In my country, this Wednesday, a significant part of the Christian church - but not all - will celebrate Ash Wednesday. The start of Lent, when Christians around the world, who follow this ancient tradition, engage in an intense and intentional manner, the disciplines of fasting and prayer, repentance and the giving of alms to the poor. All for the cleansing of the soul in preparation for the celebration of our Lord's Passion, culminating in the Good Friday observances. And then the glorious celebration of Easter - the day of our Lord's Resurrection.
In many countries across the world, this ancient ritual has become obsolete, or at least out of favor, as societies become more and more secular. And even in Jamaica, the sacredness that was once attached to this period, is certainly not what it used to be in the past. There is no doubt, however, as we continue to battle with the reality of violence in the schools and in the society at large, struggle with the gross immorality in the entertainment industry which is corrupting the minds of our young people, all because people no longer have any " boundaries" in their lives which postscribe certain behaviors, more and more this society needs to return to Christian ethic. In a time when the political culture is beset with many ills, many of which are on display in the " unparliamentary" behavior which provoked the Speaker of the House this week, threaten to eject members, on account of them " stepping over the boundaries" of civilized behavior, we need the Christian ethic to curb this growing problem. The same story is repeated daily in respect of family life, the behavior of many of our professionals, the outrageous behavior of some of policemen and women, and the egregious miscarriage of justice at the highest level of the business community, where those who wield enormous power, can so easily and maliciously taint for life, former employees. All because there are no "established boundaries" which ought not be exceeded.
So this week, I was led to reflect on, and share two meditations. One on the development of a " restless spirit " which urges one to share their faith in Christ. The other on the important discipline of prayer, both by a great saint of old, whom the Lord in His wisdom used to " stir up" the church and the society, many years ago - Martin Luther. He whose clarion call, sola fide, sola scriptura, by faith alone, and according to scripture alone, provoked a great social and religious reformation in Europe, the gains of which the western world is still reaping today. The gains of which my country and other would do well to accept , and follow the basic teaching of the Christian faith, which among other things, imposes boundaries on people's behavior. A great need in our country today
verse Zechariah 12:10
" And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son."
When a Christian begins to know the Christ as his Lord and Savior, through whom he is redeemed from death and brought into his kingdom and inheritance, his heart is aglow with a flaming love of God and he would gladly help everyone to the same experience. For he knows no greater joy than that he possesses this treasure, that he knows Christ. Therefore he goes out and teaches and exhorts other people, praising and testifying to it before all men, praying and yearning that they too might attain to such grace. That is a restless spirit enjoying the highest rest in the grace and peace of God, for it cannot be silent or idle, but is always striving with all its power to spread the honor and glory of God among the people, that others too may receive this Spirit of grace and may then help with the work of prayer. For where the Spirit of grace is, he quickens our hearts, so that we can, and may, and must begin to pray.
LUTHER ON PRAYER
verse Luke 18:1
" Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up."
Upright Christians pray without ceasing, though they pray not always, with their mouths, yet their hearts pray continually, sleeping and waking, for the sigh of a true Christian is a prayer. As the Psalm saith: " Because of the deep sighing of the poor, I will rise up, saith the Lord...." ( Psalm 12:5 KJV). In like manner a true Christian always carries the cross, though he feel it not always.
The Lord's Prayer binds the people together, and knits them one to another, so that one prays for another and together one with another; and it is so strong and powerful that it even drives away the fear of death.
Prayer preserves the church, and hitherto has done the best for the church, therefore we must continually pray. Hence Christ says: " Ask, and ye shall have, seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" ( Luke 11:9 KJV)
First, when we are in trouble, he will have us pray; for God often, as it were, hides himself, and will not hear; yea, will not suffer himself to be found. When we seek him, he often locks himself up, as it were, in a private chamber; if we intend to come in unto him, then we must knock, and when we have knocked once or twice, then he begins a little to hear. At last, when we make much knocking, then he opens, and says: What will ye have? Lord, say we, we should have this or that; then, says he, Take it unto you. In such sort must we persist in praying, and waken God up.
As Christians, we, who are called to be "light and salt " in the world, have a peculiar responsibility to love, as Christ loved, even to His death on a Cross. Sadly this demonstration of God's great mercy and compassion to others, like us, who have fallen short of God's glory, on account of whatever sin, whether in the church, or outside, is lacking. And for this we need to repent. Constantly, but even more so during this upcoming Lenten period. There is no question that all of us need to have a " restless spirit and be anxious to share the love of Jesus. There absolutely no question of the great need for prayer. Constant prayer for self, neighbour, church and nation. But we must repent for we have not demonstrated sufficiently God's mercy.
And so tonight as I am writing this message the Lord provided a final reflection.
Catherine of Siena ( 1347-1380, a mystic of the church who, though nearly illiterate, exercised her influence over the church through her dictated letters.)
verse Zechariah 1:16. NIV
" Therefore, this is what the Lord says; " I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt."
Merciful Lord, it does not surprise me that you forget completely the sins of those who repent. I am not surprised that you remain faithful to those who hate you and revile you. The mercy which pours from you fills the whole world.
It was by your mercy that we were created, and by your mercy that you redeemed us by sending your Son. Your mercy is the light in which sinners find you and good people come back to you. Your mercy is everywhere, even in the depths of hell where you offer to forgive tortured the souls. Your justice is constantly tempered with mercy, so that you refuse to punish us as we deserve. O mad lover! it was not enough for you to take on our humanity, you had to die for us as well.
All of this that mankind should not exceed his boundaries, and having exceeded them greatly in open rebellion against a Holy God, this God died so that we might return to Him. No wonder the young people sing with joy: " What a mighty God.
we serve". During this Lent may we remember as a nation , what a merciful God we serve.