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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A cursory reading of the Old Testament will easily lead you to believe the faith life is all about precepts, rules, laws and commandments. Perhaps even about winning by force and violence, about keeping the enemy at bay. A cursory reading of Jesus’ teaching is that the faith life is all about telling stories! Stories of love, compassion, the underdog, forgiveness, the lowly, and inclusivity. About forgiving the enemy. The contrast between the two is staggering! What both do have in common is this: The greatest of all commandments is to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbour as yourself. But what I want to focus on today is story-telling. How more passive, warm hearted and loving could you be than telling stories? How amazing that Jesus should convey who God is by telling stories. Anyone can listen to a story, from the youngest to the oldest, and anyone can respond to God’s love though a story. All you have to do is listen. Listen to God and know God though the telling of stories. This God is easy to fall in love with. You don’t fall in love with rules and laws; you fall in love with a storyteller! However telling stories goes further than listening to stories about God. Each and every one of us also has a story to tell. And here’s the nub, your story matters more than the precepts, rules, laws and commandments you have failed to keep. Really? Yes, really, your story matters more than your moral failure. Read the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, or the rejected outcast enemy of the Jews woman Jesus met at Jacob’s well. How about the failed prodigal, the Good Samaritan, the invitation to the feast of the kingdom to all those ‘out there’ somewhere. Their stories mattered to Jesus far more than their moral failure, or religious standing. God and human beings intersect at stories – real stories, painful stories, sad stories; and happy stories – stories. Whatever you do, tell your story. Tell it to God, tell it to others, tell it, as it is, warts and all, just please tell your story. Don’t change it, don’t embellish it, don’t leave parts of it out to please or impress others, just tell your story as it is. People often ask me why I am totally, without reservation, inclusive of lesbian and gay people in my life, and in God’s family? Many years ago a young man in my congregation died by suicide. No one in his family knew why, till eventually it came out he was gay; unbeknown to his family having lived with his partner for a few years, until the pressure of a living a lie got too much and he ended his life. His story changed my heart. That’s what stories do. That’s who God is. God stories in the scriptures are far more persuasive and inclusive than any laws and rules. Isn’t that why Jesus said everything is summed up, both old and new, in the two commandments. It really is all about love. Stories tell us this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In 1997 I saw the movie, “Life is Beautiful.” Still today I feel its impact and significance. It helped me understand the gospel message so much better than before. Brilliantly mixing tragedy and comedy, the movie tells of Jewish Italian father who smuggled his little boy in with him whilst imprisoned in a 2nd WW camp. Hiding the boy, the father and the other inmates let him believe they are on an adventure, and if he does everything exactly as they say he will be rewarded with a ride on a military tank. It is hilariously funny how they do this. However just before the liberating American tanks arrive to free them, unbeknown to the little boy, the prison guards kill his father. Meanwhile the boy is hiding in a box on the prison square with instructions from his father only to come out when the shooting stops. Lo and behold, when the shooting stops, and the square is filled with an eerie silence, he comes out to find there in the square the prize he was promised, an American tank. He cannot believe his eyes, and jumps on the tank for his ride. Further down the road as the tank drives through the Italian countryside it passes a long line of freed Italian woman prisoners, where the boy and his mother are joyfully united. Life is beautiful and life is cruel. Yet in it all life is also victorious, even though shadowed by suffering and pain, sometimes too much. This story contains some gospel truths at their very best. Here are two gospel truths the movie teaches us: 1. Nothing ever, let's repeat this, nothing ever works out like it should. Most of the time. There are pitfalls and dangers along the way of life. For everybody. Jesus’ life mirrors our lives. His life too is shadowed by suffering, pain, rejection, betrayal, and heartache. Why? Because he is just like us! 2. Life’s trials and tribulations do not always have a happy ending, but they can end victorious. Life triumphs, and life is beautiful. This is the point; the road to victory is always, always, always marked by some kind of suffering. I say always, not mostly. There is no other way I know! Suffering is the gateway to life – true life, deep life, and meaningful life. “Jesus became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross.” Then he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I read a tweet a few days ago, actually on Friday 10th, published by Billy Graham’s son Franklin. He was commenting on the Mexican wall and current USA immigration issues. Here it is: Cities in biblical times had walls and gates for protection. When there was a threat, the gates were closed – temporarily. Now I’m only using this as an illustration, I’m not venturing into American politics or current American religious divisions. What I am doing is examining how we read and quote the bible, especially paying attention to how Jesus used Old Testament scripture. Jesus had two approaches to the Old Testament. "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But now I tell you…” This is Bible Study 101! The Old Testament must always be seen through Jesus’ eyes. Everything in the Law, which Jesus said would be fulfilled and last forever, is summed up in these words, "Teacher," he asked, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus answered, " "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself.' The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments." Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalistic texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favour of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. He read the Scriptures in a spiritual and selective way (He did this, we are not to). Think about it? Is this not why Jesus was accused of teaching as one with authority and why the Teachers of the Law hated him. He interpreted (or reinterpreted) the old teachings of the law, and they didn’t like it! It was no longer the way it used to be. “This is my blood of the New Covenant.” Getting back to the tweet. Such an idea of ‘Christian’ community would have been an anathema to Jesus. Jesus left quotes such as these out of his vocabulary. In their place he spoke new words like these, “So the master said to the servant, "Go out to the country roads and lanes and make people come in, so that my house will be full.” We must very carefully when banding the Old Testament around. In short WWJD? Read the Old Testament through Jesus' eyes, and see how he quoted it in the gospels. You will soon get a handle on what is gospel and what is not!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Union with God and Holy Communion. The end goal of our salvation, of our life of faith, is to be union with God. It’s all over the Scriptures. Ezekiel says God puts his spirit in us, Paul tells us in Colossians the secret of life is to be in Christ, and Jesus says we must be in them (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) just like they, the Father and the Son are in each other. And we unholy people can be in this holy God, not because we are good but because God is good. Imperfections and all, God invites us to be in him. This act, this invitation, we call grace! When we are in union with God we transform. This is the great miracle of grace, we are invited in before we are changed, and then we change, from within. This is the only possible outcome of our union! Union transforms! Enter into this mystery and be forever changed. Now Holy Communion is the place where we act this out symbolically! The imagery is stunning. o Our ordinary imperfect lives are mirrored in the ordinary bread and wine (think also of baptism and water). God uses the ordinary to become extra ordinary. It is God who changes the one into the other, not us. All we do is to bring our ordinary lives into God’s amazing presence. The simple living out of our ordinary imperfect lives, offered to God, is all God needs. As Leonard Cohen writes in his song, The Anthem “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.” o “Eat me and drink me,” Jesus says. How much easier can it get? The most basic instinct we have to survive, to eat and to drink, are the very symbols Jesus uses to daily remind us of our union with Him. In one voice he says take this bread and eat it, take this cup and drink from it; and in another voice he says, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are not a part of me. It is as clear as daylight – the ordinary act of eating bread, and drinking wine are symbols and reminders of our union with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s so simple. The great unfathomable mystery of union with God is experienced by us in the simple act of eating and drinking. The divine touches the human and the two become one.

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.