Where are you in the debate on hanging, abortion, and gay rights? The first two are raging in my country. The other is a major issue in the USA ever since California voted to overturn gay marriages on the day Obama won the presidential elections. Jamaicans are overwhelmingly in favor of retaining the the death penalty on our statutes, and our Parliamentarians are currently debating the issue. And with good reason. Just this week, one of our daily newspapers, in reporting on the murder and sodomising of a young boy, the gang rape of a woman and the murder of three women describes the situation as something, " Out of Hell". Lately citizens, seemingly tired of the security forces inability to curb the crime wave, have taken to " chopping up", gunmen whenever they can. Fighting back, while many others cower in deep fear of being the next abduction, rape, or murder victim. This is not a good place for a nation to be in, and our leaders have no answer to these brazen, wicked and apparently unstoppable gunmen. Therefore, in the view of some, legislation is at least one answer.
On another front, some public health professionals have been seeking to amend the Abortion Act, so that it is no longer a crime to perform such a procedure. They argue that this action would prevent the many deaths now resulting from unsafe abortions. Others also in favor, argue that, this should be a matter of an individual choice by the pregnant mother, especially in cases of rape and where carrying the pregnancy would constitute a grave threat to the mother's life. A position accepted by at least one church denomination. Those in opposition argue that life begins at conception, and therefore, any act to terminate the pregnancy, at any stage, is tantamount to murder. Both sides see the passage of legislation as very significant in going forward on this issue.
Gay marriage would never see the light of day in this " not in my cabinet" country. So it is not an issue. What is definitely an issue here is the retention of the buggery act as one way of ensuring that homosexuals do not " pass their place" in this society. Again legislation is seen as one way, and a significant method, of curbing the unseemly behaviour of these group.
So what did the Lord , who is in front of us, beside us, and behind us, say this week about these " hot button" issues.
The first was a still small voice from within. "Be careful you do not place too much focus on solving the problem of murder and violence that you get distracted and forget to seek to know Me better". I am dead serious. That's what I heard. And so about crime, so about road safety and even this Internet Ministry. "Be careful, lest you get distracted". When? Today. This evening. I went to the 7:30 am service but had to leave early - caught the wonderful sermon by one of our young people -to attend a service at another church on World Remembrance Day for Road Crash Victims. So I missed participating in the Eucharist -Holy Communion. Very badly. Thank God that the evening service, on the third Sunday of the month, is a Communion service. So as I prepared to leave and on my way down the Lord spoke to me about distractions. You would not believe also that my cell phone began vibrating, just at the start of the service. In keeping with God's message of distraction - I should have turned it off anyhow - I ignored it, arguing that any emergency would have to wait until the end of the service. Turned out that the person's phone had triggered the call by 'accident'.
The second was the sermon to a grand total of five members, by a young female priest. I went
there primarily to receive the " body and blood of Christ" - to know Him more, to see Him " face to face", as the song writer famously wrote. But as it turned out, I got more.
" Welcome to news at 10; to nationwide news; to Barbara Gloudon; to Mutty", she intoned gravely". Take your pick. All of them dishing out bad news. Gloom and doom. That's how she began. Her sermon was based on the prophet Zephaniah's warning to the people of Israel, the chosen people of God. That the " Day of the Lord" was coming. And if they did not repent of their wickedness, there would come a time of " gloom and doom" for the nation. Fortunately King Josiah responded and enacted legislation which made the people behave in a more acceptable way. But he soon died, and then they returned to their old wicked ways. So the "day of the Lord" came indeed and the nation suffered greatly.
The message - One, that there is nothing new under the sun. Wickedness and murder and rape and abduction have been around for a long time. The behaviour of humankind has not changed much. Rebellion against the Living God, by both believers and non-believers has not changed much. As the prophets of old, like Zephaniah and others, spoke to Kings and the common man alike. To the chosen people of God and to unbelievers alike. Challenging them to uphold the laws of God. But they all failed. Thus God sent His Son, Christ Jesus, so that in and through a relationship with Him, and not because of the law, lives could be changed - forever.
Therefore the second part of the message, to all five of us, was that, " Legislation is not the answer". " It can help. But it has definitely not been the answer to human problems ever since Creation and the Fall, and it is certainly not the answer in this 21st century Jamaica and the world.
Translation! Hanging, in and by itself, is not going to put a end to crime and violence in Jamaica. Nor will the retention of the current Abortion Act, in and by itself, prevent people from carrying our abortions. Nor will the overturn of the gay marriage act, in and by itself, do anything to change the actions of gays. The challenge to the church is for each of us, to establish a relationship with one person at a time, and share the love of Christ with that individual. So that, over a period time, the Holy Spirit of God will lead that person to a relationship with Christ, who is the only person capable of changing the human heart - if they are willing. And we have to accept the fact, that they may not be willing. Further, that seeds sown today will take time to grow. So do not expect miracles on a regular basis. The problems that we are witnessing in Jamaica today, are the results of seeds, poisonous seeds - my words - sown a long time ago.
I thought about her sermon on the way home, especially in the light of the most significant aspect of Obama's victory - bringing hope to diverse and hurting people by establishing a relationship with them. Young and old. Men and women. Blacks and whites. Latinos and Asians. Gays and Straight. Democrats and Republicans. Americans and the rest of the World tired of the Bush Doctrine. I thought about the gay people in Jamaica whom we, for the most part, have ostracised and made to feel less than human. Are we being fair to them when we know that 'sin' is with all of us? And therefore " there goeth I , but for the grace of God". As no one, for the most part, chooses to be homosexual. No one, for the most part, sets out to be a wife beater. Or a pedophile, or an unfaithful partner, or a murderer, or a common thief, or a persecutor of Christians, or to have sex at 12, or to have a baby at 13, or become a rapist 14, or to have an abortion at 15, or to intentionally rebel against the living God. All of these things result from Sin - a disordered relationship with the God of Abraham, who revealed Himself fully in the person of Jesus Christ. And Sin is not something brought on by the society in which we live, but from the inheritance we have from Adam. Sin is something that has been with us for a very long time and is not a new phenomenon.
Therefore, can the Christ who lives within the heart of every true Christian, through the power of His Holy Spirit, touch the hearts of homosexuals, those who would abort the lives of
" fearfully and wonderfully", made babies in the womb, and those who would kill and maim human beings, made in the image of God, as if they were of no more importance than an insect? Can we who claim Christ cease our dependence on legislation, and seek to establish relationships with all persons, one at a time and so share the Redemptive power and love of Christ with them. Yes we can, as "with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible". This is the essence of the gospel message.
The third message came directly from Scripture
" Since, then, we know what it is to we fear the Lord, we try to persuade men......For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.......So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sin against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God...... As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says,
" In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation"
2. Cor. 5:11-6:2 NIV
Please do not miss (whether you are an unbeliever or believer, political, business, professional, or religious leader of a country or the ordinary man, of royal blood or the common man) the significance of the opening and closing statements. God is to be feared, and one day according to Zephaniah, the day of the Lord will come and then the judgement. In Christ Jesus, that day is here. ...." now is the day of salvation. So when God's fellow workers seek to establish a loving caring understanding, non-judgemental relationship with you, be careful how you ignore them and continue your " wicked " ways. When the living God warns us about " being distracted", by the many cares and problems of this world, thus leaving less time to spend with Him. Be obedient. When the God of Abraham warns us that we should, " try to persuade men", if we
truly fear Him. Let us be obedient. When He reminds us that Christ's love should " compel us".
Let us be obedient, as today is the day of salvation. Today is the "Day of the Lord".