Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Why Demons sleep through sermons.

Mark 1:21-28

The Worshiper with an Unclean Spirit

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

There is a tension that preachers live with constantly.  On one hand we are called to proclaim the truth of the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus, yet at the same time that very generosity, embodied in the Good News, evokes dark opposition from the destructive forces in the human spirit that seem to prefer bondage and oppression to the offered liberation and freedom.

In almost every age of its history the church has preferred, for the sake of governance and compliance, to hold back on preaching Liberty, Good News, and the Recovery of sight. Thus it seldom proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.
The resultant religious practice, for it can scarcely be called Christianity, has been a rule bound, ritual embalmed, rote rehearsal of cosy and folksy tradition that has, as its main purpose, the studied avoidance of anything that may disturb the status quo.

Such compliance to convention and in the worst sense of the word, conservatism, has often, as was the case in Apartheid South Africa, included the collaboration with whatever political ideology was in power.  The church, the synagogue, the temple, become bland and banal and also indistinguishable from the surrounding culture and context.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a comfortable place for prophets, preachers and proclaimers to live.   People embrace you, encourage you, support you professionally and economically, because you are saying what they want and like to hear.  I like to live at peace and to live well.

It is however, not the way of Jesus.

Watching the master prophet, proclaimer and preacher of the Good News of God’s Unconditional Acceptance to All, we see the conundrum at work.

On the one hand people sense the difference. They speak of such proclamation as “a breath of fresh air”. They will say modern day equivalents of, “You teach with authority, not like the Scribes.” ; something along the lines of, “Our last preacher never told us that!”

Yet, despite the attraction of the Good News, such proclamation will inevitably and simultaneously, evoke demonic reprisals.

My detective mind is tickled to speculate what office the man, possessed by the unclean spirit, held in the Capernaum synagogue? Was he the Treasurer? The Choir Director? The Youth Pastor? Was he the Senior Steward?
My experience of Good News preaching is that sooner or later, preaching the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus will rile someone in the status quo power structure enough, for the demonic in them to manifest.

It is essential at these moments of oppositional confrontation, that we have the same prayer shaped insight of Jesus, that will enable us to separate the darkness of the opponent’s behaviour from their essential nature in God. Only if we can do that will we, as those being attacked, be able to take authority over the darkness whilst still preserving the underlying health and dignity of the temporarily possessed ones.

Hearing truth makes us all angry at some point. That is unavoidable.

The freedom that is that truth’s gift to us may, however, first require the exorcism of our fearful demons that are so resistant to the new that Jesus wants to bring us.

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Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon

Hooking up with Jesus

(I only have cell phone connectivity here on retreat so this comes from my Blackberry with minimal formatting)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I wonder why Jesus has such a preference for fishermen?
From what we can tell a third of the disciples he called, four out of the twelve, were from that profession. There may have been more because not all the professions of the disciples are mentioned.

Was there something in the skill set of fishermen that made for good disciples?
The patience?
The need to observe the depths? Being able to be in tune with the elements?
Living here in Port Alfred, at the mouth of the Kowie river there are all sorts of fishing adages. “When the wind blows East, the fish bite least. When the wind blows West, the fish bite best”
I wonder what the sayings around Galilee were?
Fishermen needto be able to face disappointment. Far more than hunters, they can come home day after day with nothing.

I will never know what it was that Jesus saw in fishermen, but John tells us that the metaphor of fishing became a metaphor Jesus used to describe the vocation of disciples, “I will teach you to fish for people”
Those of us who grew up in Evangelical churches will have had the song,
“I will make you fishers of men, (sic)
fishers of men,
fishers of men.
I will make you fishers of men,
fishers of men,
fishers of men.
If you follow me…
drummed into us from our Sunday School days.

When I think of how I as a child saw this fishing for people practiced I am not sure that the church really understood what the metaphor intended.
Most of the evangelistic fishing for people I witnessed growing up, seemed more like throwing a stick of dynamite into the lake and collecting the fish that were killed in the blast and floated to the surface.
The visiting evangelist, the tent meeting, the revival meetings were like whalers or trawlers that intended to haul in as many souls as possible.

I never saw the patience, the contemplation, the consideration that really good fishermen and fisherwomen apply to their craft.

If I could meet up with my childhood “fishers of people”, those who seemed obsessed solely with “decisions for Christ” I would want to ask some questions.

I would want to ask about sustainability of their fishing methods. Watching the ongoing evangelical movements of today it seems that their methods have become as unsustainable and inappropriate as a whaler in Antarctic waters. Nobody wants to see (or hear it any more). The violence, the shouting, the imperialistic harpooning is just brutal and barbaric. I don’t think Jesus had this in mind.

Here in Port Alfred most if not all sport fishermen practice “catch and release”. Fish are caught, weighed and then returned to the ocean or river as soon as possible and so, respect for the species and the stocks is maintained. I wonder if the church is quite ready to approach “fishing for people” in this way?

How ready are we to encouter people, share our truth and then instead of manipulating, cajoling and trapping them, allow them the freedom to re-enter the waters of life and make up their own minds about the truth we have shared?

Something about fishermen appealed to Jesus. I would like to think those early disiples were stoics as well as strategists, patient and not merely plunderers.

I wonder if we can discover the insight Jesus had to examine their craft closely and come to undertsand why he wanted us to become “fishers of people” with them?

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Leaving the shadows – Epiphany3

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Nazareth wasn’t a good place to put on your Curriculum Vitae as your place of origin. In fact if there was Facebook back then, you wouldn’t acknowledge that you were from there on any social media. Nazareth was a dump.
It didn’t feature in any Old Testament prophecies. No great personage had come from there. It wasn’t the seat of any power and no great families hailed from Nazareth. It was a simple backwater town. No great schools, colleges, universities.

There was nothing. Nazareth was nowhere.

Jesus came from Nazareth.

Despite the setbacks of being from there, the Nazarene Jesus had insight and intuition that the best family, geography and education cannot give. He knew people, their nature, their motivation and their desires. That is what drew him to Nathanael as he saw him standing under the fig tree.
Standing under your own fig tree is a symbol of comfort and blessing in the language of the Old Testament. Again and again the prophets used the image to evoke feelings of longing for peace and consolation. To be under your fig tree was to be home and arrived. Nathanael was standing in that space.

Strangely, there is a restlessness in the human spirit that is not satisfied with the shade of our own particular circumstance. A longing and a yearning for more. Was it this that Jesus sensed in Nathanael? Did he see in the shaded man, something restless wanting to grow?

Nathanael wasn’t impressed with Jesus. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Prejudice and arrogance make us so unteachable.  I came across a lovely defition of a heretic the other day.  It defined a heretic as someone who is unteachable.  Nathanael was bordering on heresy.

It was Philip who cut through Nathanael’s cynicism about Nazareans, “Come and see.” The most simple and effective of evangelistic invitations.  It is the beginning of growth and liberation. “Come and see“. It seems that it is not enough to stand afar off in our comfort zones and formulate opinions from a distance. We have to “Come and see“. That is what changes our lives.

As I write this, I am facing charges of heresy that have been laid with the Presiding Bishop of my denomination. The people who have laid the charge have never met me, nor are they prepared to meet me. I phoned and asked them. They are not members of any of the congregations I serve, they have never attended a service I have conducted. They have listened to an archived sermon of mine on the Internet and now they want me silenced, “to protect the people you [I] am leading to hell” by teaching exclusively from the Gospels as I do.

All they, by contrast, want to do is stand under their fig tree, their comfort zone, and voice cynical opinions.  My invitation to them is the invitation of Philip, “Come and see“. Thus far they have refused to budge from the shadows.

Jesus finds Nathanael right where he is in his comfortable, fig tree shadow, the place of his prejudiced opinions, and then Jesus leads him on to greater adventures.

He tells Nathanael he will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending.  Jesus is referring to Jacob who experienced a dream where he saw what Jesus is describing to Nathanael. Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending as Jesus describes. On awaking from his dream Jacob named the place Bethel and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

By all accounts it would seem Nathanael never did see what Jacob saw. Instead he saw the Nazarean Jesus, whom he followed; despised, rejected, crucified and utterly destroyed.   It wasn’t much of a dream! It was a nightmare!

The next and only time we hear of Nathanael, after his meeting with Jesus under the fig tree, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in one of those mysterious post resurrection events.

I wonder if Nathanael remembered, as he stood there in the presence of the crucified and risen one, the words he heard those three adventurous years ago, “You will see greater things than these

Nathanael sure had.

Perhaps if we will get out from under the shade of our own prejudiced opinions, we may see greater things too?

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 70,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Book review, Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

The Original Love Language – Baptism of Jesus

Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

A lot has been said about how we can communicate love since Gary Chapman published his book, “The Five Love Languages
In case you haven’t come across them here is a summary of Chapman’s Five Emotional Love Languages:
Words of Affirmation
This is when you say how nice your spouse looks, or how great the dinner tasted. These words will also build your mate’s self image and confidence.
Quality Time
Some spouses believe that being together, doing things together and focusing in on one another is the best way to show love. If this is your partner’s love language, turn off the TV now and then and give one another some undivided attention.
Gifts
It is universal in human cultures to give gifts. They don’t have to be expensive to send a powerful message of love. Spouses who forget a birthday or anniversary or who never give gifts to someone who truly enjoys gift giving will find themselves with a spouse who feels neglected and unloved.
Acts of Service
Discovering how you can best do something for your spouse will require time and creativity. These acts of service like vacuuming, hanging a bird feeder, planting a garden, etc., need to be done with joy in order to be perceived as a gift of love.
Physical Touch
Sometimes just stroking your spouse’s back, holding hands, or a peck on the cheek will fulfill this need.

The invitation is then to go on to “Determining Your Own Love Language

Since you may be speaking what you need, you can discover your own love language by asking yourself these questions:

  • How do I express love to others?
  • What do I complain about the most?
  • What do I request most often?

(excerpted from http://marriage.about.com/cs/communicationkeys/a/lovelanguage.htm)

It would seem from the success of Chapman’s book and the subsequent spin-offs that inevitably come from a pivotal production as his was, that he touched a sensitive spot in our collective emotional psyche.

As a divorced person and also as a pastoral minister, I know the difficulties of relationships at first and second hand.
Psychologists are continually telling us that we are undernourished with regard to our emotional needs

William E. Harley who runs Marriage Builders determines the most important emotional needs of couples to be:

  • Affection
  • Sexual Fulfillment
  • Conversation
  • Recreational Companionship
  • Honesty and Openness
  • Physical Attractiveness
  • Financial Support
  • Domestic Support
  • Family Commitment
  • Admiration

What I miss in these very important and helpful studies is an answer to the question, “Why are we so needy in the first place?”
Do we arrive needy, or is there something missing in our emotional diets early on, that creates this deficiency, in much the same way some of us need more magnesium or calcium than others?
If the development psychologists are to be believed then the cause of our love hunger, and by inference of much of our neurosis, is the deficiency of knowing at an early age that we are “The Beloved”

To know that one is deeply loved is one of the greatest of human experiences.
I am going to suggest a very subversive truth to you now.
It is subversive because it has the potential to put every self-help guru out of business.
It is subversive because it also has the potential to put that great grace dispensary, the church, out of business too.
The truth is a simple one that Jesus experiences at the pivotal moment he begins his public ministry.
The truth is that you and I and every single living being on the planet are the agapeitoi of God.
The agapeitoi….WHAT?  of God?
O sorry I need to translate for you.
We are all, with Jesus, the Beloved of God.
Now this may not seem subversive at first, but the more we realise and live from that place of being beloved, we see the absolute security and grounding it can give to our lives.

It is for this very reason, the church has for centuries tried to keep this reality from us. The church knew that if people were secure in their relationship as the agapeitoi of God; if they knew that there was indeed “nothing that could separate them from the Love (agapeis) of God” Rom 8:39, then they would not fall pray to the guilt riddled shame blame game that the church has used so effectively to extort money and allegiance from fearful people.

So what about us who weren’t told this early on in our lives?

Well, the good news is that it can happen at any time.

  • Jesus was thirty at his baptism.
  • Augustine of Hippo came to this life changing understanding late in his life at the age of thirty two.

Augustine  wrote:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

This subversive truth is the ultimate form of human liberation.

  • I am the agapetos-the beloved of God.
  • God’s very nature is agape-selfless love.
  • By realising that I am the agapetos of the agape. The beloved of Love, I begin a participation in the very life and nature of God.

This is transformative to the deepest fibres of our being.

Jesus knew this.
It was imprinted from the moment he stepped out of the Jordan.
“You are my child the beloved.”
It is already true for you and me.
We simply have to realise that it is.

Nan C Merrill published a wonderful paraphrase of the Psalms in 1996. She titled the Book, “Psalms for Praying- an invitation to wholeness”

The psalm for this Sunday is Psalm 29.
Nan has it read like this:

Give praise to the Beloved,
O heavenly hosts,
Sing of Love’s glory and strength,
Exalt the glory of Love’s name;
Adore the Beloved in holy splendour.

The voice of the Beloved is upon the waters;
Love’s voice echoes over the oceans and seas.
The voice of Love is powerful,
majestic is the heart of Love.

The voice of the Beloved breaks the bonds of oppression,
shatters the chains of injustice.
Love invites all to the dance of freedom,
to sing the Beloved’s song of truth.

The voice of Love strikes with fire upon hearts of stone.
The voice of Love uproots the thorns of fear,
Love uproots fear in every open heart.

The voice of Love is heard in every storm,
and strips the ego bare;
And in their hearts all cry
“Glory!”

The Beloved lives in our hearts;
Love dwells with us forever
May Love give strength to all people!
May Love bless all nations with peace!