woensdag 21 juni 2017

Mythe #9: Arabieren zijn steenrijk door de olie

Het is interessant hoe het imago van de Arabische wereld sterk wordt gevormd door de rijke oliestaten van het Arabisch Schiereiland. Het gaat dan om de landen Saoedie-Arabië, de Verenigde Arabische Emiraten, Koeweit, Bahrein, Qatar en Oman, waar de woestijngrond sompig is van de olie. In wezen zou je Irak en Libië nog onder de rijke landen kunnen rekenen vanwege hun olievoorraden, maar die landen hebben hun rijkdom in rook zien opgaan door oorlogen en wanbeleid van hun dictators.

Toen in 1973 de olieprijzen enorm begonnen te stijgen omdat de olieproducerende landen het heft in eigen hand gingen nemen, werden we in Nederland overladen met televisiebeelden van de weelde van de Arabische Golfstaten. Mensen die al een zekere leeftijd hebben bereikt, herinneren zich hoe de muzikale top-40 van Nederland zelfs een lied kende met de sterke tekst:

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‘Koeweit Koeweit Koeweit, kielekiele Koeweit, kielekiele hopsa-sa’.  Hier het hele lied van Farce Majeure. 

Eén van de bekendste Arabische namen in die tijd was die van sjeik Jamani, de Saoedische topman van OPEC, de organisatie van olieproducerende landen.

Inderdaad, genoemde landen zijn ontegenzeglijk rijk geworden door de olie. Aan de andere kant, vanuit zakelijk oogpunt is er iets vreemd aan de hand. Die Golfstaten zijn rijk, omdat ze hun assets, hun kapitaalgoederen, verkopen. Over 50 jaar hebben ze niks over. Het is als een boer met veel land, die elk jaar een stukje land verkoopt om rond te komen. De boer kan enorm veel geld uitgeven, maar voor zijn kinderen zal weinig over blijven.

De stelling dat ‘de Arabieren steenrijk zijn door de olie’ is discutabel. Immers, de zes Arabische Golfstaten vormen een minderheid te midden van de Arabische wereld die uit 22 landen bestaat. En wat betreft de bevolkingsaantallen vormen die zes rijke landen helemaal een minderheid. In genoemde landen wonen ongeveer 40 miljoen mensen – waarvan minstens 10 miljoen tamelijk armetierige gastarbeiders. Er zijn dus 30 miljoen Arabische bewoners in die Golfstaten. Dat is 10% van het aantal Arabieren. De rest is er beslist minder florissant aan toe.

De meeste Arabische landen zijn niet rijk, en sommige zijn extreem arm.  Jemen is een voorbeeld van zo’n arm land. Daar wonen evenveel mensen als in alle Arabische Golfstaten samen. En dan een land als Mauretanië...  De gemiddelde burger heeft daar 100 Euro per maand als inkomen. Maar dat is gemiddeld. De meesten leven op de rand van verhongeren in die gortdroge woestijn. 

Wat te denken van Egypte? Het inkomen per hoofd van de bevolking is daar drie maal zo hoog als in Mauretanië, maar wat helpt dat de 30 miljoen Egyptenaren die van minder dan een Euro per dag moeten leven? 

Steenrijk door de olie? De helft van de Arabieren is straatarm en ondervoed, met een dagelijkse maaltijd van droog brood en thee, misschien zelfs met wat suiker. 

zondag 18 juni 2017

Sermon Rich Man, Poor Lazarus - Luke 16:19-end

Sermon Rich Man, Poor Lazarus 
2 Samuel 9.6-13; 1 John 4:7-end; Luke 16:19-end

Who is responsible for the horrendous fire in the apartment block in Kensington, London? Not just a complete building, but many lives have been destroyed. 

Who is responsible? The people in the building had complained about a lack of proper fire security systems, but nothing was done by the owners.  And the local city council did not take action.  And maybe the construction company used dangerous cladding.

We do not know yet, but for sure, when people complained, other people looked away.  

Just as the rich man in the story Jesus told us, looked away.  Looking away may have dreadful consequences for people who need our attention, and also for those who could have done something but who do not want to see and act. 

1 He did not see the poor man at the gate

Shortly before Jesus told the story - a parable - about the rich man and Lazarus, he had made a profound statement. He had spoken about the need to use money wisely.  Luke the writes:

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:14-15)

What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.   And then Jesus tells the story of a wealthy person, someone exalted among men.     

There was a rich man, dressed in purple and fine linen.  Purple and fine linen - this is a description of the robes of the High Priest.  Was Jesus purposely hinting at the lifestyle of the religious leaders in Israel? People who cared about themselves but not about the people?

Religious leaders who had their bibles but who twisted them into their own benefits, instead of using them as a motivation for showing love and mercy. 

Purple and fine linen were extremely expensive.  Only the very rich could afford this.  And rich he was - every day he organised sumptuous feasts - dinner parties. 

Every day? Even on the sabbath? It seems he did not care much for the laws of God.  Just as he did not care about the laws that speak of taking care of the poor.

Every day a poor beggar was laid at the entrance of the villa of the rich man.  He was laid there, so he was probably unable to walk.  He was sick, rather disgusting. A stinking man, because of the sores that covered his body.  

In our street in Cairo, I sometimes noticed a disfigured man - suffering from leprosy.  It is easy to just look away.  And if such a man is sitting at the gate of your villa, you stop noticing, don’t you?  He becomes part of the landscape and the calluses of your heart grow fast. 

The problem is, if you do notice, and look, and you allow the reality to sink in, you realise you have to do something.  If you are rich, and you are able to help a miserable poor man, the laws of Moses, and surely also the words of Jesus, send us out to do something. 

Inaction in the face of poverty, inaction in the face of need, is unacceptable for a child of God. 

But the rich man did nothing.  We know this, because the poor beggar desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  In that time there were no knives, forks or napkins. Food was eaten with the hands and, in very wealthy houses, the hands were cleansed by wiping them on chunks of bread, which were then thrown away. That was what Lazarus was waiting for. 

I guess the servants of the rich man would sometimes clean the floor, and take all those leftovers to the poor beggar - if he was lucky.  But in any case, the rich man did not care.  He just did not care. 

Lazarus did not get money. He did not get proper food.  He did not get medical help.  He was covered with sores and dogs came and licked them.  These dogs were not pets. Dogs were considered unclean, wild street dogs that scavenge the garbage, and then nose around the poor man's sores. It is not a picture of comfort but of abject misery.  

And the man was too weak to chase those dogs away.  Or maybe they actualy became his friends. Maybe the dogs were the only help he got. 

And the rich man did nothing.  He did not see any link between his life and that dirty beggar at the gate. 

2 He did not see the person at the gate

We do not know the name of the rich man, but we do hear the name of the beggar - his name is Lazarus.  That is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means - God is my helper. 

God helps the poor man - but the rich man is the loser in the story.  The beggar is important enough to have a name, while the rich man remains anonymous.  That is the world downside up.  “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

The rich man ignored the beggar, and I think he could do this because he ignored the person.  He only saw Lazarus as a dirty beggar, but he did not the man, the person, the human being created in the image of God, the person’s whose dreams of a normal life had been shattered.

To dehumanize someone is a very effective way of keeping responsibility far away.  Brand them as an economic issue, a refugee, a beggar, a dirty scumbag, and you shift the focus away from seeing the person.  The human being with his needs.  

This is evil - the dehumanization of humans.  And even when the rich man was tormented after he died, he did not see the darkness of his own heart.  

But God knows the heart, and on that basis the rich man ended up in a hot place.  

Poor Lazarus had been sitting outside the gate in the heat of the sun, day after day, but now the rich man suffered the heat.  And Lazarus was doing great; he received all the comfort a man can desire.  

Jesus indicates that there will be a moment of retribution.  The tables will be turned.  There is justice in this God-created universe. 

The rich man did not see the problem of his own behavior, even when he was being tormented.  Look what he says to Abraham: “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this fire.”

“Send Lazarus.”  He should serve me.  Look at my background.  And he is just a beggar after all.

But please, only the tip of his finger.  He is a dirty beggar, with sores all over him.  So I do not want him to touch me and make me dirty.  Just the tip of his finger…

And send Lazarus into the fire where I am.  He can suffer a bit for my sake.  

That’s the attitude of the rich man.  He still does not get it.  He does not see the human being, the man, the child of God in Lazarus.  He sees him as an item.  A servant.  An economic issue.  

We have to wonder how we look at other people.  All people are created in the image of God, and when we serve people, we serve God.   

Jesus makes abundantly clear, again and again, that if we have what other people need, our only acceptable action is to see, and act.  Act. Not because of duty only, but also because of love God God and his creation.

What was the sin of the rich man? He had not ordered Lazarus to be moved away from his gate.  He did not stop his servants from throwing some food at Lazarus.  He did not kick him in the passing. He was not deliberately cruel to him. 

The sin of the rich manwas that he accepted the poor sick man as part of the landscape and simply thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he wallowed in luxury.  

His sin was that he could look on the world's suffering and need and feel no grief and pity in his heart; he looked at a fellow-man, hungry and in pain, and did nothing about it.  He was punished for not seeing.

Who are the people that we do not notice? 
  • People who came to Utrecht as refugees? 
  • The women who for hardly any salary sit in sweatshops to produce our luxury goods at low cost?
  • Divorced moms with kids who are living below the poverty level but are too proud to ask for help?
  • Families where the breadwinner is sick?
  • The poor in third world countries who are out of sight and out of mind?
  • People around you with no material needs but dying for some love, some attention?
  • Homeless people in Utrecht?
  • People here in church who really need your help?
Do we even see these people, do we notice them as valuable humans who are entitled, entited to our love, help, support?

3.  He did not see God’s provision

But finally the seriousness of his situation sinks in, and the rich man begs Abraham to warn his five brothers.  “Tell them that they must use their wealth, their time, their energy, for the sake of others and not for themselves!  Tell them to serve people in need!”

He now realises, that repentance is needed.  Good.  But too late.  And he also knows from personal experience that his family does not take seriously what the law and the prophets say. 

Jesus came back from the dead - did this make a difference? Not automatically.  Having the law, knowing Jesus, speaking of his death and ressurection, repeating his words every week in church - does that actually change us and impact our lifestyle? 

Only if we open our eyes and if we are prepared to act.  Have an open eye for the needy aorund you. No, not for the needy, for the person who is needy.  

And take a decision - a decision to act. 

The rich man had not realised that his wealth was really a blessing from God.  His house, his money in the bank, his employees.  It was a blessing from God.  

Wealth is not bad. After all, Abraham was wealthy. But wealth brings with it certain responsibilities, a certain stewardship. We are asked to account for how we handle the wealth God has given us.

Our wealth is always, to some extend, the money we have.  
But it is also the time at our hand that we can spend with someone who needs attention.  
It is our diner table for that person who needs some companionship.
It is our car for someone who needs a ride.  
Our connections, to help someone find a job.

Conclusion

Let us thank God for all our blessings; we have so much. And let us ask him to give us open eyes and a heart for the poor and suffering, the many needy people around us. May he strip away the calluses that we have build up to protect ourselves from the hurt and pain of others. 

Let us love people as Jesus loved them and loves them now.  If he loves us and cares for us, in spite of our many imperfections, how can we close our eyes, our hearts, our life, for those around us who need us.


Amen

zaterdag 17 juni 2017

Mythe #8: Arabieren vormen een machtig werelddeel

Weer een lastige kwestie. We hebben al vastgesteld dat de Arabieren niet één volk kunnen worden genoemd, maar wellicht kunnen we aanvaarden dat ze wel één werelddeel vormen? Laten we daar eerst naar kijken, voordat we ons afvragen of ze ook een machtig werelddeel vormen.
Vormen de Arabieren samen een werelddeel? Gewoonlijk praten we niet over die landen als een werelddeel, maar in een wat luchtige zin kunnen we het grote gebied van Arabische landen best een werelddeel noemen. Het strekt zich uit van Marokko aan de Atlantische Oceaan tot in Oman aan de Indische Oceaan. Een enorm gebied dat zich van Afrika tot Azië uitstrekt. Ja, je kunt het een werelddeel noemen.

Maar als je met werelddeel bedoelt dat sprake is van een hechte, verenigde regio zoals veel landen in de Europese Unie (EU) zijn verenigd, dan beginnen de vraagtekens te komen. De Arabische Liga (AL) kan beslist geen tegenhanger worden genoemd van de EU. De EU is, ondanks de grote verschillen in taal en cultuur, een veel hechtere eenheid dan de landen van de AL.

Oké, een werelddeel kunnen we het noemen, maar het gaat niet om een sterk verenigd werelddeel. Kan het dan toch machtig worden genoemd? De macht van de EU is gelegen in de economische integratie, en juist op dat gebied is de Arabische wereld een hopeloze misère. Een voorbeeld met cijfers uit 2005.  Sindsdien is weinig veranderd. De totale onderlinge handel van de Arabische naties is slechts 12%, dat is 28 miljard dollar, van hun totale internationale handel. En de totale investeringen tussen de 22 Arabische landen onderling zijn niet meer dan 37 miljard dollar. Dat zijn geen bedragen die ik alledag op zak heb, maar laten we dit vergelijken met de onderlinge Nederlands-Belgische handel. Die bedroeg in 2005 ongeveer 85 miljard dollar. Dat is drie keer zo veel als alle onderlinge Arabische handel.

Er is dus geen teken van economische eenheid en macht in de Arabische wereld. Het gebrek aan handel loopt evenwijdig aan het gebrek aan politieke integratie. We kunnen dus gerust vermoeden dat we wederom een mythe hebben ontkracht.

Maar het oliewapen dan? Ja, ja, die autoloze zondagen van 1973, ik weet het. Maar wat hebben de Arabieren sindsdien gepresteerd met hun oliewapen? Niets. De Europese politici maken zich in elk geval niet druk om het idee dat de Arabieren samen een vuist zouden kunnen maken op het internationale vlak door hun olie of welk ander economisch middel ook.

Wat vreest Europa? Misschien wel vooral de enorme voortplantingszin van de Arabieren. In Nederland worden jaarlijks per 1000 mensen 12 baby’s geboren, in Noord Afrika ligt dat getal bijna vier keer zo hoog. In economische zin vergroot daardoor de Arabische ellende, want veel nieuwe banen worden niet geschapen, maar je kan natuurlijk zeggen dat de kinderzegen de macht is van de Arabische wereld. Hierdoor is de pressie op de poreuze zuidgrens van Europa in elk geval enorm groot.

De EU probeert uit alle macht Noord-Afrika vanaf Marokko tot Egypte te ontwikkelen op het gebied van de economie, de democratie en de geboortebeperking. Jaarlijks worden miljarden dollars uit Europa naar Noord-Afrika gepompt, om dat gebied te ontwikkelen, onder meer op het gebied van democratisering van de media.  Tot nu toe zonder enig succes.  De Arabische Lente, die een feest van democratisering had moeten zijn, leidde tot een bloedbad dat zijn weerga niet heeft in de Arabische wereld.  

zondag 11 juni 2017

Sermon: Worshipping Jesus Mat 28:16-20 - Trinity Sunday


In our liturgical year, today is the weekend of the Holy Trinity. For that reason I brought an icon that we have at home - a creative copy of the original.

This icon is called The Trinity, and also The Hospitality of Abraham. It was written by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. This is really the most famous of all Russian icons. Created about 600 years ago.

The icon depicts the three men who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. If you read that tsory, it is stranger how the writer seems to suggest that these three men meeting with Abraham, and eating with Abraham, was really the Lord God who visited him in his tent.

The story in the book of Genesis and this icon hint at the incarnation - it is God who comes to eat with us. And Rublev shows how God - Father, Son and Spirit, eat together, enjoy their own company together, in love, peace and joy. That is the Holy Trinity - amazing mystery. One God, yet three. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are mentioned in the baptismal formula that Jesus gives us in Matthew 28.

1. All power in heaven and on earth

After His resurrection Jesus met with his disciples in Galilee. Matthew, one of them, gives us an eyewitness account. Most of the disciples who saw Jesus immediately bowed down for Him. This bowing down of the disciples was really worship of people overawed by God. They fell down in adoration of their Lord who had conquered death, the Lord of life.

Muslims reject worshipping Jesus; they call it ‘shirk’, the greatest sin in Islam. ‘Shirk’ means that you believe that God has companions. ‘God does not have companions’, they say.  Some of the disciples did not worship Jesus either; they were doubtful. ’How can we worship Him? Is He not human, after all? Is this not idol worship? Should we not worship God alone? Do our Scriptures not tell us to only worship God Almighty?’

We have to commend Matthew for honestly describing the doubts of some the disciples, but Jesus took these doubts away. He wanted His followers to believe in Him and worship Him as God. That is why He approached them.

Just as He comes close to us when we are in doubt - as long as we are honest in our quest for Him, He will help us see Him as He really is. If you have doubts, or feel far from God, do not withdraw… Instead draw near, and He will come to you.  Jesus came closer, so that they were totally sure it was Him, and by coming closer He actually confirmed that worship was the right thing to do.

And then what he said took any remnants of doubt away. Our Master addressed them with the majesty proper to God only: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

The authority that Jesus claims here, is the main theme of the Gospel stories. His teaching was with authority. His miracles showed His might. He even had power to forgive sins. His resurrection also showed his authority – even over death, that awful enemy. Jesus claims to be almighty. Omnipotence is an attribute belonging exclusively to God. It belongs to Jesus also. ‘All authority is mine’.

Some people like to point out that Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him; His Father had given it to him. So, some argue, the Father is higher in divinity than Jesus. As if Jesus is a sort of lesser god. But think of this: God the Father has in eternity shared all power with his Son. In eternity: This means there was never ever a moment in history or outside history when the Son did not have power equal to the power of the Father.

Those who have problems to accept that Jesus and his Father are essentially one, should try to explain how there can be a God almighty and a Jesus almighty at the same time. It is impossible for two separate Almighties... except if they are absolutely one in divinity.
2. Go, make disciples of all nations

After Jesus established that he should be worshipped as the one with all authority in heaven and on earth, he tells his students to make disciples for Him of all nations. But should Jesus not have pointed to God and to the laws of God of the Old Testament? He wants to bind the nations to himself and to his own words... Is this not blasphemy? Yes it is, if Jesus is less than God. No it is not, if Jesus, the Son of God, is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Just as Jesus had spent all his time and energy to bind His own group of disciples to Himself as God, as the ulimate authority, so He now asks of those disciples to go and teach and train all nations.

Being a disciple of Jesus and making disciples is time-consuming. It is not a matter of a one-time decision; it is hard work. It is a process of teaching and learning that lasts a lifetime. In his book Matthew and Mission (1988, 2003) Martin Goldsmith, a Jew who became a Christian, says:
In the postmodern emphasis on anti-intellectual spirituality this emphasis on teaching and learning sounds old-fashioned, but God demands the use of the mind.
Jesus spoke of teaching and learning all that he had commanded during his lifetime. We really have a lot to learn in the process of being His students. And we need a balanced diet of all he taught. Not just those parts we happen to like about Jesus at the expense of what we do not like so much.

Mere mental understanding does not make us good followers of Him. It is an important part of the picture, but only a part. Truth learned must also be practised. It must be appropriated by heart, mind and will in a lifelong, hard, and often difficult process.

In our instant-cultures where we expect all our desires and needs to be met right now, it is good to remind ourselves that the best coffee is not instant coffee but coffee that is properly made, with a filter. And the best cheese is Old Amsterdam. Good things come slowly.

Interesting is that Jesus does not tell them to first teach the people and then also to make them obey the words of Jesus. It is about teaching to obey. The teaching in the church is not for satisfying our intellectual curiosity about God – it is for making us better worshippers, better followers, better in obedience.  

The beginning of tis process of being disciples is baptism. Jesus says here that this baptism must be into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptize into the name... for Jews this expression immediately reminded them of the name of God. The name they did not dare to pronounce because they were afraid that they would not show Him proper respect and lightning would strike them. It is the Hebrew name Yahweh. Baptize into the Name. The one name of the One God. And Jesus continues: into the name – singular- of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit. The one God, the God of Israel, Yahweh, is one God, but He consists of three “persons” – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now imagine that the three persons who Jesus mentions in this one sentence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are not intimately united in one Godhead. That they are actually in essence three separate beings. That it is about God the Creator, and Jesus, well, part of creation, and the Holy Spirit, maybe a sort of vague power... is the baptismal statement of Jesus then not just blasphemous? Or just ridiculous?

If Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not one in divinity, equal to the Father, then baptising in the name of those three is just as silly as organizing a football tournament here in Arnhem and announcing that the three participants are Vitesse, Jonathan Corbyn, and electricity.

The baptismal formula Jesus uses, suggests equality in essence between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nothing less. Martin Goldsmith, I quoted him before, says:
With the triune confession at baptism the believer is taught that right from the outset of the Christian life, all three persons of the trinity are equally to be worshipped, loved and served.
That is what the Christian life, the life of being disciples, is all about. Worship, love, service. And to be baptised into this Trinue God, means that you have been placed in the community of Father, the Son and the Spirit. That is the meaning of being baptised into the name. It makes you part of that wonderful communty.

And this is the environment for our growth. In this community of God we learn to be truly obedient to all Jesus has commanded us. The community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit decided that the Son should go to the world for the well-being of mankind. And to those who have been made participants in the eternal dance of love of the Trinity, Jesus says: Go and make others into my disciples...

3. I am with you…

How in the world can we do this? Well, Jesus promises His disciples, his church, that in this process of being disciples and making disciples, He will be with us. That is why He has send us His Spirit. Without His presence with us, what hope do we have to be his followers and to make new followers? How can we ever be His students, obey Him, serve Him, and draw others inside the same circle of students of Jesus? We need Him to be with us. We need him urgently.

His promise to be with us is, by the way, another strange one. Should he not have said: ‘God will be with you...’ or something similar? But Jesus promises his own presence. And this promise is even stranger because Jesus promises to be with his disciples, with us, at any time and in any place. Only God is omnipresent. How can Jesus then claim to be omnipresent, except if he himself is God.

The Gospel of Matthew began with the baby Jesus, who was called Emmanuel – God with us. And now, in the end of the Gospel, Jesus again promises to be with us. He is God with us.

We must be careful though. Jesus promises his presence in the context of making other people into His disciples and in the context of mission. He promises to be with the people who leave the comfort of Jerusalem to go into the world for the sake of the Gospel. The Christian church must never degenerate into a comfortable club for the like-minded. It is always called to discipling, teaching, evangelising.

Go, and help other people to find God through Jesus Christ, and to become his students just as we are. To people involved in this ministry, our almighty, omninpresent Lord and God says: “I am with you always, everywhere.”

Conclusion

And lets us be a student in the school of Jesus Christ. This has begun with your baptism, and for most of us that is quite a while ago. It is easy to drift away from what we have been called to by our Lord. To be his student does not stop after some confirmation classes - it is a lifelong process that never stops.
Let us study God’s Word much, personally and in the community of the church, in order to worship and serve our Lord better. He gave his Word - and especially the Words of Jesus - for us to obey.

And go, speak with friends, with family, with neighbours, and draw them into the circle of light, into the school of Jesus Christ.

Today He is with us; He invites you to participate in his Holy Communion. When we come forward to eat and drink, we sit with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at his table. Together with Abraham and with all the saints.  Today at His table our Lord lets us share in his loving, peaceful and joyful communion. 

Faith in Jesus Christ brings us right into this heart of God.

AMEN