Last week we descended to a new low in the level of wickedness which is abroad in our country. A grandmother was shot and she and her three young grandchildren were burnt to death, by, so far, unknown assailants. Violent death is no longer major news in Jamaica, but this act of evil had the entire country talking. It is clear that our criminals fear neither man nor God anymore. So the killings go on unabated and all of us are wondering when it ever going to stop.But that's not the only kind of evil abound in the land. A principal of one of our leading high schools, writing in The Daily Gleaner today, captured the mood and outrage of all well thinking persons, in an article questioning why our children are being exposed to "filth" masquerading as popular music. She highlighted one song in particular , " Rampin Shop" by Vybz Cartel ( male) and Spice (female) - she claims it won the FAME FM - a local radio station - song of the week recently. Gave an abridged, edited for publication ( two lovers having violent sex and in obscene language describing how it should be done ) version of the song and shared with us results of interviews conducted with young students, examples of which are as follows:
" One night I was singing it loud as I wanted to do what Spice and Vybz Cartel was doing" 8th grade.
" I think I'm becoming addicted to it because its basically everywhere I go. I know that the lyrics are is wrong but it is hard to resist something that's constantly around you". 13th grade.
" In my opinion, Rampin Shop" has a very negative effect on our youths. We have to listen to these sexual lyrics not because we want to, but because it is polluting our communities." 7th grade.
Add to that the problems associated with the downturn in the world economy - loss of jobs, fear of losing your job, loss of hard earned savings, reduction in home values, reduced incomes, taking a pay cut to preserve jobs, a dollar that is rapidly losing value, high interest rates and spiralling cost of living. All of this coming on top of " ordinary everyday" trials of life. Marital problems. Problems with disobedient children and grandchildren. Health problems. Environmental problems. Problems with leadership in our nation. Even in our churches and in our communities. And finally death. That terrible event that robs us of our loved ones. Forever. Sometimes suddenly. Sometimes slowly. But there is no difference. The end result is the same. What is the answer? To whom do we turn? What is the solution to life's many and varied problems? What do we say to that mother, that family, that community that suffered such a tremendous loss. To that principal who is beside herself with rage - directly in particular at those who condone such madness ?
I got an answer this week from one of the readings for the Anglican church for this Sunday.
" The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" Psalm 111:
And a challenge from another reading for this Sunday, and which triggered a text message both to some those who believe and many of those who don't.
:"....yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everybody knows this". 1 Cor. 8:6-7 NIV
And words, again from another reading, this time the gospel, which provoked a deep reflection and also triggered another text message, this time to very powerful men and women in this country who have significant authority:
" Be quiet said Jesus sternly. Come out of him. The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all amazed....what is this a new teaching and with authority"? mark 1:25-27. With what authority do we speak? Can we fight the kind of evil that is abroad in Jamaica without the assistance of Christ?
This issue of fearing God goes to right the heart of the Christian life. Without which all our "head" knowledge of the "good news" , of God's love for us, of Christ's death on the Cross, of the Creeds and of church doctrine will not bring us any closer to being disciples of Christ, agents of His reconciliation and of His healing power in this land filled with so much evil, problems, sickness and death. As the problem is that it is not only the criminals and "out of order" artistes alone , who do not fear God, many "decent" law abiding citizens, and even some in the church" do not know either".And not just the high profile cases like Ted Haggert et al, but many of us who attend church regularly. Just listen how we are so easily distracted in church and spend much time chatting.How the " flesh " so easily takes over. See how we criticise each other, and other denominations, and are quickly moved to ( righteous) anger. How we spend our spare time, how we spend our money, how earn our money. What we watch! What we read! And where we go and what we do! How we leave and go to another church when we are unhappy or worse, stay home ( were we sent there by God for a reason?) . All of us. We have become too familiar with God and things of God. Perhaps even Holy Communion - "Here O my Lord, I see thee face to face, here faith would touch and handle things unseen" - has become routine and lacking in any meaning.
No doubt all of us would do well to reflect deeply on some words from a hymn which has come to mean so much to me in my understanding of the Christian journey and how much I am in need of God's grace to continue on that road faithfully;
My God how wonderful thou art........
O how I fear thee living God,
With deepest tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears.
Yet I may love thee too,
O Lord,Almighty as thou art,
For thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart.............
Instead ( or perhaps in addition to ) of being critical of the church, the priest, those in authority, when last have we wept " penitential tears? And can we really identify with the hymn writer fearing God with " deepest tenderest fears". As it is then and only then, when we have considered our own wickedness and deficiencies that we will truly appreciate: " yet I may love thee too O Lord...for thou has stooped"....bent down low, in and through Christ Jesus, to sinful mankind to ask for our love. This Almighty God!
My pastor preached a wonderful sermon today about evil and our response to it as church. Reminding us that if we do not share the good news with those who are fast bound with evil, then there is no one else. And that is the basis on which we will all be judged. Not our attendance at church. Not our status in the society. Not our success in business or in sport or in whatever vocation we chose. But rather did we witness by our lives and our deeds to the Christ within us. Such a single minded focus, however, as exhibited by Rafael Nadal's win over Roger Federer in Tennis early this morning, requires that we first fear God - with deepest trembling fears, and with penitential tears.
Then we will be given the authority to drive out evil from Jamaica land we love. Evil music and evil gunmen. Then we will be given the wisdom to provide healing for the sick, comfort the grieving, care for the dying, encourage the downcast and rule over the land with justice and righteousness.A friend, who is not a Christian, but reads these messages, asked me recently, how do we, or specifically I, move from Internet Ministry to making a difference in this country and for our people who we both love. The answer of fearing the one true and ever living God and Jesus Christ His Son first, is not only an answer to my friend's question but equally for those who long for peace, justice and truth, wherever and in whatever circumstance they live. But many do not know this. So we as Christians have much work to do, not only in Jamaica, but in this entire world. Amen