Toronto is one of my favourite cities. Just seems so peaceful and quiet here. Came to celebrate my cousin and his wife's faithfulness to each other for fifty years. In a world filled with such much uncertainty, and with people not given to commitment of any sort for any length of time, as in former years, it was a moment to savor indeed. In this tranquil setting, however, I thought about my country and the continued violence there , even as I found great joy in the company of relatives - mine and those of my wife, as her sister and family have been here for years. I wondered how many more had died since I left - at the the last count we were heading towards 500 - and I looked online, but unlike the printed version, the Gleaner website was silent on the issue. But things are changing here too , as our relatives, as we have had to do in Jamaica, have installed an alarm system in their house and keep it on if alone at home. I was even shown a house where two men were murdered recently. So "change and decay all around I see", could well be used as a metaphor for what is happening across the globe. And so on the same issue of change, I posed a question to a dinner partner - she is a Christian woman - at my cousin's celebration, " How does the church in Canada combat the growing secular nature of the society - a feature of life in North America and Europe". The answer was that her pastor spent time in the Word. For example, for weeks he had been preaching on the book of Timothy, going through it in some detail.
Well the God who speaks to us in all kinds of ways and at all times, woke me up at minutes past four early Sunday morning - and I am a good sleeper - for me to read the following passages of scripture and to write to ordained ministers.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, " It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word".
Acts 6:1-4 NIV
After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: " Take this book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There is shall remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still and with you, how much more will you rebel after die! Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them. For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made."
And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:
Listen, O heavens and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.
Deut. 31:24-32:2 NIV
And this is not the first time that this issue of making the Word a priority has arisen . A few days ago I was led to read and send out the following passage of the Word.
" When Silas and Timothy came to Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to teaching , testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ". Acts 18: 5 NIV
The message is very clear, the Christian life, the Eternal Life that Jesus imparts by His Holy Spirit, to and through those who believe the Word, that He was sent by God and raised from the dead, is the only power available to change the hearts men and women whose behaviour is causing so much pain and mayhem across the globe. Not just in Jamaica and Iraq. Not just Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not just in the Gaza and in Israel. It is this powerful Word, preached and lived by men and women committed to serving Christ throughout the centuries, that has stood firm in the face of countless evils, that mankind has had to face. It is this Word that sustained Martin Luther King jnr, that sustained and effected the release of Nelson Mandela and brought back South Africa from the brink of civil war, that in great measure sustained the struggle to abolish the African Slave Trade. It is the Word that spawned the beginning of many of America's great Universities - including Harvard and others - and from whence came the Western Civilization's concept of Freedom, that undergirds the democratic way of life which these countries now enjoy and zealously protect.
But the call to place a priority of the preaching of the Word, though of immeasurable benefit to our society, has a higher purpose - for God's people to be holy as He is holy. As ultimately that is the eternal purpose of God - as we were reminded by the sermon at Christchurch Anglican church in Brampton Canada this morning. To transform disciples from being mere sheep and instead to become shepherds themselves and thus like Jesus, sacrifice all our human ambitions and become obedient to the Father.
This week Chris Tiegen used the Word of God as found in Peter's first letter to further explain that not only are we called to be holy but to be the GRATEFUL ONES.
".....that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful life". 1 Peter 2:9
That we may be the MERCIFUL ONES
" Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10
That we may become the DIFFERENT ONES
" I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires". 1 Peter 2:11
That we may become the VISIBLE ONES
" Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us". 1 Peter 2:12
The great problem now for Christianity, and by extension for the world, since we, and we alone, are called God to be light and salt, is for the church to get back to the core responsibility of preaching the Word, " in season and out of season". There is no gainsaying the need, and increasingly so, for the church to " wait at tables" and to bring compassionate care to the needy and dispossessed in this world. But that cannot be it' overiding focus, as if the Word is neglected, the power to good will be much weakened and ineffective. On the other hand, dwelling on the Word, will lead to more effective prayer. Two passages caught my attention this week and both challenged my life with Christ, my faith, my prayer life, and my time spent with the Word, in no uncertain way. One was a reading for today from the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she fell sick, and died: and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper chamber.And as Lydda was nigh unto Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men unto him, entreating him, Delay not to come on unto us. And Peter arose and went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.And it became known throughout all Joppa: and many believed on the Lord.And it came to pass, that he abode many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner. Acts 9:36-43
Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do. John 148-14 ARV
The rich and glorious history of the persecuted church, or what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the Confessing church, as distinct from nominal Christianity, is that it had power to change dramatically the lives of those who believed in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. And thus convicted now obeyed the call to be merciful, grateful, the visible members of Christ' body in the world and thus to be different.
There are countless persons in our world today who are in need of healing as was the case of Tabitha in the days of Peter. And in the same way that he knelt and prayed to the God of Abraham and of Issac and of Jacob, as taught by the Master, Jesus Christ. and a mighty miracle was wrought, so too are we called to manifest God's power as promised by Jesus, " Ask me anything in my name and I will do it".
Could it be that the will of God to free my country from the reign of wickedness is being retarded, held back by weak and ineffectual prayer and by a lack of understanding of, and obedience to the Word of God? Could it be that the scourge of violence which is sweeping across the Caribbean and is now appearing in once peaceful Toronto, has been caused by rebellion of stiff-necked people who have elected to go their own way and have counted the way of life of their forebears as dead, boring and not in keeping with modern life - in the same way that the children of Israel rebelled, and even more so after Moses' death.
Finally the words of a hymn with which spent quality time this week and which words relate well to the issue of the sacrifice of Jesus, as we remember in Holy Communion, faith and prayers - spawned by sound teaching of the Word.
And now , O Father mindful of the love
That brought us, once for all, on Calvary's Tree.
And having with us him that pleads above,
We here present, we here spread forth to thee
That one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.
Look Father, look on his anointed face,
And only look on us as found in him,;
Our prayer so languid and our faith so dim;
For lo, between our sins and their reward
We set the Passion of thy Son our Lord
And,, then for those, our dearest and our best,
By this prevailing Presence we appeal;
O fold them closer to thy mercy' s breast,
O do thine utmost for their soul's true weal
From tainting mischief keep them white and clean
And crown thy gifts with strength to persevere....