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

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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

Do It Yourself – a cheap way to have fun and get fit

Ditch the magazines and self-help books. Do It Yourself (DIY) is a great way to feel great and empowered – and it saves money too! Over the festive season I had a ball becoming Ms Fix-it around the house, reminding me of my childhood.  We (all six of us kids) learned how to get things done “tickety boo” not forgetting to trim the edges of the lawn, fix a bike or clean up spilt paint, under the watchful eye of Mom, the original Mrs Fix-it.

Getting back to my roots, I thought of some tips to share:

1.      Make a Wish list. Walk around and jot down your wish list of things – big and small – that need fixing. (You can ask house or flat-mates for suggestions but only if they are going to help out!)

2.      “Look before you leap”. Before you dash off to your nearest hardware, check all the supplies you have in your storeroom. I discovered 11 tins of paint, primer, remover etc. half a bag of pollyfilla AFTER going to the paint store. Luckily I could exchange what I bought.

3.      “Don’t be a smarty pants”. Just because you know the difference between acrylic and varnish doesn’t mean you don’t have to read instructions. I mean REALLY read them. Busy bee thought the directions said 2.5:1 water to pollyfilla when it was the reverse and I had a huge bucket of sludgy water!

4.      “Waste not, want not.” OK I would not have chosen the Salmon Pink but it was in the storeroom and so I used it to paint the front wall. (see pic) That saved me over R400.

5.      “Keep well the road”. Make friends with your hardware or paint store and ask for advice and even a discount. They LOVE giving advice. Doesn’t mean you should not get other opinions or shop around.  

6.      “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Pace yourself. Do one task at a time and take breaks. Don’t paint from dawn til dusk. I am nursing a strained and swollen hand as a result. Try to do some small jobs between bigger ones to get some quick victories.

7.      Use, or borrow the right equipment. Don’t paint a huge wall with a little brush. “Don’t you want to use a roller?” my friendly neighbour called over. Good point.

8.      Involve your family. It is a great way to share skills, bond, get fit and save money all at the same time.

9.      Celebrate small and big victories. Take a pic before and after. Thank everyone involved, ESPECIALLY YOURSELF!

10.  Tick one more item off your to-do list. Well done! You can do it!painting

14 Reasons to be Hopeful for 2014

Image

  1. The public outpouring for Madiba and his legacy shows love, goodness and hope can conquer anything
  2. There are more people believing than ever before (religions, causes, doing good)
  3. The peace movement is growing
  4. The environmental movement is growing
  5. Young people are questioning, inventing, solving and challenging more
  6. Many worthy causes are successfully using social media to educate, inform and activate
  7. Civil society and people in general are speaking out more against injustice
  8. The union movement is producing great leadership and independence
  9. The media, the judiciary and the public protector remain independent (often with a fight)
  10. There have been a number of massive crime and corruption busts
  11. The rate of new HIV infections is declining
  12. The Soccer World Cup in Brazil has the power to unite the world again like 2010
  13. South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with the best climate
  14. The Pope is progressive!

Happy New Year and God bless you and your families! 

Hope for World AIDS Day and Start of Lent

Sermon 1 Dec 2013 – ADVENT, World AIDS Day, HOPE

Isaiah 2:1-5; Ps 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24: 36-44

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

Today is a special day for 3 reasons – all related to our theme of HOPE.

1. It is the first Sunday in Advent;

2. it is World AIDS Day; and

3. AND (PAUSE) – we are officially (in my home anyway) allowed to put up Christmas decorations!

With this first Sunday in Advent, we begin the journey of hope and expectation, as we patiently wait, day by day, until the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate symbol of our faith. Every year we listen to the stories retold over and over of Mary, the angel Gabriel, Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the wise men, the shepherds, and finally the miracle of our savior being born bringing our hopes and dreams to life. Christmas carols last night at Bedford Centre reminded me of the many fun rituals and activities we do on this journey of hope and renewal of our faith.

You may be surprised but World AIDS Day is also a time for hope. December 1st is commemorated around the world to recommit ourselves to supporting all those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS; to remember those who passed away, and to push for programmes to prevent, manage and find a cure for the disease that has been one of our biggest challenges in Southern Africa. Thanks to the care givers, doctors, nurses, scientists, activists and people living with AIDS – who never gave up HOPE, they campaigned for access to Anti Retroviral Therapy for babies and adults. This has saved millions of lives in South Africa alone. While only 66% of those in need have access to these life-saving drugs, the turnaround in the Dept of Health in the past few years has been remarkable and HOPEFUL. We still need to talk more and do more in spreading awareness and support, especially for the 1.5 million orphaned and vulnerable children in SA alone, but for the first time there is a decline in the numbers of people getting infected – including the age group 18-25 years old. There IS HOPE.

Like there is hope when we set off on a journey or pilgrimage which is mentioned in our first reading and our psalm. A pilgrimage is a special journey to a shrine or sacred place as an act of religious devotion. A pilgrimage can also be a journey or long search made for exalted or sentimental reasons.

The passage from Isaiah says “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” and “let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Today’s Psalm 122 is called “The joy and petition of a pilgrim” or “A pilgrimage song of David”. It celebrates the pilgrimage to the house of Yahweh – Jerusalem. This original Hebrew focus has been adapted by Christians to symbolize our own pilgrimage of hope and faith in finding salvation and our own Jerusalem. They say this Psalm was one of St Augustine’s favourites as he loved any excuse for a pilgrimage to a holy place and use to drop everything and say to his fellow monks “Let’s Go!”

Our second reading is a bit more sobering as Paul gives the Romans – and us – a wake-up call. Life is not only about fun. We must pay attention and wake up from our slumber as “salvation is nearer than we first believed.” (Romans 13: 11b NIV) Paul says we must put aside sin and the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light and clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ who will guide and protect us. So in this time of parties and holidays, eating and drinking, let us be a bit careful and pay attention to what we are doing and remember prayer, spreading hope and doing good deeds.

Our gospel reading in Matthew reminds us to keep watch and pay attention for the Coming of our Saviour. Our advent pilgrimage is about being prepared and being aware so that we are ready to serve Him in all circumstances as He may return at any moment.

Everything today is really about HOPE and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what difficulties we face in life, there is always hope because we are clothed by Jesus Christ and wear His armor.

I would like to make a challenge that during this time of advent we find something hopeful each and every day and then do something to spread the message of hope. There are so many stories of hope – it is just so often we are overwhelmed and distracted by the bad news and negativity.

Hope is central to our faith as Christians and in all the major religions. It is the centre pillar in FAITH HOPE AND LOVE.

In rising to the challenge, I have two stories of hope.  On Friday night at a local hotel, friends of Rebecca, a 19-year-old living with leukemia – organized and hosted a fundraising event called Bash for Becka. Bands, musicians and DJs donated their time, young and old packed the hotel to support her search for matching bone marrow. Many who could not attend made online donations – even nationally and internationally . It was truly a community event full of fun and hope. In an email sent last night to thank guests, an organiser wrote: “We may believe we live in a world of self interest and greed, but the “Bash for ‘Becca” and the generosity of friends and strangers shows there are many who understand what humanity should stand up for.”

Another story of hope is yesterday I heard an interview on the radio with 17-year-old Noluthando Mathe who is in Grade 11 and won the Step Up Let’s Lead Award recognizing her volunteer work with young people. She humbly spoke about her hope for South Africa and what we can all do to support community upliftment – she herself does maths tutoring, runs a feeding scheme and teaches traditional dancing to teens – all in her spare time. Her attitude and actions have in turn given so many young people hope – and I was also inspired and renewed with hope.

There are three things we can take away today that will help us in the week ahead:

  1. We can use this advent to embark on our own personal pilgrimage to deepen our faith as we “walk in the light of the Lord” clothed in Jesus Christ.
  2. While enjoying a much needed holiday, we also need to pay attention so that we don’t miss the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Let’s each commit to finding a story of hope every day – and spreading this good news to as many people as possible. Yes, you can even use facebook and twitter!

We can start today. As St Augustine said before embarking on a pilgrimage: “Let’s Go”

Enjoy the ride and may God bless you and your family this advent! AMEN!