Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sermon notes

Isaiah 11:1-10  
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 
Romans 15:4-13   
Matthew 3:1-12

Almighty God. This week we heard the news of Tata Madiba’s passing. We know that no-one is immune to death, but this news has still moved us. It is in times of mourning that we are led to remember, to contemplate, to show and receive acts of compassion and comfort.
And so we remember the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and we give thanks for the gift of his life (Time of silence)
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of life
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of letting go of self
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of hope
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of striving for justice
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of tenaciously working for the realisation of equality, forgives and reconciliation in society
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) – sung
We pray for his loved ones, that they may know your peace and comfort. (Silence)
And so, too we contemplate our own lives
We pray Lord, that we will be moved by the testimony of your servants throughout the ages, but more so by the life of Christ
May our lives be a gift to others
Lord, hear our prayer
May we let go of self and accept more of Thee
Lord, hear our prayer
May our voices be filled with hope
Lord, hear our prayer
May our hands never tire of working for justice
Lord, hear our prayer
May our lives be a testimony to your call for equality, forgiveness and reconciliation
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We pray for the people of South Africa, that we may be united in our journey, bound together by your gifts of faith, hope and love.
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo
We thank you Lord, that for Nelson Mandela, the tribulations of this world are over and death is past. We commend him into Your hands of eternal love and comfort.
In Jesus name we pray.
When we were in Israel, we visited the Garden of Gethsemane. There, in the garden, stand olive trees that are close to two thousand years old. The only signs of their age is the visible portrayal of life and death, death and life intertwined. There are old, thick branches that have died. But where there is death, there is life, for the signs of renewal break through the old, dry wood and fresh saplings appear. At places you can see that this has happened numerous times, three, four, five layers of new life sprouting out of that which went before. To me, this picture encapsulated the image of resurrection – that death never has the final say. It spoke to me profoundly of the importance of hope – that there is never such a thing as finality or conclusion. God uses the gift of former lives to become the foundation for something new. I am sure you know where I am going with this. But before we get there, it would be important for us to remember something from the nation of Israel.
God continuously raises up leaders, prophets, priests and kings
When Abraham died (the father of the nation), God blessed Isaac, when Isaac died, he blessed Jacob, when Moses died, God blessed Joshua, when Elijah died, he blessed Elisha, when David died, he blessed Solomon. I can imagine that every time a giant in Israel’s history passed on, the people asked the question: “What now? – It will never be the same”. And yes, history tells us that things are never the same, but extraordinary people never close off their legacies in finality. In our nation, a giant has passed away. The olive branch has split open. Do not think for a moment that life has ceased. Here is an opportunity for new life to break through. God has blessed us with a tremendous person, a gift to humanity. The opportunity is there for us to continue the gift that God has placed in this man’s care. And what a tragedy it would be if we fail to heed the call to continue in this country God’s gift of striving for equality, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

But wait, there’s more!
And this is the story of Advent – there is more! This is not all there is to life. The story of advent is not the story of great people being raised up. Advent is the story of God’s promise that God is with us! It is not just the dream of the great ones among us for what can be. Advent is the story, the promise of what God dreams can be! And it is only possible in the presence of Christ, here in between us. Listen to the promise again as recorded by Isaiah! Out of all the legacies, breaks through a new branch – and He is unlike any other. He will work for justice, he will make sure there is peace, he will bring together those who thought that they were irreconcilable! If you want to see unity, then look no further! And the bonus is this: His Kingdom shall have no end! Isn;t this good news? Isn’t this something to hope for, to life for, to die for?

Friends, we need to get ready. The change happens through us, not to us. Repent! Turn around! Let us life for justice and life with integrity. Let us lose ourselves in striving for godliness. Let us seek the life for the downcast and not the bulging of our wallets. Repent! Let us speak truth in love, let us get our hands dirty and not folded in apathy. Let our minds be filled with thoughts of purity and not pollute it with the toxins of desire. Let us live and let us die for freedom, not only for the sake of our country, not only for the continuing of the legacy of Tata Madiba and other great people in history, not for the sake of our own self-preservation, but repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Okay, let me stick my neck out here... (and I do so with the utmost respect for my American friends and the deepest compassion for the friends I have not yet met in Syria)

I used to be bullied at school. Like many other children who have fallen prey to vindictive attitudes and actions, I have known my fair share of being pushed around, being called derogatory names and living in fear of crossing the paths of those who saw me as an easy opportunity to give expression to their inner frustrations.

At the time, I loved those Hollywood movies where victims stood up to their bullies and the bullies run away crying. It often took a quick karate lesson, a blow to the nose which restored equilibrium. I used to believe in that stuff - that the only way to get rid of a bully is to stomp them to the ground.

Then I heard about the allegations of a Syrian president bullying his own people. He used force to which they could not respond. He used his secret power in a mismatch of strength. They say that he wanted to send a message - that he and his government are in power. And like the bystanders who watched me trying to find composure, much of the world looks on, but says and does nothing.

Someone responded. Despite calls from the United Nations and other state authorities to wait and get all the facts straight (and to collectively respond to the situation), there are talks of a response to this alleged bully. This will be done by showing force, not too much, but just enough to get the message across of who is boss. This is what I read in the news:

"If we don't take a stand here today, I guarantee you, we are more likely to face far greater risks to our security and a far greater likelihood of conflict that demands our action in the future," Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee at a separate meeting on Wednesday. "Assad will read our silence, our unwillingness to act, as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity," Kerry said. (NEWS24)

The bully must be punched on the nose, it seems. If we don't hurt him, he will continue to hurt others. He needs to be shown that we are strong and that he is weak. But wait a minute, isn't that what Assad did to his own people (allegedly)?

I switched on the television and stumbled onto one of my least favourite news channels. Wolf Blitzer was interviewing a senator. I remember Wolf Blitzer covering the invasion of Baghdad in the early 90's. As a schoolboy, there was something gratifying about listening to this man describe how a bully was being beaten up. I have grown from there, and it seems, so has Mr Blitzer. He asked the senator a pointed question: "Why does America always have to get involved in these situations? Why not Europe? Why not the Arab states?" I wanted to extend the questions to "Why does America not get involved in Zimbabwe? Swaziland?" Why no regime change there? Does Mr Obama really think that the rest of the world sees America as their big brother - the one who will sort out all our bullies? If so, then there is a complete misreading of international perception. Of course there are the conspiracy theories that state that it is in fact all about oil, that governments are not concerned about morals or justice, but only about interests. There may be some truth in this, but I am open to the idea that the powers are more clever than that.

This leads me to the question: How does one deal with bullies? A shot on the nose might of course work, but where does it end? Assad gets a hiding and then the States are seen as the bullies...there is retaliation and a resolve to punch this bully on the nose and in turn people are labelled again and pursued until they run off with a bloody nose. The cycle goes on and on and on. This is not a solution. Showing who is boss, who has more power does not shift people to calm sobriety. It may subdue them, but inside they boil will vengeance. Ask any victim of bullying. They anticipate the day when they will have the guts, the power and the means to stand up and kick the bully in the unmentionables.

Let's move on. So, over supper last night, our 9 year-old son spoke some words of wisdom. It is his birthday next week (on the 11th of September(!!!)). Out of the blue, he said: "Dad, I want to invite the bullies from my school to my birthday party. If I am friendly to them, perhaps they will become my friends". My jaw dropped to the ground. In effect he was saying that by inviting these bullies to his party, they will be forced to face their own aggression, hypocrisy and attitudes towards him. They will be coming to HIS party where they cannot bully or intimidate, but are received as guests and will be showered with hospitality, not intending for this hospitality to shame them, but to restore the equilibrium. The tables will be turned. But at the same time, there are no guarantees of this being a long-lasting solution.

Of course I am not suggesting that Mr Obama should throw a party for Mr Assad. But my son's words reawakened in me the sense that there are ways beyond violence that calls for accountability, justice and non-violent restoration of relationships. As my dad always says: "With violence, you break your finger off in your nose". I know it's crude, but I think it displays the pointless nature of violence.

Congress will be meeting over the next week to decide on a course of action. I hope that they will find creative, innovative and wise words to help bring back equilibrium in a nation which has had its fair share of bullying.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The brave tree - an Easter Story

There was a time when trees ran around; when they had no leaves and did not bear any fruit. Birds also made their nests on the ground. And everyone thought that this was the way things were meant to be.

Summer, autumn, winter, spring; the trees would play outside. They did not care too much about anything or anyone but themselves; as long as they felt happy and did things that made them laugh. There was one tree, though, who was very careful where he stepped, not wanting to accidentally kick a nest or step on a mother-bird’s eggs. In fact, he loved the birds so much that he would spend hours in the field talking with the birds and helping them build their nests where the other trees would not damage them when they played. The other trees teased him and they told him to stop what he was doing and to play their games. They said, “This is the way things were meant to be”.

One day, the sky grew dark. The clouds became thick and grey. A storm was coming! The wind picked up and the trees knew that this was going to be a storm like no other. They became scared and decided to run away. But not our loving tree. He was too worried about what would happen to the birds and their nests. So, instead of heading for a safer place, the tree turned around and rushed to the field, where all the birds were trying to hide.

“What are you doing?” the other trees asked.
“I have to save the birds!”, the tree shouted back.
“Leave them alone! Save yourself! This is the way things are meant to be!”

But the tree didn’t listen to them. He knew beter.

By now the wind was blowing stronger and stronger with every gust.

He stood on a hill where all the birds could see him, stretched out his branches and shouted, “Come, little birds! Come hide in my branches! Come here if you are scared, come here if you are tired!”

The birds started flocking together. The woodpeckers quickly pecked holes in his branches for the birds to hide in. Although it was sore, the tree didn’t mind. He knew it would make them safe.

For hours the storm raged and the tree stood firm. The water flowed and covered his feet with mud, burying them deep in the soil. Eventually the storm subsided. The other trees came back and found the tree still standing and holding all the birds in his branches. He didn’t move.

“Is he dead?” they asked.

A few days passed, and the tree didn’t move or make a sound.

But then, one glorious morning, when the trees came to see what was happening to this brave tree, they found something strange going on. He had these funny green knobs growing on his branches. The birds were still sitting in his branches. More than that, there were little blossoms. And then the tree opened his eyes.

“This is how things are meant to be!” He said. His feet had become roots and drank up all the water and nutrients from the soil that covered them. It gave him life and made him beautiful like no other tree.

It did not take long for the other trees to recognize his beauty and so they decided to become like him. They followed in his footsteps and whenever a tree planted his or her feet in the soil and opened up their branches to welcome little birds, they started growing green leaves and beautiful fruit, just like the tree who stood bravely in that storm.

Now, there is something about this story that reminds me of Easter. When I look at the cross, it looks like arms stretched open. It is as if Jesus is saying to me: “Come, let the children come. If you are thirsty, come. If you are scared, come, I will keep you safe”. It also reminds me that if I should follow in Jesus’ footsteps, Jesus promised that my life would start bearing fruit – showing the signs of His Kingdom.