Courage!

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There are times in life where we are called upon to stand up for truth or justice, or simply to challenge someone in our family or workplace. Sometimes, we back off from these situations because it seems too intimidating. It is at times like this that we need courage – courage that comes from God.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 tells the story of such a time:

  1. God commissions Jeremiah, with an amazing promise: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew [or chose] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
  2. Jeremiah responds with consternation (fear, anxiety, trepidation): “Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
  3. God responds with words of encouragement, to give Jeremiah courage: “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ … Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

This three-fold pattern – commission, consternation, courage – is often true in our lives.

We see it also in Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 3:21-22, Jesus is commissioned at his baptism, when God the Holy Spirit fills him and God the Father speaks words of affirmation. In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus experiences (arguably) consternation, when he is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. And in Luke 4:17-27, Jesus displays courage by proclaiming his ministry manifesto and speaking truth to the people in the synagogue. Specifically, Jesus challenges their assumption that Jesus had come just for them, and argues that God had come for the whole world.

But let us not be obnoxious! Sometimes Christians can be self-righteous, harsh, uncaring and rude in the way we stand up for truth. Let us, rather, be the embodiment of love. 1 Corinthians 13 makes it perfectly clear that anything that we do that is not infused with love is worthless.

When the time comes for us to stand up to power, to challenge someone, to confront injustice in the world, let us remember that we (like Jeremiah) are commissioned to be Christ’s ambassadors and to work for the values of the Kingdom (e.g., love, justice, human dignity, compassion, community). And despite feeling consternated or fearful, let us take courage from knowing that God is with us and we are empowered by Holy Spirit, and let us speak up.

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Created in love to love

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It all starts with love. In the beginning… what? In the beginning… God. But not a solitary God. No! A plural God, a triune God, a God in relationship with Godself. The three-in-one God.

We know little of God-as-God, because most everything we know of God is God-in-relationship-to-creation. Theologians refer to this God as the ‘economic trinity‘ – the active God engaging with the world that God had created. Just as who we are inside (our identify, our sense of self) is not equivalent to the person people encounter us to be at work or church, God’s actual self (which theologians call the ‘immanent trinity‘) is not equivalent to God as humanity encounters God.

So, what do we know about God as God, the immanent trinity? Not much! All we really know is that God was always three. Yet also one. God the Spirit and God the Word were already present with God the Parent “in the beginning”.

And while we know there have always been three persons (perhaps there are more than three, but God has revealed to us, so far, just three), these three persons are one being, one essence. I argue that LOVE is the most fundamental essential to the being of God. Relationship between the Parent, Word and Spirit that is so powerful, so intimate, so in tune with each other, so embracing, that the three are in fact one (what theologians call ‘perichoresis’).

Love. Love is the heart of God.

Image result for god love trinity

Those of you who are familiar with my work will hopefully recognise that this is the centre of my theology. It is, in theological terms, my ‘hermeneutic key’, that is, it is the key statement of faith by which I make meaning of everything else in my faith – my experience of God, of others and of myself, my reading of the Scriptures, my reflections on my thinking or reason, and my adoption (or rejection) of tradition. It is the cornerstone. Read chapter 3 of my book for a bit more on this, and if you’re inspired, read the whole book – Being God’s Beloved – online or buy the book.

Based on this, I suggest two small practical ways that we can give expression to this great example of love, ways that we can become the image of God by behaving like God:

  1. Being kind to those we meet in the course of our day, by smiling, greeting, showing interest to and asking after the strangers we pass during our daily lives. By seeing these people through the eyes of Christ – seeing them as Christ sees them.
  2. Loving the work that we do (whether that is paid employment, volunteer work or house work), by investing energy and effort in our work, treating this work as something that God has entrusted to us, as he entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam, to tend and care for.

If love is the heart of the triune God, and if we are created in God’s image, then we are most like God when we express love in all that we do.

We are created in love, to love.

Feature image from: https://www.christianity.com/god/trinity/god-in-three-persons-a-doctrine-we-barely-understand-11634405.html

Advent Mission

http://www.ccukailua.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/advent.jpg

Click here to listen to this 21-minutes message.

‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ and is the time we remember God’s first coming into the world in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as well as look forward to God’s second coming into the world when Christ returns to bring cosmic history to fulfillment (the second coming). Often, we think of Advent as a season in the Christian calendar – the four Sundays before Christmas. But let us rather think of it as a type of ministry or mission, which we see most fully expressed in the work of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-11).

This Advent Mission is particularly important in a world that seems to have gone made this year: in South Africa we experience profound loss of confidence in the integrity and ethics of our presidency; Trump was elected President of the USA, giving platform for racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and the exploitation of women; the Middle East continues to explode, with profound devastation in Aleppo, Syria; the president of the Philippines is promoting the unregulated execution of anyone involved in drugs; the president of South Korea has been impeached; the UK exited the EU; Europe is seeing a dramatic rise in right wing politics; HIV continues to threaten human development; and women continue to experience profound violence and degradation at the hands of patriarchal men. We live in an increasingly hate-filled world. More than ever, we are in need of Advent.

An Advent Mission means two main things:

  • First, we cultivate a vision for the cosmos that God envisaged at the time of creation and still envisages for one day in the future. This vision is expressed in wonderful poetry in Isaiah 35 and Psalm 146, and is shown in the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels. The Isaiah passage in particular contrasts the ecology of Israel (similar to the Karroo – beautiful but rather desolate) with that of Lebanon (similar to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastlines – lush and verdant).
  • Second, we root ourselves in the present world, living out our faith in ways that contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God, while we wait for God’s return. James 5 points to three key things we should do while wait:
    • We should be patient and persevere, continuing to journey forward, living out our faith, being faithful, and putting one foot in front of the other as we journey through life with God.
    • We should not grumble against others. That is, we should be kind, considerate and caring, particularly towards those who are different from us, especially in a world characterised increasingly by hatred and intolerance for those who are ‘other’.
    • We should be hopeful, that God will do what God has said, that he will return, that he will restore, that he will reconcile the whole cosmos together in union under the headship of Christ.

Cover image from: http://www.ccukailua.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/advent.jpg

Resurrection Church

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On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the disciples (excluding Judas and Thomas) in the upper room, where he showed them his wounded hands and feet. John describes this in John 20:19-23. This narrative is followed by the story of Jesus’ engagement with Thomas. And John ends the chapter with a reflection on his version of the Gospel – that he has selected from the numerous stories about Jesus these few, whose purpose it to facilitate our belief in Jesus, so that we may enjoy the fullness of Life.

John’s purpose in the John 20 narrative is to guide the church towards the end of the first century to be a resurrection church – a church that is centred on the risen Christ, empowered by Holy Spirit and focused on Christ’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation. But this is hard when you are 60 or more years away from the living Christ Jesus. Because of this distance in time (most of the eye witnesses had passed on) John’s message is of particular relevance for us who live two thousand years distant.

This is quite a long sermon for me and our parish – sorry about that! But I hope it moves quite briskly and provides some food for thought about a fascinating and rich passage in the Gospel narrative. To assist with the denseness of the message, I provided my congregation with a slip of paper with the nine points (yes, nine!) written down. Here they are:

  1. This is the start of Sunday worship for Christians – resurrection Sunday.
  2. Jesus’ body is still physical, but also transformed – it does not conform to the laws of nature.
  3. Christ stands in the middle of us, and is the centre focus of Christian life and worship.
  4. Jesus’ presence bring peace (Shalom) and is his central message.
  5. Jesus’ transformed body retains the wounds in his hands and side, and are assimilated into the triune Godhead at the ascension, so that there is now woundedness within the being of God.
  6. Jesus commissions his disciples (including us) to be his presence in the world – when people see us, they should see Christ.
  7. Jesus imparts Holy Spirit to us – we have Holy Spirit in us, not as power and gifts, but as the relational presence of God within us.
  8. We are given the ministry of forgiveness, which Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation.
  9. All of this culminates in a statement of faith – a creed – ‘My Lord and my God’.

When the World goes Mad

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Sometimes, the world seems to be going mad. On the morning of the day I preached this sermon, two terrorist attacks in Brussels left 31 or so people dead. IS claimed responsibility. Attacks like these, like the multiple attacks in Paris in 2015, make us afraid and want to withdraw from the world. Fear sets in. Muslims and Arabs seem dangerous. The world seems a threatening place.

In South Africa, we face increasingly racialised discourse, from all sides of the political and racial spectrum. Some people are calling for doing away with reconciliation and an increasing emphasis on racial identity and distinctiveness. These conversations elicit fear and uncertainty, prompting us to withdraw from each other into our safe comfort zones.

Jesus also experienced a world going mad. As religious leaders becoming increasingly threatened by him, his actions and his popularity, they set up traps to discredit and marginalise him. They plot to kill him. Indeed, they succeed in murdering him.

But through all this madness, Jesus does not withdraw, he is not cowed by fear, he does not avoid. Instead, Jesus continues to engage, to move towards, to step across boundaries. From where does he get this confidence in the face of considerable odds? He gets it from a confidence that his authority comes from heaven, from God. He knows that he is living out God’s will for him – to reconcile all things together within God’s family.

And so he remains steadfast. As we also need to remain steadfast. To not be cowed or afraid or marginalised. But to continue to live out the faith that we have inherited. A faith that hopes and trusts in a powerful God. A faith that engages and connects. A faith that steps across boundaries and embraces. A faith that loves.

Mark 11:27-33

Being God’s Beloved: Forty Days of Reflections on God’s Love

 

 

 

Dear Friends

I am delighted to tell you that you Being God’s Beloved has been published by Westbow and is available for sale. It pulls together, in printed form and with a lovely cover, the reflections that we shared together during Lent this year, and a set of discussion questions for use in a small group study. Many thanks to everyone who participated in the course during Lent and who shared the reflections with others. Thank you particularly to the parish of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Irene, for providing the space for me to exercise this ministry.

I do hope that you will purchase copies of the book for yourself and for friends and family. How great it would be to participate in spreading the message of God’s extravagant and generous love during this Christmas.

  • For those living outside of South Africa, I encourage you to purchase the book from Westbow publishers, by following this link. You can purchase the book in printed or digital (Kindle, etc) forms.
  • For those living in South Africa, I will be importing copies of the book over the next week or two and will be selling them directly to you, at significantly reduced cost. I encourage you to hold on until I send out another notification that I have the books in my possession and we can arrange distribution.

Love and blessings
Adrian

http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000965432/Being-Gods-Beloved.aspx

My heartfelt thanks to Louise Sparrow for painting the cover art and to Lynda Smith for the author photograph.

 

Being God’s Beloved: Day 40: The Spirit in Action

And so we come to the end of this journey. Or, rather, we come to the end of this stage of the journey. Our daily reflections have run their course and we now continue to journey forward into the world. My hope and prayer is that you have cultivated a greater, deeper and more secure sense of yourself as being God’s beloved. And that this empowers and motivates you to not only be God’s beloved but to live as God’s beloved. Holy Spirit breathes into us the power and love of God, and that breathe stirs our spirits to be the presence of God in the world. Imagine a world in which every Christian consciously and deliberately worked to be the love of God, to be Spirit in action. What a world that would be!

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Asked what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quotes the Great Commandment (which we discussed on Day 23). The second part of the Great Commandment is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The man asks, “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus proceeds to tell him story of the Good Samaritan.

A travelling man is assaulted and mugged by a band of robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and then a Levite, both people you’d think would be aligned with God’s values, pass by on the other side of the road, looking away. Then a Samaritan, who was not esteemed by Jewish people in those days, stops to help him, takes him to an inn on his own donkey and pays for him to stay there until he is well. Jesus implies that the Samaritan leaves before the man recovers, so there is no chance of being thanked.

Jesus asks, “Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The man of course had to respond, “The one who had mercy on him” – he could not bring himself to say, “It was the Samaritan.” And Jesus says, “God and do likewise.”

Jesus spends much of his ministry, in continuity with God’s self-revelation throughout the Old Testament, demonstrating that humanity is much loved by God. There are no conditions to God’s love – God loves us because God loves us. It is God’s delight and pleasure to love us, because we are God’s creation, because we are created in God’s image.

But God also desires us to be loving. It is part of God’s vision for humanity, part of God’s original design – that we would love and care for each other in community. And so Jesus calls us to love all those whom we meet, even those we’d rather pass by. God wants us to be like the Good Samaritan. God does not want us to be like Jonah, who had no love for the Ninevites. Jonah, in fact, throws God’s loving nature in God’s face, as he says, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah correctly understood the nature of God’s heart – that God loved the people of Nineveh and desired their salvation. But Jonah’s heart was not aligned with God’s heart – he could not love them. God does not want us to be like Jonah – God desires for our hearts to be aligned with God’s heart.

When we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, filled with the Love of God, how can that love not overflow to those around us? In the same way that God’s superabundance of love spills out into the creation of the cosmos, the abundance of God’s love in us, as we are filled with Spirit, should pour into our relationships, our work, our play, our church, our world.

Jesus speaks about this in John 7:37-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Knowing that people might ask, “What is this water?” John explains in the next verse, “By this he meant the Spirit.” When we drink up God’s love, we are filled with Holy Spirit, and Spirit then flows out from within us like a stream of living water.

In this way, we are called to be God’s presence in the world. Holy Spirit dwells within us, so wherever we are, God is also. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is no longer with us in the flesh, as he was some two thousand years ago. But wherever we are, God is, and God is there in our flesh. In effect, we are the body of Christ in that place. St Teresa of Avila, some 500 years ago, wrote about this in a beautiful prayer: [1]

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

On Day 16 we talked about what Christian love meant. Let me quote what I wrote then:

Christian love – that is, our love for others – is modelled on God’s love. Linda Woodhead has defined it as “an active desire for the well-being of the neighbour, and for communion with him or her, based on a recognition of the neighbour’s unique worth”.[2] Her definition is helpful, if challenging. Christian love is initiated by ourselves, and in this way unconditional – we choose to love because we choose to love, not because the person is love-worthy. We love because of the inherent worth of the other as one of God’s creatures, but we do not whitewash all people with the same inherent worth – a bland, faceless love for everyone. Rather, Christian love emphasises recognition of unique worth; that is, I extend myself to seek out particular aspects of that individual that are loveable and even likable. And it is two-way, seeking not only to express love at arm’s length, but also to establish relationship, communion, fellowship. And all of this is just the way God loves me and you and the other person.

This kind of love is transformative. It not the anaemic “I love everyone” that we sometimes say. This is a love, targeted not at the whole world, but at those in our immediate environment, which seeks to bring about authentic experience of human relationship. When we invest this kind of love in the way we do our work, the way we engage with those we encounter in our daily living, the way we relate to our families, and the way we relate to people at church then we will begin to see the Kingdom of God come. This is because the Kingdom of God is rooted in God’s most deeply cherished value, and that is Love.

We often pray the Lord’s Prayer, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is God’s will? The centre of God’s will is that we love God, love each other, love the world and love ourselves. This is what relationship is all about and this is what God created us for – to be in loving relationship with God (spirituality), others (sociology), the world (ecology) and ourselves (psychology). As we begin to invest our love in these four sets of relationships we begin to answer the Lord’s Prayer – God’s Kingdom does indeed come, because God’s Will is indeed done!

This sounds rather idyllic. You and I know that this does not happen easily. Love in the abstract is simple and clear. But love in the real world, in real relationships, in real workplaces and families and communities is not so simple. If love were simple and easy, we’d all be doing it! But in fact, there is a dearth of love in the world.

We cannot love like God in our own strength. We have to rely on the Spirit of God, the Love of God, to enable us to love. It is as we allow Spirit to fill us with God’s love that we something to offer. And it is as we hear Spirit’s call, recognise Spirit’s equipping, respond to Spirit’s prompting that we actually begin to not only be God’s beloved, but to actually live as God’s beloved. And this is God’s ultimate goal. This is the good life.

Meditation for the Day

Reflect back over the past 40 days. Perhaps scan through the table of contents. Identify those points that have most struck you, that you hope to take forward with you beyond today. Make a commitment to continue to journey in the love of God, to be God’s beloved and live as God’s beloved.

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Love, Son of God, Heavenly Father. Fill me today with an abundance of your divine love. Create opportunities for me to express your great love as I live my life today.

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[1] This is widely available on the internet. I got this from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml. There is also a wonderful sung version of this prayer by John Michael Talbot, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH8R0mmuH9U

[2] Woodhead, p. 56.