(by Andre Van Eymeren, first published in TS & PSSI Newsletter, June 2015)
The opening scene of the Hugh Grant, smash hit, Love Actually depicts the arrival gate at Heathrow Airport. It could have been any airport in the world as the scene is much the same. Loved ones welcoming home travellers with a huge hug and a kiss. Weary travellers relieved to see family and friends and to be on home soil once again. The long absence over, the heart full once again because of the sweet connection between people.
This kind of love is depicted again and again throughout the Scriptures, Abraham and Sara, Jacob and Rebecca, we see it played out through Solomon’s song, Jonathan and David, God to Israel, the Psalmist to God, the waiting Father to the prodigal son, Jesus to the world, the call to love each other, the example of the early church and so on. Love is the cornerstone of our faith and perhaps the greatest gift we can give to the world.
If this is true and we have been called to be bearers of a great love, the ones who are loved in order that we may go and love, then what is the nature of the gift we bear? How are we to express it? How do we so let it embody us that every response we make, every action we consider taking is permeated by love? Whilst this is aspirational I wouldn’t blame you if you put your hands up in the air in frustration, saying ‘it’s too hard, how are we to do this?’ The difficulty of this task is overwhelming, and it should be.
How are we to love others when they are fundamentally and vehemently opposed to the things we hold dear? Or when we are frightened by the things we see depicted in the media? What is the nature of the love we are to show? How are we even to love our family, when they interrupt the things we see as so important?
A few years ago Andrew Denton released a documentary called God on My Side he told the story of a conference of American Christian Broadcasters. I remember at the time there was a fair bit of cynicism from the Christian community about the documentary. For those who don’t know. Andrew is known for his sharp wit and the put down is never far away. Despite all of this he is very intelligent and very thoughtful.
I found the documentary both enlightening and disturbing. It was a very respectful look at the Christian broadcasting culture, however it also depicted the extreme end. At this end of the spectrum producers were making shows that welcomed the clash of cultures, including the loss of life, evidenced by the Gulf War. The belief was that a war of this kind would bring on the return of Christ and so was to be eagerly anticipated, and supported.
I was privileged enough to witness a Q&A with Andrew after the screening. One of the things that has stayed with me even years later was a simple comment Andrew made about love. In the credits he put the quote from John, ‘they’ll know you by the love you have for each other.’ Someone asked him about the quote and he stated that as he looked around the displays and heard people’s stories, he noticed that it was missing. The hallmark of our religion which should have been front and centre, in a conference of this sort was notably missed by someone who doesn’t share our faith. Ouch!
I use to work with Fusion Australia, one of our passions was helping the church in a community work together to put on a festival that moved it beyond the walls and welcomed and embraced that community with free food, family games and entertainment. The whole festival pointed to the invitational nature of our faith.
In training churches for this type of outreach, we often quoted Elias Cannetti. He wrote a book about crowds and power, in it he talks about the proof of God. He says that the proof of God’s existence is not a logical proof or illogical one, if you know maths, but a social proof. He believed and I think he’s right that if there was a crowd that gathered and there was love at the heart of that social system, then the divine would be proven without the use of words. And there are certainly countless stories of how this type of connection with the community drew people closer to Christ.
So how are we to love? What does it look like, particularly in the face of some of the ethical challenges we see today? We could name some of them, same sex marriage, asylum seekers, Muslims, homelessness, poverty in general, drug addiction, secular humanism, forced closures of Indigenous communities and so on.
Quite often we mistake love for a staunch utterance of what we believe the gospel is saying about a certain issue. How have we got to a point in our faith that we believe love is embodied by shouting at someone across a barricade, or writing a disrespectful response on social media? Somehow it appears, we have equated love for the other with a verbal barrage of what we consider to be the truth.
Love is inherently relational, it yearns for deep connection, to understand the other and to speak hope and life, not condemnation. Earlier I pointed out that radical love of the other can seem impossible, that we can raise our hands in frustration and say we can’t do it. And that is right, because true love demands death, it demands that we sacrifice our ego, that we sacrifice our personal claim to be right and ultimately with Christ on the cross we put to death anything that would cause us to react out of hate, anger or fear.
Religion and the Kingdom of God
(by Mary Masheti)
Religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially a God or gods. The time when people became religious varies from culture to culture and tradition to tradition. Where culture is defined as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively and tradition as a way of thinking, behaving or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society for a long time.
A religion is a particular system of faith in or relationship with something greater than ourselves. The exact time when human beings first became ‘religious’ remains unknown. Research in evolutionary archaeology claims to show credible evidence of religious-cum-ritualistic behaviour from around the middle Palaeolithic era (45 – 200 thousand years ago according to some theories).
Religion ideally serves several functions. It gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive change.
Through religion human beings seek to have a relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of special reverence. It is also commonly regarded as consisting of the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death. In many traditions, these concerns are expressed in terms of one’s relationship with or attitude towards gods or spirits. In more humanistic or naturalistic forms of religion, it is described through the depth of one’s relationship with or attitudes towards the broader human community, or the natural world.
In many religions, there are also a set of rules that are to be followed by their members.
Nowadays we live in a world where much of society has changed. New religions or groups have emerged where, for example, a woman can marry a woman, and a man can marry a man. Also now a woman can change her gender to man, and a man can change his gender to woman – this is a very confusing issue which is hard to comprehend. Because people like experimenting with new things, quite a few people if not many are falling victim to these new religions.
In my opinion, this is a distraction to the next generation and it is certainly the devil at work. I think this is true of all religions, including those that call men women and women men, have deviated from the foundation of morals and beliefs, even if people are not so much rooted in religion.
The Apostle Paul was deeply rooted in his nation’s religion and he killed many people in the name of observing his religion, as he described to Agrippa (in chapter 26 of the book of Acts in the Holy Bible). Paul was even going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the Chief Priests in Jerusalem to persecute Christians in defense of his religion.
Jesus Christ is the one who changed Paul, by converting him. I believe this was an eye opener for Paul to differentiate between religion and the Kingdom of God. After Jesus changed Paul, he became a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) who could now love all people including the gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). He was mightily used by God and his zeal was now for the Kingdom of God and not religion.
I think it is high time that we ‘saints’ focused on the kingdom of God and not religion. Religion is like a box that prevents God’s people from achieving much in life. The Kingdom of God is not about religion, it is about a King and His dominion.
We should not be ignorant of the seductive environment that we live in. Many people use the phrase “My dress my choice” which means people choose to do that which does not please God. We also should not imagine that holiness is acceptable at a certain time and within certain parameters that people decide. We need to detach ourselves from things and thinking of the world. When we detach ourselves from them, religious people will call us or brand us as primitive. Yet the truth is; it does not matter what name they give us as we understand that our identity is with Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
May the Lord help us to be all He created us to be.
Mary V. Masheti
(all references from the New International Version)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
(by Bjorn Schmid)
Father God, maker of heaven and earth,
I acknowledge You and Your knowledge, wisdom and power,
Is far above all that exists in Your creation;
You are above Your creation and created beings.
I surrender my thoughts to You for purification:
My religion is broken by Your sacrificial love,
My philosophy is shattered by Your humble clarity;
Nothing of this world can reach or supersede You.
I Your servant need You and Your guidance today,
As I pass through layers of deception and lies,
Your love is light and dispels darkness,
Your word is truth and dissolves all doubt.
Indulge me Lord with Your discernment,
Between what is good and what is not,
What is helpful and what is harmful,
What is timely and what would delay me from doing Your will.
In all things I praise You and give you thanks,