Today is the church's birthday. The day when many Christians celebrate the day of Pentecost when The promised Holy Spirit was poured on the disciples and empowered them to break free from their fears, and to perform great miracles which spoke to the glory and majesty and power of God.
It cannot be coincidence then, that on this day, sections of my country has descended into mayhem, anarchy and the kind of madness which many thought about, but hoped would never have happened. Reports in the mid-afternoon surfaced that organised criminal elements in western Kingston, the base of strongman " Dudus " Christopher Coke, had launched a preemptive co-ordinated attack on police stations, resulting in the firebombing and destruction of one station. This, after repeated warnings by the police telling the people in Tivoli gardens to remove the barricades which had been mounted, following the announcement that a warrant for the arrest of Coke had been issued. As a result the government has announced a state of emergency, limited to the capital of the country where near to one million of us live. Many civil liberties will be suspended and police will have to power to stop and search, arrest and detain without bail, for extended periods of time. So panic has set in and reports indicate that the roads are congested, even on a Sunday evening, as citizens try to stock up on necessities. The Prime Minister just came on television and radio and tried to assure the nation that his government was determined to repel the forces of evil that permeated the land, even as credible intelligence reports indicated that others in the criminal world had joined forces with the Tivoli thugs. It appears that the security forces are prepared to launch an attack on the criminals as they have asked law abiding citizens to leave the area and that buses will be provided for them. Many are fearing a blood bath and that innocent citizens will die before law and oder is restored. Indeed in a show of support for Coke, women marched through the capital city bearing placards indicating that they were prepared to die for Dudus. ' Jesus died for us and we will die for Dudus'. Amazing stuff ! "Lord forgive them fr they know not what they do" came into my mind.
And as I write, in this very fluid situation, unconfirmed reports are coming out that Coke is prepared to waive his rights and be handed over to the US marshals - a large US army plane has been parked at the airport for a few days now. The question remains, if is true that Coke is willing to face the US courts, and only the power of prayer could arrange such a dramatic end to this sorry situation, what would happen to the gunmen who caused so much mayhem in the city this evening and resulted in the good name of our beloved country being further tarnished in the International circles? What would happen to the gunmen who are reported to be challenging the police in other areas of the city.
But the bigger question is how did we allow ourselves to get to this nadir, this low point in our history? No doubt, the immediate answer by many Jamaicans, is that had the government acted with honor, and had not been swayed by blatant party political considerations, this situation would never have occurred. The warrant for Coke's arrest would have been issued promptly and quietly, nine months ago when it was first received, and none of this madness would have been allowed to develop, even if some had it in their minds to so order it. But that is conjecture now as we seek to grapple with a societal failure which is bigger than just the Coke issue - the reality of a veritable arsenal of weapons in the hands of criminal elements who have demonstrated, by the vast numbers of Jamaicans slaughtered in recent times, that they no regard for human life and who as we have seen in the past few hours are quire prepared to challenge the state.
My own view is that such an enormous challenge to law and order, especially at a time when the current government has squandered its considerable political capital, requires more than what each of our political parties can offer at this time in the nation's history. Indeed, as many have agreed, we are now at a crossroads, as recent events have taught us, we are and continue to be, "this close" to being a captured state. It is the mercy of God no doubt which has allowed events to have unfolded in this manner and to bring us to our collectives senses. If ever there was a time for national unity, among our politicians, our business class, our professionals, the media, our working class, the young and the old, to forge a united front devoted to stamp out this monster of crime and violence in our country - the time is now. So in the midst of the madness, determined not to panic but instead to pray and see God doing a new thing , my mind has been occupied with thoughts about a coalition government. A situation where the current government comes to its senses and realizes that it does not have, for many reasons, the moral authority to mobilize the entire country in a protracted and determined fight against crime and violence. A situation where the opposition is wise enough to appreciate that having been in power for the past 18 years, the population is not exactly longing to see them back right now. But a situation which demands, nay cries out, for strong political leadership, is one where the country may be prepared to accept , for a limited time, some kind of power sharing which would also involve the input of a counsel of " wise men and women " drawn from all sections of our society. A true government of national unity. If there was ever a time for such a bold move it is now.
And as I grappled with these thoughts about my country, the Lord God of Israel, the God whose outpouring of his Holy Spirit we celebrate today, led me to reflect deeply on the need for another kind of unity. Unity in the Spirit. As the cosmic and supernatural reality is that for evil to be conquered in the hearts of wicked men, and in the hearts of unredeemed mankind, Christ has to be accepted as Lord and Saviour and be obeyed. And for that to happen, the church, the body of Christ, the people of Pentecost, have to be united in their knowledge of God.
The message began with the gospel reading in the Anglican church for last Sunday.
" My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory which you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you and they know that you have sent me. I have made them known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
John 17: 20-26 NIV " part of Jesus' high priestly prayer"
So Christian unity is not an ideal, it is the only way that those who are not baptised, those who are unredeemed, those in Tivoli Gardens, those in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, In Iran, in Chechnya, are going to come to know God. But what are the essential elements of Christian unity? Does it entail doing away with the contentious and often confusing to the unbeliever, issue of denominational plurality? Is it the more profound issue of doctrinal elasticity?
what did the word of God reveal this week to his servant. First, what may seem a diversion, but an issue whcih is central to God revealing Himself to his people and to any interested party. Trials, faith and maturity.
" Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. if any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."
James 1: 2-9. NIV
So on the way to Christian maturity, that point at which all believers become one in Christ, lies many trials and tribulations. Therefore, on this journey to maturity to being united in the Spirit, we should be constantly praying for the wisdom of God in dealing with all situations and not be paralysed with fear as evil confronts us. That is message of Pentecost. That is the message that the Lord sends on this dark day in our land. To pray for wisdom and not to be afraid, as the Rector told us this morning in church, " there is only one don in the country"! TLC - The Living Creator, who as the Psalmist tells us;
" They all look to you
to give them food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face ,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth."
Psalm 104:27-30 NIV
In the same way that many Americans turned to the church after 9/11 for comfort, so too no doubt many Jamaicans, having seen our country arrive at the brink of the abyss, will repent of their foolish ways and turn back to the God of their forefathers for mercy and grace. Many will also hope that the parties will put aside their political differences, and come together and in a new found spirit of unity and co-operation, be determined to craft whatever political arrangements that best suits the country at this time. And that will require great wisdom and humility. In the same way seeking the knowledge of God requires all mankind to humble themselves before God's Almighty and His Son Jesus in and through the Spirit of the living God.
And so the final revelation of the how believers can attain to the unity of the Spirit, and answer the prayers of Jesus - for the good of all creation - came from God's Word in 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 one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you 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 appointed some to be apostles, 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 the Christ............
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life. to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body........Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is useful for building others up according to their need, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander. along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or of greed, because these are improper for god's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ. let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient..........
Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.........Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Ephesians 4-5:1-20 NIV
So its all about our attitude to God. In the same way its all about out attitude to our country.
Unity in the Spirit is all about being determined to do the best for the Jesus - the God who died for us, at all times, enabled by the Holy Spirit. Regardless of the consequences, the trials, as the ultimate reward - to be like Christ and to serve mankind surpasses all that this world has to offer us. In the same way, we must cultivate a sense of national unity where the reward of serving the common good, promoting peace in our country, and preserving the good name of our land, so that our children may walk proud and free one day, far surpass all selfish and ultimately empty personal and party ambitions. I pray God that the Psalmist who prophesied that
" Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." ..and who tells us that:
From heaven the lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on the earth --
he who forms the hearts of all,
and considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
Psalm 33:12-19 NIV
Pray God that tomorrow bring further news of the Lord's greatness and His power and mercy.
Pray God that His people will choose to live holy lives and not bring down the wrath of God because of disobedience. As for far too long we have been deceived by those with empty words and who lead people astray by their actions and promises that God is a forgiving God and therefore we can be deliberately disobedient and still claim Christ. Recent events should serve as a warning to believers and unbelievers alike, that evil - in any aspect of life is not to be encouraged or ignored, but to rooted out of one's life, one's community, and one's nation, less it takes hold and bring us again to the abyss. That national unity is a priority that we should all strive for, and if necessary sacrifice for. And that divine unity is the only way to let a dying world believe in the risen and ascended Christ, and that His sacrifice on Calvary has opened the way for the power of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on all people and all nations and to bring peace in the midst of war.