Recently a few unexpected, if not downright strange things have happened, which when put together makes one wonder. An earthquake on the East coast of the USA. That's a problem normally associated with the West Coast of America. And California in particular. Then a Hurricane/Storm running along the Eastern seaboard of the USA. First one in decades. Passing strange indeed! Then Usain Bolt, just this morning, shocks the entire sporting world by false starting and thus being disqualified from a race which everyone expected him to win easily. First time we have seen him do that. Actually we in Jamaica were worried about VCB - the popular name for our famous world class female sprinter, Veronica Campbell- Brown, as she is the one who has been bedeviled with false starts in recent times. Strange indeed! What to make of it?
Not sure. But what I am sure about is the fact this week, in another realm, again and again, the Lord led me back to the same theme - His compassion. I first encountered this message in the book of Micah - at the very end of the book.
" Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our fathers
in days long ago."
Micah 7: !8-20. NIV
And again in Psalm 103
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
Ps 103:8-10 NIV
And then a very strange but powerful and profound message from the book of Romans - from a verse that I have read many times and on which I have spent much time reflecting.
" For God has given over all men to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all ". Romans 11:32 NIV
So much so that, using the words of the Psalmist and of St. Paul to the Romans, I send out two text messages to persons whom I thought would benefit from these comforting yet challenging words of scripture. And imploring them to ask for mercy in the name of Jesus.
Is it that Usain Bolt and the people living along the Eastern seaboard of the USA need to reflect on God's mercy anymore than elsewhere in this world! Certainly not! And a word from St Luke's gospel validates this position.
" Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you , no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Luke 13:1-3 NIV
So we must be careful about concocting theories about why people have misfortunes, but rather spend our time praying for them for God's comfort and mercy in times of trouble, as we did in church this morning for the people affected by the storm in the USA and for all our athletes.
But the story is not yet finished. I was privileged to preach a sermon in a small church this morning. And one of the passages appointed for today which struck me forcibly came from the book of Jeremiah.
" Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?
Will you be to me like a deceptive brook,
like a spring that fails?
Therefore this is what the Lord says:
If you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words
you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
to rescue you and save you, declares the Lord.
I will save you from the hands of the wicked
and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel"
Why are we, a nation that can produce three potential gold medalists in one race, beheading our own people like animals? Why are we, a people who can produce a Marcus Garvey, who inspired millions of black and oppressed people across the world to rise up and take control of their destinies, murdering our women and children? Why can we spawn a poet/musician like Bob Marley who is perhaps the only Jamaican more popular that Usain Bolt, even in death, and yet spawn men who would trade willing in guns and ammunition and drugs and become agents of death in my country - and be exported to other countries of the world thus bringing the good name of our small but famous country into disrepute. Oh God why is my pain unending and my wound so grievous and incurable?
Perhaps America needs to sing the same lament and ask the same questions. Why is a country so richly endowed with natural resources so heavily indebted to China? Why is a country so powerful in terms of its military strength has such a high murder rate, relative to other rich countries? Why is a country with such a high level of education have such a high level teenage pregnancy compared to other rich countries? Why is there so much immorality in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
How I wished I could sing today, as the Lord declared from the days of Jeremiah, that He, in Christ Jesus, is the only "balm in Gilead", that the world needs.
" If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me"
This is the gospel that the entire world needs to hear in these strange times. That the cure for the "grievous wound", the many social and economic ills confronting many countries across the globe, is repentance before a holy God in the name of Jesus Christ. That the cure for the many personal problems confronting individuals and families is for them to repent in the name of Jesus. In Seoul Korea, In Moscow Russia, in Tripoli Libya, in Syria, along the West and East Coast of America, and cetainly in my country in Jamaica. Turn to God, and not to turn to what this world offers in terms of fame and riches and popularity. As these things are all transient, as Bolt will soon discover, and Felix, and VCB and a host of stars in Korea. And the God of all compassion and love is just waiting to welcome the humble with open arms, as that was His plan when he purposed in His heart to send His Son Jesus, in the fullness of time - in a very strange occurrence indeed in Bethlehem 2000 years ago - to die on the cross for all mankind.
Perhaps Bolt has allowed success and fame to " get to his head", and needs a few lessons in humility. Perhaps in the same way that Tiger Wood was " brought back down to earth", albeit for different reasons, hopefully, Bolt needs to just " chill" for a while and refocus. Perhaps the folks on the eastern seaboard, arguably the most well known and sophisticated of all the regions in America - certainly true for New York and DC - need to humble themselves before a mighty God, and realize that they really are not quite in control of their destinies as they once thought. For us in here in Jamaica, we need to " wake up" and understand that we are a special country that God has blessed in so many different ways, and turn back to Him who rescued us from a life of slavery into freedom - that's why our forebears spoke with such familiarity about " puppa Jesus" and "massa God". All this nonsense about exalting " Sister P" and " Bruce", the two popular names for our leader of the opposition and Prime Minister respectively has to come to an end. Respect them yes. Vote for them yes. But realize clearly that the future of Jamaica lies not in their hands, not in the feet of Usain Bolt, nor in the music of Bob Marley, but in the "hands of the man who stilled the waters". Christ Jesus, whose shed blood on the Cross of Calvary has opened a new way for all mankind into the very presence of God - the eternal Balm in Gilead.