Thursday, 4 August 2016

Meditation: WITHOUT APOLOGY by John de Gruchy


I Peter 3:13-16
Matthew 22:41-46

"Always be ready to make your defence (apologia)  to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with reverence and gentleness".
"No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions."

Isobel always asks me the most difficult questions at breakfast.  I guess she knows that if she asks me at night time I would simply close my eyes and pretend to be asleep.  But at breakfast I am supposed to be wide awake and know all the answers to all life's most perplexing questions, especially theological, philosophical and political.  The fact that most of these have been asked many times over the centuries and have never been fully answered by the best thinkers  does not satisfy her enquiring mind.  If I say "I simply don't know," she invariably replies, "well you are supposed to know!"

The truth is, the really difficult questions about life and death, suffering and pain, the seeming inability of people and nations to pursue what is right, good and just, about why the poor suffer harshly and the rich get away with so much, and about God, perplex all of us.  And they do so because they are complex questions that defy simple answers.  In fact, every attempt at an answer raises more questions ad infinitum.  One of the greatest teachers who ever lived, the Greek philosopher Socrates, refused to answer his students' questions.  He simply put further questions to them, forcing them to search for the answers themselves. In the process he opened up fresh perspectives which enabled them to see their questions in a new way that took them further in their journey of knowing, and deeper into the truth beyond words.  No answers would have done that.

When Jesus was asked questions he often replied by telling a story or parable which not only forced his enquirers to think more deeply, but more importantly challenged them to live and act differently.   Jesus did not provide them with brilliant responses that satisfied their minds, but took them beyond their comfort zones with a challenge that unsettled them.  No wonder they stopped asking him questions.  As Eugene Petersen translates our text: "That stumped them, literalists that they were.  Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of those verbal exchanges they quit asking questions for good!"\

In the second century after Christ there was a small group of Christian theologians who came to be known as the Apologists.  They tried to convince unbelieving but well-educated pagans about the truth of the Christian faith taking seriously the admonition of the first letter of St. Peter: "Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you."  The Greek word which is translated "make your defence" is apologia, from which we get our word "apology."  The apologists were not apologising for their faith; but defending it from intellectual attack. Reading their writings today I don't think that their answers were always very convincing.  But it was then as it still is today important to give a reasoned account of what we believe to be true.  Yet it is also true that such arguments seldom make converts. In the final analysis it was the death of the martyrs rather the reasons of the apologists that was the seed of the church.  Courageous and compassionate deeds carried more weight than words.  That is why the witness of Pope Francis is so powerful.  When he went to Auschwitz last week he did not make a speech apologising for the failures of the church to prevent the Holocaust, though he had previously done so.  He simply prayed in silence.  He knew  that the best Christian witness is to do what is right and to pray without denying that there is a time and place for words, that is, for apologia.

I am ashamed of much in Christian history, but I make no apology for speaking about faith in Christ in a time of doubt, of hope in God in a time of despair, or of love for one's enemies in a time of violence.  I do not claim to have all the answers to the questions that are being asked with good reason by many people, but with St. Paul, "I am not ashamed of the gospel." (Romans 1:16)  I do not claim that we Christians have all the truth, but I do claim that faith in God is fundamental to being human in a world that is marked by great inhumanity, a world that no longer believes in the God-given dignity of all people; I do claim that hope in God's future for the world is fundamental to saving us from plunging headlong into global chaos;  and I do claim that love is the only antidote to fear, greed and hatred that is tearing global society apart.  For these fundamental truths I am without apology.  These are not truths which only Christians cherish, but they are fundamental to being Christian.  They have to do with the way we live and the way we act in the world. "Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet" says Peter, but when you do so, "do it with reverence and gentleness".

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 4 August 2016



Matthew 4:18-22
Read in Xhosa, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Arabic, Tamil, English
(Home languages of the VYLTP participants)

"Come follow me and I will make you..."
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me."
"Go and make disciples..."

The ten weeks have sped by.  At times you thought it might be too long.  Now some of you think it should be longer!  You came as individuals, you leave as a community of friends. You also leave on your own admission as changed people committed to make the world for a better  place, a more just and peaceful place, a more caring and loving space. And you go in the name of Christ.

Jesus was under 30 when he called his first disciples ro follow him, and most of them were also young.  In fact, Jesus led a youth leadership training course as he journeyed with his companions from Galilee to Jerusalem.  He called them each by name to follow him and form a community.  He called them to learn from him, to discover a new way of being in the world, to find new meaning and purpose for their lives.    He told them stories, he gave them words of counsel and advice, he challenged and even rebuked them on occasion. But above all he showed them what life was all about.  They began to take his yoke or discipling upon themselves and so learnt from him.  In the process they began to change.  It took them not just two weeks but at least a year to get the message and discover what leadership in the kingdom of God is all about in daily life.  But even as their training course came to an end, when Jesus was arrested and killed, they had still not all got it quite right! 

So he made them a promise.  His Spirit would fill their lives, lead them deeper into his teaching,  empower them to do as he had done, and so make more disciples and expand their community of love, justice and compassion.  He told them to go and help others discover what it means to be a follower of Christ, to witness to God's reconciliation, and so become agents of healing and transformation. 

The process of learning to be a disciple does not end today.  It never ends whether for you or for me.  The VYLTP is only a catalyst, an intensive course in leadership, but not the whole journey.  Like the rest of us you will never stop learning to be a true human being and follower of Christ.  You now have some new skills, new inspiration, new insights -- a new knowledge of yourself and others.  But while this may be the end of the VYLTP for you  it is only the beginning of the rest of your life.  You will continue to learn, to grow, to discover.  Becoming a Christian leader is a never ending process.  You learn as you journey.  Our hope and prayer is that you will now do so with greater understanding of yourself and the world, with fresh courage and hope, and with a growing love for Christ and those you will serve in his name. You are not going alone.  You go not just in the name of Christ but in the power of his Spirit.  You go as part of a community of faith, love and hope.  You go as members of the Volmoed community full of courage.  You go as "voeltjies" with new wings.

Come follow me, says Jesus in whatever language you speak.  That is the call we all need to heed every day and wherever we are.  Take Jesus' yoke upon yourselves and learn from him  That is the discipline we accept and, to our surprise, we find that it is a light and joyous burden.  Go into the world and proclaim the good news ... that is the task that awaits us each day.

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 28 July 2016

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Meditation: THE GIFT OF PEACE by John de Gruchy


 John 14:25-27
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Early last Sunday morning I sat down to write my meditation aware that there would  be little  time to do so after arriving back at Volmoed.  I was sitting in our hotel room in Basel, Switzerland, where Isobel and I attended the 12th International Bonhoeffer Congress,  an event held every four  years.  The next one, I can now report, will be held in Stellenbosch in January 2020 in case you want to make a note in your diary!  But that was not in my mind as I sat thinking about this meditation after almost three weeks of travel shared with Anton and Esther. But now, as the Congress came to an end, I reflected on our trip and some global events that had happened since we were last together here in the chapel sharing the peace of Christ with each other.  Christ's gift of shalom or wholeness, in a world torn apart by racism and violence, greed and war.  Even in beautiful Collioure in the south of France where peace seemed to envelope us as each new day dawned,  we could not escape the grim news of more gun violence on the streets of  the United States,, terrorist bombings in Bangladesh, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere, and political strife back in South Africa. 

So there I was sitting in our hotel  room starting to work on this meditation.  The window was wide open, the sun was shining brightly, and the birds in the garden were singing.  It was Sunday, it was quiet, it was peaceful.  It was like it so often  is here on Volmoed and how it was later that morning as we listened to the splendid music and sermon in St. Peter's  church where our mutual Volmoed friend Benedict Shubert is pastor. No wonder my thoughts turned to Jesus words: "My peace I give to you!"  I did not have to make this peace, it was a gift to receive, appreciate and share.

But when Jesus spoke these word, unlike me, he was not sitting comfortably in a Swiss hotel listening to the coo of pigeons nor was he in the temple listening to glorious music.   He was on the harsh road to the cross.  His words of peace, of shalom and wholeness, were uttered in the face of violence, at a time when the mood against him in Jerusalem had turned ugly, a time  when hatred of the Roman occupation was at a height and the authorities were struggling to keep control.  It was in such a context, so like our own, that Jesus said: "My peace I give to you."  It was not the uneasy peace which the authorities struggled to provide, imprisoning and crucifying rebels who threatened the established order, Jesus among them.  Jesus' gift of peace to his disciples was not the peace that the world either then or now tries to give its citizens.  It was something far more, God's shalom, a peace which passed human understanding in the worst of times. Therefore Jesus tells them that they should neither let their hearts be troubled, nor be afraid.

It is difficult to grasp hold of this gift of peace and not be troubled or afraid in a world of terror and violence.  It has always been so.  No sooner has one war ended, than another breaks out.  No sooner has one agent of terror been eliminated than another arises.  No sooner has one dreaded disease been conquered than another erupts.  No sooner have our lives recovered from despair and grief, than we have to cope with further trouble and loss.  The peaceful calm of a hotel room in Switzerland or of Volmoed on a Thursday morning is more often than not the exception rather than the rule.  We give thanks for such times of peace, but it is in the midst of trouble and fear that Jesus' utters his word of peace.  For God's shalom is not the same as security in a safe haven; it is not discovered by withdrawing from the world into some kind of religious sanctuary or ghetto, or avoiding the harsh reality of cancer or the loss of those we love.  Jesus gives us peace on the road to the cross, in the midst of our struggle for justice or suffering.  We receive Christ's gift of peace, of shalom wholeness, anew each day as we seek to follow him faithfully amid of the troubles and problems we face, and especially when life seems to fall apart.  That is why it passes all understanding.  It is a gift beyond words, a gift without logical explanation.  But those who accept it know that it is real.

Yet we do not receive Christ's gift of peace in isolation from others, as though it is our gift to keep to ourselves rather than a gift to share with others.  Christ's peace is not a warm feeling that we treasure in isolation for fear of losing it; Christ's peace is only received in sharing it with others.  In order to know the peace of Christ we have to live in that peace with others, forgiving and loving them, enabling them to journey with us into wholeness.  After all, it is not our peace, but Christ's gift to us.  So it is that we receive the peace of Christ as we commit to working together to oppose violence in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.  We receive the peace of Christ when we in turn become peacemakers, opposing the forces of evil that lead to hatred, violence and war.  We receive Christ's peace when we sit beside those who suffer pain and loss, helping them to know Christ's peace.  And we receive this peace when, week by week, we share the peace of Christ with each other at the Eucharist.  To embrace and to be embraced in giving the peace is an affirmation of the gift which Christ offers us each day, a gift beyond understanding which the world cannot give.  So let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 14 July 2016

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Meditation: FREEDOM FROM FEAR OF THE "OTHER" by John de Gruchy


Galatians 5:1, 12-15
John 8:31-36
"For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore and do not submit
again to the yoke of slavery."
"If you continue in my will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Paul's letter to the Galatians is often called his "epistle of Christian freedom."  There were undoubtedly some freed slaves in the Galatian churches, but Paul had chiefly in mind those Jewish converts to Christ who had been liberated from slavery to religious legalism and intolerance.  Paul himself knew all about this slavery because as a strict Pharisee he had persecuted Jewish Christians and even put some to death because they no longer kept all the ritual and dietary requirements of the law.  But now, as a follower of Jesus, he had learnt to embrace those who were different from himself and regard them as brothers and sisters,  For had not Jesus embraced publicans and sinners, prostitutes and Samaritans, and even had meals with them?  So, too, as followers of Jesus, the Galatian Christians had been liberated from slavery to those laws that kept them separate from Gentile believers, laws of social exclusion and ritual purity which also made women inferior.  But now, having been set free in Christ,  some were squandering their freedom in an attempt to keep themselves pure and righteous in the sight of God.  Women, Gentiles and slaves were all being shunned as inferior, unclean and at best, second class citizens in God's kingdom.  So Paul writes to remind them that as followers of Jesus they been set free from slavery to such legalism in order to love others and should not "submit again to the yoke of slavery."  

As a former Pharisee of the strictest kind, Paul knew how precious this freedom was.  But he also knew that such freedom did not mean doing what he liked irrespective of others,  as though the law did not matter.  Legalism as well as the irresponsible use of freedom had the same outcome.  The freedom Jesus gave him was the freedom to embrace others as brothers and sisters, rather than exclude them as unclean sinners and enemies. Like Jesus and the prophets before him, Paul knew that whole law was summed up in love for others as well as God..  In Christ, he told the Galatians,  "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave nor free person, for we are all one."  It was therefore the responsibility of every Christian to protect and nourish their freedom responsibly in love and not abuse it for selfish interests and gain.  Freedom from legalism was not licence to do as you please but freedom to love and allow by fear or hatred of the other to determine our relationships. 

The attack on the gay night club in Orlando, Florida, and the murder of Jo Cox, the British Labour MP were two awful consequences of hate speech and homophobia in countries where civil liberties are traditionally cherished, but in which uncivil vices are becoming far too prevalent.  When the self-proclaimed "land of the free," becomes the land of the greedy, religious intolerance and hate speech,  it is no longer free,  no longer the "leader of the free world," but a land in the grip of fear.  When people like Jo Cox's who live to serve others, speak up for those who are despised and oppressed,  oppose unjust policies, are murdered for doing so, something seriously wrong in the state of England.  But, of course, such deeds of fear and hatred are happening across the globe with frightening regularity, and  we in South Africa are by no means immune to the hate speech and greed that fosters violence as current events painfully demonstrate.

In the midst of this bad news we have been celebrating  snippets of good news which gives us hope.  When our national cricket team, the Proteas, beat the West Indies decisively last week, the stars of the game were two South African Muslims, Hashim Amla and Imram Tahir.  This was something unthinkable not so long ago in apartheid and so-called Christian South Africa.  In a world where the fear of Islam has become a political tool in the hands of trumpeting politicians, and where religious intolerance and jingoistic nationalism are on the upturn, this  is significant even if only on a small scale.  On a larger scale has been the outpouring of support for the LGBT community across the world for those affected by the Orlando massacre and Jo Cox's murder.  People  have come to see that homophobia breeds hatred, hatred breeds fear, and fear breeds violence, though too many politicians, preachers and their followers have yet to get the message,

And here on Volmoed last Thursday, June 16, we celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of 1976, an event which, back then, stoked white fears even as it awoke black hopes.  Respect and embrace not hatred and exclusion were the order of the day as we celebrated in the chapel and formally launched the VYLTP programme.  It was a wonderful time of song, conversation and challenge, of making friends and having fun, of rejecting fear and expressing hope.  It was also an expression of confidence in the next generation, the "born frees," who are learning the true meaning of following Jesus and the importance of the ongoing struggle to ensure that the freedom we have to embrace the other is never surrendered.  We still have a very long way to go as a nation as the Tswane riots demonstrated, but we have also come a long way. 

As Christians and citizens  we have been set free from the bondage that kept us separate on the basis of race and religion, and  we should not allow ourselves to be dragged back into the slavery of that fear that feeds hatred. That is why we have to resist and reject racism and xenophobia at every turn whether in the church or the state.   So let us take to heart what Jesus said. "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  Fear is nurtured by lies; freedom thrives on truth, and for us that truth is embodied in Jesus.  That is why we have to continually listen to Jesus' words.  And that is precisely what Paul was telling the Galatians. For only when we truly follow Jesus will we know what is true, and only then will we be free -- free from fear, free to seek justice, free to be compassionate,  free to love one another.

"For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore and do not submit
again to the yoke of slavery."

John de Gruchy

Volmoed   23 June 2016