Cnr High Street & President Boshoff Street, Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa
Sunday Service and Sunday School at 9:00am
Rev Cecil Rhodes 062 1230 640

Monday, January 16, 2017

Today we are looking at Jesus’ prayer for unity, just before he died, where amongst other things, he said, “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you.” The first thing to note is that our invitation to be ‘one’ with each other is first to share in the ‘oneness of God!’ Let’s pause and stay here awhile, for this amazing, profound truth most often goes straight over our head. Before we can be one, we need to know we are totally wrapped up first, in the oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It all starts and ends here! We’re in God (may they be in us), an integral part of the great cosmic power that holds everything in the universe together. We are so intent to have theories about this oneness with God, that we understand it properly, we completely forget to experience it. It is a mystery not to be understood, only to be experienced. The second thing about this oneness is that it is relational, not academic. For us to be ‘one’ is to forsake agreeing upon everything. We will never agree on everything, no one does, not even husband and wife, or parent and child. Our oneness is not vested here! For us to be one is to be in healthy relationship! Here we can agree to disagree, here we can celebrate our diversity as strength, here we learn to forgive, to tolerate, to accept, and to love. Those who are our friends and those who are very different, and maybe even opposed to us. Remember Jesus’ words, “Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!” The two essentials of Christian unity: o First union with God o Second relationship with each other The scriptures have many words and images to describe this oneness between believers – a vine, a body, a family – to name a few – all living, organic images. This oneness of believers could well be the hope of a fearful, judgmental and divided world.

Monday, November 28, 2016

It is the second Sunday of Advent. A reminder that the word ‘advent’ means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” And remember we are not just talking about the ‘Christ-child’, but also the 2nd coming of Jesus, and Jesus coming to us 24/7 in the person of the Holy Spirit. All three of these sum up the meaning of Advent. Today we are in ‘wonder’ of the Holy Spirit of God! Everything about Jesus and everything about God is in us, written in our hearts, an integral part of who we are, because of the Holy Spirit. Everything God has said and done – beautiful creation speaking so clearly to us, pain and suffering turning into gladness and joy, we know intrinsically as true because God has planted his Spirit into us. Everything about Jesus, every word he spoke, every act of healing, kindness, grace and truth, everything of Jesus is in us because God has planted his Spirit into us. Our spirit, the deepest truth about us, the God DNA in us, is joined to God’s spirit. Unworthy, stumbling around in sin, clay feet, you and me, are home to God! Yes, we are in ‘wonder’ of the Holy Spirit of God! Joined to God, even more than husband/wife/parent/child, joined inseparably, adopted as God’s child with exactly the same rights as Jesus his son, invited into the eternal circle of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all because of the indwelling spirit of God. The Westminster Confession captured this brilliantly in these words: The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Give of Life. The astounding miracle of Jesus’ life, the Father’s plan from the beginning of time to include you and me and all creation in Him, is all worked out by the Holy Spirit. “It is better for you I go away…” Jesus said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised, the Holy Spirit.” We marveled at the arrival of the babe in the manager, God becoming like us, one with us. Little did we know this was just the beginning, that God would eventually make his home in us by the indwelling of his spirit.

Monday, November 21, 2016

We begin the season of Advent this Sunday. A reminder that the word ‘advent’ means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” And remember we are not just talking about the ‘Christ-child’, but also the 2nd coming of Jesus, and Jesus coming to us 24/7 in the person of the Holy Spirit. All three of these sum up the meaning of Advent. We start today with the 2nd coming of Jesus, so often for us a far away, sensational event we don’t pay too much attention to. Here’s the secret to the end times! Whatever is going to happen then, and we should pay attention to it, is happening now too, and contains is a message for how we live in the here and now. Every generation experiences the signs of the coming Jesus. Sadly few generations pay attention to it. Here's why we should pay attention: o In almost every ‘end time’ story Jesus told, and there are several of them, he emphasized the ‘urgency’ of our faith now! For example in Matthew 24:44 he concludes his ‘end time’ story with these words, “So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him". Jesus constantly reminds us to check our complacency – it seems he thought this to be of major concern. So did John think this, as in his seven letters to the churches, the Spirit says to the church in Laodicea, “But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth!” Because there are so many sensational, ill directed and wild statements made about the end times, we have grown indifferent to them. The marginal fringe have all but ruined the ‘end time’ message for most of us. If not even Jesus knew the time, "No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come - neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows, (Matthew 24:36), how on earth do such fringe lunatics know? o 'End times' helps us interpret and understand what is happening around the globe now (war, crime, brutality, climate change, ‘haves versus the have nots). If it going to happen then, it sure is going to happen now! It is as Ecclesiastes says, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, every generation points towards a final consummation, and up until now every generation has had to live through much trial, tribulation, and terror, both globally, and for many very personally. o The end is going to happen one day, it is an integral part of our common history and destiny. We must not think God is a fool and his warnings irrelevant. History is not spinning around in a pointless circle, as it appears to. God is still in control, and has plans for a new earth and a new heaven, for us in the here and now when we die, and then one day when it all comes together.

Monday, November 14, 2016

One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful force, at play in our subconscious lives is memory, both positive and negative memory, and both equally as powerful. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, has a huge wall mural with the words, “We remember lest we forget.” They turned a negative memory into a positive memory, and a memory to ensure they never go back there again. Whenever Israel felt down and discouraged they remembered what God had done for them in the past, then they pulled themselves up again, and renewed their faith in God. Palm 77 is just but one example of many. Google ‘Old Testament remember’, and see how many hits you get! You can confidently say Israel built their faith in God through memory. This is how powerful memory is, and the reason why bad memories need to be healed and transformed, and good memories are treasured and built upon. Our very lives depend and revolve around our memories. The can both capture us and hurt us, and they also make us strong and positive. No wonder Jesus said, ‘When you eat this, and when you drink this, remember me.’ He knew the power of memory, and especially our memory of his love, grace and sacrifice. This memory, lived out in us, transforms everything about us. One last thought about memory. Last Sunday was All Saints Day, the day we remind ourselves about the ‘saints’ (some alive, and some dead, some we know intimately, some we don’t even know) who have influenced and shaped our lives. Why don’t you take a moment to reflect on the ‘saints’ in your life? Make a list of them and give thanks. And let me remind you a ‘saint’ is not necessarily a ‘good’ person as we are inclined to think, but that powerful, loving, influencing person that made you who you are. Most ‘saints’ I know have clay feet! It may be a national figure like Gandhi or Mandela, a family member like a Mom or a Dad, an author, a speaker, a friend, a boss, etc. etc. Let’s remember and give thanks. And if there is a bad memory, place it in God’s hands and ask him to transform and renew your mind, like he did Israel’s at Yad Vashem.

Monday, October 24, 2016

I’m following the lectionary reading this week. They say every preacher should preach from this three-year cycle. I have done it twice in my life, and since I am now falling into the trap of preaching my favourite hobbyhorses, I think it is time I go back to the lectionary! The Old Testament reading is the first four verses of Habakkuk, chapters one and two, whilst the gospel reading is the story of Zacchaeus, a story of Jesus ‘seeking and saving’ the lost. At first the two readings seem quite unrelated, but upon reflection they are really not. In chapter one Habakkuk is bemoaning the destruction and violence all around him, which in his context of the 722 BC Syrian exile, was extreme. The present day atrocities in Syria and of ISIS somewhat equate to what Israel were experiencing back then. They were indeed dire days. Jesus, familiar with suffering and pain himself, tackles the problem of ‘violence and destruction‘ by including the ‘outsider’, who is a representative of all that is wrong! Befriending Zacchaeus, the loathed tax collector, who is a symbol of Israel’s enemies, is how Jesus preached the gospel. It seems lost on us today that Jesus’ solution to the problems we face (at least in part) is to preach the gospel to those we disregard. We are more comfortable to isolate, make fun of, and scapegoat the problem-makers, rather than befriend them with the gospel. The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk, the first four verses of chapter two, is, “But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. And this is the message: "Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God.'” Note, how in the midst of Habakkuk’s ‘crying out’, he goes into the watchtower to wait for God to answer him and to act. The more dire it gets, and the more we long for God to say something or do something, the more we need to be still, pray, and wait. God’s answer, whilst we befriend and preach, is that good will overcome evil, but we will have to wait, and remain faithful.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” These words of Jesus describe the essence of Christian faith. It is the following of Jesus that distinguishes the Christian from any other. It is following that defines who we are and how we live. Anyone can believe (take a look at James 2:19), but not everyone follows, and it is the follower, the imitator of Jesus, who is the essence of faith. The power of following is two fold: 1. Following is based on thinking that leads to action. Romans 12 says we should be ‘transformed by a complete change of mind’. Following ‘transforms us by a complete change of mind’, because to follow engages the mind. To follow means I am reading, and thinking, and reflecting on who I am and how I act. There is no other way to know how to follow than to read up on the one you are following. Follow him carefully and he WILL transform you inside out. It is as simple as that. 2. Following is also an act of the heart. A transformed mind is not enough on its own, transformation coming from following Jesus goes much deeper than that. Following is also a matter of the heart. Jesus was totally comfortable with tears, pain, suffering and sorrow. In other words he was human, in touch with his emotions and the emotions of others. So we easily and readily talk about the passion of Jesus. Ours is just not an intellectual faith, but also a passionate faith. If we are not in touch with ourselves and with others, we may not be in touch with God? Is this not why Jesus hung out with folks from the other side of town, because he was in touch with humanity? Following Jesus changes both our minds and our hearts. Following Jesus is both and; not either or. I invite you when you read this to take a moment, pause a while, take a seat, make a cup of tea, and ask yourself: “Am I following Jesus?” “Am I reading up on Jesus, and knowing Jesus as best as I can, so I can follow Jesus as best as I can?” “Is my heart in my faith?”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Every now and again, in a moment of vision, or hope, or faith, or clarity, you see something great in the struggling and challenging circumstances you find yourself in. Be you a minister in the rural eastern Free State like me, or a farmer, or a businessman, a businesswoman, or wherever you are. The talk of the town is quite depressing right now. Numbers are down, finances are down and optimism is down. And here in this part of the world the change of season has brought with it all kinds of illness and ailment. I am having one of these ‘great’ moments that defy logic and explanation! For some time now I have not been sure how to lead the church through these difficult times. Most everything I know, and have tried, has failed. Then the other day I prayed the prayer of ‘relinquishment’; to surrender, and to let go to God all the things that seem beyond me. To relinquish, NOT to give up, but to rather say, “I can’t do this anymore, can you do it, God?” Right now, in the churches I serve in Bethlehem, Bohlokong, Clarens, Senekal, Fouriesburg, Kestell, Paul Roux and Lindley, and in neighbouring Ficksburg and Marqaurd – amidst great financial struggle, dwindling numbers, and races still separated by years of division, I ‘saw’ and ‘experienced’ who we really are as a church, and what we can become together. What for months has looked bleak, and has made me feel despondent, suddenly looks brighter. And it’s not because I am on top of the world, and all hyped up and optimistic. Actually, to the contrary. It’s like an invisible corner is turned. Suddenly things that have been stuck are becoming unstuck, plans that just seemed not to get off the ground, are getting off the ground. People are opening themselves, and risking themselves. I don’t want to think about it too much, or analyze it too much. Rather just enjoy it, and let it have a course and an energy of its own. It feels like the rain that fell into a ravine and filled up everything in its path until it ran into a huge desert. Try as it might it could not cross the desert, and began to dry up. Eventually it let the wind carry its water into the clouds, and blew across the desert, and carried on watering the earth, bringing life and energy where previously there had been none.