Love & Justice

Click here to listen the audio recording of this 12-minute message. Or watch the YouTube video below, or read the text summary after that.

Even though I emphasise God’s love as the central essence of God’s being, we see God behaving in angry, wrathful and violent ways. How are we to make sense of this? This message defines justice as follows

Justice is God’s love working to protect those who are vulnerable

As much as God stands up against those who harm God’s loved-ones, God also reaches out a hand of reconciliation, rooted in repentance and contrition. And God desires reconciliation between people, rooted in forgiveness. We call this restorative justice – love and justice.

Featured image adapted from https://metro.co.uk/2015/03/05/this-is-the-real-reason-why-people-shake-hands-5089999/

Betraying Jesus

Click here to listen to this 6-minute message. Or watch the video below. Or read the brief summary below the video.

As we move through the days of Holy Week, the set readings become increasingly somber and serious. We are progressing closer and closer towards Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Today’s reading is John 13:21-32, which tells of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas. In verse 21, John writes,

Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me”.

The disciples immediately say to each other, “Surely not I! Who could he be referring to?” Jesus says,

“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”

He dips the bread into a dish and hands it to Judas. I imagine Judas, who was indeed planning to betray Jesus, looking at the piece of dipped bread in Jesus’ hand and wondering what to do. I imagine his thoughts racing, prevaricating – do I or don’t I?

He takes the bread from Jesus and eats it. I chooses betrayal. And so, Jesus’ path to the cross is set in motion.

This passage challenges us to recognise that each of us is also complicit in Jesus’ betrayal. Judas acts on behalf of me and of you. Our sin does not have a be dramatic or public; it can include the little things that we do and also the things we neglect to do. We each have helped pave the way to the cross.

We are thus called to repentance during these days of Lent and particularly over the coming few days. Let us pray Psalm 51:

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Featured image from https://www.vegkitchen.com/

Humility

Click here to listen to this 11-minute message.

God calls us to humility – in our relationship with God, and in our relationship with other people.

Luke 18:9-14 gives us the parable of the pharisee and tax collector, both at prayer.

  1. The pharisee – a person who was devout, religious, righteous, obedient to God’s laws – stands and prays loudly about how wonderful he is and thanks God for not making him like those ‘other’ people (explicitly mentioning the tax collector). Jesus says that this person will not be justified before God, and that people like that, who exalt themselves, will be humbled.
  2. The tax collector – a person who was regarded as dishonest, extortionist and reprehensible, and who Jesus often refers to when talking about sinful people – hides away in a corner, cannot look up towards heaven and can pray only, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Jesus says that this person will go home justified before God, and that a humble person like this will be exalted.

Clearly, God calls us to humility – both in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people.

Of course, this ‘humility’ is not about self-denigration or having a poor self-esteem or negative self-image. Paul says clearly in Romans 12:3 that humility is about assessing our strengths and weaknesses honestly and accurately: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

In our other reading for today – Hosea 5:13-6:6 – there is a dialogue between God and Israel:

  1. God observes that when Israel was in need, instead of turning to God, they turned for help to people who did not know God. Therefore, God sent suffering to them, to help them admit their guilt (i.e. to humble them) and until they sincerely sought God’s face.
  2. Israel then reflects that the suffering they have experienced is justified, and that despite God’s anger towards them, God will nevertheless heal them and bind up their wounds. They long to be revived and restored and to live in God’s presence. Twice they say, “Let us acknowledge God” – that word ‘acknowledge’ in Hebrew means ‘to know’ (as in knowing  a fact), but also as in knowing or discerning something not obvious (such as the truth of someone’s intentions), and is used as a euphemism for sex (as in, Adam knew Eve and she fell pregnant). Israel desires to be humble before God and to truly and intimately know God.
  3. God, the exasperated parent, responds positively. God reminds them that God’s desire is for mercy (hesed, meaning steadfast love and compassion) and acknowledgement (that ‘knowing’ word again), far more than empty religion (sacrifices and burned offerings).

Clearly, God calls us to humility – both in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people.

2019.03.30_Kneeling-in-Prayer_Rippelmeyer

Feature image ‘Kneeling in Prayer‘ by Nadine Rippelmeyer (2006)

Persevere in Faith

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 20 minute sermon.

Sometimes our faith flags – God seems absent, silent, unresponsive; our hearts feel dry and dusty; we are thirsty, but barely know we’re thirsty. Sometimes the world around us presses in and squashes our faith – the demands are so great, so burdensome, that it is hard to remain connected to God. Sometimes people say things or we witness or experience things that shake our confidence in God – how could a good God allow these things to happen, how can a rational person believe in God?

All of us experience ups and downs in our faith journeys. We are, though, encouraged to persevere in our faith through the dry times, in the hope that better days will come. Today, here in Pretoria, South Africa, we are experiencing our first real rain after the long dry winter. What a blessing when the rains finally come! The ground sucks it up and brings new life. What a blessing it is when God’s Spirit falls afresh on us after a period of drought!

This sermon speaks about persevering in faith – about hanging on to God, about clinging to the Word of God, about staying in touch with other Christians. It is about continuing to walk in faith, even if not in feelings or experience, praying that God will rekindle our faith, restore our hope, bring the fresh rains.

It draws on four readings:

  • Luke 18:1-8 – “Always pray and never give up”
  • 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 – “Continue in what you have learned”
  • Jeremiah 31:27-34 – “God’s Law is written on our hearts”
  • Psalm 119:97-105 – “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet”

Love, peace and fresh rains
Adrian

Tithing

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 25 minute sermon.

Money is a touchy subject for many Christians and particularly in some Christian denominations. In our church, our giving is extremely private – our financial contributions are known only to ourselves and one other person (the dedicated giving recorder, who keeps a record of monies received). So discussing money is sensitive.

In this sermon I map out four principles of money matters in the church, on the premise that our thinking about money is in need of transformation. Paul says that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can test and approve God’s will. Finance is an area in need of transformative, sanctified thinking.

  • The first two principles speak to how we think about our own money:
    • Everything we have belongs to God
    • God has entrusted everything to our care and for our use.
  • The second two principles speak to how we think about giving:
    • Our giving should be in proportion to what we have
    • Our giving should emanate from our confidence in God’s trustworthiness

I advocate a particular position on the ten percent tithe that not everyone will agree with. As it is, tithing is hotly debated in the church. I think that my position is aligned with Jesus’ approach to Old Testament Law. Listen and see what you think.

When all is said and done, we have a unique opportunity to participate with God in God’s great work in the world. One of the ways of participating is through our financial giving. What a privilege to partner with God in the work of bringing into being God’s Kingdom on earth!

Love and peace
Adrian

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ (according to Mark)

Pietà, by Giovanni Bellini (1505)

Click here to listen to the podcast of the Passion of Jesus Christ, according to St Mark.

Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) climaxes today (Good Friday) as we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. It is the high point, or perhaps more accurately, the low point of the Christian year, because it is through Christ’s death that God’s works God’s ultimate act of salvation and redemption. It is also the day when our hearts break, because it is we ourselves who put Jesus there.

It is tradition in the Anglican church to read the whole passion narrative on Palm Sunday, and this post links to a recording of that reading that I did in 2012. It is taken from J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament, a translation (actually, a paraphrase) that I find fresh and beautiful. It is the whole of Mark 14 and 15, starting with the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and ending with Jesus’ burial – 22 minutes of recording (click here).

I am also uploading a reflection on Holy Week that I prepared a couple of years ago, but have not previously shared here. Particularly for those who do not observe Holy Week, I hope that this may give you new and helpful insights into this important period in the life of the Christian. It is a written document, which you can download by clicking here.

My prayer is that over these last days of Lent, we will rediscover the meaning of Christ’s death for ourselves and for the world, that we will mourn and repent, and that we will experience new life with Christ in his resurrection on Sunday.

Love and blessings
Adrian

The Path of Jesus – A Path of Martyrdom & Death?

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 20-minute sermon.

On his way to the cross, Jesus said that we must hate our life in this world, that like a grain of wheat we must die, and that we must follow him on his journey to the cross (John 12:20-26). This seems to set us up for a path of martyrdom and death, a dark and twisted path. This was a path that many Christians in the early church followed – we read, for example, Ignatius of Antioche pleading with the Church of Rome in about AD107 to not save him from being martyred, eulogising and glorifying the path of suffering and death as the path mapped out by Christ and as the only means of his salvation.

If ‘the path of Jesus’ is a path of martyrdom and death, and if we are called to walk in his footsteps, then we too must become martyrs. Over the centuries this path has been used, for example, to exhort women to remain submissive in abusive marriages – they have the opportunity to suffer as Christ did, they have been told by Christians, and to do so without a word as Christ did. Is this really the path of Christ? Is this really what it means to walk in his footsteps?

All this raises fundamental and, to be honest, rather scary questions about God’s salvation plan: Did Jesus come into the world in order to die? Was it God’s intention – God’s desire – that Jesus should die? Was it always God’s plan that Jesus would die? Could salvation be found nowhere but through Christ’s death? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then we indeed have a dark message of salvation. And Christian discipleship is itself a dark path.

But in this sermon I want to suggest a different way of thinking about God’s intentions and desires. A different way of thinking about the place of Jesus’ death in God’s masterplan for the salvation of the cosmos. You may not agree with my conclusions – feel free to disagree! But perhaps a new look at Christ’s path will be helpful for all of us. Perhaps this will give us new insights into God’s love for us and God’s investment in our salvation. And perhaps this will open up a Path of Jesus that is truer to God’s deepest intentions.