Many of us who who were so thrilled by President Obama's campaign and election, in recent times have began to wonder if his was going to a one term presidency. And whether all the hope we and, more importantly the American people, had invested in his, " yes we can", promise for a for a new bold America, and indeed a new world order, was going to be dashed. Perhaps he did not have the guts fight. Maybe the odds were too heavily stacked against him. Did he take on more than he could manage? The jury is still out on these questions and on the debate generally, but the recent passage of his health care reform bill has helped to energize all who had and continue to have high hopes for his presidency.
Many countries across the world have been in a similar position where an elected leader promised so much but either failed to live up to popular expectations, or in the long run the country for whatever reason did not fulfill its potential. Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah come to mind. Closer home Forbes Burnham in Guyana, Eric Williams in Trinidad and Tobago and Michael Manley of Jamaica were hugely popular, almost held in awe and spoken about in Messianic terms, yet in all cases , in Africa, and in the Caribbean, these countries now face countless problems.
In our case in Jamaica, the current Prime Minister came to office with high expectations, even if his popular mandate was more sobering. The past administration had been there for too long and had gotten too complacent. People wanted a change. Especially the young. Crime was at an all time high level. The economy was floundering and the level of corruption was unbearable. The leader, though arguably driven by the noble desire to uplift the poor, was weak, self-centered and lacking in any ability to inspire hope. So even those who did not vote for the Prime Minister, or supported his party publicly, were quietly very relieved when he won, as change was coming soon.
And yet in recent times, many of these very same people have begun to wonder if they made the right choice. The (very) puzzling refusal to allow the extradition to the USA, of one of our most high profile "dons" ( gang leader) has led to virtual panic in the society, as many are wondering if their American visa - a precious privilege for Jamaicans - will be revoked also, as has been the case for some high profile entertainers and at least one businessman, even though "officially" there is no established link. And the extradition matter has spawned another story which is threatening to destroy the government's credibility completely. Further, as if to add "fuel to fire", in the midst of all of this, the most widely read daily newspaper, " The Gleaner", has been , in recent times, featuring the daily count of murders and the number of days in which this mayhem has existed, and posed the question, " Who is accountable?" The headlines today? 436 Jamaican murdered in 101 days. What has gone wrong? Only God he knows!
In the midst of this reality, and in preparation for the service today, one of the readings
" jumped out" at me this week, and I read it with awe and deep reflection as it offers a reason, and even a revelation, why things go wrong. Or go right. As the sad reality is that, it is not only elected leaders that have failed to live up to their potential. And it is not only nations that have gone down the wrong path.
The church in general, regardless of our denominational preference, has suffered immeasurably on account of the much publicized " sexual abuse" scandals which are currently rocking the Roman Catholic Church. And as we know only too well, the issues of sexual abuse, predatory behaviour by priests, and extramarital affairs, have been the subject of much discussion in many other denominations. What went so horribly wrong? My own denomination, worldwide, is deeply divided by the decision of some leaders to ordain, and to support the ordination, even to the high office of Bishop, of actively gay and completely unrepentant priests. What has gone so horribly wrong? There are doctrinal differences which have deeply divided the church, and led to not only antagonism within the body, but of equal importance, confusion in the minds of unbelievers as to what constitutes the true church. What has gone so horribly wrong?
But as I read the passage, what struck me most forcibly, was the chasm, the very wide gap, between the power of the witness of the early church and the present. And the clear implication that, for all of the above mentioned reasons, and no doubt more, something has gone horribly wrong. Thank God, and that's the message of hope to us all, that what the reading also made very clear, is that God's power to assist those who are faithful - what one of my friends and a female priest calls the " remnant" - has been with the church ever since its inception, and will always preserve the " body of Christ" as a righteous institution which will continue to spread all over the world, and with power declare that Jesus is the Christ, and with power, to do good to all.
" The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid their them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil-spirits, and all of them were healed.
Then the high priests and all of his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out .............................
Then someone came and said, " Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them,
Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. " We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. " Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
Peter and the other apostles replied: " We must obey God, rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead - whom you had killed by hanging on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them:
" Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all of his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God".
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of the Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 5:12-42 NIV
Before I comment on the many lessons learned from reflecting on that passage of Scripture, another one to which I was led to read, much shorter, though equally instructive, must be borne in mind.
He said to them, " Go into the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they will drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
Mark 16:15-18 NIV
So the questions which arose from in my mind as I write and reflect of this revelation from God are:
If the Word of God which rightly says that " the kingdom of God is not about talk but about power"; and if Jesus prophesied that those who believe would have great power, even to the point where in the passage from Acts, the "shadow of Peter" could heal the sick, what has gone wrong with the church in 2010? What has gone terribly wrong? Or it is a case where some were given to be apostles, some teachers, some preachers.....and powerful healing is taking place and which is going unpublicized. But ought not this power of the church, and this love be so manifest that people, those in need and those who benefit, would " protect the church"..... would stone those who would persecute the apostles. And yet, as revealed in the Gleaner today, and which revelation, mirrors the experience of many churches, that millions of dollars are being spent to protect property, cars and lives of church goers in this country
How does one know if a new church, a new leader or a new idea is of God? How do we judge whether or not it is worthy of our support? Can we ever know ? Is Obama going to make a major difference in how people, from different parts of the world, live together, or will he just be another bright young man whose ambitions for humanity are limited by what is good for America? Did Nyerere, Nkrumah, Williams, Burnham, and Manley leave any lasting legacy outside of their rhetoric and promises? Is Golding the " real deal" or has he just flattered only to deceive? Is it too early to tell, despite the major issues confronting the nation, and should he therefore be given more time to prove himself? Can he, with his recognized talent of a huge intellect, and his administration recover and be redeemed, to do good for the people who elected him?
Is the Roman Catholicism as we know it today, destined for profound change? Will the witness of the church once again be accompanied with, and indeed heralded by, " Angels opening doors" for the persecuted church? Will church members, again, as one, once again, decide to " obey God, rather than men and be prepared to suffer the consequences"? And what will that mean for us who claim that we believe? Can we " take joy in suffering for the Name ( Christ) , if our ambitions and desires coincide ( be no different from ) with those of unbelievers. Will we, the baptised ones, choose to surrender our lives completely to Jesus, so that God's power may flow through us and bring healing to a broken nation and to a people in need? Or will be continue to accept a " watered down" version of the faith, and just maintain our churches, sing wonderful songs, participate in Holy Communion, praise the Lord for His mercies to us, and have little or no impact of those "possessed by the demons of murder and corruption"; those sick with " lust , pride, greed and idolatry"? And for those who still continue to be unbelievers, it is not a powerful witness to the truth of the Good Friday and Easter message, that despite the many " warts and bumps" of the church, it has survived over two thousand year? And therefore to continue to be disobedient and oppose the truth is to be guilty of " fighting against the Lord", and then to what purpose, as history has taught us that there is no good end to those who fight against the will of God.
This is indeed a very sobering passage of Scripture for challenging times. For as with Theudas and Judas only time will tell if politicians and church leaders are the " real deal" , and anointed by God to do His work. This is the first time many (of us, including myself) are hearing about Theudas and Judas and many other pretenders " to the throne". But the Name, the wonderful name of Jesus, from that day appointed by God Himself, and from that small town in Palestine over two thousand years ago, continues to this day, to be on the lips of the living and the dying believer . And even on the lips of unbelievers for one reason or another - it seems impossible for them to stop talking about Him. This is the Name that has stood the test of time. This is the Name of the One who died for me and for you. This is the Name of the One who will never disappoint anyone who puts their trust in Him. This is the name of the One, who according to one of our gospel artistes, Jamaica needs now...."This island needs Jesus, this island needs Jesus..bam ba ba li bam bam, bam ba ba li bam bam...yeah yeah". This is the Name of the One who many are praying will guide Obama, and not USA foreign policy; that should guide our Prime Minister and not party considerations or any other name; and that should guide our church leaders and not the world and its many attractions, and what world opinion demands of them to conform. Because like the early church, only those who choose to obey God and not man, and who choose to suffer for the Name, and those who believe, will prosper and not be condemned, either by the bar of history, or by the Word of the Living God.
Oh Jesus, O for grace to love thee more.