Author Archives: Heston Groenewald

Sermon by Heston Groenewald 29th July 2018

Notes from the sermon by Heston Groenewald 29th July 2018

Reading – Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32 He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[c] you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’

Here is Jesus, with tears in his eyes proclaiming judgement on his beloved city. With its people (his people) keen to pick a fight with their Roman occupiers, in the name of Jewish nationalism.

Which is very very interesting in the light of our ‘Brexit’ situation today, with our (slim) majority of EU referendum voters who chose the ‘wide door’ – the popular path of reclaimed national sovereignty and wealth.

And of course 21st century Britain is not 1st century Judea, but there are parallels. In both cases the marginalised in society are the worst affected by a nationalist agenda. And in our day and age, we have a similar prophetic role to that of Jesus amongst his contemporaries.

Jesus’ message was, don’t get so caught up with Jewish national identity, that you lose sight of (or deny) God’s bigger picture – which is about fullness of life for ALL of humanity. And God’s intentions besides, you just can’t rebel against the Romans! If you stick to your guns (swords) there is only heartache and horror in store for you. They are far too powerful, and if you look for God’s kingdom down this popular path (through this wide door) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and you will be thrown out. All of which happened as Jesus predicted, in 70AD when the Romans decimated Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish people.

Jesus said, my beloved people, please please look through a different (narrow) door for a glimpse of the far better future that God wants for you.

Reading – Luke 13:22-30

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’

The last will be first and the first will be last! Since the time of Abraham and Sarah, God’s chosen people (the Jews) had understood themselves to be ‘first’ – and therefore the Gentiles (everyone else) to be ‘last’. Jesus, in word and deed, announced that this understanding had had its day. He offered a different path, a different (narrow) door through which a different vision of God’s kingdom could be glimpsed. And in this kingdom, there was no room anymore for Israel’s national identity. God’s work within creation may have started with Israel, but was always for the sake of ALL humankind.

And so we find Jesus in the gospels challenging and expanding Israel’s ‘national identity markers’ – the Temple, the Torah, the Promised Land, and Jewish genealogy. Jesus tells his people to give up these ‘Israel First’ symbols, and to follow him through the narrow door into a far bigger future. The narrow door leads to a demanding and difficult road – the road of self-abnegation and trusting God’s power rather than the (more visible) power of the sword. But this road would lead in time to St Paul’s writing: ‘In Christ there is now no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.’ Fullness of life for ALL humankind.

How do we apply all of this to ourselves today?!

There are many ‘wide doors’ through which we can seek God’s kingdom. Lots of distractions and tempting offers which promise ‘heaven’ when we buy this item, or go on that holiday somewhere faraway and sunny, or be more like this celebrity whose life is amazing. Anything but the real day to day life that we actually live. Similarly with friendships: we can have hundreds of facebook friends or twitter followers, but they never demand the real relational hard work of one-to-one day-to-day friendship – getting to know one another, annoying one another, forgiving one another, sitting down to eat and talk with one another.

But Jesus offers us a different (narrow) door to God’s kingdom. A door called Incarnation. God meets us in a specific human body, in a specific time and place, stays with us through our darkest sickest situations, bears our pain and overcomes our self-centeredness, and offers us a whole new kind of life – both before and after death. God commits to this creation, this world, this human race, this nation, this family, this set of circumstances and reality. It’s hard work and not as glamorous as the fantasies and faraway holidays (this is partly what Jesus’ ‘temptations’ are about) – but if Jesus is right, perhaps all these things that glitter are not necessarily gold.

In the words of a colourful wonderful desert anarchist (!) called Edward Abbey, ‘only petty minds and trivial souls yearn for supernatural events, incapable of perceiving that everything- everything!- within and around them is pure miracle.’

Within and around us is precisely where God wants to meet us and shape us into Christ’s image- in the daily situations and relationships and joys and annoyances and reality that we call normal life. There are millions of escapisms and fantasies on offer, but if we can narrow ourselves down to committing to this workplace, this set of people, these circumstances, these heartaches with a neighbour, this real present demanding tedious joyful miraculous life- this is where God wants to meet us.

And it takes discipline to shape our lives to better pay attention to God’s presence. But as we do, so we can be freed from distraction and fantasy to meet God in the present moment, and in the miraculous nitty gritty of real life.  ‘Am I centered, grounded, and ready to listen deeply? Do i prepare and come ready to share? Am i mindful and present to others? Choices around healthy eating and exercise, giving time to someone in need, turning off our radios TVs and mobile phones, being truly present to family and friends, and choosing to do without more possessions, are all [good training!] (Laura Swan OSB)

There is a corporate aspect to this discipline – the shaping our life as a church – and so I am excited about our All Hallows Vision Day on Sunday 25 November.

And there is a personal aspect to this – shaping our lives as individual disciples. Labyrinths are an ancient Christian ‘tool’ for symbolically centering our lives. Jesus said, ‘where I am there my servant will be also’, and tracing the labyrinth journey can help focus us on Jesus’ presence (God’s presence) WITH US in our journey through day to day life. Wanting us to know how deeply deeply loved we are – just for being who we are, not for the things we do or for how popular we are. God loves you. God loves me. God loves us. So so so so much.

 

Sermon for Transfiguration / Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Reading: Mark 9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
Lord, I pray that the words that I speak, and the words that are heard contain something of your transforming glory so that we can join together in the work of bringing about your kingdom here on earth. Amen
In Mark’s Gospel so far, Jesus has been leading his followers up a metaphorical mountaintop to give them a new view of God’s kingdom which he was ushering in. However so much of what Jesus has said and done has been a mystery to those experiencing it. Gradually, though, their eyes are being opened and they are starting to get glimpses of things as they really are. Jesus’ many miracles and parables are starting to show them that he is the Messiah and they are beginning to understand more fully what that means.
At the Transfiguration, it is no longer just metaphorical, we are on an actual mountaintop. God’s voice confirms what the disciples are gradually realising: “This is my Son, and I love him”. Just like Moses and Elijah received their calling from God on a mountaintop, Jesus also meets God on a mountain. He is sent out to finish the work started through the Law and the Prophets. The transfiguration is a sign of Jesus being entirely caught up in the transforming love, power and kingdom of God, so that it transforms his whole being with light. This is the sign that Jesus is not just indulging in fantasies about God’s kingdom, but that he is speaking and doing the truth. It’s the sign that he is indeed the true prophet, the true Messiah.
For us, experiencing the kingdom of God in Jesus shouldn’t mean merely a few minor adjustments to our ordinary lives. Jesus’ whole being was transformed until he was shining with the light of God. The transfiguration account invites us to a whole-hearted transformation of ourselves, so that we too can pick up our cross, like Jesus did, and follow him. We should be transformed by God’s light, until we’re overflowing with the light of the world. We know that, but do we really allow ourselves to be fully transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Are there areas of your life that continually resist full transformation?
Our Chapter of Mark continues with the argument between the disciples about which one of them was the greatest. It amazes us that they have spent so much time with Jesus and yet they still don’t understand the upside down kingdom that he has been talking about and bringing about. But, if you’re honest with yourself, do you really get it? Are you completely immune to the pressures of this world for material success and status?
We know that in God’s upside down world God is biased towards the poor. The theme of Church Action on Poverty Sunday is “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”. What can the account of the Transfiguration teach us about what we should be like as a church? If our churches are to be communities that put the poorest first, how must we change? What must we let go of? What sacrifices are we called to make? How can we allow God to transform us into what Pope Francis has called a “poor Church for the poor”?
First we need to see God in Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel the accounts of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are two times that Jesus is identified as the Son of God, both times by a voice from heaven. The only time he is actually recognised as the Son of God by a human being is at his crucifixion. And this wasn’t by someone who had walked with him and listened to him – Jesus was recognised for who he really was by a gentile, a Roman centurion. And it didn’t happen when Jesus was at his most powerful. In fact it was when Jesus was at his most vulnerable – he had been stripped of everything and was at the mercy of the authorities. Jesus’ divine identity was most truly revealed when he was at his weakest.
We need to see God in Jesus and then we need to see God in each other. I think Emma reminded us last week that the Quakers try to see “That of God in everyone”. Do we really see God in those who, by the world’s standards, are weak and seemingly at the mercy of the “system”? Those people who are as weak and vulnerable as Jesus was at his crucifixion? When we see people in poverty do we see the face of Jesus Christ, and want to listen and learn – or do we see “them” as people who are not “us”, do we see “them” as a problem, do we want to fix “them” and sort “them” out? Fixes that come at cost to “them” but not to “us”; that change “them”, but fail to transform “us”?
Part of Church Action on Poverty’s mission has always been to give a voice, a face and a name to those of us who experience poverty on a daily basis. To create a space where there are different voices and people truly listen to each other.
I think we, at All Hallows, are not too bad at doing this. We have a lot of things going on in our building during the week. Through our work with refugees, through our café, and through many other things that we as individuals are involved with we encounter people different from ourselves.
In our café just last week we took part in a Big Conversation as part of the End Hunger UK campaign which is co-ordinated by Church Action on Poverty, and Student Christian Movement is part of. Emma, Sarah and I asked people to write on paper plates their response to the question: “What one thing would you ask the government to do to end hunger in the UK?”. The significance of using paper plates was that we were asking the government to “step up to the plate”! It was fascinating to listen to people’s conversations as they struggled to narrow it down to just one solution! You can see the ideas they came up with displayed in the café. It was a vivid reminder to me how much I have to learn from listening to people and learning from their experiences.
Have a think about your week ahead. How often will you make time to encounter someone with a different lived experience to you? Can you make some more time to sit and listen, maybe to someone who has had their benefits sanctioned or who has had to make the impossible choice between heating or eating? Can you make more time to hear people’s experiences for yourself and be transformed by them?
When thinking about the possibility of being a poor church for the poor I’ve been challenged to think not only about what we do in mission but also about our act of worship here on a Sunday morning. We like to think of ourselves as an inclusive church, and we try very hard to be, but how varied are the voices who lead us? Heston is very conscious of being a white male, although at least he is from another country and challenges other stereotypes of a parish priest! How many people of different colours, countries and financial situations are involved in designing our worship services? Is it actually possible to be inclusive for the person who struggles to read, while being inclusive to those who love the beauty of liturgical language? And what about being inclusive of the person who didn’t finish school, while being inclusive of those who like an intellectual debate about the finer details of eschatology? I don’t think there are easy answers but, to truly be an inclusive poor church for the poor, they are issues we need to be grappling with. How do we ensure we are a church where people from all backgrounds and life experiences can meet with the transforming love of God?
Instead of providing our own opinion of the solution, how do we equip and enable those individuals with personal experience of the challenges of life to exercise leadership? How do we empower them to make the changes they themselves have identified as necessary? It’s probably more costly, especially in terms of time which is a real challenge when we feel so time poor, but is it what we should be doing? Like Church Action on Poverty, how are we ensuring that we’re not just a voice for those without a voice, but that we’re helping those who are not heard to use their own voice?
As I finish I’ll leave you with some inspiring words from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche which could transform us as individuals and as a church if we’re brave enough to follow them and really become a poor church for the poor:

“If you enter into relationship with a lonely or suffering person you will discover something else; that it is you who are being healed. The broken person will reveal to you your own inner hurt and the hardness of your heart, but also how much you are loved. Thus the one you came to heal will be the healer. If you let yourself be moulded thus by the cry of the poor and accept their healing friendship, then they may guide your footsteps into community and lead you into a new vision of humanity, a new world order, not governed by power and fear but where the poor and weak are at the centre. They will lead you into the kingdom Jesus speaks of”.

Lydia Groenewald

For further inspiration: ‘Poverty is many things’ by Tony Walsh

Poverty is not entertainment, it’s not noble or romantic.
Poverty is… heavy.
It’s heavy hearts and heavy legs.
It’s sore skin and hollow eyes.
It’s upset and downhearted.
It’s hunger. Malnourishment. It’s always thinking about the next meal.
Poverty is bailiffs, it’s food banks, it’s queues and lists, it’s never being told what you’re entitled to but always being told.
Poverty is being shown up then put down.
It’s missed payments and mistrust.
It’s always answering questions but never answering the door.
Poverty is hiding in plain view. It’s hiding.
Poverty is high bills and low pay.
It’s higher costs and lower self-esteem.
It’s invisible scars and visible pain.
Poverty is living nextdoor, it’s living on your nerves, it’s not living, it’s… barely surviving.
Poverty is… everywhere. With… nowhere to turn
It’s a gut-wrenching silence, screaming.
Poverty is depressing, demotivating and dehumanising.
It’s degradation, desperation and despair.
Poverty is feeling… worthless, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling excluded, it’s feeling rejected, it’s feeling ashamed, it’s feeling trapped, it’s feeling angry, it’s feeling fffrustrated, poverty is…. exhausting.
It’s not feeling anything. It’s… numb.
Poverty is… crushing. Empty. Lonely.
Poverty is cold. It’s damp. It’s ill health. Bad housing. Sadness, fear and human misery.
Poverty is ignored and abandoned. It’s sanctioned and sectioned. It’s late payments and early deaths.
Poverty is not something that happens to… “others”.
Poverty is our old people, our young people, our sick people, our disabled people, our mentally ill people, our homeless people. Poverty is people seeking asylum, it’s people who are refugees, people who are migrants. Poverty is over-worked, under-paid everyday people.
Poverty is people. It’s children. Babies. Not… “them”. Us.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
Poverty is growing in our country. In 2017.
Poverty is many things, but
it is not
acceptable.

A collaboration between Church Action on Poverty and Tony Walsh

Generosity is good for you!

generosity

 

 

 

 

 

Here are 7 good reasons why…

1. Because it’s what God is constantly doing

God loves us so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him may have eternal life (John 3:16)

God is a GIVER! And we are made in God’s image- generosity is in our DNA

2. Because your generosity bounces back to bless you

If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated. (Luke 6:38)

It is by giving that we receive. You can never out-give God!

3. Because you need to give, to keep your spiritual life fresh

Your gifts of money are like a sweet-smelling offering or like a sacrifice that pleases God. (Philippians 4:18)

When we cease to worship, we shrivel up spiritually. This goes for our giving just as much as our praying or hymn-singing.

4. Because Jesus had a lot to say about it

Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies. And he said, ‘I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others.’ (Luke 21:1-3)

1/6 of Jesus’ recorded words, and 1/3 of his parables, are about people and material possessions. To Jesus, little else is so potentially deepening or damaging to our relationship with God.

5. Because you get to see other people blessed

Your generosity will lead many people to thank God when we deliver your gift. (2 Corinthians 9:11)

6. Because it’s the way to true contentment

More blessings come from giving than from receiving. (Acts 20:35)

Generous giving is a great antidote to greed and selfishness- which are a temptation and danger for us all.

7. Because it involves you in God’s work

Your heart will always be where your treasure is. (Matthew 6:21)

Giving buys us in (literally) to the work of God. Every penny and pound we spend can be an investment in God’s kingdom 🙂

Praise God for Syria

Its amazing people and its amazing food 🙂

syrian-kitchen-1syrian-kitchen-2syrian-kitchen-3syrian-kitchen-4

All things bright and beautiful

We finished it! 300 pieces of prayer puzzle to see in Creation season 🙂

lindisfarneFor from him and through him and for him are all things. To God be glory for ever!  (Romans 11)

Unity shenanigans

Praise God for a wonderful weekend. Saturday was Hyde Park Unity Day, and we teamed up with Christian and Muslim friends to host a stall…

unity day 1 setup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had HUNDREDS of visitors, and invited them to do three things:

1. Taste some food that is found in Bible and/or Quran (grapes, figs, dates, pomegranate, olives, bread and olive oil)

unity day 2 fruits of our faiths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Make a mark on our ‘arty heart’. See how many languages you can spot- and keep an eye out for little baby Willow’s footprints!

unity day 6 arty heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Go do a Random Act of Kindness, and then come back and tell us about it. We wrote them up (there were hundreds!) on colourful cards, to make kindness bunting.

unity day 5 acts of kindness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a super day, full of generosity and joy. And the Unity continued into Sunday! We had a picnic Eucharist with St Michael’s and St Chad’s and friends from Revive. But not before clearing a big field of litter, and putting huge smiles on the Unity Day organisers’ faces 🙂

unity day 8 litter picking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praise God and THANK YOU and a big hurray!

In hope- we believe!

making all things new

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We believe in a light that scatters darkness.
It tears through every shadow in our world,
and leaves a clarity brighter than the sun,
and we name that light: God!

We believe in a love that crushes hatred,
and leaves a space for forgiveness,
to rebuild, redesign, and re-create our world,
and we name that love: God!

We believe in a faith that rips through injustice
revealing a different vision for our world:
of freedom, fairness, and future,
and we name that truth: God!

We believe in a hope that rattles oppressors,
shaping the intent of the Creator
for a people destined for love,
and we name that hope: God!

We believe in a time towards which all history travels,
where all our lives will be held,
and bound into eternity,
and we name that time: God!

Exodus and EU referendum in conversation (or, ‘Being read by our Bibles’)

twain

 

 

 

 

“When we let the story of the Exodus read us, we realise to our horror and dismay that in this story we’re not the innocent Hebrews. We’re the Egyptians.

Notice what Pharaoh says in Exodus 1: ‘Look,’ he says. ‘Egypt is crawling with immigrants. There’s too many of them. If we’re not careful they’ll outnumber us. They’re un-Egyptian. They have too many children. They’re at fault for everything that’s wrong around here.’ That’s the kind of thing we say.

Pharaoh believes he’s rich and powerful because he worked hard, and he thinks, ‘I’m not going to let the weak, the immigrant, or the underclass take away my entitlement.’ That’s the kind of thing we think.

Pharaoh makes up a story, a story of fear and mistrust and suspicion. He says, ‘They might outnumber us; there may be a war; they might fight against us with our enemies…’ That’s the kind of story we make up, and then we run to politicians who stoke our fears and play on our mistrust.

BUT here’s the surprising good news. Egyptians we are, but there’s more than one way of being Egyptian………”

(From Sam Wells: Learning to Dream Again; Rediscovering the Heart of God)

Sacred Wing Choir at BLF 2016

What a treat. Sacred Wing provided the very final performance of this year’s Bradford Literature Festival- and sounded just as heavenly as they look in this pic..

sacred wing bradford cathedral

Rainbow reflections at Rosebank

freedom day SA

 

Your vicar got to do a lovely thing this morning – I led school assembly at Rosebank Primary, with Dr Taher from Leeds Grand Mosque. On the day my home country South Africa celebrates the end of apartheid, we talked about ending modern ‘apartheid’ between our (and other) faiths and cultures. We celebrated that God has made us all different and amazing – and that our differences can enrich each other’s lives. The children all left the assembly hall shouting ‘You’re amazing!’ at each other and their teachers 🙂 Praise God!

LGM gathering