Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bless the Lord O my soul; let all that is within me bless his holy name. Now we can celebrate Bolt.

Two things left indelible impressions on me this week. The return of Usain Bolt - our super athlete. And a deeper understanding, based on my own experience, of the pervasiveness of the culture of vengeance and reprisal in our society. It's not just a " downtown thing", and it is by far, the biggest contributor to the frightening spectre of crime and violence in our nation. The sad, if not ironic reality, is that these two seemingly quite different issues are not unrelated. What's the evidence?
They came from near and far, waited in the sun and then in the rain, on a work day, in fact the first day of the week, to catch, even a glimpse of " king Bolt". Perhaps even to touch the" hem of his garment". And he did get a few scratches. Even the Prime Minister was not to be outdone in paying homage to this "son of the soil", who, by his exploits on the track in Beijing, placed our small and important country firmly on the world stage - once again. So he greeted Usain on the tarmac at the airport, and at one stage pandemonium broke out, as the crowd surged forward, breaking all protocol, in their desire and determination to see and to touch this remarkable young man.

Celebrating our sporting heroes is nothing new in Jamaica and the West Indies. I still remember the joy of going to Sabina Park to watch the West Indies Cricket team thrash the visitors - be they Indians, Pakistanis, or the Englishmen. And we would stay up all night, when our team was playing " down under" in Australia and especially if Garfield Sobers was at the crease. I even recall, as a young sports fan, and a professional, leaving work early one evening, to go home and drown my sorrows, when Brazil exited the World Cup finals prematurely. And it was not, and that practice continues, unusual for two of my former Rectors to announce the cricket score in church, if the match was "delicately poised". Certainly when Asafa ran his first sub ten seconds 100 metres at our national Stadium, I was there. And so was I earlier in the year, when he and Bolt clashed at our trials, and the girls gave a hint of what was to happen in Beijing, when the three "would be " medalists, shut out Veronica Campbell-Brown in the 100 M, and who up until then was considered our top performer over that distance.

So even though I am a time honoured sporting fan, and not a "waggonist", I could not help but reflect on the fact, that so many Jamaicans, would quite rightly, " pull out all the stops", to honorthis young superstar, on a workday, but would never consider, even on a day of rest, paying honor, and giving glory to the King of all Kings, and their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I was so disturbed by my reflections that I send out a text message to that effect, to many of the folks on my cell phone directory. One wit, and a relative, suggested, in jest, that perhaps the King, should send down " bolts of lightening" on these people. And as I write, I am thinking that we should not make those kinds of jokes when the Hurricane season is not yet finished.

Then this week I was confronted on two separate occasions by the reality of the culture of vengeance and reprisals in my country. So much so that I sought audience and spent some time with my pastor discussing the issue, as he had recently devoted a sermon to this evil which is affecting the minds of our people and wreaking havoc on the nation, as " bloodshed follows bloodshed and the land mourns". So what's the connection between vengeance and reprisals and the " crowning of king Bolt"? The sad reality of life is that if we do not give God all the Glory and all the Praise, which belong to Him and Him alone, then we will be forever seeking to elevate ordinary, even extraordinary human beings, and worse of all, ourselves, as kings upon our hearts. Thus fulfilling one of the great observations of all times, that " the hearts of men are restless until they find rest in God". It is a restless heart which is an unforgiving heart and which moves so easily to seek revenge for real and even perceived wrong - " like the dissing of a mother, or father, or girlfriend, or community, or political leader or worse of all the "don". And the reality is that, it is not just the "wicked inner city misguided youths", who are manifesting this restless nature, thus leading to all kinds of anti-social behaviours. Yes they may have ready access to weapons of death, but the same murderous intentions are " alive and well" in the homes and communities of middle and upper class Jamaicans. In the hearts of children, siblings, lovers, adults, and leaders in all spheres of life.

And God, who is the God who alone knows the full extent of the condition of the human heart, drew my attention to the this unforgiving nature of man, in what should have been the Old Testament reading for this Sunday - they changed it for a special festival .

" The wrong a man does recoils on him, and he does not know where it has come from.
An arrogant man deals in mockery and insults, but retribution lies in wait for him like a lion.
Those who rejoice at the downfall of good men will be trapped and consumed with fire before they die.
Rage and anger, these also I abhor, but a sinner has them ready at hand.
The vengeful man will face the vengeance of the lord, who keeps strict accounts of his sins.
Forgive your neighbour his wrongdoing; then when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.
If a man harbours a grudge against another, is he to expect healing from the Lord?
If he has no mercy on his fellow-man, is he still to ask forgiveness for his own sins?
If a mere mortal cherishes rage, where is he to look for pardon.
Think of the end that awaits you, and have done with hate;
think of mortality and death, and be true to the commandments;
think of the commandments, and do not be enraged at your neighbour;
think of the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults".
Ecclesiasticus 27:27-28:7

It is not often that I get to read the books of the Apocrypha, but having reflected deeply on this remarkable passage of Scripture, I was moved to send a message to the " movers and shakers" of this land, asking why have we disregarded such wisdom, why have we not placed a priority on teaching our people this kind of attitude and thus relieving our land of the suffering caused by vengeance? Yes by all means celebrate the exploits of " lightening" Bolt, VC ( Veronica Campbell-Brown), Melaine, Kerry-Ann and others, but for God's sake , and for the salvation of this land let us bow down and worship Him who died for all mankind on the Cross of Calvary.Let us give Him all the honor and praise. Let us come out in the rain and in the sunshine, let us travel from far and wide, let us bring our children and grandchildren, let us urge our leaders, our friends and neighbours to, come and worship God Almighty, the King of all Kings, on a Sunday morning or on a Sabbath - depending on your denomination.
The importance of giving God glory was also validated in a meditation I was led to read and contemplate this week - so much so that I have been singing, or making a joyful noise, all week " Hallowed be Thy name".

Father, hallowed be your name". Luke 11:2

IN WORD We fly by the words with little recognition of what they mean. We know they are about the glory of God, but they are a formality, a ritual part of a ritual prayer. Once we've said them -- or the whole prayer, for that matter -- we can get on with the real prayer, the real reason we are coming to God in the first place. We need something. The " hallowed" part acknowledges who He is before we acknowledge what we need. It's the proper protocol.
But wait. Why did Jesus start with this? Why is it the first line of His model prayer after that beautiful, comforting address to "Father"? And why, after starting with such intimate familiarity, does He go straight to this holy, formal language we have come to expect and ignore? " Father" is a good start to the prayer, but we lose Him soon after. We pray " hallowed be your name" much more often than we mean it.
So what does it mean? Obviously, it's about high and holy things, like the glory of God and bringing honor to His name. But what is Jesus trying to tell us with this ultra formal lead sentence? Could it be that this is somehow to be our emphasis in our praying?
Yes, Jesus is setting the agenda for us. When we pray, we are to begin with a clear statement that what we seek above all else is God's honor and and His kingdom. We're not here in this prayer conversation primarily for us, though we will surely benefit; we're here primarily for Him. We're setting our agenda by explicitly stating that we desire His. We bend our knees and bow our heads because there is something higher at stake here than our own desires du jour ( of the day).We must confess that our interests --as legitimate as they may be -- are consistent with the highest value in the universe: God's glory.

IN DEED Is this where your prayers begin? Not with that particular statement, necessarily, but with that attitude? It's an essential key in unlocking the mystery of prayer.
God's glory is the point of all creation. it should be the point of our prayers as well

The original Psalm for this week, 103 encourages us to bless the Lord:
" Bless the Lord O my soul, and let all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits.
Who forgives all our iniquities; who heals all your diseases"
Ps. 103 1-3 KJV

This too should be our attitude, as it is only a heart which has elevated God to the highest place that will find favor with Jesus Christ. And it is only a heart in which Christ lives, that can be transformed and leave behind the murderous intentions of the vengeful, the wicked and the unforgiving, who are at the epicentre of the " storms of reprisals", which are destroying our people and affecting the wonderful work which our sports ambassadors are performing on behalf of our nation. Amen

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