The first story is that the couple who were so viciously attacked last week, and both reported by the media to have been murdered, has a bitter sweet ending. The husband survived and I spoke with him this week. He was all choked up with the joy of being alive yet devastated by the loss of his wife - and in so tragic a fashion. In fact their daughter is haunted by the memories of finding her mother all chopped to pieces, inside the very church where she and her husband worshipped faithfully for many years.
The second story is a chance encounter with a Lecturer in Social Science at our local University whose training - an Anthropologist - has given him a deep insight into the inner working of the minds of our local gangster who so ruthlessly kill and main each other and " innocent" victims, including women and children, which is a significant departure from the behaviour of criminals in our early history. At the Conference where I met him, we were both speaking to the theme
" The cost of Trauma to our nation. He spoke of social issues. I shared on Road traffic Injuries.
The scientist reminded us of the basic responses of human beings to danger - freezing, flight and fight, in that order. And then offered a reason why so many of our inner city youths had "learned" to bypass the first two and go directly to the fight mode. They were uneducated and unable to reason and to forgive. Hence they carried " belly " anger at those who had done them wrong for whatever reason for many years before avenging the wrongful deed. Hence they take preventive action, pre-emptive strikes, " murder" against those who threaten them or their families. His position is that human beings are naturally selfish and do not naturally forgive, and so when faced with hunger and privation and hurt, real or perceived, those who do not have the ability to reason will act in the violent manner which now bedevils and scars our native land.
So the answer to the problem - education in its widest application. My amazement is that this scientist, with peculiar skills, was not being employed, by our Government, in the fight against crime and violence in the nation, but was, very instructively, a consultant to the Ministry of National Security of a Foreign government. No doubt the church should be in contact with this individual.
The really important story though, is that if we are so aware of the many, varied and predictable imperfections of human beings, which result in such atrocities, why aren't governments and agencies leading the charge to get people into the church - into a family where, sin is freely admitted, repentance offered and salvation ( a new relationship with God and each other ) is assured in and through Christ Jesus. Why aren't we in the church being more successful in convincing sinful mankind ( "Since then we know what it is to fear god we try to convince men" 2 Cor.5:11) to seek God first and all other things after?
Perhaps by word and by deed we Christians have not told, nor reflected the true and powerful story accurately. For some time now the following Scripture passage has helped to answer some deep questions in my soul.
" I want to know Christ 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 the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, i press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things"
Philippians 3:10-15 NIV
The key issue here is the overwhelming desire to know Christ. Far too many of us are immature in our thinking and we do not really wish to know Christ but what we can get from Him. And to receive a blessing from God is a wonderful thing and it is to be cherished and spoken about, but how much more of a blessing it is to know with certainly, He who died for us all - for His sake alone.
My God, I love thee, not because
I hope for heaven thereby
Nor yet because those who love thee not
Are lost eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
Upon the Cross embrace
For me didst bear the nails and spear
And manifold disgrace.........
Then why, O blessed Jesu Christ,
Should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
Nor of escaping hell.
Not from the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord
So would I love thee, dearest Lord,
And in thy praise will sing
Solely because thou art my God
And my most loving King
If as church we have not learnt to seek Jesus and Him alone for his own sake, we stand guilty of betraying our Saviour and the teachings of the early church - we have become corrupted by the passing of time.
Let us read again the " attitude" of our early brothers and sisters as recorded in the letter to the Hebrews and compare it with our attitude in this " corrupt generation" - Acts 2:40
As the reality is that we have become far too comfortable with the things of this world. And it is the loss of them, and the lack thereof, in the first place, why many of us seek God in and through Christ Jesus. A long life and good health and recovery from illness. A good life with a good marriage and successful children. Good standing among our peers. Protection from evil. Financial independence. Sound wisdom and good judgement. A dependable and nice looking vehicle. A high tech television set and access to all the sports, game shows and soap operas. The now ubiquitous cell phone - who really wants to know Christ and Christ alone unless somewhere along the way we can also watch L A Lakers, Tiger Woods, Barcelona, our favourite race horse, HDTV, Usain Bolt or Rising Stars in the USA UK or Jamaica. But when " trouble comes", when disaster strikes, when suffering beckons - our very souls recoil in horror and disappointment. Most of us.
But was this so in the early church?
" And what more shall I say? I do not have the time to tell about Gideon, Barack, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection ( I want to know Christ .....and so somehow achieve resurrection from the dead). Some faced jeers and floggings, while still others were chained and put in prison. they were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskin and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated -- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. Good had planned something better for us so that together we would be made perfect.
Hebrews 11: 32-40 NIV
And that perfection comes in the form of a person - not a belief or religion but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Time and again in the Bible this issue of suffering with Christ, in order that we may reign with Him, surfaces. Even in the New Testament reading appointed for today in my church.
" ..........The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children , then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8: 12-17 NIV.
The problem is that, as the Priest pointed out today, during a sermon featuring the familiar story of Moses and the Burning Bush and God's declaration to Moses, " take off your sandals as the place where you are standing - in God's presence - is Holy ground", both in the church and worse outside, unlike Moses we really don't fear God anymore. And so we become quite presumptuous unlike the hymn writer who wrote the famous hymn : " My God how wonderful thou art", and in particular the verse:
O how I fear thee, living god,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope
And penitential tears...
This is the attitude that is sorely needed in the church today. Penitential tears, as we have not sought Jesus for Himself alone, we have not feared the Almighty God, and we have sought to manipulate the power of the Holy Spirit for our private and collective agendas. All of us.
So the real story of God's Kingdom needs to be told so that, through power, sinful mankind, unforgiving mankind, selfish mankind can find healing of body mind and spirit, and our country can be healed. A story of sacrifice and suffering with Christ. A story of dying to the desires of self and living according to the Spirit and power of Christ. A story of a life completely surrendered to Christ and Christ alone. For this world is not our lasting home, so let us not hold onto anything to tightly, but place our trust in Christ and Christ alone, who will be there to welcome us into our everlasting home one day. Where there will be no pain or tears or sorrows, no hardness of hearts, no Kobe Bryant, no Lebraun James no Lionel Messe no Kaka, no wives nor husbands but fullness of joy for the children of the resurrection in and through Christ Jesus - the Lamb who sits on the heavenly throne and who is worthy together with God, and the Holy Spirit, to receive honor and praise and worship especially on the day when we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday.
So let us indeed thank God for mercy day by day, and pray for protection from evil daily if not minutely, but most of all repent, let us shed penitentail tears for not seeking Christ and him crucified above all other things - lead us then Lord not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.