Sunday, December 21, 2014

When God Breaks in ... each one is remembered!

Advent Four 21/12/2014
Sermon preached at
 Prestbury Methodist Church 9am and Wesley Methodist Church 6pm

Isaiah 49: 8-16
Luke 1:26-38 

Isaiah 49:15  I will not forget you. 16  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
Luke 1:30  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Q: If you want to remember to do something – and you really, really do not want to forget it: what do you do? Who writes on your hands?
......... Today I want to speak about God writing on his hands!
We have two stories – one from Isaiah and the other from Luke – both of which tell us of a God who does not forget his people.

The first story takes place in 580BC.
Nebuchadnezzar II colonised the children of Israel. Their leaders were taken off to Babylon, while the peasants stayed behind to produce crops for their new rulers. Apart from building his empire, Nebuchadnezzar began building the Etemenanki ziggurat. This was a seven story, 91 meter high monument of gold, silver and precious stones. He was determined to be remembered by this building – and so he put his name on the doorway.
In time the Jewish leaders in exile were offered leadership posts in the Babylonian government, and they began to live more comfortably – so much so that when they were offered an opportunity to return home, many chose to stay in Babylon.
All this time the poor worked the land to make Babylon wealthy – and prayed for God to rescue them from their corrupt rulers.   

The Prophet Isaiah responds by assuring the children of Israel that God had not forgotten them.
Isa 49:14  But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."
Isa 49:15  Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
When God breaks in – each person is remembered.

Fast forward five hundred years and we find the children of Israel have new rulers. But not much else has changed: this time it is the Romans who rule them, and the Roman soldiers who collect the taxes from the poor. Something else that had not changed were the politicians – the leaders of the people co-operated with the Roman rulers: the Chief Priest was appointed by the Governor; and King Herod was appointed by the Emperor.
One other thing that had not changed was the desire of the King to build a monument: King Herod embarked on an ambitious project to rebuild the temple.  Herod employed 1000 priests as masons and carpenters in the rebuilding, and the new Temple was finished in a year and a half.
But the poor continued to struggle : Herod taxed them for his building projects, and the Romans took their fish and wheat to feed the army and the people of Rome

Again we discover the intervention of God. Luke tells us that an Angel of God announced that God was breaking into history: 
Luk 1:30  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.
Here is the thing – who was Mary?
Not who do we now know her to be, but who was she in her time? The reality is that she was a 16 year old girl from a forgotten village in a forgotten province. But she was not forgotten by God – in fact God even knew her name!
When God breaks in – each person is remembered.

So how does this touch our lives today?
Well – it seems that some of this story is very familiar:
These are stories of kings who embark on building projects to show their importance
– Nebuchadnezzar built a Ziggurat
-      Herod built a temple
-                Anyone familiar with a story of our chief ruler building a monument to himself?

These are stories of politicians who become comfortable –
The Jewish leaders who are carried off into exile begin to enjoy their status
The Leaders of Israel in the time of Jesus look more and more like the Romans
It seems to me that political leaders do not change much through history – and we still see people who use their positions to look after themselves and their friends. 

We see the corruption,
                   and the crime,
                             and the poverty,
 and nations going to war, and Ebola, and Aids and it is easy to become despondent.

But the story of Isaiah and of Luke reminds us that God does not forget us.
Hear the Good news: Christmas is coming – God will break into our history once again.
Let me return to the words of Isaiah: 
 Isa 49:15  Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Isa 49:16  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands

This takes me back to the image I introduced at the beginning – “writing on our hands”. Isaiah says that our names are written on the palms of God’s hands! Can you see your name written there: every time God looks at his hands he sees your name.
He can never forget you because he knows you by name.

This is the Good News of our faith: but I will fail the Gospel if I stop here.
I am asking us to remember that when God looks at his hands, yours is not the only name there: there are other names too!  Sometimes we reduce our faith to “Jesus and me” and forget that we are called to live in community. This is not only the community of the church, but also the human community. Our challenge is to remember other people in the same way that we are remembered by God. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loves the world...” This includes everyone. We cannot pick and choose whose names are engraved on God’s hands: everyone’s names are there.

Christmas celebrates a God who breaks into our history and remembers us.
Perhaps we can demonstrate this by sharing God’s love with others. Let us give gifts as a sign of the love of God: but here is my challenge: to give a gift to someone who will not give one in return!
God bless us all – and may we be God’s breakthrough into the lives of other people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Day of Reconciliation

Today is a national holiday in South Africa. This public holiday is rooted in two different (and separated) sections of our community:
·         For white Afrikaners December 16 was the day set aside to celebrate an 1838 victory in battle against the Zulu leader Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu. Afrikaner leaders were convinced that God had given this victory in exchange for aVoortrekker vow to keep this day sacred as a holy day.
·         This day marked the 1961 founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress. As white South Africans celebrated an ancient victory over black people, this became a day that many black South Africans renewed their commitment to overthrow white minority rule. 

This becomes a difficult day for the new South Africa: two such different meanings make this an emotionally divisive day. Those who proposed the new list of national holidays chose this as “The Day of Reconciliation” – but we continue to be a nation divided by race, privilege and history. A New Constitution, or a majority governing party, or tough minded determination cannot force people to be reconciled to one another.

I am convinced that the Christmas story offer us the only real hope of reconciliation. Christmas begins as a story of betrayal and shame... and ends with reconciliation. Joseph, a righteous young man is betrayed by Mary his fiancé. She is pregnant and he knows it isn‘t his child. He is shamed as a man and as a faithful Jew. Yet he sets aside his personal beliefs and chooses the tougher route – the route of reconciliation. This is not romantic, and is extremely deliberate. And this is only possible because God is in it:  as Matthew 1:23 points out – “Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."    

This then becomes the hope for my South African nation – and for every nation in need of reconciliation; this is the hope of divided families, and of individuals who are divided one against another: Emmanuel

When God is with us we are enabled to embrace the gritty task of reconciliation.  The challenge of Christmas is for us to be reconciled to one another. Reconciliation is the real meaning of this Advent season.


Advent Three

With warm regards

Rev Dr Peter Grassow

Sent from Samsung Mobile

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent One

May today be a sign of hope as we begin a new Christian year. 

With warm regards


Rev Dr P Grassow

Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary
 from Samsung Mobile

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Judging between sheep and goats

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year.
Next Sunday is Advent Sunday – which is the day we begin our journey towards Christmas. It is a new year, with the anticipation of the birth of a Saviour. Generations of Christians have used today as a moment to look back on the year – and to be reminded about our faith in God. It is at this moment that our church fathers ask us to turn to a story of a shepherd and a flock of sheep and goats.
This is one story – told by two people.

It was first told by Ezekiel – who was a prophet to the children if Israel 600 years before Jesus. Ezekiel tells of sheep who jostle for food - Ezekiel 34:18  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Ezekiel stands at the junction between the old and the new: He speaks to the chaos that was left after the Babylonians had invaded Judah and carried off their leaders. These leaders were fighting over the available resources – and the stronger pushed the weaker aside. Ezekiel castigates the leaders for being too busy enriching themselves to pay attention to the people. These are shepherds who failed their flocks. But God is not blind to this...... God will no longer rely on these shepherds. They have behaved like greedy sheep and so God will step in as the New Shepherd of this traumatised flock.
Ezekie 34:20  Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21  Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22  I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
God sees the fat sheep who push the weaker ones aside.... and so the shepherd chases off the bullies so that the others can feed as well.

600 years later Jesus goes back to this story.......
Just like Ezekiel - Jesus lives in a world where the leaders of Israel enrich themselves at the expense of the people:
·         King Herod collaborates with the Roman Emperor in order to keep his position.
·         The merchants of Jerusalem collaborate with the Romans to set up a lucrative trade in fish and wheat,
·         Joseph Caiaphas, in exchange for his appointment as High Priest by Governer Valerius Gratus,  persuades the people that it is the will of God to obey Rome  
And so Jesus reminds the people of his time of the story told by Ezekiel: He says that God is again judging the leaders.
Matthew 25:32  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33  and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

And how does God decide who sits at the right and who sits at the left.
Mat 25:41  Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;42  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,43  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'44  Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 45  Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

Jesus speaks to Herod, and the greedy merchants, and the religious leaders.
He says that when they enrich themselves, and ignore the poor, the strangers and the sinners in prison – they will not be blessed by God but instead will be judged by God.

So the words of the Bible echo though history: both Ezekiel and Jesus tell us that when some sheep become rich, and fat, and comfortable because they pushed others into the darkness – the Shepherd of the Sheep will intervene.

I wonder what God is saying to us today?
At the ending of 2014 – what would God say to South Africa?
Are there people who are rich and comfortable at the expense of the poor, and the sick and the strangers?
·         I suspect that Jesus would say to Herod – “Pay back the money”
·         I suspect that Jesus would say to the leaders – instead of hanging out in the Parliament shouting insults at each other – fix our electricity, and pave our roads and care for the poor.
·         Jesus might say to the religious leaders – stop asking for money on your television shows, and walk the streets alongside the people.

I wonder what he might say to you and me?

As I read the Bible I hear God asking if we are like the fat sheep who push the weak aside:In this past year – did we have compassion for the weak, and the widows and the strangers. Were we willing to be generous, and compassionate.
And if I am honest – really search deep inside myself – I must acknowledge my own selfishness. Most often I make sure that I am OK first. While it is tough to admit it  (because I know that Jesus expects me to love my neighbour as myself) but it seems that I am hardwired to love myself before I love my neighbour. It is here that take us back to the story of the Shepherd and the sheep. ...... 
Eze 34:15  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed....

Here is the Good News: We have a Shepherd who can save us from ourselves. God is the shepherd who will rescue the sheep that stray – and who will help us be the kind of people he wants us to be. We do not struggle alone!
This is the good news of Christmas – a shepherd will be born who will show us a new way to live. Next Sunday offers an opportunity to begin a spiritual journey towards Christmas. Let us begin Advent with new anticipation..... This is not just about food and presents, but is rather about the chance to make a new beginning!

Let us pray for a renewed heart: for ourselves....... and for our families............and for our country.............and for our world.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Greatest in the Kingdom

 Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel of Matthew is written at a time when there was deep conflict in the Christian Church:
This was all about culture:
Some from a Jewish background were insisting that all new followers of Jesus must follow Jesus the Jewish way.
Others, who were not Jewish, wanted to contextualize the teachings of Jesus into their own Greek, or Roman cultures.
And this conflict was painful – two centres of faith were emerging: one in Jerusalem and the other in Rome.

Matthew’s Gospel is an attempt to find answers: we are taken to a moment when the disciples of Jesus were faced with internal division:     
Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Why did the disciples ask this question?
Clearly they had been arguing about their status!
Look at the way Matthew sets up this story...
Matt 16: Jesus tells Peter that he is key to the mission of Jesus: you are Petros – and on this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Think how this would have made the rest of the disciples feel?
One is singled out for special recognition.......
Matt 17: Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain to pray:
Who were they? Peter, James and John. As they go up the mountain I see the other disciples looking at each other and feeling left out.
How do think the others felt....
So Jesus makes his selection and leaves the rest behind.
To make matters worse – the disciples who had remained behind tried to cure a man of epilepsy and they failed. And we read that Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

The disciples now come to Jesus to settle their argument  “Who is the greatest amongst us?”   
Jesus recognises this and so instead of answering their question he addresses their conflict.
When you are in disagreement .... here is how you solve it.
Mat 18:15  "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
Mat 18:16  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Mat 18:17  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

1.    Meet with the person....
Which means that we do not meet with everyone else but the person concerned and discuss the character of that person!
2.   Take others to help solve the dispute
3.   Bring in the church leadership
Both of which involves the person concerned and does not meet behind that person’s back.
4.   Treat the person as a Gentile and a tax collector:
Which begs the question – “what does this mean?” Note that this is not rejection or banishment ..... remember that Jesus had special compassion for Gentiles and Tax Collectors
He visited them and prayed with them.
Ø Remember Zacchaeus?
Ø And the Roman official’s daughter?
Ø And the Canaanite woman?
Here is the point:
We do not have permission to stop talking to someone
We do not have permission to divide from another person. 
We do not ever have permission to give up on someone.

So the challenge is for us to find our essential unity in the challenge of Jesus to solve our conflicts instead of running away from them.  

Ø Internationally – Israel and Palestine need to keep talking, calling in outside mediation, speaking to each other “like tax-collectors” if necessary – but never reaching a place where they stop talking.  
Ø At a national level – Jacob Zuma needs to sit down with the Public Protector and resolve his dispute with her instead of avoiding her questions.
Ø In our own community – we commit to solving our conflict, talking, talking, talking, and talking some more.

Monday, August 25, 2014

You are Peter

I have not posted here for some time....
But seeing that Sunday's lectionary reading was about this amazing chap called Peter - here goes with my sermon from yesterday: This was preached at 9am at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.

A New Name
Mat 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
Mat 16:14  And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Mat 16:15  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Mat 16:16  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Mat 16:17  And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
Mat 16:18  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Mat 16:19  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Mat 16:20  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Introduction: How many of us have our name in the Bible? I am privileged to be one of this group – bearing the name of Peter, a close disciple of Jesus: Today I am inviting us to reflect on the story of the naming of Peter - the name given to Simon, Son of Jonah.
Simon lived in Bethsaida with his brother Andrew, his wife and mother in law. He was a fisherman who, like his brother Andrew, and his friends Philip, James and John, had all decided to follow Jesus.  

Today’s story comes at a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Matthew Ch 14 tells how King Herod silenced John the Baptist because of some very pointed preaching about the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus takes time out to recover from this tragedy, and when he returns he takes up where John has left off. Only instead of sermons – he puts the values of this Kingdom into practice. Matthew 15 tells of Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for failing the people; he then goes to the people on the fringes of society where he prays for a Canaanite woman, embraces the outcast and the unclean, and feeds the crowds.

Jesus now turns to Peter and asks him if he has understood his mission...”Who do you say that I am?” This is is about how Peter understands the identity and purposes of Jesus.
This is a good moment to pause:
I am inviting us to imagine that we are standing in front of Jesus – and he asks us “ Who do you say that I am?”
I suspect some of us might answer:
·        You are my personal saviour.... the one who rescues me from my sin and gives me purpose.
·        You are the one who has called me to follow you into the ministry.....
I wonder if we sometimes have other answers:
·        You are the one who must answer my prayers: when I pray “In the Name of Jesus” I expect to get my way.
·        You are the one who will help me find status, and authority and power: Jesus gives me religious and social superiority.
·        You are the one who I will look to when I need religious entertainment: when I need a break from life I will turn on God TV for a bit.

This is the moment for us to be challenged by Peter’s answer .....
“You are the Messiah”
        you are the promised one of God ...
                you are the one who owns my life ....
There is no half-way here / no lukewarm answer
This is absolute commitment
This is not about getting something from Jesus and is instead about offering total loyalty to Jesus.

and in reply Jesus says to him
I see potential in you: you are the foundation for the new movement I am beginning. I will call you Petros – a rock: a foundation stone.
Jesus was not stupid. He knew that Peter was not perfect.....
But he saw the potential of what Peter could become.

This then is the good news of our faith: God looks beyond our failures and shortcomings and sees the potential for what we can become.
Here is my question: If Peter had been standing in front of us what would we have said to him:
“You have a short temper”
        “You promise stuff that you do not deliver on.”
                “You have a big mouth.”

Jesus knew those things.... but he saw the potential: “you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”
So if anyone feels inferior, or inadequate – hear the whisper of the Spirit of God saying .... “You are more than a are my Peter”! God sees potential in us.

But I would fail us if I did not point out the moment of challenge to us all:
Just like God sees beyond our failings to our true potential – so we are challenged by Jesus to look for potential in the people around us.
I suspect that we often see each other’s faults before we see the human potential that lies within.
The challenge of this week is to look beyond the Simon.... and to discover the Peter in the people we meet 

Ø When we encounter a tired, grumpy shop assistant – will we see the mother who is caring for her family?
Ø When we meet an old man struggling to park his car – will we see a father and a grandfather who is loved by his family?
Ø When we see man on television pleading for peace in Gaza – will we see someone who pleads for justice for his community?
Ø When we see poor miners who are pleading for wages – will we see men and women who generate wealth for our nation at the expense of their health and their families?  

Let me sum up.....

The Invitation has been: to offer Jesus our absolute commitment: “You are the Messiah”

This was followed by a Challenge: to show our commitment by looking for the potential in the people around us.

The answer lies with you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

All you need is Love

Today was graduation at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary where I teach. I was asked to lead the opening devotions, and so I read the following, drawn from 1Corinthians 13:1-13  

If I get a diploma or a degree from SMMS and have not love, I am nothing more than an empty braggart; if I get academic colours and an academic gown and have no love, I gain nothing more than some fancy dress; if I gain all the knowledge in the world – and know how to reference footnotes and bibliographies, and am able to publish clever articles in Journals and Books – and I have no love, I am nothing more than a noisy wordsmith stirring up clever words.
Love is patient and kind towards those who do not know as much as I do; Love drives us to share what we know so that others are empowered with the knowledge; Love desires education for all, a sharing of our knowledge with the weak and marginalised, and the education of women, children and the lowest workers in society.
For a time will come when old age causes all our learning to escape us; and when new knowledge replaces all we have learned; and when younger, brighter minds surge ahead of us;
The fact is that we do not know all there is to know, and we shall never cease learning new things and discover the unimaginable.
While academic knowledge has great value, and life skills are vitally important: when everything that makes sense in our lives is over – one thing of value shall remain:
And that one singular attribute is to Love and be Loved.