Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another challenge from Barth

“What causes conflict in the Church? We are told here that it arises because in the Church there emerge people with the best intentions and Christian zeal who no longer understand aright the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in its unique redeeming power, who even fear and hate it and who extol and demand in its place or alongside it (as if anything could stand alongside it!) fulfiment of the Law as the condition for the salvation of man. This means tempting God and leading men astray and overthrowing their souls.” Barth

No sermon this week, but something else to think about. If you are wondering why Barth features so often in this blog, then here is the answer: I read a hang-of-a-lot of and by this guy. My thesis is on his ecclesiology and so, you can imagine where I spend my spare-time.

The more you read Barth, the more you appreciate his perspectives. I often wonder whether those who don't like him actually read anything written by him...(Certainly not you Dion, at least you read).

I am busy chewing on this, especially in the light of different opinions passionately raised and defended concerning the church's attitude towards homosexuality.

Blessings to all.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Numbers 21:4-9
Eph. 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

I find the Numbers passage extremely hard to understand. Many explanations have been offered, but none of them have for me adequately justified this picture of God who sends snakes to bite people who grumble and complain, and then further gives them an opportunity to be healed, only if they do what He says – and look at the bronze snake.

This does not mean that, because we find this passage hard to comprehend, we have a sufficient reason to ignore it. The question that confronts me in this passage is this: What does God need to do in my life to get my attention? Please understand that I do not think that if I continuously fail to hear God calling my name that God would get so fed up, that God would send snakes to bite me and force me to look at the reality of God’s presence in my life. This question, a sobering one at that, the same one that confronted the Israelites of old, confronts us today. What does God have to do to get your attention, my attention, our attention?

Perhaps this is the first time that we think about this question totally unaware that God may have expressed an intention for a close relationship with us, but we simply failed to hear, or worse, passionately denied the possibility of God forming an intimate part of our existence. So, what has God done so far to get your attention?

1. God decided that we are worth it, before we could ever prove it.

“For God so loved the world…”. It doesn’t say “For God so loved the Christians…” or “For God so loved those who were obedient…” or “…those who give a lot towards ministry”. Put in your own words. If it did, we would be in serious trouble. Sadly, many Christian communities do add a footnote when proclaiming this word. “God is only interested in you if…”, “Only when you do x, will you witness God’s faithfulness to you.” You know what I mean and you can possibly site a few examples. If this were true, then the question that we are discussing would have to be rephrased to “What do you have to do to get God’s attention?”. This is not the Christian message. What is the Christian message? God has chosen that we are worth pursuing a relationship with. This word has been revealed through the incarnation and is the essence of the message proclaimed by Jesus and others. Does that get your attention, that God loves you –right where you are, who you are, even in the light of your history with God, others and yourself?

2. God acted on God’s love and has become our Saviour.

“…that He sent His only Son…”. Instead of sending snakes, He sent His Son. Very Good News indeed. Take note: “…not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him might be saved”. We encounter Jesus daily, bumping into God who came to tell us that we are loved. The recurring response to God revealing Godself is often denial, rejection, sometimes even suggesting that what is revealed is blasphemy. The Pharisees and Sadducees were good people, but good people who responded to Jesus, suggesting that Jesus didn’t look like their picture of the Messiah. Those who screamed for the release of Barabbas were people like you and me, who would rather have the familiar than a person who constantly challenges perspectives. He still did not give up. Everyone contributed towards His death. Even those closest to Him did not stand up for His defence, but hid in the shadows. Testimony of His patience with us is in the empty tomb. Testimony of His faithfulness is in His appearance to the disciples, showing His hands, feet and side to Thomas. What must He do to get your attention?

3. God changes lives.

“…that they may not perish, but have eternal life.”. What is this changed life? It certainly is not a life without trouble. Neither is it a life of financial prosperity, offered to those who see themselves as ‘Friends of God’. Eternal life, a changed life, is a life that is lived with the knowledge and assurance that the creator of the universe is interested in you. Living with this assurance cannot leave a person being unchanged, unmoved, clueless. It is the knowledge that God is not interested in being my friend, my business-partner, my consultant, but that He is interested in being my Lord. His Lordship has all the other qualities as added benefits.

So, God has chosen to love, God has acted on that love and is presently working towards creating a full and meaningful life in each of us. Does God have your attention? Now, listen to what He has to say.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Overturning some tables

Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

I thought I was being clever. I gave up my second cup of coffee for Lent. This meant that I could have my first cup early in the morning to give me a kick-start to my day. On arriving at the office, I would skip my second cup and go straight to my third cup, fourth cup and perhaps even a fifth. I never even missed my second cup. It isn’t rare at all to find examples on how we are able to rationalise our commitment (or lack thereof) to God, neighbour or self. These three passages have forced me to rethink the level of my (and others’) commitment to this way of living, which is called the Christian journey.

1. Rethinking the 10 Commandments.

When last have you tried to name all 10 Commandments in order? Perhaps we don’t view them as that essential to our faith anymore and have conveniently forgotten them. I like Barrett Renfro’s comments on the 10 Commandments (Disciplines 2006). He reminds us that the 10 Commandments should not be read in a negative way – perceiving them to be a list of “what not to do”. These laws are meant in a positive manner, encouraging life to be filled with meaning. Actions against these laws seem to bring about destruction, not only in the offender’s life, but also in the lives of those whom this sin affects. If we reversed the 10 Commandments, it would lead us to be a very dysfunctional community. Read it like this:

1. You can have all the gods you need to secure your future.
2. You can make idols of anything that exists anywhere, and you can worship them as your gods.
3. You can curse God.
4. You can work seven days a week because economics is the meaning of life.
5. You cannot respect your parents or elders because they are old and know nothing about your life.
6. You can kill.
7. You can have sexual relations with anyone you please.
8. You can take as your own anything you want.
9. You can lie anytime you choose.
10. You can desire anything your neighbour has for your own.

Think about what the 10 Commandments have to say to: Those who killed a little girl last week, robbers, hi-jackers, Jacob Zuma, the South African Government in its approach to HIV/AIDS, those who take their office-pens, able-bodied persons parking in disabled parking-zones. It seems to speak to all of us to a greater-or-lesser degree.

Jesus overturned some tables in my life – the tables where I thought that I had it figured out and that nothing in the Bible could make me think about how I negotiate my own righteousness.

2. Rethinking God’s Wisdom.

Read the 1 Corinthians passage again. It places a focus on God’s wisdom and the role it plays in our lives. What do we measure as wisdom in this life? Is it the ability to predict events, to identify patterns that occur in our daily existence and so counter any problems that may present themselves before they actually realise? Is wisdom “thinking ahead”?

I find that life is a bit more complex than that. Life is spontaneous. The good and the bad occur in such a random order that it is impossible to gain any measure of human wisdom that will leave us totally unscathed by life’s happenings. The ability to be shocked by human behaviour, by tragedy, the ability to be surprised by joyful events, are all indications that we experience life, not as a predictable passing of consciousness, but as travellers on what is sometimes a very irrational-, illogical- and perhaps, a confusing- pilgrimage.

This puts a different perspective on how dependant we are on God. The Good News is that God’s wisdom is not confined to space, time or experience. But this leaves God in a place separated from our daily existence and unable to empathise. This is countered through the Incarnation as well as Pentecost – where God journeys with us, and is able to empathise and to encourage us in times when we need wisdom most.

Some more tables are overturned – the tables where I thought that I don’t need God and can do things on my own.

So we are continuously invited and reminded during this Lenten time, that faith carries a cost. It is the recognition that we are not perfect. It is the cost of turning away from sin and to return to Christ. Sometimes we need tables to be overturned, even when we thought that those tables were fulfilling a useful function to the Kingdom.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rainbows in the sky

Genesis 9:8-17

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

It is sometimes a hair-raising experience to stop what you are doing
and to listen to what you say in the course of general conversation. I
was extremely surprised and ashamed to find how my conversations with
my son tend to include words of condition. My son, Matthew, would ask
for a sweet and I would respond with the words: “Only if you eat all
your food”. He would ask to jump on his baby trampoline and I would
respond with “Only when you have finished putting away all your other
toys.” Of course Matthew needs to learn that sweets come after a meal
and that personal tidiness is essential in the running of a household,
but as I reflected on these passages I could only but thank God for
not being as conditional is His conversation with me (us) as what I am
when in conversation with others. Let us look at a couple of things
that God says in these passages:

“This is my Beloved Son whom I love, listen to him”

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear these words spoken about you? Perhaps it
needs to be rephrased to mention “Daughters” as well. A word of
affirmation is always welcome. It tells you that there is someone
besides yourself that recognises you as a person. The Zulu greeting
“Sawubona” is exactly that – it means “I see you”. Can God ever say
that about you and me, that we are God’s beloved children? Peter makes
it known that Jesus didn’t live aimlessly, but that through Jesus we
are drawn into this kind of relationship with God. Can you remember
your baptism or confirmation? Can you remember the last time you took
part in a service celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion? Did you
feel close to God then? These are all wonderful opportunities where
through symbolism we are reminded that even before we can impress God
or people around us, God had already acted displaying God’s love for

“Repent and believe”

There is a great temptation in the Christian life to live under the
banner of either one of these commands. If we live under the shadow of
continuous repentance, we may loose out on the joys of life, which God
blesses us with. Yes, we need to recognize our sin and we need to turn
around from our evil ways, but the statement does not end with
“Repent”. There is the invitation to be convinced of forgiveness and
of healing. “Believe” shares the idea that we can be convinced of a
restored relationship with God. “Believe” without “Repent” is also a
common mistake in Christian walks. This is the place where we are so
convinced that we are right with God, that we do not need to repent
from anything. Get the balance right.

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds”

The Covenant that God shares with Noah and the rest of the survivors
is totally unconditional. It is not dependant upon human initiative,
or even human obedience! So, God does not say to Noah “I promise not
to destroy the earth if….”, but in the Covenant, the foundation is
laid for a free response of faith to this gracious word.

Whether this story happened as told in Genesis is up for debate, but
this picture helps me a lot (taken from The Interpreter’s Bible): The
Hebrew word for bow was always associated with the use of a weapon. It
was understood that lightning is God’s arrows shot from God’s bow.
When God is satisfied with human behaviour, God will lay His bow
aside. It may be interpreted that the rainbow is God’s bow laid aside.
It is a token, a sign of peace. It proclaims the message of God’s
willingness to be in a reconciled relationship with us. God does not
want war, nor does God want to punish or enter into the realm of
revenge. The message, even in this symbolism is clear: God takes the
first steps to love.

So I am challenged again. God loves my and makes that known. God
yearns for my life to be filled with righteousness and therefore I
have to repent. I have the assurance that God hears my prayers and
that God truly forgives and restores. The Covenant is not only in
place, it is functional.

Now I need to get back to my son and hope that I can show the same
amount of grace.</fontfamily>