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The Rev. Johann Vanderbijl: “When the Spirit of the Lord moves” (Psalm 145; 1 Corinthians 12:4-14; Luke 11:9-13)

May 12, 2008

From the Rev. Johann Vanderbijl of the Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in South Carolina, here is a sermon titled “When the Spirit of the Lord moves”.  The text of this sermon follows, and when the audio is available on the website I will provide the link, as I have a feeling some may wish to listen to the music of which Fr. Johann speaks:

The farming community I grew up in was a diverse community – it was made up of descendents of the original German colonists, the descendents of the Dutch immigrants from South Africa and the descendents of the British settlers who governed the country after the Germans lost the 1st Great War. So, you can no doubt imagine that neighbors didn’t always see eye to eye…some were downright hostile toward each other, but most simply went on their way as if their neighbors did not exist at all. Those who were like-minded would get together periodically to gossip about or slander the others around them who spoke differently and acted differently from them. My own family was a bit of an enigma to some as my father was of Dutch/German descent and my mother was of British descent. My mum was often slighted or ignored by our Dutch/Germn family…but in time most people came to accept the “foreigner” in their midst. I remember as a child observing this silent hostility without really understanding the reasons for the many divisions. We, as children growing up largely under my mum’s influence, tended to simply perpetuate these divisions without knowing why we didn’t like, say, the Germans from Deutsche Schule Windhoek…they didn’t like us either and so the friction continued on into the next generation. I suppose that was one of the biggest reasons for apartheid as well…we just went on disliking each other because that was the way it always had been done…

But I will never forget the day of the great bush fire…a sudden gust of wind had blown a single burning ember from an outdoor cooking fire into a clump of dry grass on a farm two farms west from ours. It had rained heavily the previous week and the grass had been pressed down to form somewhat of a thick carpet and in no time the bush fire was out of control. Word went out immediately to all neighboring farms – besides, we could all see the huge black cloud on the horizon – and, regardless of nationality or language, everyone got together to fight what was fast becoming one of the largest fires in living memory…as the fire hopped from farm to farm, neighbors who had just the day before been openly hostile toward each other fought side by side to save livestock and precious grassland. And so the barriers came down – the fire had united the divided – and for many years afterwards, these men and women remained friends, helping each other to face various difficulties – especially later during the bush war – by looking out for each other and by uniting together as a coalition force against their shared threats.

But it took a fire to unite them all…

The Church, unfortunately, is no different…if one looks at all the different denominations in the world today, all claiming that they alone serve the Lord the right way (and we are no different dearest brethren – we, in the Anglican Continuum, keep dividing because other people don’t want to believe things the way we believe them or do the things the way we think things ought to be done) – but if one looks at all the denominations out there, one may very well despair of there ever being any form of organic union this side of eternity. Of course the Church is one in spite of us…there can only be one Body of Christ whether we like to be associated with those of other denominations or not…we will all share eternity together, unless, of course, we would prefer to go the other way. But this side of the river, so to speak, we continue to defend and live out our spiritual apartheid. And yet, we can hope and pray for some form of orthodox ecumenical union in the future where brothers and sisters in Christ could actually come together in spite of their differences and raise up holy hands to their one Lord and Father.

But if this happy state of affairs is ever to take place it will take a fire to unite us – a fire Who once united the most diverse groups of people imaginable…the Gentiles and the Jews…

Oneness has always been the result of the Spirit’s activity in the life of the Church – when the Hoy Spirit of God truly moves, there is unity…even between the most diverse and the most extreme. In many ways this comes about through what we may term “inversion” – where the Holy Spirit takes the base things of this world and elevates them – where He takes the foolish things of this world and makes them wise – where He takes the weak things of this world and makes them powerful. When the Spirit moves victory comes through a Lamb…when the Spirit moves, the poor becomes rich and the rich poor…the last are first and the first last…when the Spirit moves He turns up-side down lives the right way up.

There’s this wonderful story by Roald Dahl called the Upside-down mice – it is all about an old man whose name was Labon who bought a house infested with mice. But because Labon was a kind hearted man, he did not wish to kill the mice…so He came up with a ingenious plan…one evening before he went to bed he glued some mouse traps to the ceiling. That night when the mice came out they saw the traps on the ceiling and laughed their little heads off at the foolishness of the old man…but the next day, Labon glued some chairs, a table, a television set, a lamp, and a carpet onto the ceiling as well. That night when the mice came out they thought the ceiling was the floor…soon they began to feel rather dizzy and so they decided to stand on their heads so that they might be the right side up…and one by one the mice fainted as the blood rushed to their brains and Labon simply gathered them up into a basket and set them free outside…

However, when the Holy Spirit inverts things it is not because we are the right side up, but rather because we are the wrong side up and need to be turned around…while we continue with our tragic divisions we are like the mice standing on their heads – we will never accomplish much for the kingdom because we cannot think straight for self-inflicted dizziness…but the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see that what we thought was the right side up may not be so and what we thought was really important may not be so…and He turns us back up the right way…

But perhaps the most wondrous thing about the move of the Spirit is that He does not discard us because we are the wrong-side up – because we are imperfect – no, rather He uses us as we are and slowly, but surely He recreates us – He remakes us – He teaches us a new set of values and grants us the ability to see things from a different perspective.

Just look at what He did with the Apostles! On the day of Pentecost, the scaredy-cat St. Peter, who denied knowing Jesus at all out of fear of the Jewish Sanhedrin, suddenly stood up and boldly proclaimed the Gospel in the presence of some of the very same men who were present in Jerusalem at the time of the trial of Christ. And what about St. Paul? One day a murderer and a persecutor of Christians, the next a devoted follower of Jesus and one of the greatest missionaries this world has ever known.

And what about the Church in general? From the moment the Spirit thrust the believing Jews out of Jerusalem, people were being knit together into the same Body of Christ…first the Samaritans and the Jews…then the Greeks and the Jews…then the Romans and the Jews, not to mention rich and poor, slave and free…all the way through until today we have a multicultural, multinational, multilingual group of people gathered from all over the globe united by the same Spirit in the one Jesus, our Lord. It is the moving of the Spirit of God that brings about this unity…this oneness…

What then cause division and disunity? Is it not the stifling of the Spirit – the opposing of the Spirit – the quenching of the Spirit that brings about the opposite of what He has come to do? Is it not our craving for homogeneity – our desire for a community of the “like” – that inhibits the movement of the Spirit? And here’s the question: If our desire for sameness creates and fosters suspicion of anything and everything that is not exactly like us, are we not then living an upside-down life?

Dearest brethren, I am of the opinion that we have perpetuated the current state of divisiveness to our own detriment – we have clung to what is similar and familiar and we have shunned what is diverse which is the exact opposite of the will of God’s Spirit. Here’s an example you may all be able to understand. Our very own 1940 Hymnal. Some of us are opposed to what is unhelpfully termed the “contemporary” because we think that traditional and contemporary do not go together…but think on this. When the 1940 was written, the compilers put together music from the earliest centuries with what was, at that time, contemporary…the Hymns of Ralph Vaughn Williams are found right next to 7th century chants. Why are we then apparently afraid to do something similar today? Why do we think it will not work? Why not take the dissimilar – the modern and the ancient – the traditional and the contemporary – and blend it into something harmonious? Or why not use various musical instruments in our services and not just the organ? Would that not be more biblical, especially in the light of what is written in the Psalm 150 and elsewhere? Trumpets, lutes, harps, timpani, stringed instruments, flutes, and even, God forbid, tambourines and cymbals. This can all be done very tastefully if we are willing to work at it…and to let go of our own preconceived ideas and prejudices…and I’m not talking about the weird and whacky – I’m not talking about Kumbayay – I don’t think it helpful if we go all the way to the other extreme – no, I am talking about eh balance, the blended and the beautiful…

And here’s a wonderful example: There is a township in South Africa called Soweto…it is, for the most part, an unhappy place, filled with strife and struggle since its beginning in the apartheid era. There is poverty such as you cannot imagine and various diseases have reached epidemic levels – one of which is AIDS. Crime is rampant and life is worth very little. Educational levels remain pathetically low and employment is for a privileged few – consequently many are forced to beg or steal.

Now, contrast this with the bustling, wealthy, prosperous, university city of Oxford…nothing could be further apart…and yet, two Choirs, one from Soweto and one from Oxford got together to work on a CD project they called “Simuye”, which in the Zulu language means “We are One”. This project was their attempt at a unique fusion of European and African a cappella. For one of the tracks they took an African Chant for Peace, “Khutsho” written by a man by the name of Mokale Koapeng in 1988, after years of political oppression and resistance in South Africa had caused him to wonder if the strife would ever end…and they combined this African chant for peace with another chant for peace from the very heart of the Western European Liturgy, the Latin Agnus Dei.

This combined cry to God for peace is, in my humble opinion, an outstanding example of what happens when the Spirit moves in the hearts of those who are otherwise divided by color, language, age, tradition, economy, culture, class, or whatever…it is a harmonious union that testifies to what is possible if we are only willing to work with the Spirit to be organically what we already are spiritually – One Body of Christ.

So, I want us to listen to this recording (you will find the translations of the original Pedi and Latin words in your bulletins) and as you do, I want you to pray and to ask the Holy Spirit – the Holy Fire of God – to fall upon you and to work in your heart and mind and to burn away all that divides, so that you will be willing to work with Him to create a more harmonious church in which the apparent contrasts are blended together to form something that breaks down the walls that separate – something closer to what God had in mind when His Spirit began to unite Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor, young and old, black, yellow, white and red. So, let us prayerfully listen to this recording.

LISTEN

Khutsho (Chant for Peace)

Pedi: English translation:

Morena re kgopela khutsho Lord, grant us peace

Mono, mono Afrika Here, here in Africa;

Khutsho ebe Afrika Let peace prevail in Africa.

Latin text: English translation:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis O Lamb of God, that takes away

peccata mundi, miserere the sins of the world, have mercy

nobis, on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis O Lamb of God, that takes away

Peccata mundi, dona the sins of the world, grant us

nobis pacem. peace.

Let us close in prayer:

“O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For certain we need to examine ourselves and our practices to see if we can indeed remove any obstacles to true unity–that brought by the Holy Spirit of God.  There is a lot to think about in this sermon, to say the least.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2008 5:03 pm

    I look forward with anticipation to listening to the chant when it is available. The sermon, like most from Fr. Johann, is outstanding. Especially…

    “…But perhaps the most wonderous thing about the move of the Spirit is that He does not discard us because we are the wrong-side up…because we are imperfect…no, rather He uses us as we are and slowly, but surely He recreates us…He remakes us…He teaches us a new set of values and grants us the ability to see things from a different perspective.”

  2. Mokale Koapeng permalink
    May 20, 2008 6:14 am

    Dear Rev Vanerbijl

    My name is Mokale Koapeng, the composer of “Khutsho, Chant for Peace”. I am greatly humble to realise that my little piece for peace is touching many lives. Thank you for spreading the message of peace. South Africa needs peace more than ever before.

    Mokale Koapeng

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