" I read my Bible to know what people ought to, and my newspaper to know what they are doing". John Henry Newman
So we are now into the second week of Advent. And the Christmas story in its many manifestation, religious and irreligious, continue to dominate the news. Notwithstanding the fact that we mourn with the people of The Philippines where over two hundred died during a dreaded typhoon. And we cringe every time we hear about a powerful earthquake near to Japan,as we wonder if another dreaded Tsunami is going to wreak havoc there again. Nearer home, the issue of the " fiscal cliff " is still hot news in the USA, and once again the people of Venezuela are left pondering the fate of their president Hugo Chavez who is back in Cuba battling cancer. Here in Jamaica, one of our icons whose stewardship over the running our national elections has won rare reviews and commendations from International bodies, is under the " gun" from the press, after an audit by government body reportedly uncovered areas of weakness in the IT department of the Electoral Office of Jamaica. Sadly, the murder rate in my country continues to be the number one social problem facing the nation. But even in the midst of all of those happenings, Christmas is still coming, and that is what is exercising the minds of most people, even as the Jamaican dollar slides against the US currency. Or the American economy threatens to go " over the cliff".
That's the report of what men are doing. What was it that i heard this week about what men ought to do. Three things primarily, among others.
A message from a Week of Teaching, dubbed " Mission 2012" under the Theme: Christ is coming. Are you ready?. A great message from a man of God, the Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman islands during a sermon delivered on the occasion of the celebration of the 1st Anniversary of an important National Institution," The National Integrity Action" , during a service held at my church, the St. Andrew Parish Church today. And the ongoing conversation with a group of journalists about the " correct faith".
Saturday December 8th 2012 - a message to the journalists
By now you would have discerned that this conversation, or any other as the Spirit directs, is not meant for you alone, but serves a wider audience in due course. Nonetheless it comes to you first.
This morning during my devotions I, "happened", upon a declaration from St. Paul, which, in my mind, captures the essence of his mandate from God, and by extension, the mandate given to the church in this present time. This same Paul who believed in God, but definitely not in Christ, and in fact was an abuser of the faith. But God in His infinite wisdom, and in ways that we cannot understand, used this " unbeliever" to spread the gospel to us the Gentiles - the whole world apart from the Jews - and to the Jews also, but whose life was first dramatically changed from darkness to light. Literally.
" I have declared to both the Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus". Acts 20:21 NIV.
Before that however, I was arrested by a meditation from one of the fathers of the early church.
HILARY OF POITIERS ( 315-368, born into a pagan family, but eventually became a Bishop in France. He played a key role in " defending the correct faith" of the worldwide church at a time when evil ( Arianism) tried to undermine the divinity of Christ. Arguing that the Son was not eternal, but created by the Father.
There were two parts to the meditation. Hoisting my sails, and saturated in his love. The latter caught my attention.
SATURATED IN HIS LOVE
Although I am dust and ashes, Lord, I am tied to you by bonds of love. Therefore I feel I can speak freely to you. Before I came to know you, I was nothing. I did not know the meaning of life, and I had no understanding of myself. I have no doubt that you had a purpose in causing me to be born; yet you had no need of me, and on my own I was of no use to you.
But then you decided that i should hear the words of your Son, Jesus Christ. And that as I hear his words, you enabled his love to penetrate my heart. Now I am completely saturated in his love and faith, and there is no remedy. Now, Lord, I cannot change my attitude to my faith; I can only die for it.
As I close, I am struck by the almost identical thoughts expressed by Paul, in the verses following his great declaration about his mandate from God - and by extension that of the church also.
Acts 22 -24 " And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Comment: For those who have eyes to see, there many messages in this reflection. Overt and subliminal. Specific and general. I choose to highlight two. One, is that the correct understanding of the faith mandates all of us who believe, to actively, in all circumstances " defend the gospel". As we ought to be " saturated in his love, and there is no remedy".
Two, is that those who don't understand, or are in opposition to the gospel of Christ, need our constant prayers, and the persistent exposure to " the words of your Son Jesus Christ", as who knows how and when the Lord will " incline their hearts to Him". And with what effect! Personally, locally or even worldwide. On the front page, beyond the headlines, or even by " revolution in media".
As " before I came to know you, I was nothing and I had no understanding of myself" - a perfect description of Saul, before He became Paul. I pray God that this " beyond the headlines " discussion on the "correct faith" may result in the conversion of someone, thus leading to repentance and faith in Christ, who is God incarnate.
In the context of what is happening across the world and the focus on the Coming of Christ, at this time, one of the things which our Bishop underscored during his sermon, was that the only place where lasting hope resides in this world, is in trusting God. The same God who has been speaking to this world ever since the days of His prophets as recorded in the Scriptures, from Amos, Joel, Isaiah to John the Baptist who heralded the first coming of Christ, and has always expected a response from mankind. So whether the problem is natural disasters, or disaster occasioned by humankind our only and lasting hope is in the God who died for the sins of all mankind and the " deliverance " of the earth also . It is for that reason and that reason alone why we should be " saturated in His Love", from which affliction there is no remedy. This is really the essence of the message of Christmas, and not the focus on the giving and receiving, and partying and having a good time which has " overtaken" the Christmas message of hope and mercy..
The second message is a message for he church primarily, but those who are struggling with their faith, or who don't quite understand the faith or who have departed from the faith but are still interested in discussions about Jesus may find it useful. The message which was sent to my church is sufficiently contextualized.
WEDNESDAY MORNING - after attending Mission 2012 the night before where Canon Georgia ( grace) Jervis gave the message
He is Coming Christ our Savior". That's the topic that Rev. Grace addressed last night to a packed audience at St. Luke's church in Cross Roads where the St Andrew Deanery, of which we are a part, is having it's Mission 2012 under the Theme " He is coming - Are you ready". Based on the verse from Rev. 22:12 ( NIV) " Behold I am coming soon!"
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PRESENTATION
1 John 4: 7-21 entitled in the NIV " God's Love and Ours".
From my perspective, the verse that captured very succinctly all of what Sister Grace said last night is " If anyone says , " I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God who he has not seen". vs. 20.
Sister Grace set up the night's message by saying that she was unworthy to deliver the message that God had laid on her heart and then prayed that He might speak in and through her, His unworthy servant.
Then she took us through almost verse by verse, expounding on the fact that God is Love, His whole being is an expression of Love. And that this love was shown fully in the self giving sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Love therefore is not a feeling but the very essence of the Agape Love - being prepared to deny self for the sake of, for the good of someone else.
She then made the point that she was addressing church people, many of whom, and she included herself, have great difficulty loving each other - especially those who have wronged us, or whose ways have turned us off. Further, who have great difficulty loving those at home or at the work place.
But if we are to be transformational in a culture that is in dire need of change then we have to begin to love each other in a sacrificial way. So that people on the outside can point and say, as they did to the early church members, " See how they love each other". Rather than " watch de hypocrite dem", as is the case all too often in today's world.
And the foundation on which we have to build that love, is to be prepared to be vulnerable and not only accept God's unconditional love, but be prepared to love others unconditionally - without dissolution. That is we cannot pick and choose who we are to love. We cannot " like full taxi", waltz pass, leave out, some people during the peace at church because we do not like them, and head for others who we " love".....to much applause from the packed audience.
God's Love demands that we forgive, and forgive and forgive, in the same way that the great hymn ( which she sang) says that " he giveth, and giveth and giveth".
At the end she made it very clear by going over the essential points of the " Four Word" message. If we claim to be ready for Christ's Coming, if we claim Christ as Savior, if we claim that we Love as God Loves then the Word of God tonight is saying to you and to me:
1. Clear the Clutter - get rid of all the bad feelings, all the hurt, all the criticisms, all the unkind and ungracious thoughts about fellow Christians, about our family members, about our colleagues at work. Get rid of the attitude which makes us withhold our favors, and resources because " the Priest offends us". or because Sister this or Brother that offends us, and so we even stop going to church. Get rid of it as Christ the essence of the Agape Love is coming. Are you ready.
2. Contact the Offender. Not to tell what they have done or not done, but to offer the love of God to them, as we learn , and are determined to, forgive and to love them unconditionally. Otherwise we cannot with a pure heart, accept Holy Communion on a Sunday morning. Or whenever.
3.Commit to the long haul - this is a life time experience. Loving our neighbors. That's the only way we are going to have an impact on the culture around us, as we first learn to love each other unconditionally and then we can so love the wicked and the ungrateful as God does.
4. Count it all Joy. In the same way that St Paul had to learn that : My grace is sufficient for thee", so too we must find great Joy in serving God in our weak, unworthy except for Him, and in the midst of challenges and trials.
Finally she invited all those who wee still hurting, still " had someone up in their hearts" still had not let go of some wrong" to come to the front and receive healing and prayer.
You missed a lot more. The Word. The Passion. The Singing. The response from the audience.
The Joy of being with others who just " let go" and praise God. The fellowship. The Love.
It's not too late, as it goes on until Friday night.
I pray God that many more of us will attend tonight, not only because we are responsible for tonight's arrangements, but more so because " Christ is Coming Again", and this kind of sharing and receiving helps to make us " Ready".
Sent from my iPad
A clear message that the God who we serve, and who is coming soon again, " One Christmas", is a God of Love and mercy and expects, nay demands of us, that we too be forgiving, as this is the way that people will come to understand that He sent us. And Bishop Gregory gave an example of a priest who was most unforgiving and contentious and which behavior drew the following wry and prophetic observation from a member of the church. " Some went but are never sent". In the sense that we cannot claim to be sent by God, to be God's messengers, if we do not love one another. And not just love, but love, sacrificially. In that context then, the headlines in one of our daily Newspapers " The Jamaican Observer" ( www.jamaicanobserver.com) concerning " battered church wives" is a scandal on the church, and ought to be rooted out if true. As that is a prime example of how not to spread the gospel in this troubled world.
Finally the Bishop's sermon today at my church. I got the full text which cannot be included here. So I tried to summarize it in a note to my church today as noted below.
Great service with a wonderful sermon from our Lord Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory. I have requested the notes on-line and will send them around as my feeble attempt to summarize it might do the sermon an injustice. What did I get from the sermon? Taking his cue from the Luke passage,3:1-6, Bishop Howard contextualized it our present day affairs and sent a message to our modern power brokers in Civil Society, including the members of the National Integrity Forum who were celebrating their 1st Anniversary, and indeed to the Religious and Political leaders of the day. But more importantly to us the church and our role in society as Messengers of God.
"Therefore, the Principal figure, John the Baptist, was sending an eternal message from God, and expected a response from those who heard it - Repentance and a trust in the God who would soon become Incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. And who, ultimately, will Judge the world, regardless of how the world views the message from the messenger of God. For the messenger, the church, or indeed the NIA, and whoever fights for justice and rails against corruption, on behalf of the poor and hurting in the society, though he of she may be vilified, ignored, worn out, persecuted, belittled, does not consider himself, but ultimately the God who sends him and defends the message. It was also a message for false prophets in our society who were busy " speaking on behalf of God", yet had no such mandate and may very well like those who Ezekiel prophesied against, "come to nothing". It was a message for us in the church to rid ourselves of the notion of the priority of worship and tradition, when people are hurting and broken and in need of those who would speak a word to the power-brokers who have no regard for the poor, saying " Thus says the Lord". It was a message for those who are led on a moral crusade to be careful lest they themselves fall prey to the notion that they alone have the answer to the hopelessness which pervades the land. No, such a hope comes only God and a belief in His Risen, ascended and soon coming Son, Christ the Lord.
Powerful stuff and worthy of serious study."
The essential message here is that the God of all Creation has been revealing Himself to mankind from time immemorial, in various ways and through His prophets and Priests. And He expects a response. That was the message of John the Baptist, as recorded in Luke gospel, 3:1-6, which was the text from which the Bishop preached. That is the message of Christmas. That is the message from the book of Hebrews.
" In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe." The question is how do we respond? Not just to the messenger of God at this time but to God incarnate, and who will come again with glory to Judge the living and the dead.