Take my word for it

When Zimbabwe is already independent for thirty years, Cephas Msipa, a veteran of the Zimbabwe freedom struggle, asks at the end of his recent memoir, In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice, “Why are we so poor? We have a beautiful country endowed with many natural resources.”

holy-bibleThe answer is complex and would take us into the history of the past ninety years but it all comes down to trust. If there is no trust people will build walls to keep others out. These walls can be made of bricks or of laws. Once the choice is made to build walls they have to be reinforced by prejudice and backed up by violence. Msipa experienced all this in his long life.

Trust is based on a sense of belonging to one another. It starts with child and mother. Yesterday I was told my hand luggage was overweight and I had to surrender it to the aircraft staff. When I got it back my cell phone was missing! So, we learn not to trust anyone. Yet we know deep within us that we should be able to trust others; the whole of life is based on it. A child has implicit trust in their mother. Married people have to trust one another. Trust begets trust. If we begin to trust we get a positive response. In the school I was at we were allowed huge freedom. We were told, “we trust you. Don’t take advantage of this to do silly things!” On the whole we respected that.

At the end of his life – in his goodbye message – Jesus called his disciples to trust. “If anyone loves me they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we shall come to them and make our home n them.” The onus is on the person: to trust his word. Can we trust the word of another? We do it all the time with friends and family. But can we trust others who are not friends or family? People who are different in race and creed and political affiliation? Can we make that jump? Can we pull down those walls, as the Germans did in 1989? As the South Africans did in 1994? As the Irish did in 1998? These were all mega-exercises of trust.

But as we look around today at Syria, at Libya and (still) at Zimbabwe, we realise how much ground there is still to cover. And there are people in the American election wanting to build new walls. To “keep my word” is to trust in the message. Luther wrote of the power of the word. The Church in his time tended to emphasise actions which were external. They did not draw on the heart. They did not change people. Accepting “the word” is like being thrown off your horse, as Paul was. When people reach out to one another across barriers the result is electric. Think of the Filipinos who, when faced with armed soldiers, went up to them and put flowers down the barrels of their guns!

That was perhaps unique. But some kind of breakthrough is needed before we can begin to answer Msipa’s question. There has to be some kind of reaching out to others who are different. Those who are not our family or friends or party or race or religion. Those who are different in that they are poor or handicapped or old or in prison. The “word” – or better the Word – challenges us. It also redeems us and gives us life.

1 May 2016                                         Easter Sunday 6C

Acts 15:1… 29                                    Rev 21:10 … 23                                  John 14:23-29


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