March 2018 – What does obedience look like this Easter?
What does obedience look like this Easter?
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed;
” My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
The garden of Gethsemane is a “pre-scene” to the Easter story, and yet it is the foundation to the story that leads to the salvation message of the gospels, and the point around which all the gospel narratives pivot. It is one of the places where we really get to see the tension between Jesus’ lived experience as one who was fully human and fully God. Jesus, at around 33, had already lived a life that was so counter-cultural, so challenging to the status quo and the powers that be, so exemplary of the Kingdom of God and critical of the earthly kingdom he lived in, that by the time he is in Gethsemane, it is the point of no return.
Before we read of Jesus’ heartbreak in the garden, we read in Matthew 21 that Jesus enters the city being praised by the crowds who followed him. The people of the city asked ‘Who is this?” The crowd, that had grown in number during his extraordinary three year “ministry trip” between Jerusalem and the most forgotten and hard-pressed parts of the occupied nation, follow him into Jerusalem calling him the Son of David, the prophet, the Nazarene. The rulers of the law, religious authorities and, it seems, all who had a vested interest in the power inequalities of the status quo, are indignant. Ultimately, they call him a traitor, a blasphemer, and a rabble rouser. They demand his execution.
As I reach this moment in the gospel narratives, I imagine that Jesus found himself with very few options, even as he asks his father whether it is possible to avoid what is ahead. In order to be spared, surely he would have to avoid arrest. Perhaps this could have been done by going into hiding? Or through launching a campaign using force and self-defense? Or by stopping doing and saying the things he was called to do and say, and perhaps even publicly apologising?
As we know, he did none of these things. Yielding to God’s will at this crucial point meant that neither hiding nor resisting, neither fighting nor backing down, neither apologising for the truth he had preached, nor forcefully imposing it were the obedient options. There were other moments in his ministry where withdrawing, opposing, resisting and publicly demonstrating another way was obedience. But now, as he faces the consequences of this obedience, submitting to a very public trial and execution, he becomes the one “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians).
What did obedience look like for Jesus? To keep moving towards Jerusalem unashamed and unapologetic about the message of the Kingdom of God and what would make for peace in his time … and then to face the consequences.
What does this look like for us as followers of Jesus in South Africa as we reflect this weekend on the Easter story? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who opposed the Nazi regime, wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When we consider Gethsemane and Jesus’ obedience described by Matthew and Paul, we have to ask ourselves what it looks like to “come and die”? We have to ask ourselves what obedience looks like.
Even though vastly different in many ways, the world we find ourselves in now has many similarities to the one in which Jesus and his followers found themselves. We grapple with what it means to know what would make for peace in our times. Opinions and responses vary. We are tempted on a daily basis to go on the offensive using force. We are also tempted to hide, to keep from putting our heads above the parapet, to withdraw and avoid upsetting the status quo. We are tempted to avoid the consequences of being peace-makers and justice bringers, perhaps to choose a quiet life even though the cost of our silence is deathly for many in our society and generation. It seems to me that too often we choose the wrong kind of death. The death that brings division, hatred, exploitation, corruption and greed.
This Easter, let us ask Jesus what it looks like to be walking in the way of his obedience, sacrifice, suffering and death … the one that leads to LIFE and life in abundance for all.
By Caroline Powell
Check out some thoughts around various issues confronting society today…
The Warehouse Podcast: Sweet Home Farm with Siyamboleka James and Barry Lewis
Ted Talk Video: What if gentrification was about healing communities instead of displacing them, by Liz Ogbu
It’s dry, it’s hot and it seems hopeless. We lament the state of South Africa. We lament the drought and the ongoing water shortages. We lament the lack of rain and the ever-increasing dryness that surrounds us. We lament the drooping plants and the dead fields.
We lament the way this resource – this naturally occurring yet necessary and life-sustaining resource – has been captured and commodified and sold to the masses for profit. Why do we feel that we can own your water? Only to mismanage it and mis-allocate it and cause so many to suffer.
But Papa – we also lament our role and complacency in the unfolding of this disaster. Especially as the more privileged of this country we ask that you lead us deeper into repentance, redemption and transformation. We repent of the way we have mindlessly wasted water for so many years. We repent of the way we have been so slow in changing our ways, our habits and our hearts to respond to the call to save water – we repent of how slow we are to settle for enough.
We repent of our entitlement, our sense of having a right to have clean, drinkable water come straight out of the many taps in our homes. We recognise those who have been to queueing for water since long before Cape Town was declared a disaster area. We repent of how we have seen so many living in inhumane conditions and undeclared disaster areas for so long, and yet we have done nothing. We acknowledge our hypocrisy as we come to you with dirty hands and not enough water to wash them, asking that you take note of our pain and do something about it.
We repent of how we have allowed fear and anxiety to rule in our hearts. We repent of how we have allowed this crisis to spin us into a selfish frenzy – where we have allowed greed and fear to set in and lead us to selfishly hoard water for ourselves. We repent of how little time and thought we have given to the most vulnerable in our communities. Jesus, may we not be caught hoarding wealth (or precious water!) in the last days (James 5v3). May we seize this opportunity to be the church you have called us to be – to put the good of others before the good of ourselves. You teach us to be wise and to plan ahead; but you also call us not to fear, not to rely on our own abilities and not to seek to maintain our own wellbeing before that of our neighbour.
And so we commit to not letting fear, greed and selfishness rule us! We commit to planning ahead so that we may share our resources with those who are not able to store and prepare. We commit ourselves to collecting water not just for ourselves, but also for the poor wanderer on our streets; for the homeless couple that knocks on our door; for the elderly woman down the road.
We commit to not letting this water crisis further entrench the divides in our city between the rich and poor. Instead we commit to taking this as an opportunity to look beyond ourselves. To recognise the humanity of others. To see your face, Jesus, in the destitute and forgotten. We commit to rallying our families, neighbours, churches and communities together that we may be ready to respond to the needs of the lowly and the poor – and in so doing may we be promoted to open our homes and hearts to You – the poor homeless man and his tribe.
And Papa, as we learn to look beyond ourselves, and as we learn to be neighbours in our city led by love and not by fear, we pray that you would help us drink deeply of your streams of living water. Satisfy our thirsty souls for we have been trying to quench our thirst through self-preservation and disconnection for too long.
“May justice roll [in] like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5v24).
Some of what The Warehouse team has been up to ….
The Warehouse serves the Church in its response to poverty, injustice and division. We do this through walking alongside leaders, creating and adapting resources, hosting events, facilitating transformational encounters, and more. These are just a few snippets of things we have done during this past two months …
Stellenbosch University Group
We hosted a group of theology students from the University of Stellenbosch, and spent time sharing with them what we do, and talking about theology and practice in our context. It was a rich time.
Leadership in Urban Transformation
The third cohort of the Leadership for Urban Transformation course run by the University of Pretoria, had their first contact week at The Warehouse.
Children, Church and the Law Workshop
We ran a Children, Church and the Law workshop for churches in Langa. This equips churches to know and implement the South African law as it relates to children.
Global Prayer Safari
Just Worship Evening
Colleen Saunders was part of the Global Prayer Safari, and The Warehouse hosted the last leg of the group’s trip in Cape Town.
Together with The Justice Conference South Africa and 24/7 Prayer South Africa, we hosted a workshop exploring worship and justice. The clip from this event is made up of two sections: Sandra Maria Van Opstal, author of The Next Worship, Glorifying God in a Diverse World begins by sharing principles, theological reflection and practical tips to re-imagine worship oriented toward justice. The second is a contextualised Q&A with Minah Koela and Langa Mbonambi talking about the role of worship in forming our justice-response in South Africa.
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