As I write a cloud hangs over the city as torrential rain has been falling for some time now. In the same way a pall of gloom has overshadowed the nation as the brutal murder and abuse of our children over the past week has placed everyone in a state of depression and confusion. How did we get here is the cry? From whence cometh these animals who would so callously kidnap and murder our precious little ones? The death of Ananda Dean and the teen who was dismembered was closely followed by the " death by sodomy" of a baby, allegedly done by a relative of unsound mind. Regardless of the circumstances however, this was just too much for an already beleaguered nation and the headlines of our major Daily Newspaper reflected the mood of us all: " Have you seen my childhood?".
But what was perhaps most disturbing was the report from someone who has been tracking the behaviour of our criminal gangs that," when the game gets boring you kill a woman, or you kill an old person or you kill a child". In the sense that such random acts of wicked originate in the minds of gang leaders to demonstrate their power and to visit vengeance on rival gangs and their communities.
The question is, how does one challenge and combat that kind of mindset in the short term, and then seek to reverse the thinking which leads to such barbarous activities in the long run? Very difficult if not impossible by mankind, as the fact is that suddenly the old argument that crime and poverty are inextricably linked has to be "thrown out the window". As clearly the kind of wickedness which is so pervasive in our land, and which has led to " 398 children dying by violent means since 2003", as reported in the Sunday Gleaner today, has very little if anything do with need, deprivation or injustice. No, for the truth to revealed, we must look a bit deeper,
listen more carefully and become more obedient to a power higher, much higher than we can ever attain by ourselves. God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Each time I am led to write these messages I cannot help but marvel at the wisdom of the God who knows long before time, what shall burden the hearts of those to whom this Internet Ministry is sent, and therefore what is the timely Word to be sent. So this week, in the midst of despair and gloom, of anger and confusion, and the pain of the death of our children, the Lord led me to read about and reflect deeply on the singular importance, above everything else in life, of knowing Jesus - but which knowledge is attainable only by dying to self.
" I want to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to resurrection from the dead"
Philippians 3: 10-11. NIV
This verse, for some time now, has become for me, the ultimate "Mission Statement" of life.
I want to know Jesus. Not about Jesus. Not only about His mission here on earth or about His kingdom, or about the doctrine or the Scriptures, as important as those undoubtedly are.
No, that's not enough says St Paul. I want to know Jesus Himself. Because only in Him and through His Holy Spirit can I achieve, " resurrection from this dead way of life". As living in Christ grants us the power to live a different kind of existence that would lead us to murder and maim and rape and steal and lie and cheat our way through life. Listen to some other words from St Paul which God Almighty led me to consider this week as the nation grieved for its children and searched for solutions:
" Since then you have been raised with Chris, set your hearts on things above.......not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ.....
Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature, sexual immorality,impurity, lust evil desires and greed, which is idolatry........
But now you must rid yourself of such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips.....
Therefore as God's holy people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...forgive as the Lord forgave you....And be thankful....
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.
Colossians 3:1-17 NIV
The good news which all of us who have been Baptized into Christ, having died to self by God's power through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, is that human beings do not have to
live the kind of life which leads to so much pain and suffering in the nation. So, as our Rector pointed out today, when these heinous crimes take place, events which are beyond our ability to comprehend much less to correct in our own human strength and wisdom, we the Baptized children of God ought not to throw up our hands in despair. But rather, to recommit ourselves to sharing the good news with others and the nation, that in Christ Jesus, the way is open for any individual, regardless of his or her past, to become a new productive and useful citizen of any nation.
Therefore the reason why the nation suffers so much is as follows. Too many people have, and continue to reject the Salvation offered by God in and through Jesus Christ. Too many Christians are not prepared to die to their former way of life, and to participate in the fellowship of his suffering", in order to get to know Christ. And others who have attained this knowledge, do not bear fruit - change the lives of others through the power of the Holy Spirit - because they regard the salvation offered by God as something to " hug up " for themselves, and not to share with others. Therefore as warned in the OT reading for today in Isaiah 5, God looked for justice and found bloodshed. Looked for righteousness and found cries of despair. And the warning continues in the gospel reading from Matthew 21, that if we the baptized children of God do not take our mandate to share the good news with others, such "salvation will be taken away and given to others.
I was so moved by these revelations that I sent out the following text message in memory of Ananda Dean to many who are in positions of power in this country. And thank God a dear Christian friend placed it on her blog.
" Knowing doctrine is not the same as knowing God. Knowing God is not possible without knowing Him through Jesus" - Chris Tiegen. " I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering becoming like him in his death..." Phil. 3:1O-11. Only this kind of faith can rescue our nation."
So as we continue to grieve for our nation's children in particular, the Baptized and the unredeemed have two different spiritual roles, although we must join forces together to
fight this scourge in our land. The Baptized people of God, who have died to self must accept their calling that the single most important task at hand is to build God's kingdom by sharing the good news about Christ Jesus with others. But in order to achieve that objective we must cultivate in our hearts an unwavering desire to know Christ. On the other hand, for those who grieve as if there is no hope, and continue to search for solutions based on their own strength and wisdom, we pray God that He will give us the power, through faith and prayer and persistence to so touch their lives that they may be convicted of sin and then want to know Jesus. As then and only then, will the grieving for Ananda Dean and others cease and peace descend on the land and lift the pall of gloom.
But this desire to know Christ and to share Him with others so that our nation may be rescued from the " enslavement " of bloodshed and cries of distress, will not come easily nor overnight.
Why? Consider first of all the words of Scripture from the book of Exodus which came into my mind as I pondered the death of, by all reports, a good Christian woman who along with her husband was shot and then burnt to death in the parish where I work, two weeks ago. And then, which verse was accompanied by a reflection on the passionate outcry to God from a giant from the past. The context was different - the struggle against racism in the USA - but the depth of the cry for understanding and for help is the same in the minds of our people today. And which passion is needed to enlist the help of God and not some wishy washy lukewarm cry.
THE WORD OF GOD
" During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about then".
Exodus 2:23-25 NIV
God is indeed concerned about this nation and the world as He has remembered the convenant He made with Jesus Christ - " For God so loved the world.........so that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life" John 3:16 KJV
FROM A LITANY OF ATLANTA - BY W.E.B. DUBOIS
Verse Exodus 2:23
A city lay in travail, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang twin Murder and Black hate. Red was the midnight, clang, crack and cry of death and fury filled the air and trembled underneath the stars where church spires pointed silently to thee. And all this was to sate the greed of greedy men who hide behind the veil of vengeance!
Bend us thine ear O Lord!
In the pale, still morning we looked upon the deed. We stopped our ears and held our leaping hands, but they - did they not wag their heads and leer and cry with bloody jaws. Cease from Crime! The word was mockery for thus they train a hundred crimes while we do cure one.
Turn again our captivity, O Lord!
Behold this maimed and broken thing; dear God, it was an humble black man who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid him. They told him to: Work and Rise. He worked. Did this man sin? Nay, but some one told how someone said another did - one whom he had never seen nor known. Yet for that man's crime this man lieth maimed and murdered, his wife naked to shame, his children to poverty and evil.
Hear us, O heavenly Father!
Doth not this justice of hell stink in thy nostrils, O God! How long shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in thine ears and pound in our hearts for vengeance? Pile the pale frenzy
of blood-crazed brutes who do such deeds high on thine altar, Jehovah Jireh, and burn it in hell forever and forever!
Forgive us, good Lord; we know not what we say!
Bewildered we are, and passion-tossed, mad with the madness of a mobbed and mocked and murdered people, straining at the armposts of thy throne, we raise our shackled hands and charge thee, God, by the bones of our stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by the very blood of thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us the plan; give us the sign.
Keep not thou silence, O God!
Did you read about the city in travail? Yes I did too. Did you see the reason for death - to satisfy greed? Did you read the mocking cry from the wicked about " We want justice". I did too. Did you read about " informer fe dead" and leave behind his wife and children to suffer! Did you read about the cry for vengeance and for hanging to be resumed, and then the answer, " Forgive us Lord we know not what we say"! Perhaps the most touching was the cry for help, and for an answer in the name of suffering fathers, suffering mothers and crucified ( suffering ) Christ.
Let us then, who are Baptized, in the name of the Crucified Christ, appeal to a God who is concerned about His people. And who knows, maybe He will turn and have mercy on us and our children.
Finally a Word from Deuteronomy. No doubt an answer as it came into head immediately.
" O that their hearts may be inclined to fear me, and to obey all my commands all the time, so that it may go well with them and their children, forever."