Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai, Kingston, Washington DC: What a time we live in!

Once again, terrorists this week made the headlines , as the security forces in Mumbai, India, had to do battle with a "suicide attack" force. After the dust had settled, well over one hundred people lay dead, scores more were injured, and an entire world was once again traumatised by this latest orgy of violence. All of this brought into our homes, in living colour, and in real time, by CNN. What a world we live in! Recently, it might have been as close as last week, but I am not sure, we tend to lose track with so many murders, one man was killed. And soon thereafter, in an apparent reprisal attack, four lives were snuffed out. Including two teenagers. The police claim that a lot of this madness has to do with a " Lotto Scam", that earns billions of dollars from gullible foreigners. What a time we live in !

In a direct response to the horrific killings, especially in regard to our women and children, the Jamaican Parliament, in a " Conscience Vote" last week, opted, by a large majority, to retain the death penalty for those convicted of premeditated ( capital) murder. This so, despite the fact that the real problem is our inability to catch the criminals in the first place, let alone convict them. But most Jamaicans are in favor of retaining capital punishment so our legislators voted accordingly? In fact, I am reliably informed that a mob caught some " gunmen" last week in a rural area and took matters into their own hands. The end result? One had his throat cut. The other had his head bashed in. Both died instantly, and the community, by and large, with perhaps a few exceptions, were happy. What a country we live in ?

This is the world which President -elect, Barack Obama and his team, will contemplate, when he takes office on January 20, 2009. This is a country where, we in Jamaica, buffeted by the worse economic climate in many years, and under siege from gunmen, are looking for another "Obama", to steer us through troubled waters. But this is also the season of Advent, in our Anglican tradition it began today, when the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas day is heralded, and also we look forward to His Second coming. It cannot therefore be coincidence, that the Lord spoke through two of His servants to me, and to many others, yesterday and today, in a very special way. On the first occasion yesterday, when a good friend and church brother, Dr. Lascelles Newman was installed as the third President of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology, a past President of Jamaica Youth for Christ, Gerry Gallimore, preached the sermon.

He took his cue from Esther, that much celebrated Old Testament Heroine, whose faith in God, and obedience to her " mentor" Mordecai, saved the Jews, in that region and in that time, from complete annihilation. Two of the more more famous words from that book include Mordecai's assertion that, " And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this". Also her declaration, when she elected to go to the King without an invitation, in order to save her people, knowing full well that the penalty for such an action could result in death, but trusting in her God, said , " If I perish I perish". Esther 4: 12-16 NIV

Although Gerry Gallimore's sermon was directed as Dr. Newman in particular, we Christians, who celebrate the coming of our King Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit, share in this Divine Royalty, we too, like Queen Esther, are called to be in this royal position for a time such a this.

This assertion was the essence of what I heard yesterday and which knowledge has touched my heart, not for the first time, very powerfully. This call to action in a deeply divided world, in a country wracked by violence, despite our own trials and issues of personal safety, is what sets us apart from non-believers. We have been called by the same God, who " in the fullness of time", sent His Son Jesus, for " such a time as this" - not for all night partying, getting drunk and disorderly, sleeping with the boss and driving irresponsibly and increasing road fatalities.

The " time like this" is when the Bible said that we were " without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ". ( Ephesians 3: 12-13 NIV) And therefore we who have brought near by the Cross of Christ are here in the world and in Jamaica for a time such as this. A time when people are fast losing hope and wondering where to turn as " everywhere we turn macka juk we".

So the first responsibility as " Esther" people and more importantly, as " Easter" people, we who celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, is to understand our mission here " at a time such as this", in the world and in Jamaica. And God who is always ahead of his people led me this past week, to ponder deeply on the following meditation which speaks directly to our lack of focus and lack of understanding of why we are here. A meditation which non-believers could well find of benefit



Verse Judges 2:17

Holy God to whose service I long ago dedicated my soul and life, I grieve and lament before thee that i am still so prone to sin and so little inclined to obedience:

So much attached to the pleasures of sense, so negligent of things spiritual:

So prompt to gratify my body, so slow to nourish my soul:

So greedy for present delight, so indifferent to lasting blessedness:

So fond of idleness, so indisposed for labour:

So soon at play, so late at prayer:

So brisk in the service of self, so slack in the service of others:

So eager to get, so reluctant to give:

So lofty in my profession, so low in my practice:

So full of good intentions, so backward to fulfill them:

So severe with my neighbours, so indulgent with myself:

So eager to find fault, so resentful in being found fault with:

So little able for great tasks, so discontented with small ones:

So weak in adversity, so swollen and self-satisfied with in prosperity:

So helpless apart from thee, and yet so little willing to be bound to thee.

O merciful heart of God, grant me yet again thy forgiveness. Hear my sorrowful tale and in thy great mercy blot it out from the book of thy remembrance. Give me faith so to lay hold of thine own holiness and so to rejoice in the righteousness of Christ my Savior that, resting on his merits rather than on my own, I may more and more become conformed to his likeness, my will becoming one with his in obedience to thine. All this I ask for his holy name's sake. Amen

The second responsibility as Esther people who live in time such as this, is to care deeply about our people - both inside and outside the church -, to confess our sins, and to live a holy and committed life. For as the Pastor for the Anglican church in Port Antonio - in the east of the island- Rev. Grace Jervis, declared in an equally powerful sermon this morning, and which John Baillie affirms, if we in the church, we who are called to a royal position, in such a time like this, are broken and hurting, sinful and disobedient, idle and late at prayer, how can we help those with no faith in God in and through Jesus Christ. Thus cut off from God and with no hope and in the very same position that we once held, until God sent His Son for such a time as that. How can we help if we do not care deeply as the prophet Isaiah cared as revealed in chapters 63 and 64. Our preacher took us through the reality of the chosen people of God and who are our forebears. People who knew of the goodness of God - just like us in Jamaica who have been blessed in so many ways. But a people who were always rebelling against God. And so God, in as sense, became their " enemy", and fought not for them , but against them. The question, is, with all the wickedness which abounds in our land, has God " turned against Jamaica? Or rather like the children of Israel, have they turned against themselves?

In response to this rebellion Isaiah called for " revenge.

" Oh , that you would rend the heavens, and come down...and cause the nations to quake before you". 64:1. Is the Jamaican parliament calling for revenge? But instead of " exacting revenge" God called His people to confession.

" All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags". 64:6.

Is there a need for us in the church to confess our sins rather than calling for revenge? Is there a need for our political leaders, present and past, our business leaders, those in the very vigilant press, those in the professions and indeed all who would " hang them high", to confess our sins which might have led this nation into a time such as this?

Finally our preacher pointed out, that Isaiah, who cared deeply for his people was led to recognize God as Father and as potter - our Creator and Sustainer.

" Yet, O Lord, you are our Father

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand".

So we who are in the church have been called specially for such a time like this. Not to run away to the safer havens in North America and Europe - unless God has specifically sent us there for a purpose. Not to despair like people who have no hope, and like those whose only understanding of Christmas, is the shopping after Thanksgiving and the celebration on the Day. Not to seek revenge , but to confess our sins, recognize our weaknesses, fast and pray. And go forward with the courage of Esther, and with the attitude that " if I perish I perish ", while trusting in God's ability to protect us, in our unyielding quest to rescue our country from gunmen, corrupt police, grinding poverty, injustice, immorality and cautious political leaders.

But first like Esther and Isaiah, we must care deeply about our people, and follow our Savior's example of loving those who hate us and persecute us, and not only those who love us in return for our love. It's a difficult, if not impossible task, but what with man is impossible, with God's Holy Spirit, all things are possible, even in such a time like this. Amen.

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