Wednesday, 17 July 2013

True Reconciliation

"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:20)

Deserted Xhosa hut

Bare branches bend before a restless wind. The roof creaks in the early morning sun, like the joints of an aged man. A dog howls in the distance. Nearby, a gong resounds, calling labourers to a coffee-break before the day's work continues. We often see them as they strain up the hill, with misty breaths and laughter blown far on the chill wind. Some have their homes among us on the mountain, but often their daily journey starts all the way from the valley below, long before first light. The reality of their lives is to a large extent a mystery to us. We live and work in relative harmony, but with so little knowledge or understanding of who they truly are, what they feel, what their home circumstances are etc. The Xhosas are a private and independent people, and a great part of their history has much blood on its pages.

The Xhosa Wars, also known as the Cape Frontier Wars, were a series of nine wars between the Xhosa people and European settlers, from 1779 to 1879, in what is now the Eastern Cape in South Africa. They are also known as "Africa's 100 Years War"; with the different conflicts seen as a series of flare-ups in one long war of attrition - the longest in the history of colonialism in Africa.

 In more recent history the Eastern Cape continued to be the scene of much conflict, forced removals, the artificial independence of two Bantu states, the Ciskei and the Transkei, source of cheap migrant labour for the mines further north and with it the havoc it played on family life over many years. A state of emergency was even declared on the 2nd of February 1990. It culminated into the fateful day of the Bisho massacre of the 7th of September 1992.

Much more can be said and written about this sad history, and the atrocities performed on both sides of the colour divide, here and elsewhere in our land. With so much blood spilt on our soil, is true reconciliation possible? Many have dedicated their lives to this cause, and much concerted effort has been put into bringing this about. Why is there then still so much animosity in our land?

My answer to this question came from Scripture. 2 Corinthians 5:20 reads: "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" 

Man can only truly be reconciled to man, once man has been reconciled to God.

Reconciliation involves a changed relationship, because our trespasses are no longer counted against us. We were reconciled to the Father through Christ and were given the ministry of reconciliation. This basically means that we are now to announce to others the message of God’s grace.

We find the absolute heart of the gospel in the next verse: The sinless Saviour took our sins that we might become God's righteousness! This is mind-blowing... Righteousness is not a sweet-sounding word. It calls us away from the image of our Heavenly Father as a benign old man with a long beard and a serene smile. It calls us back to the Almighty God the Father, just, righteous and omnipotent. Calling us through Jesus to become His righteousness - we let this sink in a bit and we will stand in awe and "fear" before His throne.

Part of our spiritual armour is the breastplate of righteousness. This is a metal plate that covers the chest and ultimately the heart of the soldier. When we have received the righteousness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus, we also receive the "right" to put on his armour each day.

To have/become God's righteousness does not only involve a changed relationship, it also needs to lead to changed behaviour. As we face a broken world with God's righteousness what would we see?

Just that: brokenness. Brought about by surrender to evil rather than righteousness. And ultimately with spiritual eyes, we realise our own broken state. But; "The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) When my own heart breaks and my spirit is crushed at the full realisation of my own sin and what it brought about, it leads me to a place where there has to be repentance. Another word that we don't like hearing. But there is no reconciliation without repentance. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (2 Cor 7:10).

When we face the final judgement, we will only be called to answer for our own actions. 

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. I do not always have the grace and ability to love and forgive unconditionally, but I know that God does. With Jesus before me each day, one small step at a time, it is possible to love and forgive. Not to condone the wrong, but to know that surrender in prayer is powerful, but carrying bitterness in my heart is debilitating.

A small, seemingly insignificant example from my own life was a recent theft from our home that left me seething. The culprit was not a masked and armed villain in the dark, but a young girl, brought to help her aunt clean our home. Essentially still a child, the temptation of the shiny rings on my dressing table was too much to resist. First to disappear was a ring adorned with an amber stone set in a simple setting, a gift from my husband. Then my garnet engagement ring went "missing". Neither was very valuable, but they were personal treasures, with beautiful memories and meaning attached.

After the truth was discovered, I could not look at this girl without a feeling of resentment. She had given the rings to a school friend and the friend had "lost" them, so I gave up the hope of retrieving my treasures. Later I learnt that the father had beaten the little girl severely when confronted with the theft and the mother, being an alcoholic, did not care much to defend or teach her child right from wrong. I prayed to be given a Christ-like heart for this girl. Since, I have started seeing less defiance in her haughty stares, but glimpsed the pain she carries as a result of being rejected and assaulted at such a tender age. I am also starting to feel something akin to compassion for her, and I trust that with grace I may come to see her as Jesus does. A child the Father longs to hold to his heart, to give the love her earthly parents have failed to give. After that I will be hopefully be able to begin working on forgiving the parents...

No commission, authority or court of justice can undo the past, help people to heal the wounds that our tainted history, crime, racial intolerance, injustice etc. has caused. But if we are reconciled to God - would not this ministry slowly but surely seep balm into those painful places? I believe it would. A good place to start from is my own knees. Will you join me?

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4).

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The donkey, the Samaritan and the King

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion...; see, your king is coming. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey..." (Zech 9:9)

Market day around a sprawling oak tree. I escape to make a journey down the tunnel-like pass to the valley below. Destination Alice, (not the Springs one), but our own bustling piece of Africa. Named after Princess Alice, daughter of the British Queen Victoria. Home to the University of Fort Hare where many of the current political leaders in South Africa were educated. Also the alma mater of former President Nelson Mandela. It first became well known as a mission station, with Presbyterian missionaries founding an educational centre known as Lovedale. Something of the gentleness has remained and smiles and greetings are freely shared.

But on this day my journey is delayed. Goats, cows, scrawny dogs and other live stock are often encountered on and next to the road, and my eyes automatically scan the horizon. I suddenly notice a strange shape on the left verge, not so far ahead. Slowing down and drawing a deep breath, I look. My heart sinks. I make out the sad form of an injured donkey, lying still on its side. As I pass, its front legs flail in what I think to be a final kick. Something compels me to turn around, my insides churning desperately as I turn the wheel. The animal rears its head as I approach and something in me breaks. I kneel down and lay my trembling hand on its head. An almost human moan escapes his bleeding mouth. "Oh Lord please" I plead, "take him now, take his suffering, my helplessness, all of it". But the moaning continues, his back legs broken and still, but in obvious agony . As one vehicle after another speeds past, my mind races from one possibility to another. My phone-calls lead me from one dead-end to another. No one wants to become involved.

My heart prays wordlessly, and two dusty cars finally pull off to the side of the road. It appears that the incident was reported to various authorities more than an hour ago. I watch the two vehicles pull off again and become smaller. The cruelty of it all makes me shiver in the hot sun. A caring friend back on the mountain lets me know that she met with the same response each way she turned. Leaving the police station, she bowed her head and pleaded: "Please Lord, give a name, anything..." She is given a name and having tracked him down, he meekly takes his keys without hesitation and sets out to do what needs to be done. The animal is released from its suffering, loaded up, and the good Samaritan goes on his way without need for recognition or praise.

Setting out for Alice a second time, I swallow the sadness, and marvel at the unfolding of events thus far. Even though some people would say: "it was just an old donkey", these humble animals have always had a special place in my heart. They cant claim to be anything but what they are. Highly intelligent, but stubborn and not very easy to train to do your bidding.

I thought of Jesus of Nazareth's dramatic entry into Jerusalem... Openly entering the city celebrating the feast of Passover, where he himself is a marked man. A crowd of pilgrims go out to meet him, shouting: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Then, waving their palm branches, they add: "Blessed is the King of Israel", echoing the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel. Jesus responds by sending for a young donkey to sit on, muddling the picture they were creating. He should have chosen a fine white horse to ride on, or made use of some other symbol of power. Instead he paints from a different palette. He enters, evoking an image from the Prophets: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion...; see, your king is coming. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey... (Zech 9:9). He was (and is) indeed their King, but not the sort of king they had in mind.

The cry of Hosanna! is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na), and had become a greeting or shout of praise, but actually meant "Save!" or "Help!" Israel hoped to be saved from oppression and hardship. To be reinstated as a people under the long-awaited Messiah.

Why do we so stubbornly expect our help to come from other people? Someone at the other end of the line, the authorities, our spouses, family, friends. God cares. He hears the moan of a donkey at the side of the road. It knows how to call out to Him, carrying the imprint of the Creator in each fibre of his being. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowing. And we are made in His image, called His beloved. Our Lord, who cares enough to send help when an animals suffers, knows the cries of our hearts even before we put them into words. He does not need to use who we call on for help, but whom He chooses, it all fitting in with a bigger picture that we know nothing about.

This man Jesus who road into Jerusalem, did not stop there. Here, He proclaimed His mission and then went on to fulfill it. His body was broken on the cross, speared, taken down and buried. But the blood that flowed there, has not lost its power and never will. It saves, reinstating us as a people, in right standing before God the Father. The tomb is empty and our Saviour is preparing a home for us in the house of His Father. While we journey in this place that is not our home, he hears our cries, takes them right up to the throne of God and will not cease doing so until he returns.

Sing Hosanna, sing Hosanna! Sing Hosanna to the King of kings. He hears.