Thursday, June 25, 2009

July 2009 - The Church Irrelevant

Dear friends


As a priest “Church” occupies a large part of my landscape. My faith and my profession are deeply intertwined. I can’t imagine what it may be like to live life out of touch with the Church, but increasingly society is filling up with people who do, and who don’t perceive any loss in this disconnection. For centuries the Church has operated in an environment in the West and in Africa where a connection – even if tenuous – has been the norm; evangelism and mission have focused on strengthening this connection, or on reconnecting people who have wandered off; society nurtured it. Increasingly urbanised society sees no inherent added value in religious connection, and if anything, perceives religion to be a limiting life experience.

At the June Equestria Family Breakfast discussion meandered around family values, Church, and reaching out to our peers. It became clear that for many young people the Church is perceived to be an outmoded social construct proclaiming an outdated moral lifestyle. For instance the Church’s teaching that sex should only be celebrated within marriage is looked on with disdain, and seen as a sign that the Church is lost in a puritan past, and therefore irrelevant to life in the 21st century.

As Church we believe that our moral outlook remains relevant, and yet our South African society – in which a majority of people still claim a Christian allegiance – demonstrates very little adherence to a Christian moral code. A recent survey conducted by the SA Medical Research Council (reported on 20 June 2009) found that just over 1 in 4 South African men admit to having raped, and just under half of these to having done so more than once. Many of the men surveyed had obtained some level of education and income.

And so the relevance of the Church to our society comes into question. We no longer influence our wider society to any meaningful degree.

We have relied for centuries on being politically powerful, on being the official religion of society in the West and in Africa since Constantine. The French Revolution led to the first marked societal move away from religion, and France today still guards its secular political dispensation with fierce doggedness (now under threat perhaps more from Islam than Christianity).

Where do we find our response? The answers lie not so much in the monarchical narratives of David and Solomon – as they have done for centuries – but increasingly in the stories of Israel’s time in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, and in the experiences of a persecuted early Church. Our Christian faith, our existence as Church, needs radical review.

Family Life

Our response to the increasingly chaotic experience of family life in the 21st century is one road that may lead us towards a renewed relevance. Our diocesan theme of “turning houses into homes” provides a handhold. The months of May and June have provided us with three important family related events: our parenting workshop where Dr Mary Anne Harrop-Allin dealt with temperament (personality), self-esteem and relationship; our Ladies Weekend led by Dawn Long, Sabine Verryn and Olga Nel, where over twenty of our wives, mothers, daughters and grandmothers had the opportunity to spend time away from family commitments in worship, self-discovery and creativity; our Patronal Breakfast where we were able to celebrate being part of our wider Parish family over a relaxed meal.

The people of God since the time of Abraham have found relevance in relationship: with God, with each other, with the world. This can be true for us, in our time, and to our generation.


“Everything the Lord has said, we will do” - A sermon (edited) preached by Deacon Alan O’Brien on the occasion of our Patronal Festival on 14 June '09

Here we are this morning gathered as Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ. What a truly awesome responsibility it is to be the Body of Christ in this time and in this place! We are truly blessed to be able to meet together Sunday by Sunday to worship and adore our loving God who gives us life and to whom we owe so much for all we have received at His hands.

The Holy Communion is an act of supreme love. We need to be people of love to all God’s people in this hurting world in which we live. We need to seek out the marginalized in society so that they can be embraced into Corpus Christi. That means our family in this part of the city and all Christian communities around the world need to gather in all those who feel that they are being neglected by the communities in which they live. We are being challenged to do ‘everything the Lord has said’.

The various names that have been given to this central act of worship help us come to a better understanding of these holy mysteries. For some it is known as the Eucharist, that act of Christ’s praise and thanksgiving in which we join in Sunday by Sunday. For others it is known as the Lord’s Supper, the commemoration of Christ’s prophetic acceptance of his death on Good Friday. For some it is known as the Holy Communion, the fellowship meal which binds all of us together as the Body of Christ. Others know it as the Holy Sacrament, which is then for them the pledge of Christ’s real presence among his people. Whilst for others it is the Mass, the identification of ourselves with Christ’s once and for all act of sacrificial obedience which he eternally presents to his Father in heaven.

Just how do we live out this command to be Corpus Christi?

By looking at the various names by which we celebrate Communion week by week, I believe that we can get some insight into the manner in which we can truly be Corpus Christi.

The Eucharist: we are called to be a community of praise and worship and thanksgiving. As we meet weekly we have much to be thankful for. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving and so one of our major focuses on a Sunday must be one of thanksgiving and this through our praise and worship. We daily need to thank God for all the many blessings which he bestows upon us. We must give thanks for our life, and that we should do as we awake every morning and as we retire to bed every evening. We must give thanks for our families and friends and especially those who are our family in this place – God’s family who have been given to us to care and to nurture. Our praise and worship must be such that it brings glory to our God in whom we place our hope and trust. We need to people of prayer and so daily we need to offer up ourselves to God and in his service. ‘Everything the Lord has said, we will do’.

The Lord’s Supper: As we celebrate this day as the Lord’s Supper, we remember Christ’s prophetic acceptance of his death. We too are called to be prophetic witnesses in the world at this time. We need to be people who will be prepared to speak out against the injustices that are practiced against all God’s marginalized people. We think of those who are suffering as result of HIV and Aids and the lack of treatment which is given to them by the clinics. We think of those women who suffer as a result of rape and struggle to get the justice system to work in their favour. We think of those women whom I read about last week in the paper who struggle to get their maintenance from the courts, the very courts which awarded them the very necessary maintenance, but which now are totally lacking in compassion for them. We need to be the prophetic voice which calls all people to care for ‘their neighbour’ and that we know can be any one who comes and asks for our assistance and so ‘everything the Lord asks of us, we will do’.

The Holy Communion: Our celebration of the Holy Communion means that we are bound together by this fellowship meal. The Holy Communion began as a meal and as we know it has its roots in the Jewish meal which is celebrated Friday by Friday in a Jewish home. It is around a meal that one is able to enjoy the company of others. Just think back to the times in your own life when something important has been celebrated, it has normally been done within the context of a meal. It is important that as the family of God, we meet together around a meal. Later on this morning there will be a meal that will be shared together by the members of this family, God’s family – Corpus Christi. It is important that families at home take time to sit down at the family table and have a meal together. I think that in this modern or post-modern world in which we live, we have lost the ability to share experiences around a table and enjoy a meal together. As our diocese begins to focus on building houses into homes, so we need to reclaim this element of family life for ourselves. It is one of the aspects that we can control within our homes. We need to make time to be together and to share a meal together. We need to be able to share our hopes and our joys, our thanksgivings and our concerns, within the context of a meal. Our Holy Communion in its structure allows us to do just that, as we meet around the altar week by week. Our communion binds us closely together so that we will become one. Think of those beautiful words from that modern hymn: Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken…’ And so ‘Everything the Lord has said, we will do’.

Holy Sacrament: Our Holy Sacrament means that Christ is truly present amongst his people. Christ is present in the here and now because of us. As St Teresa of Avila said: ‘Christ has no hands, but yours; he has no voice, but yours …’ We are therefore called to be Christ in and to the world. We are being called to be Corpus Christi, in and to the world. Again a modern hymn comes to mind: ‘Brother/sister let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you…’ So we are called to be servants, to serve those in our families, in this family; to serve those with whom we interact on a daily basis; those who are marginalized in society, those who I have mentioned earlier on in the sermon, they are the people to whom we have to be Christ. We need to be able to show Christ to others so that they might be drawn into this wonderful caring and compassionate group which we are. There has to be outward looking otherwise we will become too concerned with our own needs and not the needs of those who so desperately want our love and care. Are we being Corpus Christi? So we must do ‘everything the Lord has said’.

The Mass: In the Mass we identify with Christ’s obedience. Here we have been given an example that we have to show forth obedience in our lives. We are called to be obedient to God’s call on our lives. There are many passages in the scriptures which tell us that we have to be obedient, as the words from Psalm 40 tell us: ‘…my ears you have marked for obedience… and in the scroll of the book it is written of me that I should do your will…’ How fortunate we are that we have the example of our Lord before our eyes who was obedient to what his loving Father called upon him to do in his life. Once again the challenge: ‘everything the Lord has said, we will do’.

And in conclusion I believe that if we allow ourselves to take each one of these in turn, we will be able to become more of the Body of Christ, Corpus Christi, to all God’s people in the different world’s in which we live.

‘Everything that the Lord has said, we will do’ these words need to become a vital part of how we interact and engage with the world as we share God’s love that He has given to us and which he commanded us to share. And so as we are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist today, may our Lord be always at the centre and heart of our church and also at the centre and heart of the lives of each one of us as we become Corpus Christi. Amen

Friday, June 05, 2009

Pentecost 2009

Dear friends

Religion & Philosophy

In our last magazine I reflected on “The Nature of our Easter God”. I sense that some found it a little esoteric. Our Clergy Retreat director had focused on Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), a Dominican, who obtained his Magister in Theologia in Paris. Towards the end of his life he was accused by his Archbishop of heresy, for which he seems to have been largely exonerated, except for a few statements that it appears he recanted. His writings have influenced some of the major German philosophers and he is considered one of the foremost Christian Neo-Platonists of the 14th century. The challenge of the retreat – for me – became a call to allow God to truly be God, and not to limit him with my own humanity.


It was wonderful to have a full three weeks off! Parish Council informed me it was time to stop taking little bits of time off and get serious about recreating! We spent a wonderful ten days in Pringle Bay in the Cape followed by a weekend in Cape Town with very good friends from our Nelspruit days (the Cape weather was idyllic!). We came back via Bloemfontein so Dawn could put in two days work. Time off is always good, so good in fact that I will be taking some time off in July to go to Botswana with Dawn’s Dad.

Our time was not without its trauma. Just before we left, during a wedding reception on the Friday at which I had officiated, the Groom’s uncle was shot dead during an attempted hijacking, which rather threw the proceedings into some chaos. As the Groom’s family are part of our friendship group going back twenty years, and I’d spent the evening talking to the victim, the whole event was deeply traumatic. It appears the victim taunted the hijackers, and that he may have been shot with a weapon stolen from the hotel room of one of the guests at the wedding: sometimes we South Africans are our own worst enemies.

While we were in Cape Town our two children were involved in a very early morning car accident here in Pretoria: fortunately only a shoulder dislocation (from not wearing a seatbelt in the back) and bad bruising (from wearing a seatbelt in the front). It was a friend’s car, and not their fault, fortunately. On our way into Bloemfontein – thanks to the GPS – we ended up in the taxi-rank at 5pm, and looking like sitting ducks (two ‘Whities’ with GP registration and luggage on the back seat) we became the focus of a Smash&Grab in which Dawn lost her handbag … with I.D. … and Drivers License … and Bank Cards … !

Politics & our Future

The last month has been dominated by the elections, the inauguration of our new State President, the announcement of a new Cabinet, and a somewhat immature interaction between Helen Zille of the DA and the ANC Youth League and MK Military Veterans Association. Despite my qualms about Zuma I agree with Zapiro that the “shower head” should be suspended, and both Zuma and the new Cabinet be given time to prove their worth. Zuma’s inauguration speech and new Cabinet show some reflection of Obama’s inclusiveness, and I look forward to a possible new era for South Africa … time will tell! On an economic front it has been interesting to see the Rand strengthen on the news of a free and fair election process, and on the announcement of the new Cabinet. COSATU’s attempt to block the listing of Vodacom on the JSE has seen the first bump in the Rand’s value; and one wonders what the true agenda of COSATU is in this action – perhaps testing their strength under the new political dispensation?

Life – what fun!

In rereading the above, it strikes me that life, especially in South Africa – and probably Africa as a whole – is never dull! And we need to reflect on where God fits into it all. We carry misconceptions of God’s purpose as God, and often these are driven not by incorrect teaching but by our own need as human beings. We ask the question “Why?” of God, and become distrustful of God because God appears to be rather diffident to our need. God chose in Jesus to become incarnate in our world: Emmanuel – God with us. He remains incarnate through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And God’s purpose is just that: to be present. God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit; not to save us from hardship, trauma, difficulty; but to walk beside us, with us, as a companion and friend, as a helper, as one from whom we can draw strength, comfort, and hope.

As Christians we are called to live this out, to be ourselves this presence in the world and in the lives of others. We are called to involve ourselves in human development, to give of ourselves and our resources; to make a difference that is different because it is part of us, not separate from us. Too often we involve ourselves in acts of charity, and not in self-giving. Charity too often equates to hand-outs; self-giving brings about transformation.

This is our country, our Nation, our society, our community: we have responsibility. How is God’s presence visible through us, God’s Body, God’s community, God’s Church?

Thank You

Thank you to all who contributed to the very generous Easter Offering that I received this year. It is a demonstration of your love, and is enhanced with your care and friendship. Thank you so much!