Sunday, May 30, 2010

It was the best of times: it was the worst of times

This past week I had two very contrasting experiences. The first was horrendous, and even horrific. The second inspiring, and perhaps even redemptive in respect of the first experience.

last week I shared the story of how my country - at least one section of the capital city Kingston - had descended into near anarchy. Where armed thugs loyal to an alleged drugs and arms dealer accused of having International Connections by the US State Department, challenged the state to open warfare. The security forces , after showing commendable restraint in the face of considerable provocation - the firebombing of police stations, and a series of co-ordinated attacks resulting in the death of two officers - invaded a heavily fortified and barricaded area in pursuit of Christopher Coke the alleged leader of the infamous Shower posse. At the end of it all, over seventy young - mostly - men, lay dead. Over five hundred citizens were detained and to date, 34 guns recovered, including high powered weapons, and over 9000 rounds of ammunition. This was not a good day for my country, as regardless of the situation which caused the invasion, entirely justified given the circumstamces, these dead, mostly young, men were our brothers, and like us created in the image and likeness of God. Since then, through the public media, we have been treated to a series charges and countercharges. From citizens of the invaded area, the security forces, human rights groups, church leaders and civil society. And even a former Prime Minister, Hon. Edward Seaga and former representative for that constituency for over forty years, now held by the present PM, has now joined the fray when in a very unseemly and unprecedented attack on the character and competence of Prime Minister Golding. But there was worse, as the International media made it the number one news story across the globe, and one American News organization, carried on its website, a potentially explosive article which has since been refuted in the strongest terms by the PM, and labeled libellous by the Minister of Information.

And then the next day, in the midst of the war, we had to pick up the pieces and hurry off to work, not knowing where and when further violence would erupt. This was not a good time for my country and we have run the gamut of emotions. Embarrassment, amazement, anger, fear, raw fear, grief, determination that this should never happen again, speculation about the political future of our country. While all of this was taking place in the capitial city, in another area in close juxtaposition to Kingston, over 20 persons were murdered in a 48 hour orgy of senseless violence. This all happening in a country where, prior to the outbreak of war, over 600 persons had been murdered by wicked men. This is the background - the horrendous murder figures and the ovewhelming feeling of helplessness - against which most Jamaicans supported the invasion of Tivoli and the continued high regard for the efforts of the security forces despite the agreed need for transparency and accountability in the way in which the operations were carried out.

So in the midst of the angst, the fear, the bewilderment as to how my country could ever have arrived at this very sad state, I headed over to the North Coast, the area which has made my country famous as a tourist resort, to join over 300 other Christians for a weekend of Christian teaching, worship, fellowship with other disciples of Christ, healing and renewal. Only God in His mercy could have forseen that we would need that kind of experience in the midst of the war. And so the theme for the weekend " Giving - The heart of healing", facilitated discussions not only about personal physical healing and healing in the church, but of equal, if not greater importance, healing of the nation and indeed the world.

It has become an institution in the Anglican church, and even beyond, as many Baptists, Methodists, United church members, and even some Pentecostals, not only attend but have been invited to share presentations. And it not only spans denominations but also geographical boundaries as persons from other countries in the Caribbean attend also as well as folk from the USA. The weekend begins with a service on the Friday night, with very inspiring music and a challenging sermon which sets the tone for the rest of the time. The next day begins with early morning devotions, followed by three presentations which carry us into the late evening. Then stories of healing. Powerful testimonies about God's grace and mercy and power. We close by 9 on the Saturday night. Then the Healing service, where the clergy and selected individuals lay their hands on persons within the congregation - usually everybody comes forward - during a worship servive which includes the participation in Holy Communion, climaxes the weekend.

All throughout the time, deep and sustained prayer takes place in the main conference hall, after and before the sessions, in the hotel rooms and special rooms for prayers.

This year we had four bishops. The Moderator of the United Church, and three Anglican bishops. One, the main organizer, preached the sermon on Sunday. The other three gave presentations.

I have been moved by the Spirit of God to share selected points of the sermon with you within the context of what took place in my country last week and which is occasioning so much pain, debate and angst, both nationally and Internationally. For make no mistake about it, regardless of whatever series of events which triggered the behaviour of these gunmen, what reared its ugly head in my country was the possibility of my dearly beloved country becoming a captured narco state. And the most important point the Bishop made was that, it is now time for all of us, because of our broken-ness, occasioned by the presence of Sin, to accept that we are no better than anyone else, in the eyes of God, and turn to God in Christ for help and grace and mercy. That all those who are busy blaming others on the talk show radio programmes and in other places, for the sad state of affairs in the country would do very well to consider that all of us haved sinned and fallen short of God's glory and are in need of forgiveness. And we in the church, of all people should know better, and not fall prey to the prevailing culture which makes it difficult to frgive someone else. For if Jesus died so that all those created in God's likeness, whatever the nature and extent of their sins, could with repentance gain forgiveness of all of those sins, who are we to withold forgiveness on our part. That understanding of God does not come easily but only when we give ourself completely to the Lord and find complete healing of body and soul.

His text was the famous Isaiah passage:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I sw the Lord seated on a throne , high and exalted......Above him wre seraphs.......And they were caling to one another:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty

the whole earth is full of his glory

....Woe to me I cried. I am ruined! For I am a manof unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the Lord Almighty.

Then one the seraphs flew to me with alive coal in his hand whcih he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us

And I said, Here am I. Send me!.

Bishop Daniel, made the point that the only reason why Isaiah " saw" this Almighty God, who is continually worshiped by heavenly beings and is pure and holy, is because he recognized how unworthy he was before this Almighty God. This Holy God. And therefore the major challenge facing all Jamaicans, all Christians and indeed the entire world, is a failure to have a proper estimate of ourselves before an Almighty God. He remined us of St. Paul's injunction not to think too highly but rather to have a sober estimate of ourselves, and that therefore the proper place of every man or woman is on our knees before an Almighty God. This is the attitude that we should carry to very worship service, as it is only when we realize how wretched we are before a holy God, that we can truly love Jesus and worship Him always. He shared the story of how some Christians have difficulty singing the the entire Amazing grace God saved a wretch like me.....and some persons have even gone so far as to replace " a wretch like me " by " a child like me". Further he remarked on the tendency of so many public commentators to become experts on " corruption, on wickedness, on violence and on other social ills" when they themselves are guilty of trying to " remove a speck from the eyes of their neigbour", while not attending to the beam in thier own eyes. Too many people think that everyone else around them have "unclean lips", but not them. And so the society disintegrates, not only in Tivoli Gardens and other inner city areas, but in the high and exalted places because we are not prepared to look closely into our own hearts, even in the church, and completely submit, give oursleves over to God and thus to find healing and wholeness.

Secondly, because Isaiah knew that he was wretched and in need of grace why he received salvation and healing - through the fire from on high.

Thirdly, Isaiah, having recievd healing was empowered to go out and do God's work. In the same way Paul declared in Galatians 2:20 NIV

" I have been crucified and I no longer live but Christ lives in me"

One speaker on Saturday evening spoke about the fact that since Christ lives in us and thorugh Him we live in the Father