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus, visits her relative Elizabeth (we would call sisters in African culture) who is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. Baby John leaps in the womb on hearing Mary’s greeting, and Elizabeth praises Mary for her great faith as mother of the Lord. In response, Mary sings her beautiful praises to God thanking Him for choosing her as his humble servant. This Song of Mary, known as the Magnificat, is adored by Christians throughout the world.  Both Mary and Elizabeth were blessed with pregnancies in unusual circumstances but showed great faith in the big responsibilities God was calling them to do.

As relatives expecting babies at the same time, they shared a special bond of promise and hope. This bond is also between mother and baby and between the 2 babies.

Research shows that the most important time of a baby’s mental and physical development is the First 1000 Days, which is from conception to 2 years old. Babies can hear, think and feel much more than we ever realised.

Feeling the Holy Spirit

That is why loving and communicating with your baby from the time in the womb is very important. So Baby John was excited because he could feel his mother’s joy and hear her happy voice at seeing her relative arrive. I also believe he could feel the Holy Spirit that Elizabeth and Mary were feeling.

Elizabeth was very old when she conceived and was confined to her home for 6 months. She was probably so happy to have any company, and better still, this was the mother of her Lord. The two women had so much joy to share over the next three months until John the Baptist was born. The two baby boys would be forever connected as John became God’s messenger who announced the coming of the Messiah and paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life, as Jesus did.

‘Keep the faith’

Fast forward to later in the first century, to the Letter to the Hebrews, which was written to encourage Jewish Christians to ‘keep the faith’ despite the persecution they faced. The letter advised them that their Jewish rituals and animal sacrifices were no longer needed to be free of sin, because God sacrificed his only son when Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins, once and for all.

What an amazing gift God has given us! But it was not God alone – it all came together because His faithful servants over thousands of years never gave up on what God asked them to do. All the way back to Micah, Elizabeth, Mary, John and Jesus. Our Christian faith continues to call us to serve God in unexpected ways today. I too was not expecting God to call me to St Michael’s Bryanston. I have struggled with the changes this move involves and all the goodbyes. But this struggle is helping me grow and appreciate so much. I am so blessed with the strong foundation you have all given me to go and I can now look forward to serving another loving and faithful community. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Hear God’s call

The challenge I leave all of us today is to take time out and really listen and hear God’s call, no matter how unexpected it may be. I would like to leave you with these encouraging words from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980 for following God’s call to stand against injustice in El Salvador:

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A Future Not Our Own*

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No programme accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

iris

 

*(www.educationforjustice.org)

What would Jesus do if he were here today?

Whenever life throws something at you that you never expected, it helps to reflect and pray in order to try to make sense of it. In this space, we are able to ask ourselves: what would Jesus do if he were here today?

We often forget that Jesus IS here with us today, and that He lives in us and in our love for Him and one another.  But we are so busy and there is so much noise in our daily lives that it is hard to HEAR Jesus.

I was fortunate to be part of the archdeaconry quiet morning of spiritual formation yesterday at Bishop Bavin School with 35 Anglicans from different parishes in our archdeaconry, including our St Andrew’s, St Michael’s & All Angels Bez Valley, St Margaret’s Bedfordview, St John’s Belgravia, and St Patrick’s Malvern.

We were led in prayer, reflection and discussion by Sue Tinsley who helped us to take time to get in touch with our deep desires and to begin to honour them. We were also encouraged to hear God’s desire for us. She said that the most important aspect of our faith is our ongoing relationship with God. He is longing for us to connect with Him. He is ready and waiting for us with unconditional love. He heals us and transforms us and bring us into His likeness. As we get more like God, she encouraged us to go out into the world and share this relationship with others.

What a wonderful morning.

While it was booked many weeks ago, the Quiet Morning could not have come at a better time. Many of us were stressed out and wrestling with recent events in our community and our country such as:

  • the collapse of the bridge over the highway in Sandton
  • the attack in Rhodes Park last Saturday
  • the train accident in Ennerdale Friday night
  • and of course the past week of nation-wide student protests that started at Wits where many of our children are studying – and marching.

Where is God in all this and how would Jesus have responded?

This takes us to another pillar of our faith – the Holy Bible. Today being a special day of prayer dedicated to Bible Sunday, it is important to recognise that as Anglicans, our faith is based on the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We need to read the Bible daily and reflect on what it means for our lives today. There are many guides to help us, such as the Anglican lectionary, a booklet which gives the set daily readings for the Old Testment, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel readings used throughout the world. This lectionary helps us cover all 150 psalms monthly and most of the Bible in a 3-year cycle.  Commentaries and Bible study books help us better understand and interpret what the Scriptures mean.  It helps to explore questions like: What was the world like when the scriptures were written? Who wrote the different passages? What were they trying to say and who was the audience?  How is the passage relevant to life today in Johannesburg? What is God saying to me through this passage?

Today’s Gospel reading, for example, is an amazing story about Jesus healing Bartimaeus who was blind and begging on the street. (Mark 10:46-52)

Two crucial aspects of this story. Bartimaeus was trying to change his situation the only way he knew how. He knew what he wanted and who could help him.

Bartimaeus was shouting, asking for Jesus, but people told him to keep quiet so he shouted even more.

No one listened to the students, so they shouted even more.

Jesus asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied: “Rabbi, I want to see.”

How would Jesus respond to requests like: “Rabbi, I want to learn.” “Rabbi, I want to walk safely in my neighbourhood park.” “Rabbi, I want to travel safely.” “Rabbi I want to live in a peaceful and just South Africa.”

Jesus was with the brave and peaceful students helping them in pushing for what is right, access to education for all. Jesus was definitely at Rhodes Park yesterday when over 100 residents gathered for a moving prayer vigil, comforting the family and friends of the victims and survivors, uniting the community and inspiring us all to love and protect one another. Jesus was with the victims of the train and highway accidents and all those working to help them.

Jesus is also with us, today, all day and every day, as we respond to what life throws at us. Connecting with God through prayer, the Holy Bible, worship, and our faith in action reminds us of His unfailing and everlasting love.

AMEN

(MG Sunday 24 Oct 2015)

Plant a seed

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Driving down Louis Botha Avenue last week looked like a warzone. Dozens of trees were chopped down, their stumps and branches littering the pavement. They were destroyed to make way for the Reavaya Buses and the Freedom Corridor. I know we need a better bus system and that we have 10 million trees in Greater Johannesburg. But I can’t help feeling sad.

These trees were among many planted 100 years ago when the government paid young people a penny for every tree they planted.

I am sure our youth would love work planting trees – but for more than a penny! Last year India employed 300 000 youths to plant 2 billion trees.* China has planted over 41 billion trees since 1981.** Closer to home, Kenyan Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her tree-planting and environmental work.

Why am I talking so much about trees? Being a World Environment Day and Youth Day service, trees are a perfect symbol for God’s Creation and our future.

In today’s Old Testament reading, God tells Ezekiel he wants to transplant a cedar tree to the mountains of Israel. (Ezekiel 17:22-24 NIV) This was an impossible idea in those days when the Israel’s hot climate could only tolerate a few small trees. The cedar was considered a mighty tree growing in the mountains of Lebanon, a hardy and evergreen tree that grew to 30m high. “On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it, it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will rest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” (Ezekiel 17:23) This story is an example of our Creator God transforming nature – even making the green tree dry up and the dry tree green.  This is a foretelling of the transforming power of a future Messiah who would be Jesus Christ.

Today’s Psalm also includes trees. It is about the importance of praising God and appreciating the blessings in life; it says be glad and “proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night”. (Psalm 92:2 NIV) The psalm says growth of goodness is like a palm tree (traditional symbol of peace, victory and fertility), and a cedar of Lebanon (hardy, mighty and evergreen). “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Psalm 92:14 NIV)

The reading from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:6-10;14-17 NIV) says we have courage to do what is right and we know that we all must appear before Christ to be judged for what we have done – good or bad – in our bodily life. We don’t live for ourselves but for Christ, who “died for all,  that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:15 NIV)

The gospel reading is about planting hope for the future. (Mark 4:26-34) Jesus liked to use parables or stories to teach people through symbols. Jesus uses the parable of the mustard seed, the smallest seed, to explain the Kingdom of God. “When planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:32 NIV) This is amazing because it is so similar to our earlier Ezekiel passage.

Our faith is also like a tree. It spreads roots that stabilise the earth, helps heal the land, shelters and provides oxygen to humans and animals and feeds us. We cannot live without trees.

But like any seed or any tree, our faith needs to be nurtured. We need to be connected, inspired, watered and pruned. We have to help the seed that God planted in us to grow and flourish. We are all unique in what works for us – praying, singing, worshipping, caring, loving one another.  It may be a walk in a park, a hilltop view, watching a sunrise, gardening or feeding birds that make us feel closer to God. Find what works for you and do it as much as you can.

Wangari Maathai grew up in rural Kenya when trees and rivers were healthy and plentiful. She was distressed at the desertification of Kenya, how trees were being chopped down to sell charcoal to foreign companies, how people could no longer grow their food and their children were starving. She wanted to find a way to reverse this in order to support women and their families. So she started the Green Belt Movement in 1977.***

One programme was to plant indigenous trees and remove the old invasive ones that the British settlers had imported to dry up rivers to plant cash crops. As the women, including Wangari, planted the trees and felt the soil with their hands, something changed. They felt an amazing joy and reconnection with the earth. Slowly and surely the movement grew. The earth started replenishing, rivers sprung back to life, trees began to bear fruit, thousands of communities had hope again. Wangari said it was her work with the environment that inspired her faith and not the other way around. She believed if we can find ways to connect and replenish the Earth, we will feel closer to God. Sadly she passed away but her legacy continues. To date the Green Belt Movement has planted over 51 million trees!****

Wangari’s story can inspire us to find ways to nurture young people and together we can reconnect and replenish the Earth. This can ignite a lifelong passion for God and God’s Creation that we can share as we build God’s Kingdom today. So if you haven’t already signed up, please join the Youth Day Eco Walk on Tuesday.  AMEN

References

*(http://inhabitat.com/india-launches-plan-to-plant-2-billion-trees-and-boost-youth-employment)

**(http://genprogress.org/voices/2010/08/10/15565/china-plants-more-than-40-billion-trees-since-1981/)

***(www.greenbeltmovement.org)

****Maathai, W. 2010. Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World. London:Doubleday

We are all Africans – Sermon 3 May 2015

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 22: 25-32; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

I speak in the name of our Lord, our sustainer, redeemer and healer. Amen.

My heart is sore.

The last 2 weeks in Johannesburg have seen xenophobic and criminal murders as well as fatal bus and train crashes.

Emmanuel Josias was stabbed to death 2 weeks ago in Alexandra, a few blocks from where I work. They say 7 people officially died in the Xenophobic attacks in the country but there are rumours that the figure is much higher. Many were injured. Thousands have fled their homes, and even left the country. Many more have no choice but to stay and fear for their lives.

Yes, there have since been hundreds of arrests including the 4 suspected of killing Emmanuel due to assistance by the Alex community. There have been marches, prayers, vigils, adverts, speeches and various campaigns against xenophobia. In support of our Bishop Steve’s appeal, St Andrew’s even marched this morning along Langermann Drive to say no to xenophobia. Tomorrow we begin a daily prayer vigil until Pentecost.

But is this having any impact? Are we simply blaming others or are we reflecting on our role in all this?

It is helpful to go to our Bible for some answers.  Today’s New Testament and Gospel readings are both from John. John’s letter encourages us to believe that God is love and God loves us, and “if we love one another, God lives in us” (1 John 4:12b) This goes to the very heart of Christianity and our Jewish roots with the two great commandments to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself.  John’s Gospel reading is about Jesus being the vine, God being the gardener and we are the branches. One can see that all our lives – and all creatures and plants – are interconnected. God’s love flows throughout the Tree of Life and God started the love by loving us first. When one part of the tree or vine is diseased it must be cut off or pruned so that the tree or vine can grow in a healthy way and produce much fruit, positivity and disciples. When we are not loving God or our neighbours, we become sick and, we in turn spread negativity and poisonous hate.

We could debate for days as to the possible causes of our hateful cancer. Many of the wounds of our painful history did not heal and became septic. Maybe our nationalism to unite people after 1994 has gone too far and has unleashed the dark side of superiority. Maybe we focused too much on us as South Africans and not enough as Africans. Maybe the brainwashing under apartheid that South Africans are better off than the rest of Africa has been internalized. What are our own attitudes at home about people from cultures and countries we don’t know? The challenges we face in South Africa are a wake-up call. They are symptoms of world-wide cancer of hate, which is very scary. Some say it starts with oneself, loving instead of hating oneself. Loving instead of hating our neighbor. Loving instead of hating our enemy.

My heart is sore.

All of a sudden people are noticing fellow shoppers, neighbours, classmates, colleagues and teammates who are not born in South Africa. That includes me, who came here in 1991 to support the ending of apartheid and the birth of a new democratic country. I found a new home and family, stayed and became a citizen in 2003. Why is no one chasing me from my home?

History has been corrupted to be a pecking order of who arrived first. But we are all people who migrated from somewhere to somewhere, for various reasons, whether it was generations ago, or days ago, from across the world, or across the province. Fleeing war or poverty, or searching for a better life.

Since humankind originated in Africa, aren’t we all originally from Africa and therefore all Africans? Are we not all of the same vine – all one race, the human race? So then there is no such thing as a foreigner.

My heart is sore.

But I am hopeful in faith that God’s love and grace will guide us in finding our way through these challenges. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pray not only for an end to xenophobia and all forms of injustice, but pray FOR peace, harmony, justice and unity as God’s family.
  • In any conversations at home and work, challenge people who say and act in a xenophobic way. This includes saying you don’t agree with jokes or stereotypes.
  • Avoid using labels like “foreigner”, “immigrant”, “migrant”. We are people. Try to be inclusive and welcoming in words and actions. Instead of asking: “Where are you from?” ask “How are you?”

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.”*

Amen

 

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References:*http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/desmond_tutu.html#wlehqbRBFj3ePDrL.99

Jesus cleanses the Temple – we must cleanse our Earth

Sermon Readings: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 Anglican Prayer Book 1989) This last verse of today’s psalm 19 is so fitting for today because the psalm praises God’s glory in creation and links God to what we say and believe in our hearts. The law of the Lord is perfect. To know God’s law is to know God. We humans tend to turn to God in distress. We are in distress today, just like in the time of King David when the psalm was written. During stress we must rely on God’s law and trust and obey Him even more.

So where do we find God’s law? We know that God and God’s law – what is right and true – is in our hearts. But that is because thousands of years ago God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and explained the Ten Commandments and told him to tell the Israelites, as said in our Exodus reading (Exodus 20:1-17 NIV). The Ten Commandments are the foundation of many societies today including South Africa and are similar to codes in all the great world religions. The Ten Commandments are so important that we repeat them every service in Lent at the beginning of the penitence.  Then we ask for forgiveness for our sins.

Yes humans have a stubborn streak and seem to love the expression “rules are meant to be broken.” God sets a high standard but knows we humans are not perfect and that we make mistakes and we all sin. But that is where His Son Jesus Christ comes in – God gave up his only son who died for all humankind in order for us to be forgiven for all our sins and be made clean and pure again, over and over. This is the most incredible gift and the greatest news of being a Christian!!

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:18-25 NIV) he tells them about Christ being the wisdom and power of God.  Paul says those who are not being saved will think this wisdom is foolishness and that only those being saved understand an inkling of this wisdom. But Paul explains that human wisdom will never come close to understanding divine wisdom.

Human and divine wisdom clash when Jesus Cleanses the Temple (John 2:13-22 NIV) in today’s gospel reading. Wow – we see a side to Jesus we never saw before. He is furious – even violent – knocking over tables, making a whip to drive the livestock out of the temple. Now this is no ordinary temple. It is the second Temple – the first Temple had been destroyed centuries earlier. It was massive! I worked out the size of the temple complex – way bigger than FNB stadium or Ellis Park – 25 football fields. Jews had to come from far and wide once a year – at Passover – to pray at the Temple and give the Temple tax in local currency. That is why there were money changers in the Temple. There were so many animals around because people were expected to sacrifice animals and they could not bring them long distances. Over time synagogues were built in communities so that people did not have to travel all the way to the Temple. Also in 70 AD the Romans destroyed the Temple. The only remains today are the western wall, known as the Wailing Wall where people come from all over the world to pray.

Jesus was a lone voice in challenging the thousands of people who were corrupting the sacred space. Where is Jesus in challenging those who are turning our father’s house – planet Earth – into a marketplace and den of robbers?  Human greed is corrupting and poisoning the planet and destroying life. We are breaking many commandments especially thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not worship false idols (like money).

Because we too have been corrupted, how can we find a way to connect to sacred spaces in our hearts, in our homes and in our communities? Because we cannot protect what we do not love, and we cannot love what we do not know, we need to better connect to God’s creation. We will feel God’s presence and be truly inspired. This past week I found myself depressed and exhausted so I worked in my garden, weeding, planting, digging soil with my bare hands, and I listened to the birds, felt the breeze, prayed – and I experienced the most amazing feeling of renewal. So I encourage you to try 3 exercises:

  • Include in your daily prayers, prayers about God’s creation, preferably while you are outside in nature. Listen to God speak to you.
  • Touch and feel nature. Walk bare foot in the grass or on the earth at least once a day, and help children do the same. If you don’t have a garden, go to a park or visit our church garden.
  • Enjoy the outdoors. Reconnect and be renewed!

AMEN

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Be fed in order to serve – Sermon 25 Jan 2015

(Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)

I greet you in the name of our Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.

I have been blessed to hear former Bishop Bavin speak and preach a few times during his current visit to Johannesburg celebrating the 40th anniversary of becoming Bishop in 1974. He retired as a Bishop 9 years ago and is now a 79-year-old monk living in England and is an amazing man. I have to share one of his stories:

One Sunday, a curate or assistant priest, was sent to a rural church to preach because the rector was ill. While preaching, the curate looked into the congregation and was alarmed to see a farmer sitting in the front pew with a shotgun on his lap. So the curate continued preaching but every time he glanced at the farmer, the farmer’s hand was getting closer and closer to the trigger. The poor curate was so shaken he finally stopped his sermon and asked the farmer what in God’s name he was planning to do. So the farmer replied “Don’t worry sonny, this isn’t for you, it’s for the one who sent you!”

It is amazing how the lectionary and the set readings for every day can be so relevant to our lives. Today Jonah goes to the very large and corrupt city of Ninevah – it could be Soweto, Johannesburg, Paris or Kiev – to tell them God’s message – that all people must fast otherwise in 40 days their city will be overturned. Lo and behold, everyone fasted and when God saw their commitment and that they turned from their evil ways, he did not destroy them. Where is our Jonah today?

Our psalm reminds us that no matter what our challenges in life, God alone is our rock, our salvation, and our refuge. The psalm also encourages us to trust God and pour out our hearts to him. It also says: “Put no trust in extortion do not grow worthless by robbery: if riches increase set not your heart upon them.” (Psalm 62:10 APB 1989) This is so relevant to the current looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto, it is not only there – theft and corruption have become a national cancer throughout all communities. This recent looting is a symptom of a bigger problem, as set out in statements by Archbishop Thabo and the Jesuit Institute.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians injects some urgency into our lives stressing that time is running out and we must act now and not take anything for granted as “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:31 NIV) We often hear this message – whether it is to do with destroying our environment, the Eskom crisis or a future world war over water. Are we doing all we can to spread and follow Jesus’ message of love, hope and justice?

Time and commitment are also in Mark’s gospel story of Jesus calling the first disciples. He tells them: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (1 Cor 1:15 NIV) Jesus asks them to follow him and promises to make them fishers of men. One by one – Simon, Andrew, James, and John drop their nets, and join Jesus. Once anointed with the Holy Spirit, they were able to go out and heal, preach and teach the good news of Jesus Christ. What is so exciting is that all of us, 2000 years later, are keeping Jesus alive in us and all we do in his name. The kingdom is still near and the good news remains that if we give ourselves completely over to Jesus, we can experience an exhilarating new freedom and peace of mind focusing on serving God and doing what is good and right.

newly ordained priests

Yesterday a few of us from St Andrew’s went to St Mary’s Cathedral to attend the glorious ordination of 3 deacons and 5 priests – who have been called to serve God full-time. It was also the installation of 11 archdeacons, including our own Archdeacon Rvd Diana Thorburn. Bishop Bavin led the retreat for them the whole of last week in preparation, and being a monk, he was a perfect leader to preach about the importance of humble service. While we all have different gifts and callings, he said not to guard them jealously but share them as gifts of God. He said from Jesus to his apostles to our own baptism, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to be servants of Jesus Christ and help establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” He told the servant leaders – there is no such thing as `my parish’, ‘my ministry’, ‘my church’! All belongs to God!” (25 Jan 2015, St Mary’s Cathedral Johannesburg)

How can we be regularly fed or inspired so that we can serve God and spread His message to others in our everyday life? Often we get inspired THROUGH serving God. You can also get inspired through celebrating blessings in life, attending and assisting with worship, daily prayer and reading the Bible, enjoying music, being in nature, attending talks and especially through loving and helping one another – and remembering to bring God into it.

A recent example of “bringing God into it” is I am on a WhatsApp residents group chat which sends out crime news and alerts. On Friday there was an appeal to find a hijacked vehicle with an 18-month-old baby in the back seat. Yesterday, the group received the news that the abandoned car was found in Braamfontein. The baby was unharmed and reunited with his parents. So I messaged simply 2 words: THANK GOD! And all of a sudden there was a flood of messages praising God. I was fed. I was fed at the Cathedral. I am being fed today.

Praise God that we are all fed with the good news of Jesus Christ, who continues to inspire and live in all of us, today and always. Let us remember that when our service today ends, our service really begins. AMEN.

Poppies for Peace – Make Remembrance Day a Day to Strive for Peace

poppies

Martha Gordon Sermon Sunday 9 Nov 2014 – (Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25 the Covenant; Ps 78:1-7 the Word teaching the faith; 1 Thess 4:13-18 2nd coming; 1 Matt 25:1-13 being prepared and ready)

I greet you in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow       

Between the crosses, row on row,    

That mark our place; and in the sky    

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

This is the beginning of a poem by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor in World War 1 who wrote this after burying his friend in Flanders, Belgium in 1915. The soil was so polluted from the trench warfare only poppies could grow above the corpses buried below.

john

Remembrance Day on 11 November is still recognized throughout the Commonwealth countries because the end of WWI was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a few months after John died. Remembrance Day was initially for WW1, then WW2 (see our plaque to remember the men from St Andrew’s who died in WW2). Now Remembrance Day remembers everyone – soldiers and civilians – who have died in all wars, including our own South African liberation war, and conflicts that continue today. Remembering the dead does not mean supporting war. In fact remembering should motivate us to work for peace. But there is no peace without justice, according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

No one will argue it was not a worthy cause fighting Hitler and the evils of Nazism or the evils of apartheid, but what about WW1 which was supposed to be the war to end all wars 100 years ago? It was an imperial war which killed 17 million and wounded 20 million people. Why do humans kill each other? Is this not against God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. Is war not evil?

While Europe has experienced the most peaceful time in modern history since WW2, there are wars throughout the world.

Can any of you name a place where there is war? …

Did you know that there are 68 wars taking place right now?

Many people believe that fighting in a war is service to King and country. What about service to God? Isn’t that the goal we need to have?

Serving God.

Joshua today talks to the Israelites urging them to abandon the many foreign gods believed by the Egyptians and other neighbours and to serve only one God. They finally agreed, acknowledging it was God who got them safely out of Egypt. Joshua draws a line in the sand saying there is no turning back. They agreed with the covenant saying “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” Serving the Lord is in the Bible many times:

  • “Serve the Lord with Gladness” (Psalm 100:1a NIV)
  • “…serve Him with all your heart” (Joshua 22:5 NIV)
  • “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 4:10 (NIV)
  • “Serve whole-heartedly” (Eph 6:7 (NIV)
  • And in our Anglican Prayer Book (Church of the Province of Southern Africa, 1989. An Anglican Prayer Book. Claremont: Collins.)
  • “…through His son Jesus Christ we may give ourselves to his service.” (APB 1989:42)
  • “to serve you is perfect freedom” (Ibid:51)
  • “give your servants that peace which the world cannot give” (Ibid:61)
  • And finally the Eucharist dismissal which asks us to: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. (Ibid:129)

Today’s psalm is about remembering to learn the Lord’s commandments as our forefathers did and as we will teach our children so that they might put their confidence in God and keep His commandments. This commitment is linked to Paul telling us to be ready for the Coming of the Lord. We must keep hope knowing that those who sleep (who have died) are with the Lord already and that we will be with the Lord when it is our turn. I was relieved Paul was not talking about sleeping as in dozing, because I can sleep anywhere and have a fear of sleeping through and missing events. My kids love telling friends that I actually fell asleep during a World Cup match in Ellis Park surrounded by blasting vuvuzelas!

Now we get to the gospel reading of the parable of the 10 bridesmaids and the wedding banquet. In those days “bridesmaids” was describing adolescents or young women. You will see that as we get further into the story about preparation and thinking ahead and access to power and light, it could be a story about Eskom, power outages and load-shedding! The 10 young women are divided into 2 groups. One group is organized and prepared. The other travels light. It’s about balance. The parable tells us to be prepared and ready for when the Lord comes again. But don’t get so caught up in the detail of life that you miss the opportunity to live. If we live our lives to serve God, then we will be ready for when He comes again.

So what does serving God mean? How is it related to Remembrance Day?

If peace is the absence of war, and love is the absence of hate, then the best way to serve God is to love God and find peace in our hearts. Only then can we work for love and peace in our homes, communities and throughout the world. “The peace of God which passes all understanding…”

Maybe John McCrae’s poppies can be poppies for peace, and his torch can be the torch of peace that we pick up and carry. One death in war and violence is a death too many. So before concluding with the rest of John’s poem, when we say the peace this morning, really feel it in your hearts. After leaving church today, please pray and work for justice and peace in whatever way you can.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,    

Loved and were loved, and now we lie          

In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw    

The torch; be yours to hold it high.    

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow          

In Flanders fields.

AMEN

poppy

Healing lessons from Father Michael Lapsley

I greet you in the name of our Creator, our Healer and our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine being an outspoken anti-apartheid priest exiled and living in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1990, the dawn of a new era, two months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Imagine receiving an envelope in the post labeled religious magazines and opening it, setting off a massive explosion. Imagine your hands are blown off, you are severely cut and burned, an eye destroyed and your ear drums blown. It is a miracle you are alive. Over the next year you undergo many operations as you slowly, painfully recover. You receive visitors, prayers, get well messages and children’s drawings from all over the world. Once recovered, you don’t return to the land of your birth New Zealand – you go and live in South Africa, the country where the bomb originated, and you dedicate the rest of your life to healing others.

This is a very short story of Father Micheal Lapsley who, with his team of facilitators, conducted a life-changing Healing of Memories workshop at St Benedict’s Retreat House in Johannesburg 2-6 February 2014. More than 24 years after the hit squads of the apartheid government tried to kill him, Father Michael remains a holy and humble Anglican priest, sharing lessons of healing and forgiveness in South Africa and around the world.

As today is a healing service, I thought it was a perfect time to share some thoughts on healing, which is an important part of everyone’s life, especially Christians, because Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer.

claycrossMy clay symbol. which I dedicated to my children and the youth of South Africa. It began as a cross but transformed into a figure which symbolises Jesus Christ who lives in all of us. 

+ Healing means to be restored to health or to restore someone to health (Hanks: 706) physically, mentally and spiritually. So you can be healed but you can also heal others. Healing can also be about repairing a wound with a scar or restoring of friendly relations.

+ Healing starts with us first. Father Michael told us to put away thoughts of learning to help others and over the 3 days to focus on ourselves and our own journey. One cannot be effective healers without embarking on our own healing journey.

+ Healing is an important part of Christianity. “One-fifth or 20 percent of the Gospels deal with the healing ministry of Jesus.” (Hart 2003: 57) Remember the woman who could not stop bleeding, the blind man, the possessed child – the list goes on of the people Jesus healed. But it is not only Jesus who healed body and soul. The apostles including Peter and Paul were also given the gift of healing by God and millions of people after them until today.

+ Father Peter McCall who runs healing retreats in the USA “maintains that one of the biggest obstacles to healing consists in accepting suffering as God’s will.” (Ibid: 58) God did not cause you to suffer. Our God is a loving, caring God who is here to love and support us on your healing journey. What can we learn from the challenges we face? How can we transform a hard time into something positive?

claysymbols Workshop participants made clay symbols of our healing journey which we presented at our closing celebration ceremony. We could use additional items from the beautiful St Benedict’s Garden. 

+ Healing is a journey. Acknowledgement is the first step. As Dr Phil says, “You can’t change what you can’t acknowledge.” Father Michael made it very clear that the Healing of Memories workshop and the storytelling process is just one step in the healing journey. Drawing your life as one picture or a series of pictures and then talking about it in a safe space is an illuminating and emotional experience. It takes you back to your childhood and to events and phases for example becoming politically active, losing a loved one, marital bliss, the joy of having children, renewal of faith, the pain of divorce, victory in independence and so on. With no words allowed, you rely on symbols and colours that reflect your feelings.  Being in a small group with a trained facilitator allowed us to support each other through the laughter and many tears.

+ Healing takes time and hard work. The expression “Time heals all wounds” is too simple. Sometimes time gives you more perspective but if you don’t deal with the situation and get help when you need it, your wounds will not heal on their own.

Redeeming the Past book cover

+ Forgiveness is a massive part of healing. Father Michael is an incredibly inspiring example of someone who became “better and not bitter.” In his book Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer he relates the process of transforming the horrors of the bombing to the process of healing others and establishing the Healing of Memories Institute. He wrote: “So even then lying there broken as I was, I felt a sense of victory.” (Lapsley 2012: 4) He explains that to this day he does not know who sent him the letter bomb and if someone asked him for forgiveness he thinks he would forgive but one never really knows what you would do until you are in that situation. He said forgiveness is very hard work and is a “gift from God”. Since this workshop I have realized that I need to forgive but I also need to say sorry to a few people. This won’t be easy.

+ God can help us turn our pain into hope, our sorrows into joy. Despite our challenges in South Africa, we have much to be thankful for. Healing our land, our environment and our people is something real that can be achieved if we put our collective minds to it.

+ Healing is part of the life cycle – let’s start with all of us at our healing service today.

May God’s healing power be with you today and always.

AMEN

For more information see the Healing of Memories website: http://www.healingofmemories.co.za where you can also purchase copies of Redeeming the Past and the DVD for R200 in total. 

Martha&FatherMicheal

With Father Michael Lapsley in St Benedict’s Garden at the end of the workshop. The stole he is wearing was given to him by close friend Judge Albie Sachs who lost his arm in a car bomb assassination attempt in 1988 in Maputo. Judge Albie received the stole in Chile – it is made by mothers of the disappeared as part of their healing journey. Father Michael wears this stole at all Healing of Memories ceremonies in South Africa and throughout the world. 

References

Hanks, P. 1986. Collins Dictionary of the English Language. Glasgow: Collins.

Hart, R. O.F.M. CAP. 2003. Preachers as Risk Takers. Minnesota: the Liturgical Press.

Lapsley, M. SSM. 2012. Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. Cape Town: Struik International.

Healing of Memories Workshop attended 4-6 February 2014 St Benedict’s Retreat House, Johannesburg.

Discipleship is loving one another

Sermon 19 Jan 2014 – The First Disciples  – Isaiah 49:1-7; Ps 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

I greet you in the name of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

While reflecting on today’s topic of the First Disciples I tried to imagine what it must have been like for John the Baptist to witness the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Imagine how he could not wait to spread the good news – and how Andrew and then Simon Peter had such faith that they dropped everything to follow Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. This discipleship meant learning from the teacher not only about the scriptures and faith and how Jesus died to save us, but also how to love and care for others as a servant of God, and in so doing, inviting more disciples.

“Each One Teach One”

This multiplying effect was like one of the Mandela commemorations on TV. It started by interviewing someone who spoke of their experience with Mandela, then the person is framed in a picture, and then that person is joined by six others, then doubles and doubles until there is a sea of faces. This multiplying effect also reminds me of a slogan from the South African student movement in the 1980s: “Each One Teach One”.

So the first disciples followed that idea of Each One Teach One. From John, Andrew and Simon Peter the number of disciples grew to not only the 12 apostles but to hundreds of disciples and it says in Act 11:26 “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”. One of the most famous disciples was the apostle Paul who travelled far and wide in the Holy Lands, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy to spread Christianity and to advise Christians on issues they faced in the early church – issues still relevant 2000 years later. In today’s letter to the people living at Corinth, Paul encourages them – and also us as Christians today – that we do not lack any spiritual gifts in our discipleship. Jesus Christ will keep us strong to the end as God has faith in us and called us into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ. What is important is we share this gift we are so lucky to have – our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Don’t conceal your love

The Isaiah passage speaks about the coming of the Redeemer who is the light, and the importance of serving God including bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth.” (NIV Isaiah 49:6)

Today’s Psalm includes celebrating God’s wonders in our lives – too many to recount. It also is a prophecy about Jesus the Messiah and setting out the foundation of faith – sacrifice and the desire to do God’s will. Gifts and sacrifice cannot earn God’s forgiveness of sins – giving is a practice to show love for God – not to achieve the love of God. The psalm also talks about the importance of sharing God’s love with others and putting our full trust in the Lord. “I do not seal my lips… I do not hide your righteousness in my heart. I speak of your faithfulness and salvation …I do not conceal your love and your truth.” (NIV Psalm 40:10)

Ask to Pray Together

As Anglicans we must not be shy to profess our faith. On Friday, before taking my friend Mpho to Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital to see to a foot injury from broken glass in the grass he was cutting, I took a chance and asked if he would like to pray (even knowing he had left the church). He was at first wide-eyed but agreed and was so pleased. After fetching him and hearing the drama of the procedure during which he screamed as the doctor removed the glass deep in his heel, he said the whole time he was remembering my prayer that included guiding the medical staff! He is ok, by the way, and when I phoned him yesterday he had returned to the hospital to style the hair of the nurses in the ward!

So what does being a disciple mean for us at St Andrew’s. Are we ready to drop everything and follow Jesus? Do we put God first in our lives – on top of everything else? Can we openly pray for our friends and family and bring them along to church?

Being a disciple is about learning, believing and acting out in our lives what Jesus told us to do, and to tell the good news to others. In John 8:31 Jesus said “If you hold to my teachings you are really my disciples. (John 8:31). However, the most important part of being a disciple is to love one another. As Jesus said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Plan your journey

I was blessed to attend the planning session at St Andrew’s last Saturday led by Reverend Beverley. The idea was to refresh our vision while planning events for the year. What became clear was the huge amount of commitment among the members and the excitement at all the great ideas put forward. Rvd Beverley reminded us about the vision of the Anglican Johannesburg Diocese, which is our guide. The vision includes 5 pillars – Practising the Ministry of All Believers (which means all members are ministers), Lifelong Spiritual Formation and Growth, Visionary Servant Leadership whose example empowers others, Creating a Vibrant Christian Community, and undertaking Focused Outreach efforts. A major focus this year will be spiritual formation and growth. This will involve uplifting and informative courses and events so that we are nourished and strengthened in our faith, helping us to be stronger Christians and more committed disciples and servants. The events also include fun and fellowship as we need to get to know one another more so we can better care for each other. Our first event will be the Valentine’s Day Karaoke so start practicing in the shower!

Remember those who helped you 

One suggestion in a small group was to think about how we as individuals came to know God and people along our journey who made a difference, and why we joined St Andrew’s. This will help us to be better disciples and help others along their journey. I remembered when pregnant with my son Keorapetse (who is now 19) I had a calling to visit the church two blocks away from our house which was in Yeoville at the time. So I tottered along one Sunday morning and the people were so kind and welcoming that I joined St Aidan’s church and renewed my faith. Those wonderful disciples included Meirert, Marilyn, Martha and Edward, who are now members here at St Andrew’s. I am also so grateful to Diana and Alan Keartland. Diana even invited me to join her prayer group and for months Keorapetse was an honourary member, mostly feeding and sleeping as an infant as we prayed. So it was with great shock that I heard the sad news that Diana suffered a stroke and passed away on Friday. May her soul rest in peace and rise in glory, this great disciple and woman of faith.

In remembering great disciples, there are three things we can do going forward:

  • As believers in Jesus Christ, we can all be active ministers and disciples;
  • We can grow spiritually by reading the Bible, taking courses, and serving others;
  • Most importantly, we must love one another.

AMEN