Monday, February 20, 2012

Whitney Houston, an unbelieving church and a Word from Ezekiel

By now the entire world knows that prescription drugs were found in Whitney Houston's hotel room after she died, and that contrary to the need for her, a recovering addict to alcohol and other substances to stay off alcohol completely, she was reportedly seen drinking alcohol heavily in the days prior to her death. Thus raising the legitimate question posed by CNN drug addiction experts ,of whether or not prescription drugs played a role in her untimely demise. By now, also, everybody has been reminded of how this issue of drug addiction has played havoc with the lives of many of these recording artistes, some of whom went on to become world famous entertainers, including stars as far apart, in time and music genre, as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. By now many people within the Caribbean and in the West Indian diaspora know that this year Jamaica will celebrate 50 years of Independence and are hoping for another " world beating" performance from our athletes in London during the summer Olympics. What many folks may be hearing for the first time, is that the Annual Healing Conference organized by Anglican church in Jamaica, under the leadership of Bishop Daniel, and which has over the ( 30+) years of its existence, ministered to individuals across the denominational divide, and outside the borders of Jamaica, will this year, as would be expected, place a focus on Jamaica's 50th anniversary. And one of the questions that the church in my view, and the the wider secular society, will have to face squarely in this time of reflection and self-examination, is what has been our response as the body of Christ, to the many structures that have destroyed the lives of millions across the world. As it is one thing to be moved with Christian compassion and respond to structural problems and get involved in drug rehab programs, and to provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, and clothes for the naked. But can that be the sum total of the response of the disciples of the Christ who came, not just to forgive and to heal, but to conquer Sin and Death on the Cross..."O death where is thy sting". Those fundamental issues which account for all the problems which adversely affect mankind. Thus enabling us to put on the full armor of God as we " fight not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". Ephesians 6:12. NIV. So what better time to engage in such reflections, when those individual who are hurting and sick and struggling with sin and troubles many and varied, and who together form a metaphor for the trials of the wider nation of Jamaica, meet for healing, teaching, worship, sharing and praying over a weekend, seeking the intervention of an Almighty and Compassionate God. So, as intense and compelling as the story of Whitney Houston was for me all of this week, climaxing in the funeral service yesterday, equally compelling and riveting has been the repeated reading of a meditation about which I shared before, but in another context. And which reflection demands a response from a church which claims to be the body of Christ, as it seeks to define what it means when we pray, " Thy Kingdom Come." PERSONAL LIFE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE Harry Emerson Fosdick ( 1878-1875)....A Baptist American minister who gain became a national figure in his country on account of a radio program on which he preached his " National Vespers". Verse: Isaiah 5:7 " The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are teh garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Anyone who cares about character must care about social conditions, for every unfair economic situation, every social evil left to run its course means ruin to character. And the God of the Bible, because he cares supremely for personal life at its best, is zealously in earnest about social justice; his prophets blazed with indignation at all inequity, and his Son made the coming kingdom, when God's will would be done on earth, the center of his message. To fellowship with this earnest purpose of God we are all summoned; God believes in the glorious possibilities of life on earth; he is counting on us to put away the sins that hold the kingdom back and to fight the abuses that crush the character in men. To believe in God, therefore, - the God who is fighting his way with his children up through ignorance, brutality, and selfishness to a "new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" - is no weakly comfortable blessing ( see 2 Peter 3:13). It means joining a moral war; it means devotion, sacrifice; its spirit is the Cross and its motive an undiscourageable faith. And our underlying assurance that this war for a better world can be won is not simply our belief that it can be done, but our faith that god is, and that he believes that it can be done. When we pray we say, " your kingdom", and we are full of hope about the long, sacrificial struggle, for the purpose behind and through it all is first of all God's. Our earnestness is but an echo of his. Wow! Before I add any comment to what Fosdick is challenging us about, recall his assertion that " this war for a better world can be won" and what follows as you ponder on what I about to reveal. This morning, the God who prepares my soul to write week after week, without failing, for many years now, unless illness intervenes, woke me up this morning with Ezekiel 37:4 in my head. And as I took up my Bible to read the verse, I was already aware that the passage had to do with the " Dry bones of Israel". But the words of the actual verse was uncertain. So I read: " The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and i saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley; bones that were very dry. He asked me, Son of man, can these bones live? I said, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know. Then he said to me, prophesy to these bones and sat to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!" Ezekiel 37:4 And as I worshiped God and gave Him thanks for the Word, my mind went to the Corinthian passage: " When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence and superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith may not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. 1 Cor. 2: 1-5 NIV. So with those thoughts in mind, although they do not all apply to me except for verse 4-5, perhaps I should not comment much on Fosdick's challenge in the light of God's powerful Word. But rather focus on the fact that indeed, even when we despair about our country Jamaica, beset with so many problems ( "Jamaica no problem" is a slogan not a reality) including a climbing murder rate -recently heralded as 141 deaths in 43 three days; high levels of unemployment and poverty; relatively flat economic growth for many years, these " dry bones" can live. Focus on the reality that we too have a major problem with drug addiction - as heralded in the Daily Gleaner today. Major problems with family life -as was made manifestly and internationally obvious during an after the " Sniper Killings in D. C. ", involving the Jamaican youngster Lee Boyd Malvo and his "mentor", fulfilling the role of an absent father figure, John Allen Mohammed. Major problems with immorality and the use of violent lyrics in dance hall and hugely popular genre of music - as manifest in the life and music of Vibes Kartel now in jail accused of multiple counts of murder. Major problems with social and economic injustice where there is a huge gap between the income of the rich and the working class, and even the struggling middle class. Accompanied by similar disparities in access to justice, both perceived and real. All of which social and economic problems according to Fosdick, if left unchecked, " means ruin to character". In the end, therefore, it is not simply as Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston's cousin, announced that, "God had called her home". No ! Whitney and Michael and many others died, because a " social evil" was left unchecked, and led to ruin and death. And God in His wisdom has allowed these things to take place in order that mankind may learn, what He was at pains to teach the children of Israel; " Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.". And many are dying of hunger, and disease, and war because of greed and idolatry ( two sides of the same coin) a lust for power, and unforgiving hearts, all because we have disobeyed the Biblical mandate, as Cain did when he murdered Abel, to be " our brothers keeper". So what's the answer? To try and persuade mankind rather than push for legislation to change people's behaviour - in response to the increasing reality of gambling in my country. To provide education so that people may learn to think and reason and not act out in violent behaviour so often. To engage in public education in an effort to change human behavior in a pluralistic society where the church no longer has power to say, " Thus says the Lord", and be obeyed. To increase our efforts to provide outreach programs in all churches so that we may have some kind of impact on our nation. All those activities have merit and indeed have been the hallmark of the church's response to pressing needs in recent times. But I wonder as I reflect on Whitney's death, and the state of my country at 50 years, if that all that Sam Sharpe and others did to break down the structures that held our forefathers captives in slavery for so long? Is that all that John Wesley did to dramatically change the structures in the UK in the 18th century so that Trade Unions were formed, slavery was abolished, the prison system was humanized, education became available to the poor.....John Stott"s Decisive issues facing Christians today? And as I am thinking my mind goes back to one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the Mark version: " When they came to the disciples ( after the Transfiguration, which was read in church this morning). they saw a large crowd around them and he teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran out to greet him. What are you arguing with them about, he asked." Mark 9: 14-15. NIV And what follows I believe has great resonance for us. As Jesus proceeds to heal the boy who was possessed by a spirit which, in addition to robbing him of his speech, if left unchecked, really would kill him. So Jesus after hearing how the disciples had tried to drive out the spirit and failed, lamented about their lack of faith. And then cured the boy thus helping the boy's father to grow in faith. The key is that when the disciples asked what did they do wrong, Jesus made the profound observation that " this kind can only come out by prayer". My understanding of all of this is that the church needs to repent of its inability to successfully engage the forces of evil. " The thief has come to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they have life and have it more abundantly", says Jesus. The reality of life on earth, as revealed by Jesus Himself, is that we are in a moral war. Not just against those who provided Whitney Houston and countless others with drugs. Not just those who would use Roe vs. Wade to kill millions of innocent babies over the centuries. Not just the homosexual lobby who would use one of the manifestations of the, " fall of mankind", and for which structure that was in opposition to man, Jesus died, to push for an alternative lifestyle to what God ordained. Not just the greedy who would " add house to house, and field to field" as Isaiah warned. But against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. As was the struggle in which Job was involved. And that kind of moral war to save the souls of potential Whitney Houstons can only be won by deep, persistent and believing prayer in the power of God to overcome evil. This is the good news, the gospel of Christ's death and resurrection on the Cross of Calvary. Lent commences this week with the observance ,around the world, of Ash Wednesday. Let us use this period to repent of our unbelieving nature, and cry out to God, as that father did: " Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief". And who knows what kind of resurrection will take place in Jamaica in its 50th year, and indeed the world. Then these "dry bones" will truly live as Ezekiel prophesied, and which prophesy can only find fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Amen.

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