St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Fourth Sunday after Easter, 2013

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“Christ, changing relationships and you...”
I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

During the second year of my national service I was fortunate enough to be brought back home from Kimberly to 10 Anti-aircraft Unit based at Youngsfield, near the Kenilworth Racecourse. Due to the fact that I was studying through Unisa at the time, the military powers that be granted me a sleep-out pass which allowed me to leave the base in the afternoons and return every morning for my duties. I managed to secure a bedroom in a middle class family home in the northern suburbs which I called home when I wasn’t on the base. The landlord, an elderly Afrikaans man, was obviously a pensioner. He was friendly, but obviously lonely and keen to have people to lodge with him for company. After a short while, a second lodger joined us in the home. He was also a pensioner and seemed to have a long standing friendship with the landlord. One evening, while the landlord was frying a large pot of chips on the stove for all, the new lodger explained to me how he had run away from his old age home and was now lodging here with us. I didn’t think too much of the statement at the time and went about my business.

One afternoon, on arriving back from my base, I found a group of people congregated in the driveway. I wondered what was going on and walked up the short drive to find out. There was the landlord, the new elderly lodger and a large, well dressed man, in his forties, standing near the open rear door of what was obviously his vehicle. I greeted the newcomer politely and the gentleman returned the greeting. I noticed straight away that he was obviously very stressed and anxious. I hung back slightly; ready to help in any way I could, but also intrigued by what was transpiring before me. Before long, I realised that the man in his forties, was obviously the son of the lodger who had run away from the old age home. His son had tracked him down through a process of elimination and had now come to collect dad and return him to the old age home. “Dad, please get into the car...” The son spoke to his father politely and with respect. The old man refused. The old man also said nothing. The seconds felt like hours. I watched, realizing that the drama unfolding before my eyes was personal and complicated. ‘Dad, please get into the car!” This time the son spoke a little more loudly, his voice relaying more of a tone of stern command. Still, the old man refused to budge.

Then something happened that caught all of us by surprise. The son suddenly burst into tears, crying out loud, “Dad, please don’t do this to me!” There I was standing in my browns with tears also starting to well up in my eyes and flow down my cheeks. The old man also started crying. After a short while of silence, he quietly entered the vehicle. The son closed the door for his dad and went around to his door and climbed in. He started his car and drove off...

Today we read a very special part of the Gospel that deals with a difficult time for the disciples. Here, for the first time, they were forced to accept the fact that the relationship structure between themselves and Jesus was about to change. Change, any change, is stressful. Psychologists rate change, like for example, the death of a significant other, divorce and moving home, as some of the most radical changes we will endure in our lifetime. Alvin Toffler, a noted sociologist and author who penned the book, Future Shock, suggested that the only factor we can be sure of with regards to the future is change. 

Similarly, the disciples were shocked with the idea that Jesus would actually be leaving them. They immediately turned in upon themselves, trying to make sense of the grief and anxiety that they were experiencing.

What the disciples failed to appreciate and understand at this stage was that it was to their advantage for Jesus to leave. Why you may ask? Well, Jesus was called to fulfil the prophecy of being the Saviour and this included being put to death, being resurrected and ascending into heaven.

 Secondly, with the departure of Jesus, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to make an entrance into the world. This means that Jesus attained and assured salvation for all those who will believe, and the Holy Spirit would come and dwell within us.

The disciples remained focussed on what they knew and were used to. They struggled with the concept of change, the idea that their Lord and Saviour would be leaving them in the near future and that the Holy Spirit would be there to help them in daily ministry and lives. Just like the old man and his son who were struggling with their changing relationship between each other. While the old man was still the biological father of the son, he was no longer in charge or responsible for his son, in fact, the opposite was true. The son was now looking after the father and in charge of a newly structured relationship. This was hard for both parties; hence the tears as they both came to accept the new structure of the relationship with each other.

What lessons can we learn from both of these stories?
Firstly, the old man and his son still loved each other, in spite of the changing relationship between them. There was still respect, dignity and care. This is what the disciples eventually realised as well. Although Jesus was leaving and the formal, physical relationship between them was changing, there was still love, respect and dignity between all of them.

Secondly, although change is inevitable, some things remain the same. The love between the old man and his son had not changed, in fact it had most probably deepened. The same applies to Jesus and the disciples. The love between the Lord and his disciples grew deeper and stronger prior to his departure. Change brings about reappraisal of relationships and often a new appreciation of one another.

Thirdly, change also opens up new doors for growth and development as we learn more about God, life and relationships. Jesus, in a sense, by leaving was making space for the disciples to grow and manifest their ministry in a new and dynamic way that would be intuitive and personal. This was to prove essential for the growth and spread of the early church. In the same manner, once the old man and his son had accepted their newfound relationship, they were able to move on as a family and deal with the reality of the issues at hand, like growing old, moving into old age homes and supporting one another in a loving and caring manner.

What makes Jesus Christ so special to us as Christians is that as much as he went through change and stress with his disciples in order to bring us salvation, he now remains constant and true in our lives on a daily basis, no matter what change we are going through. The love of Jesus for us is constant, no matter how much we change, struggle or move away from him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, constant and consistent.

I am reminded of a poem written by C. Day Lewis entitled Walking away...
How will you handle the next big set of changes to face you in your personal life? Will Jesus be included in your walk?
May God bless you this week as you grow in his spirit and knowledge that his love for us is eternal and unchanging.
 Amen.
 

 

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