Sunday, March 14, 2010

Because of one Man - grace; On account of another -disgrace

My country is in quite a turmoil. And the Christopher " Dudus" Coke extradition matter is the cause of it. First it was the powerful Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, and then later the equally influential Jamaica Council of Churches and at least two very vocal and human rights lobby groups, all weighing in on the issue. In essence advising the government to send the matter to the courts where, in their view, it properly resides. Then this morning one newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, reported, in the headlines, that a very popular Evangelical Pastor broke ranks with even the leader of his own denomination, much less the wider church groups, and backed the Prime Minister on his handling of the case - refusing to allow his Minister of Justice to give permission for the matter to proceed. But the situation took a new and potentially dangerous twist this morning, if we are to believe one of our Newspapers, The Jamaican Observer. They are alleging that the Jamaican government is exploring the possibility of asking no less an institution than the United Nations to arbitrate in their dispute with the USA on the extradition of The President - Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. Already there are unconfirmed reports that far fewer persons are being granted visas to visit the USA, and many are fearful that they may be stopped at the local airport or even at their port of entry in America, and turned away even if the precious visa is stamped in their passport. So the nation is not only divided on this issue, and so too to an extent the church, but we may well be entering a " whole new ball game" in carrying our dispute to the major international institution responsible for promoting peace and justice across the world. All because of what on the surface seems to be a justice issue, a very legitimate one too. But most Jamaicans don't buy that. They feel that all this fuss is on account of one man, one single man, one very powerful man, one accused by the USA of being a major international criminal, and one believed by most Jamaicans to be a man to be feared and not to be exalted nor whose lifestyle is to be emulated.
But we are not alone as a nation divided. Our Americans friends up north are having a hard time achieving unity on the need for Health Care reform despite the best efforts of President Obama.
Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are nations divided on account of ethnicity, religion, and alignment with the west and are suffering immeasurably.

In the midst of this division, anger, fear, steadfastness, bewilderment and celebration, the Lord spoke about the need for the church to maintain the unity of the Spirit. All account of one man. One single man. But one very special human being, Jesus Christ, who gave his life as a ransom for the sins of all men.

The message began with a meditation from Chris Tiegeen and which reflections were inspired by a passage from Ephesians.

" As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with each other in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is only one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all...........It was he who gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Ephesians 4: 1-14 NIV

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1

We know that the unity of the church is an important issue, but it rarely takes priority over the issues deep in our hearts. We want to live and grow as disciples, serving the Lord and following His will. We want Him to change us within and answer our prayers. It is a very personal process.
But we forget how public a process it is supposed to be. Our personal issues are mot, of course, always on display for others to see. God does deal with us privately. But to Him, the unity of His church is just as important as the deep desires in our lives. At the root o disunity is a heart issue. When God's people are not in harmony with each other, it is a certain sign that hearts are not in harmony with God.
We have little trouble with that, as long as we can point our finger at those whose hearts are not right with God. But what about our own? Is there any contempt within us for others? Any tendency to judge? Any desire for self-promotion at the expense of others' gifts? Any self-will at all?


Of course there is. We know that. We are redeemed, but we have vestiges of fallen flesh that continue to pester us. And as much as we like to point, we know the first place to look for seeds of discord is the mirror. We know, at some level, we have failed to live up to verse 3; we have not made every effort to live at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Meditate on that today. Think about the statement we make when we tell Jesus we want His Spirit in us but could not care less whether it is in others. Consider what he must think of those who pray for His blessings without seeking His unity. Understand how it must grieve him to see His Spirit "fragmented", so to speak, among a multitude of individuals who want Him for them selves. The think about what it means to live a life worthy of His calling. Has His calling drawn you into close fellowship with diverse believers? if not, let it. He is worthy of the calling he has given you.

The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion - John Wesley.

There are no shortage of issues that divide the church at this time. Perhaps, and to its great shame, thus diminishing it's credibility and effective witness to a "dying world", more so than those which divide a nation or a household. Thus witness how much denominational and doctrinal differences have turned off many from the church of the Christ who suffered and died on the cross of Calvary - which day to worship, the importance and understanding of Holy Communion, the importance of speaking in tongues, who is filled with the Holy Spirit and who is not, the treatment of " backsliders", the style of worship - liturgical or " Holy Ghost led", and how many times can one get baptised?
And at a different level, how the issue of homosexuality is sparking so much controversy within and affecting the witness without, especially in my own Anglican Communion. Also the ordination of female priests and female bishops; the issue of celibacy in the Roman Catholic church which is not unconnected with the unfortunate revelations of sexual abuse of children; the growing issue of gospel music in its various forms and the industry in general and how " Christian" it is ?

What is clear is that all these things reflect a church whose collective hearts are not in harmony with the God who died for all mankind on the cross of Calvary. A church which is collectively not living a life worthy of the calling which we have received. And what is that calling? To recognize our sinfulness in the presence of a Holy God, to turn from such sin, ask for mercy from a God who is like the Father of the prodigal son, and is just waiting to forgive and is full compassion and slow to anger. And which attitude is best, in my own experience, and which I recommended to a gay rights advocate who sent me a note this week, summed up in the following verse from a well known hymn.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your cross I cling.
Naked, come to you for dress,
Helpless, come to you for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me saviour lest I die.

The point is that when we get caught up with the importance of a single human being to our lives - spouse, child, neighbour, co-worker or political supporter - or our own political, legal or philosophical viewpoint, or even our own doctrinal rightness, trouble is on the horizon. And the kind of trouble about which the prophets of old spoke, and which we have little power confront.
This is why the Christian life is so radical and unpopular as it calls for a devotion not to a cause, nor a principle, nor to some unreferenced concept of human rights, but to a person. One single person, whose birth, death and resurrection changed history forever, both in this world and the world to come. Whose Holy Spirit is ready and available, with the power that raised Christ from the dead, to those who would humble themselves and believe that they are sinners and in need of salvation. To leaders who would recognize that they, and the nation over whom they have limited and temporary charge, need Jesus. And to the church, whose only source of power to witness effectively to a confused, dying and divided nation, is the undivided body of Christ led by the one Spirit, declaring that there is one faith, one baptism and one Lord Jesus Christ.

Hark my soul! it is the Lord,
'Tis the Saviour , hear his word.
Jesus speaks and say to thee
Say poor sinner , love'st thou me.

I delivered thee when bound
And, when wounded, healed thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turned thy darkness into light.

Can a woman's tender care
Cease towards the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee.

Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death.

Thou shalt see my glory soon,
When the work of grace is done;
Partner of my throne shalt be
Say, poor sinner, lov'st thou me?

Lord it is my chief complaint
That my love is weak and faint
Yet I love thee and adore
O for grace to love thee more.