Sunday, March 25, 2012

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Vanessa Kirkland and the mercy of God

The death of young Trayvon Martin in the USA and young 16 year old Vanessa Kirkland in Jamaica dominated the news this week. One was killed by a Hispanic male while he returning home from an errand. And which alleged murderer, for one reason or another, has not been arrested thus sparking outrage and protests across the country. The other one was killed by police bullets, who alleged that they came under fire from persons within a car which they had reason to believe had been involved in a crime earlier that day, thus provoking outrage and a protests in the inner city ( in the ghetto) where she lived. This happening in a small island State where so far 245 had died at the hands of gunmen and 47 persons have been killed by the police. The President of the USA has spoken out on young Martin's death, and our own Prime Minster has visited with the mother of the young girl. Two young people in two vastly different 'worlds' joined together in the circumstances surrounding their death - a clear abuse of human rights and a violation of the sanctity of human life. It's a cry that resonates across the world wherever violence rears its ugly head and mothers are left to mourn their dead - in France with the killing of those young Jewish children; in Afghanistan with the killing of those villagers by a crazed American soldier; in the Gaza where Jews routinely target anyone brave or foolhardy enough to fire rockets into Israel and in so many parts of Africa where armed conflict still rages. This week as mothers mourn their dead across the world, the Lord not only spoke to me, but also through me, as I had the privilege of preaching this morning in my church. And as I write tonight, I recall in preparation for the sermon, reading how God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah warning the House of Israel how their wickedness and rebellion had led to their "wounds becoming incurable", and that there was no "remedy for their sore" and that there was "no one to plead their cause for them", and no healing was available. All because they had become disobedient and the " hand of God" was against them. Then shortly before Jeremiah prophesied about the coming of Christ, through whom God, who is so rich in mercy and full of compassion, would establish with the House of Israel a new covenant, there comes a verse filled with so much poignancy and pathos, and which also resonates with the state of the world today: " A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachael weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more". Jeremiah 31:15 NIV As a child I was very impressed with a song that had such haunting music, and as I write and consider Rachael weeping for her children, and Trayvon's mother weeping for her son, and Vanessa's grandmother and mother weeping, the song comes into my mind, and thank God for google and iPads the lyrics are readily available. As the snow flies On a cold and grey Chicago morning A poor little baby is born In the ghetto ( in the ghetto) And his mama cries........ The child needs a helping hand He'll grow to be an angry young man someday Take a look and you and me Are we too blind to see? Do we just simply turn our eyes and look the other way? And that story ends as expected, on a cold and grey Chicago morning a young man dies, and then another child little child is born and his mama cries (in the ghetto). But the story of the rebellious House of Israel does not end as we would expect as despite their " backsliding", God has mercy on them and promises to " forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.". The question then is how have we treated with the issue of mothers weeping for for their of children all over the world. Are we too blind to see that these children, made in the image and likeness of God, need a helping hand, instead of bullets in their brains. What was Zimmerman thinking? What were the police in Jamaica thinking? Even if it turns out that Trayvon acted " suspiciously" even it turns out that Vanessa was in the " wrong company" , how can you justify shooting an unarmed man, and how can you justify shooting up a car filled with people? We praise God as the slave forefathers of Trayvon and Vanessa discovered, and as their parents now assert, and as the people of Israel were told, there is a Balm in Gilead in the person of Jesus Christ. And so I sang this morning the first verse of that wonderful Negro spiritual: There is a Balm in Gilead To make the wounded whole Thee is a Balm in Gilead To heal the sin-sick soul Sometimes I feel discouraged And think my work's in vain But then the Holy Spirit Revives my work again If you can't preach like Peter If you can't pray like Paul Just tell the love of Jesus And say he died for all. There is an old and very wise Jamaican saying that, " trouble don't set like rain", in the sense that oftentimes there is no warning when trouble knocks on our doors. And one of the Psalms that has occupied my mind, and upon which I have had to depend a lot this week, and for many weeks, is Psalm 27. " The Lord is my strength and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break our against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.......... For in the day of trouble he will keep my safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock... And out of this experience I sent the following text message to many who were in need, as they, especially some young people, have persisted in being disobedient to the call of the Lord to trust in His Son. " One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life....For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling. Psalm 27:4-5. And trouble is always around the corner". I don't know what kind of teachings these two young people had been exposed to, and what kind of lifestyle they were living when they died, but the fact is that, all of us who are tired of, and touched by the story of " Rachel weeping for her children", whether in the ghetto in Jamaica, in the streets of Florida, in the homes of California, in the suburbs of Toronto, in the shanty towns in Nairobi or in Lagos, need to remember the compassion and mercy that God in Christ is still being offered to the entire world. Especially as we look to Passion week, ending in Good Friday and yet another glorious Easter. For the reality is that " trouble for all human beings is literally just around the corner". And then no matter how sophisticated you thought you were, and how enlightened you claim to be, and for whatever reason you have rejected the Christian religion in flavor of a secular philosophy ( for an insight into a current debate on this by two young bright and articulate Jamaican men read Ian Boyne's article in today's Daily Gleaner which is available online) when trouble really appears, most if not all will cry out, either publicly like Bob Marley who accepted Christ before he died, or privately, for mercy from God Almighty. This issue of urgency is one which I sought to encourage in my sermon today, especially when one considers when John the Baptist's father declared when he rejoiced at his son's birth and sang what we know in the Anglican church as the Benedictus. the words of which are very instructive and I from quoted the relevant sections today. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up for us a mighty salvation in the house of his servant David.....and we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies might serve him without give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." So the take home lesson that we need to carry in our hearts from the tragic death of these two young people is that there is an urgent need to spread the gospel, to demonstrate by our lives and witness the mercy and compassion of Christ. We, who are being made new in Christ Jesus daily by the power of the Holy Spirit do not have the option of turning our eyes and looking the other way, as "Rachel is weeping for her children", in the horn of Africa - in Eritrea, in Somalia where there is famine, in South Africa where so many people die from AIDS daily, in streets of Moscow, in the cities of Syria, in the exclusive homes in Chicago, and innthe Muslim communities in Indonesia. As wherever suffering humanity exist, spiritually from a lack of knowledge of and belief in the sufficiency of the shed Blood of Christ or physically from famine, war, privation ignorance and illness, there must we be, spreading the sweetness of the gospel of Christ. And then the whole earth will live to praise the name of the Lord with a new song instead of the sound of Rachel weeping for her children. The kind of song, the words of which I spend a long time meditating this week. Come, thou O fount of every blessing tune my hearts for hymns of praise! Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! Oh fix me on it mount of God's unchanging love. A meditation which led to the reading in the Book of Hebrews about another Mount. Mount Zion. " You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness gloom and and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word then the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we , if we we turn away from him who warns us from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, " Once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens". The words " once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire". Hebrews 12:18-29 NIV Out of which understanding of the new covenant that God has established with Rachel and her children, and with all humanity, in an through Christ. And therefore a kingdom which cannot be " shaken, and which rock Trayvon's other and Vanessa'a mother can depend on for justice and for comfort, my mind was led to google sing and reflect on the words of a once popular hymn: Jesus is my Savior, I shall not be moved; In his love and favor, I shall not be moved, Just like a tree that's planted by the waters, I shall not be moved. Refrain; I shall not be , I shall not be moved; I shall not be, I shall not be moved; Just like a tree that's planted by the waters I shall not be moved. I pray that this week, as we face countless trials, we shall too not be moved. As the Lord God is our light and our salvation. That as we witness and live with people who are going through many trials, we shall indeed be moved with the compassion of God Almighty and seek to help wherever we can, as we represent the God who comforts the weeping mothers of humanity. Amen.