Monday, December 10, 2012

Great Sermon by Bishop Howard Gregory: The Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands


A SERMON PREACHED AT THE ST. ANDREW PARISH CHURCH, ALSO BEING THE 1ST ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION, DECEMBER 9, 2012.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, who sent your own Son to prepare the way for our salvation, give us the grace to heed his word and accept his forgiveness of our many sins. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives with you and with us, now and forever. Amen.
Luke 3:4-6
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent.  As such, it has that over-arching theme of the season, namely, the second coming of Christ in triumph and the need for human readiness in face of such an impending reality.  This Sunday, however, has as a particular focus, the messengers of God – those who have served to herald the activity of God through the ages, including those who heralded the coming of Christ in humility the first time, and those who seek to herald his second coming, and the reality of the Kingdom which he has already inaugurated, but which he will bring to fulfillment on his return.
In the context of the readings and the Advent season, the person of the messenger of God, seems to be a reference to the religious leader, whether prophet or priest.  Nevertheless, it is true to say that the messenger of God is not restricted to a religious functionary within institutional religion.  Just the very thought of assigning the designation of “messenger of God” to anyone, is likely to create difficulties for some in the modern and increasingly secular world.  Indeed, it is true to say that even when identified with religious figures, developments within the life of individual ministers/church leaders in the international and national arenas, have at times raised serious questions in the minds of people concerning the credibility and integrity of individuals who dare to claim the designation of messengers of God.  In the wider context though, we are also seeing, as part of the functioning of the post-modern society, a sense of suspicion toward, and the questioning of every institution and person of authority, the messenger of God being no exception.  So in the midst of a modern and pluralistic world we question the relevance and authority of such a person, since after all, much of life is organized around our subjective perceptions and choices.
Notwithstanding these realities, we are still left with the fact that there are persons who through the ages have been faithful messengers of God and, as such, had an authentic word from God to deliver to those who would listen and those who refuse to listen.  In the gospel for today we encounter one such messenger, namely, John the Baptist, as he undertook his mission as presented by St. Luke.
One of the features of Luke's Gospel is that it employs temporal markers to situate the Good News within a historical landscape (cf. Luke 1:1-5). So while the word being proclaimed by John the Baptist is "in the wilderness" around the Jordan, it is in reality being proclaimed within the wider context of the wilderness of the political world: during the reigns of emperor Tiberius, governor Pilate, and "ruler" Herod. Luke is quite intentional in situating the advent of the revelation to John the Baptizer in the context of the temporal framework of the native ruler Herod, the local but foreign governor Pilate, and the final authority who sits above all, Tiberius.  Luke is making it clear at this point that the drama that is to be played out is not a religious one which has no contextual relevance to the political system of governance.  Clearly, Luke is from the outset pointing us to the fact that the activities and the word which the messenger of God has to deliver is not just for some kind of esoteric community of the religious but, the wider reality of the civil and religious community.
Additionally, as one commentator points out, “this is a top-down look at the political reality of the day. In a sense, this would situate the word, which comes to John, and the Messiah whose path John prepares, in very bottom-up terms; the small, the unexpected, the apparently trivial comes as answer to the problems of the hierarchical political structure under which it is apparently pinned. So the messenger and the one who becomes the very embodiment of the message, the Messiah, Jesus, are not just part of the status quo, but voices and actors from the very bottom of the rung with a word that speaks to the highest reaches of the system of governance”.  Here is clearly a word to those who constitute the system of governance and are not favourably disposed toward those at the bottom of the rung who would call them to account, even as it is a word to those at the bottom of the rung who seek to retreat behind the claim of impotence and inability to influence what happens in governance.
But Luke does not allow the religious community to somehow drift into the background as if the revelation to be manifested in John is for a secular and unholy order of governance and civil society.  So Luke does not stop with his focus on the political order. He goes on to list the "spiritual" or "religious" power-structure as well. Not only are Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod noted, but the high priests Annas and Caiaphas are highlighted as well. There may be a sense in which the religious parallel to the political hierarchy is intentional, representing another strand of leadership which must also be addressed by the revelation of the messenger.
It is then into a world that stands under the jurisdiction and control of these various authorities that John makes his entry as the messenger of God.  The word comes to John in the midst of the messy reality of a world defined by both secular and religious powers.  It is a wounded world, and like a two-edged sword, the word comes to John, dividing religion and politics, interjecting itself in both the political and religious realms?
What then is the nature and content of the message which John has to deliver?  The first thing to note is that it points to God as the principal actor rather than focusing on the person of the messenger.  By drawing on the quotation of Isaiah 40:3-5, which forms the text, Luke wants us to see this new initiative that is coming to fruition as the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Israel. In its original context, this quotation, in Isaiah, had to do with a promise of return from Exile. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. This is the proclamation of the prophet (Isaiah), made to the people; it is declarative, promising, hopeful.
Luke then locates John the Baptist, the contemporary messenger, within the framework of God’s liberating activity by recalling and renewing the promise of old, and giving it current application, even while noting that the current application requires a new interpretation. So John is now the one who is out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. The path is by the people, who are called to repentance, to return themselves to their Lord; God-focused, human-centered action. This is the promise of the prophet himself (John) who calls for a different kind of return to God; his message is one of exhortation, challenge, command. So then, here are two aspects to the message: one promises God's action, the other calls for human action/response.  And, for the Church, that two-fold action of God on the one hand and human action on the other continues through subsequent ages.

That ongoing divine activity was highlighted a few Sundays ago, when the Church observed the feast of Christ the King, which has as its central focus the fact that Christ our risen and ascended Lord has begun his reign, and that all the powers of this world are subject to him, and furthermore, all evil is being brought down.  The ultimate end of human existence in the divine providence is the return of Christ and the final defeat of all principalities and powers which have been purveyors of evil and have rejected the message of the gospel.  That is at the centre of Christian hope, and I am prepared to affirm that there is nothing that politicians, economists, or the managers of this global environment have to offer which contains for me any sense of an alternative hope to the Christian hope, and which is credible. 

In the meanwhile, the role of the Church, that is, all of us, is to proclaim the truth of the message of the gospel.  We will never be able to do it by matching forces with the powers of this world.  Indeed, our efforts may look very feeble and we may even be perceived as weaklings and the vulnerable of the world, but the day of judgment comes and Christ will call persons to account.
Another manifestation and affirmation of the divine activity in human affairs is in the Church’s observance of the season of Advent in which we have now entered.  It is a time of preparation for the reception of that great divine activity known as the Incarnation, in which God not only affirms his power and control in entering the world with all of its distortions and frailty, but that he has the power to redeem human life and the world from the grip of any force of evil.  That reality was demonstrated at the birth of Jesus Christ and is recalled and celebrated each succeeding Christmas.  Advent points us to the ultimate fulfillment of our hope of the coming of the end of the age, while affirming that the climax of the story is the supremacy of God, and the participation in his reign and rule by those who in their own time have been alert, watchful, prayerful, and pursuing a life of holiness.

But one of the things about faith affirmations is that they run the risk of lifting us into the realm of the ethereal whereby we lose our sense of being grounded in the realities of life.  It is for this reason that I am pleased to have worshipping with us members and supporters of the National Integrity Action Jamaica.  [The National Integrity Action (which began with its antecedent institution National Integrity Action Forum) was launched in January 2009 with its main purpose being “to build public awareness of the critical importance of and steer a comprehensive action plan in the national struggle against corruption in Jamaica.”

The aims are to help:
-         Combat the corruption plaguing the Jamaican society
-         Reduce the level of frustration amongst champions of integrity
-         Contribute to concrete results which can dispel the pervasive perception that Jamaica is amongst the most corrupt of Caribbean countries.]
Many of us Jamaicans make corruption a partisan political issue which one party and its followers use to gain political mileage over against the other.  Indeed, it often becomes a kind of comic circus of a tragic nature, by which millions of dollars and creative energy are put into investigations of the outgoing political party by the incoming one, in one of the most wasteful exercises, achieving absolutely nothing of consequence at the end of the day.  So what then is corruption?
In a release issued by the Office of the Contractor General on December 9, 2010, corruption was defined as follows:
“Defined generally as the abuse of public office for private gain, corruption, which is often driven by individual greed, will manifest itself in ways which are inimical to the national security and political and socio-economic interest of the world community of countries, of which Jamaica is a part.  Its impact is incredibly wide.
Corruption erodes the quality of life, leads to human rights violation, steals political elections, distorts financial markets, reduces investor confidence, increases the price of goods and services, undermines or destroys confidence in critical public institutions, and enables organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish”.
Corruption comes in many guises: bribery, extortion, fraud, trafficking, embezzlement, nepotism and cronyism.  For some of us Jamaicans, corruption is a kind of conversation piece for the verandah, as it is deemed not to have anything to do with us but with politicians, public servants, the “big man”, and the party “faithfuls”.  And yet corruption is something which involves all of us as members of this society.  Yes, when we pass cash to a policeman to avoid getting a ticket; do not bother to have our car go to the Examination Depot to have it passed for a certificate of fitness, but send along some extra cash with the papers; or when we purchase goods from persons we know are not legitimate and boast of the bargain price, we are complicit in the corruption in this society.  I recently learnt of the man who was caught stealing orchids from someone’s garden in Upper St. Andrew, and who was chased and held.  It turned out that he was on a mission to steal the orchids for the “big man” who was waiting on him in his BMW parked further down the road.
In a similar vein, the nation would have heard the Minister of National Security giving a speech in Montego Bay recently, in the wake of the rape of that household of women and girls.  In that speech he appealed to his audience to report wrongdoing in their neighbourhood, and his offering as a specific example the fact that if scamming is known to be going on in their neighbourhood they are to report it.  To which a loud chorus of “NO!” was forthcoming from a gathering of women.  Not surprisingly, there are persons who would like to see the government and the police ease up the pressure on scammers.
The National Integrity Action may cringe at the thought of being identified as messengers of God, but they are certainly calling us as a nation to confront and reject in our system of governance, our social and economic relations, and in our own lives the moral evil of corruption which is plaguing our society and contrary to the will of God for his people.  For the Christian, as I hope for the NIA, the call to stand against corruption is grounded in God, constitutes a part of the divine action, even as it demands human action and response.  But, the messengers of God, whether prophet, priest, or lay persons, must not only be persons who are possessing of a sensitive moral conscience.
The messenger of God understands that the message which he or she has to deliver to the society is of God, so that the locus of authority does not merely reside in self and the dictates of one’s moral conscience, because, not only can the conscience be deceived but, the truth is that not everyone who presents himself/herself as having a call and message from God is duly called of God.   As the old gentleman was heard to say after having to deal with an ill-natured, and ill-tempered minister, “Look at it eh, some went, but were not sent”, echoing a prophetic condemnation of false prophets found in the Old Testament.  With that strong sense of being called and entrusted with a message, the messenger of God in Scripture was able to claim the formula of the messenger – “Thus says the Lord”- authority.  And the truth of the matter is that to be a faithful messenger of God, the very people and institutions to which you are sent will wear you out, without heeding the message. The mission to get legislation passed to allow for accountability and the prosecution of corrupt public servants who are found to be corrupt, to get legislation to have a single agency deal with matters related to corruption, and the mission to get legislation to govern election campaign finances, will weary the spirit of the most committed messenger.  Have you not noticed that it is with the departure of Contractor General, Greg Christie, from office that the society is not ready to beatify him?  At last he is in no position to cause offence to those whose social status he apparently overlooked and so belittled them by bringing them under the microscope of his jurisdiction! Thankfully, renewal for the messenger comes from God. 
The messenger of God must have the capacity to empathize with human hurt and alienation – individual and social. As such, the messenger must be related to the actual context of “political power, social crises, economic needs, and cultural transformations” within which people live.  The messenger of God of old did not have on blinders which allowed them to see only that thing called the “religious”.  They saw life as people lived it.  They saw the suffering, the injustice, the frustration, and with particular reference to corruption, they knew that in the long run the primary victims are the poor.  Those politicians and others who love to say that the Church must not concern itself with politics but only with religion, have no idea what the Judeo-Christian religion is about.  Not to mention the fact that Christians who subscribe to this view have no appreciation of the prophetic condemnation of religion that is focused on ritual and worship experiences but which neglect the weightier matters of justice, hospitality, care for the outcast and stranger, etc.

Think also of the cutting words of a Hosea, Joel or Amos, with the plea for justice.
For example, Amos 5:24:
Let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The truth is that authentic messengers of God do not make good friends of those who control society, because the latter do not want things to change in favour of those who hurt and are oppressed.  Attempts to discredit messengers in our world are many and some of us choose to remain na├»ve or to simply maintain our loyalties. 
The messenger of God never loses sight of those who hurt and the context of life.
The messenger of God offers credible moral leadership arising out of prophetic moral imagination (moral vision).  It was the prophet Jeremiah who said, “where there is no vision, the people perish”, and which words are embedded in our national anthem.  Another way of expressing the same idea is that the society looks at things in terms of how they are, while the messenger of God looks at things in terms of how they should be. If a society is to move ahead it needs men and women of vision who can imagine things as they could become.  People who simply maintain things outlive their usefulness eventually.  So, the society needs people possessing of moral vision to guide it.

At various times we have been blessed with such persons of moral vision within Caribbean society.  Part of the tragedy of the situation is that we often lack the kind of social, political and religious leadership necessary to build on the moral vision bequeathed to us.  We need the messengers of God more than ever who have the moral and spiritual imagination which serves as a guide and critique for society.
The messenger of God stands under the judgment of the message which he/she proclaims. So the messenger of God lays no claim to an “holier than thou” posture.  This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a messenger, but it is based on the premise that the truth of what is proclaimed does not originate with the messenger but is of God. The prophet Ezekiel had some very harsh words of judgment for the false prophets who claimed to have been receiving their vision from God and speaking on behalf of God.  In Ezekiel 13:1+ we read:
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the Lord!”  Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! …… They have envisioned falsehood and lying divination, they say, “Thus says the Lord,” when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfillment of their word!
Pray, therefore, my brothers and sisters, that:
1.     God will raise up men and women, ordained or lay, who will be messengers to our community of faith and the world;
2.     That our messengers will be persons of sensitivity to the hurt, alienation, and the realities of life in our context;
3.     That they will be persons of moral and religious vision and that we may be responsive to their proclamation;
4.     Pray also that the messengers of God will be faithful and sincere knowing the account that we must give to the one who has called us.

AMEN.








A Second Advent Message as Christmas draws near


" 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.

Peace.
LWJ


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".

Peace.
LWJ
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.
Amen.