Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sports, Mercy and Christianity

I suppose like most men I like sports a lot. So it was great to watch the Williams sisters play a really good final - at long last - at Wimbledon this week. And today's men's final between Federer and Nadal was " something special" - unless you are like my wife who hates to see Federer lose. Back here in Jamaica, we are all "waiting to exhale " and hoping that when we do in August, after the Olympics, our fastest women and men in the world will bring tears of joy to a nation as they mount the victory podium in Beijing, and listen to the national anthem.
But on another level, of what help is this great fun and enjoyment to us in Jamaica when wicked men can hack a woman to death and slit the throat of her 8 year old daughter? What manner of " animals" are these? Drugged up or just filled with evil? And the fact that one of the main suspects was killed, in like manner, in less than 24 hours, brings no joy, but further pain, as another life, made in the likeness and image of God is lost.
In the midst of this madness, the debates rage about crime plans, the effectiveness of peace treaties, hard policing, the cost of social interventions - up to 1Billion US is one informed estimate -preventive detentions and protecting civil liberties. And the very church, at least my denomination ( Anglicans), whose only purpose is to be a " light" in this very dark world, is caught up and deeply divided. Not over how to make a difference, but over issues of human sexuality, and a decision, by some, to back same sex marriages among practicing homosexual priests. Lord have mercy on us!
Which is exactly what the Lord spoke to me about this week. Mercy! Grace and mercy. Because the problem with our society is that the Sovereign God of heaven, the Creator of the Universe, is calling our nation back to wholeness, to peace in our homes, communities and workplace, in and through Jesus Christ - for no money, for free - and amazingly, we continue to reject this offer.
Jamaica would change overnight if we accepted this gift of mercy from God. But no, we are intent on " working it out ourselves" and seeking to get the church on board as a
partner to promote "social justice". And God is saying
to us this week, first through the gospel appointed for today in the Anglican church :
" Come to me, all you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest". Matthew 11:28 NIV

A verse which reminded me of that great hymn

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for,
And that thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O lamb of God I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God I come......

The message is that all of us who are weary about the killings in our country, need to realize that " nothing but the Blood of Jesus", can wash away the sins of a nation.
Nothing but the mercy of God, wrought by Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, can free us from evil intent. Whether it is murder - in the womb or outside the womb - pride or bombast which is so dramatically on display in Zimbabwe, or greed - which is idolatry, and which sin, for many but not all, without and without the church, if we are honest, regardless of the debate about legality, and for which we need to repent, is at the root of the Cash Plus and Olint foreign exchange trading phenomenon. Whether it be homosexual or heterosexual immorality - sex outside of marriage and sex before marriage - pedophilia, prostitution, or addiction to pornography, nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins and bring wholeness to our bodies.
This fact of our helpless, " fightings and fears within and without", is the essence of St Paul's cry for help in the Romans passage appointed for today:
" When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging
war.......What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue
me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Further, in order to ensure that I did not underestimate this important message of depending on God and God alone, I was led to reflect on this passage of Scripture
this week during my devotions.

" We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about
the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened
that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many". 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.

Could it be that we in Jamaica have been made to " feel the sentence of death", and to experience the , " beyond our ability to endure", so that we might learn to rely on God and God alone and not on ourselves? Could it be that our " hardships that we are suffering", will only be removed when we begin to pray more effectively for mercy from God, and then He alone will get the honor and praise - and not Professor Robotham ( the sociologist) , Ian Boyne ( the journalist), or Minister McMillan ( the politician)? Then and only then will the nation be able to sing with Spirit and with truth:

Your grace and mercy,
Brought me through.
I am living this day
Because of you.
I want to thank you and
praise your name.
Your grace and mercy, brought me through.

Finally through a meditation by Chris Tiegen,
the Lord taught me this week a very important lesson
on mercy. That only when we have truly come to appreciate the extent of God's mercy on us, will we be able to accept and then reflect God's love, through our word and deeds, to others who are all in need of this love - whether they know it or not. This experience of mercy is what drives the true evangelist - to spread the Gospel; the true worshipers - to celebrate God's goodness and Sovereignty; the true disciple - to die to self and to live for Christ and to serve others in Christ; the true priest or bishop - to represent a merciful and loving God, but a God also of judgment to the congregation. It is this appreciation of helplessness before a Holy God, which the "liberal priests" in the Anglican communion need to experience so that they can ask for mercy. So too our nation's "wise men and women". So too the wicked, the misguided and the unrepentant. May the God who declares in Scripture that:
" For God has bound over all men to disobedience
that he may have mercy on them all"; (Romans 11:32
NIV) : may He have mercy on us all.


" Which of these three do you think was a neighbour
to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
Luke 10: 36

IN WORD The story of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus' more familiar parables. it is an illustration of surprisingly good behaviour ( for a Samaritan) and of surprisingly bad behaviour ( for priest and Levites). We use it as a useful guide for ethical action -- going above and beyond the call of duty in the way of compassion.
When we read this as a moral instruction and decide which character we ought to emulate, we naturally avoid the portrayal of the indifferent priest and want to think that we are more like the Samaritan. We know in reality we have a little of both in us --some indifference tempered by some compassion, or compassion tainted by indifference. We're an unfortunate mix of all who encounter this victim.
But eventually God makes us look deeper at this practical parable and see it as a striking picture of our world. In this big picture, our race has fallen into the hands of robbers; it has been stripped, beaten and left for half-dead. We have all been ravaged by the wages of sin, and we suffer. This parable is not just a lesson on what to do, it is an illustration of what's been done to us. We stop asking which character we ought to be and God shows us which character we really are. The answer He reveals is humbling. First and foremost, we are not the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan. We are the victim.

IN DEED Everyone who has ever really known Jesus by faith has first known helplessness. We once lay beside the road and hoped someone would stop. He did. He was our good neighbour. By God's design, this should have been the beginning of compassion for us --we don't just become merciful by thinking about others in need, we become merciful by experiencing mercy. When Jesus spared us,
he gave us a sobering command: " Go and do likewise" ( v 37).
The Samaritan in this story looks a lot like Jesus.
So should we.

And as I end probably the most profound words on mercy ever written, flow into my mind:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to His death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou my God, should st for me?.....

'Tis mercy all: the immortal dies;
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angels minds inquire no more....

He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace--
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
"Tis mercy all, immense and free.
For O my God it found out me...

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray --
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heat was free.
I rose went forth and followed Thee...

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head.
And clothes in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own ...

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