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

Finding a place to stand and watch. Luke 21:25-36 Advent 1c

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Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The opening lines of this gospel sound like a generic TV news report on any given day and on any given channel.  It is that which links the two paragraphs of this scripture for me.

As I see it Jesus is warning the disciples against missing the signs because they are either too frightened or alternatively too forgetful. Possibly both.  There is after all only so much stimulation the brain can absorb before it begins to filter the input.  It goes numb and dumb.  As an ex-serviceman I have witnessed first hand what the American GI’s termed “the thousand yard stare”.  That almost catatonic state where the mind self medicates and anesthetizes itself against the horrors witnessed.

The opposite is often also true.  We are so numbed by our boring routines that we go in search of something to fear. Some imaginary phantom or foible to scare us into feeling something.
I remember a very sad alcoholic I knew years ago who would spend her days watching the Crime channel.  The horror and violence she saw there evoked at least some feeling in the fog of her existence.
Jesus is suggesting that neither perspective is helpful. Neither, numbing and dumbing nor freaking and flipping are the place of discerning wisdom.

Instead Jesus suggests a careful almost contemplative consideration of whatever phenomena may arise.  Not being fearful nor forgetful like neurotics or drunks but rather alert and observing what is really going on with the eyes of faith.
I have to admit here that I probably learnt more useful techniques in this regard from my Buddhist and Hindu friends than from Christians.  Not that there are no neurotic Buddhists or Hindus! Au Contraire you can be too precious in any religion!

The point though is that the Eastern practices cultivate mindfulness and awareness of what arises in the mind.  This is most helpful. Another angle would be to say that in this passage Jesus encourages exactly this grounded prayerful approach to all of life that finds a ground of being that does not get swayed by outside information and experiences.

It would seem that even in this information saturated age, Jesus encourages us to be grounded in the changeless, the unchaotic, the non-warring, non-judging, non-divided place.  That place is the domain of God’s reality and presence. It is found at a manger, at a cross, at an empty tomb.

It can also be found in the alert and faithful heart.

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Advent changes for the Listening Hermit

My dear blog readers,

Yesterday I returned to Port Elizabeth after four years in the lovely town of Port Alfred.The holiday and retirement destination on the Kowie river was also my last pastoral appointment.  I have retired early from the church so as to pursue a more specialized ministry of Pastoral Therapy. You can read more about that by clicking here  I will be opening the practice doors in the rooms of Dr’s Wannenberg and Benson, 86 Park Drive, in Central PE on December 18th.

As one who follows this blog I wanted you to know that I intend to continue posting here as The Listening Hermit as I love the process and the people which the blogs puts me in contact with.

I do however want to change the perspective of the blog (and you may not even notice this) from reflecting purely as a preacher, to looking at the gospels with my new eyes of a pastoral therapist.  This will afford me the context relevance which is important to my reflections on scripture.

I do hope you will continue to visit and interact with me as you have done.

My special thanks must go to Jenee Woodward of Text Week who has been such an encouragement in my blogging

Blessings to you all

Peter

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Never say “Never!” Mark 13:1-8 Ordinary 33B

Mark 13:1-8

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

I remember this awful joke from the 1980’s

PW Botha (then President of South Africa), Eugene Terreblance (White Supremacist – Neo Nazi), and Desmond Tutu (Archbishop of Cape Town) are all given an audience with the Almighty and are allowed to ask God one question.
PW Botha asks, “Will the ANC ever come to power in South Africa?” God answers “Not in your lifetime”
Eugene Terreblance asks, “Will the Afrikanders ever get their own homeland?” God answers “Not in your lifetime”
Desmond Tutu asks, “Will South Africa ever have a black president?” God answers, “Not in MY lifetime!”

It’s a terrible joke. But we laughed at it because as whites in power we were arrogant and really thought that the status quo would last forever.

Today that joke is just sad. Simply because all of its assumptions were wrong.

It was the same for the Jewish religion in Jesus day.

There was an arrogance at the heart of its practice.

The temple was inviolable and eternal.
The people of Israel were the chosen race.
Chosen for privilege and power and not for service, they regarded themselves as better than everyone else.

For Jesus to suggest that it would one day be destroyed was both heresy and blasphemy.

Yet barely four decades later in AD 70 the temple was destroyed, and it has never been rebuilt.

Apartheid, Afrikander Nationalism, White supremacy in South Africa have all taken their place on the road to destruction that is the inevitable legacy of humanity.

Of course we are not immune from the same kind of arrogance.
We want our culture, our religious forms, our heritage to continue.
Because after all we are better than other people.
God has favoured us.
Afrikander, British, German, French Hugenot, Dutch, Zulu, Xhosa.
We are every bit as arrrogant as the religion of Israel of Jesus day.
Yet in our lifetimes we have seen the decline of the church and the erosion of Christian influence in society on a scale we could never have imagined.
Could it be that for us too the stones of the temple of our arrogance are falling?

We are about to receive, for the first time in the history of this circuit, a minister of colour in the Wesley section.

Unthinkable just a few years ago.

We as whites were the leaders of the nation, the culture, the church.
Never the majority, we simply ruled as if we were. Because we are English dammit.

What does the gospel say about this?

Jesus is clear. Kingdoms come and go.
The temples of stone will crumble and fall just like the power structures of politics and power.
There will be day when even this our lovely church will be empty, desolate and in ruins.

If you don’t believe me take a drive through the countryside. See the abandoned farmhouses, railway stations and the minig towns that are full of ghosts and rubble.

But you don’t even have to go that far. Just watch the decay of the temple of your body. That ought to convince you.

The question Jesus is asking without saying it is, “What remains?”

If bricks and mortar, culture and control, even our own flesh passes away.

What remains?

Jesus suggests that the inviolable core of reality is the life of God’s spirit in the world.

Isn’t that the place we should be looking to and living from?

Jesus said it like this,‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

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“My Way” or a “Widow’s Way”? Mark 12:38-44 Ordinary 32B

Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Of all things valued in our culture and society, independence must rank very high.
We are schooled to develop it, trained to maintain it, resist the loss of it; God knows we have even gone to war to protect it.
We speak of fierce independence.
It is a quality of life we will fiercely defend.

Another value of our culture is faith.We inculcate faith in our children, we encourage not only faith but faithfulness.

“In God we trust” though somewhat discounted these days is still a motto for many.

Yet I have observed from my work with people who are in the second half of life and thus more aware of ageing, that faith often grows in inverse proportion to independence.
It is often as we lose the independence that made Frankie sing’ “My Way” that we are able to allow dependence on the Greater Self, the True Self what we call God, to emerge.

I am speaking here of course of faith as trust. The more common understanding of faith as belief in doctrines is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word “pistis”.
Trust is often a fruit that grows in the compost of decaying independence.

It is this abandonment of oneself to something deeper and less programmed and planned than our independence plans and investments which jumps out at me from the gospel for this Sunday.
The story of the widow’s gift is a story of abandonment to God’s provision.

It is not a teaching for stewardship Sunday or any fund-raising drive for that matter. Would that the church could learn to trust God more for it’s sustenance and depend less on its fundraisers and hedge-fund managers, like the widow did.
I am presently involved in a second-half of life transition. I would love to say mid-life but that would mean I am going to live to be one hundred and ten! My transition has been the most exciting adventure of deciding it was time to stop what I have been doing for the past thirty years, and then waiting for the flux that the decision created, to take form.

I have been astounded at the providence of God, and the doors and avenues that have opened that I could never have dreamt. But, only after I had thrown it all into the treasury!
My “new life” that begins in exactly one month’s time could never have been planned or strategized for by me acting independently.
It seems after thirty years I will have to begin preaching what I preached.

“My Way” may have been Frank Sinatra’s way.
I prefer to advocate the “Widow’s Way”.
Give it all to God and be surprised.

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

All the Saints who did not despair. John 11:1-45 All Saints Day

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

It was Eric Erikson the famous German-born American developmental psychologist who created a wonderful map to illustrate the stages in our journey of our psycho-social development.
The last of the eight stages he mapped begins at age 65 and lasts till our death, and given that most of the congregation is in that stage now I thought I wouldn’t bore you with the other seven stages because it too late for you!

The last stage of our lives, according to Erikson’s schema involves reconciling the tension between Integrity and Despair.
In this final stage, says Erikson, we for the first time in our lives look back over the path and there comes to us, as we look, either a deep sense of integrity, meaning,  and wholeness, or there will be a opposing sense of profound despair.

Waste, mistake, unresolved relationships, guilt, shame and blame these are the ingredients for us to despair.

Despair is what the gospel on this All Saints Day is all about.
The death of Lazarus is a study in despair.
The delay of the teacher, the anxiety of Martha and Mary, the disbelief of the disciples.  All go into making the death of Jesus’ dear friend seem both avoidable and thereby unnecessary.
This is summed up in exactly the same words that Martha and later Mary both speak to Jesus when he eventually arrives at the Bethany house of the now four day dead Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If only. If only.

This is the language of despair.

Soren Kierkegaard the Danish Christian Existentialist philospher wrote about the death of Lazarus and about human despair in his work, “The Sickness unto Death” written in 1949 under a pseudonym Anti-Clamacus.

For Kierkegaard the ultimate despair is the despair of the Christian who believes in sin and in particular, original sin.
To come to believe that there is nothing one can do about one’s human condition of falleness is the worst kind of despair.

Mary and Martha and the whole of Bethany despair that Jesus doesn’t arrive and then when he does it is on the fourth day. The day when any act of God could no longer happen. God was believed to act up to the third day. The fourth day was the day of reality and thus despair.

When Jesus raises Lazarus from the fetid tomb he dispels the roots of human despair.
There is no statute of limitations on when God can bring life back to the dead.
There are thus no grounds for complete and utter despair.
Faith for Kierkegaard is the opposite of despair.

“Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” becomes with faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

The raising of Lazarus begins with this declaration of faith and trust in the saving power of God.
For those of us who look back on life and are tempted to despair, may I remind us all that today we are still alive. Still trusting.

Look back at the sealed stinking tombs of your life as I look back at mine and know that even now the God of life can call forth life even from those smelly places.

It is the good news.

It is the Gospel of All the Saints.