Monday, April 23, 2012

Bob Marley, Amelia Pitterson and the Risen Christ

I never met the late Bob Marley, and I have not yet seen the latest movie/documentary which had its premier viewing in Kingston Jamaica this week. But based on what I have heard so far, the excitement generated by what one fan called a "happening", suggests that this latest move to highlight the work and music of this legendary Jamaican, and indeed internationally acclaimed cultural icon, is one of very high quality. I grew up listening to Bob Marley's music, as has been the experience of so many people across the globe. And like many other Jamaicans, I too, in my various travels, including such far away places like Mauritius - a small island located in the middle of the Indian ocean - and Singapore, have been impressed by the effect that this genius has had on people of various nationalities and cultural backgrounds. So much so that, here in my country, resides a strong sentiment, that Bob Marley should be declared a national hero. And now this latest exposure of the life and work of Bob Marley has lifted the minds of some to dizzying heights, as in their view, as I heard expressed on radio, he is as powerful and appreciated as much as any other "saint" who walked on this earth. I never met the young lady who was brutally murdered last week in my country. She had no " status" like a Bob Marley. But something moved deep in my soul when I read her story in the newspapers, having missed the report on the television the night before. A young lass she was, living in a board house by a train line, but despite her trying circumstances, against the odds, had performed well in school. She had a desire to lift her mom out of the poverty stricken life into which she was born, and having gotten a part time job was about to achieve full employment and then to purchase a house for her mom. But this was not be as she was found with her throat slit early one morning. I might have gone with my Pastor on an exchange visit to another church this morning, but I wanted to hear the " breaking of the Word", by the visiting priest who was coming to my church, and I am glad I stayed. As he used the a text from Luke's gospel account of one of Jesus' discussion with His disciples after the Resurrection - " You are witnesses of these things" ( Luke 24:48) - to make a powerful point which brings together the Bob Marley story and that of the young girl Amelia Pitterson. Bishop Harold Daniel drew our attention to three points in regards to this passage, Luke 24: 36-49. One, that in order to be a witness of Christ you have to have an encounter with the Risen Christ, as you cannot tell people about Jesus by hearsay. Two, that we who encounter Christ will have " our minds opened so that we can understand the Scriptures", in the sense that Christ will reveal Himself to us. Three, that the Risen Christ once encountered, will always commission us, as He did with the first disciples, to go on Mission - to preach the message of repentance to the whole world. All of this however, has to be understood within the context of Jesus sending the holy Spirit from " on high" to empower those who have encountered Him, those to whom He has revealed Himself, and those whom He has sent out on mission. As we can only do good in the strength of the " Risen Lord". As I reflected on the sermon and the point that we cannot witness about Christ unless we have had an encounter with Him, and the deep feeling of pathos about this young girl and wondering why. Why did the Lord not intervene? And how even though Bob Marley is deeply revered by many, he can offer no help in matters of this nature. I went back t the other things to which the Lord drew my attention this week. One of which is that Christians are not only called to do good, but to share in the divine nature. In other words, to be like Him, the Holy One of Israel. Sounds almost blasphemous doesn't it. And certainly beyond the understanding of the kind of mediocre Christianity practiced by many of us. But that's what the Word reveals to us. I begin with Peter and a passage that I was led to read, even though I had no intention of doing so, but as I turned the pages of the Bible, searching for 1 John, my attention was arrested by the following words: " His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you posses these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his pas sins." 2 Peter 1: 3- 9 NIV Having read this passage about " participating in the divine nature", and which would keep us from being " ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ", I turned to a well known passage from Colossians. " You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put n the new self which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of of its Creator". Colossians 3: 9-10. NIV Finally in respect of " putting on the new self", there is a passage in Romans to which I was led this week, which assures us and comforts us about the " old self" which seems so hard to get rid of, and its powerful tendency to sin and make us feel so helpless and unworthy before Holy God, and in the face of such evil which snuffed out the life of Amelia Pitterson, and if we are truthful, also corrupted the life of that great cultural icon Bob Marley. " Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:5-11. NIV The point here is that there is a promise that the Spirit of God is now at work in our " dead bodies" - our rebellious self, our unbelieving self, our minds which are always going astray - to bring healing with the same power that was used to raise Christ form the dead. What a powerful assurance! We just need to be still, be patient, be determined, persevere, have a repentant heart and trust God. What then can we expect from the result of all of this " participating in the divine nature"? And how does this affect how we come to terms with the death of Amelia Pitterson and the life of Bob Marley. The most dramatic thing that I read this week was about Peter, but not from his letters to the church, but rather his transformation as recoded by Luke in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, shortly after he received " power from on high". "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: Rulers and elders of the people. if we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is " the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone." Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under the heaven given to men by which we must be saved. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus......... Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you appointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with boldness. Stretch our your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:8-31 NIV We do not know why God allowed Amelia to die such a horrible, and as far as we are concerned, a most untimely death. A common experience which speaks to the age old question of why God allows evil at all to flourish. What we do know, however, is that an encounter with the Risen Christ, enables us to appreciate the extent to which God Himself suffered on the Cross, and died a horrible death, to overcome the kind of evil which has taken up residence in the hearts of all mankind since Adam disobeyed God - and hence " gave up" his and our participation in the " divine nature", mine, Amelia's and Bob Marley's. Further, that in and though the power of the Risen Christ, we are invited through faith, to once again, participate in this divine nature. So that like, Peter, we may be empowered by the Spirit " from on high", and speak the word of God boldly, and have God perform miracles in and through us, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is the only power that can overcome the evil of murder, rape, child abuse of various forms, and all other social evils that concern us and the entire world at the time. Bob Marley is a great cultural icon that has influenced for good the lives of people in Zimbabwe, in South Africa, in Sweden, in the USA and here in Jamaica and across the world. Bob Marley, a National hero? I am not sure! Bob Marley a Saint? I think not! Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour and hailed as God Himself across the globe - 27 million Christians in India alone according to last month's national Geographic magazine, and over 1 Billion in Africa according to wickipedia - is the only name that can bring salvation to mankind.The problem is that we have set our sights too low and have not fully appreciated the call , or are frightened by it, to participate in the " divine nature". Further compounding the issue, is that far too many of us in the church have only heard about Jesus, but have not set our minds and wills, to fully know the Lord. As in order to know him, to have Him reveal Himself to us, and to have the power to carry out His great Commision, one has to be prepared to suffer and sacrifice our ambitions and withstand the many temptations that this world, our own sinful nature and the devil presents to us. In essence we have to die to the " old self", in order to put the "new self", which is being renewed in the knowledge of Christ. It is only by this " narrow road" that we can offer any help and with power to the many mothers and fathers who are mourning the deaths and abuse of their own " Amelia's" across the world. So let us place things in the right perspective and " lift up the name of Jesus", whilst acknowledging the limited role that Bob Marley and other " greats" have played in the lives and fortunes of mankind. Finally rest assured that whilst " everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" ( 2 Timothy 3:12 NIV ), the same Scriptures also encourage us that " Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comforts overflows. 2. Cor. 1: 5 NIV So we praise God in and through Christ Jesus, and pray that God may stretch out his hand and perform miracles in Kingston, in Lagos, in Moscow, in Washington DC, in " Jo'berg" and across the globe, and enable His people to speak the Word of God boldly. Amen