My country owes Ja.1.7 trillion dollars. That's 600,000 for every person in Jamaica. That's 19.5 billion USD. At least, that's what is was one year ago when the Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips shared this staggering bit of data at the start of the 2012-2013 budget debate. So it's not new, but it came to my attention recently. Might have been a The Jamaica Gleaner editorial as they have been talking about it for some time now, with almost evangelical zeal. But from whatever source, for some reason it disturbed my soul greatly this week. Yes, the fire which killed close to 300 people in southern Brazil caught my attention this morning, as I opened my iPad. Yes, President Obama's inauguration speech caught every-body's attention, and so did his beautiful wife and children. Yes, all the tweeting from The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, and a one hour special on KLAS FM on Saturday night, featuring one of the greatest singers ever, Sam Cooke, caught my attention. But my God, 1.7 Trillion! That's a whole lot of money.Where has all that money gone? What have we got to show for it? Roads, Universities, housing, electricity in most of the country, water, hotels...yes but worth 1.7 Trillion? And how are we ever going to pay it back. Have mercy! Meanwhile many, far too many of my people languish in poverty and suffer on account of the enormous sums of money which we have to pay back each year. Some survive. Some even do well and prosper regardless of the circumstances. But those are the ones who have financial clout to influence the system whether in good times or in bad times. In a sense, similar to what now obtains in poverty stricken Haiti, according to the received wisdom of a friend who understands the " runnings". So not much is left for development. Not much is left to spur economic growth. Not much is left for spending on desperately needed infrastructure; to create jobs; to educate our people; to provide adequate health care and to care for the poor.And therefore, in the language of the prophet Ezekiel, " So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals". Wild animals who have led my people into prostitution; scamming; gun running; murder for hire, gross indecency in attire, language, and music masquerading as culture; and into a kind of political tribalism which pits neighbour against neighbour, father and against son and communities against communities fighting to the death for the sake of their leader
In the midst of this angst, a passage of Scripture kept coming into my mind and my consciousness.
" Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such a blessing that you will not have room enough for it". Malachi 4:10...with the preceding verses placing the whole thing into the proper context. " I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty. But you ask, How are we to return? Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
But you ask, How do we rob you? In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Malachi 4: 6-9.
Further on I reflected deeply on another passage: " Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light". Matthew 11: 28-30. NIV
A passage of Scripture which inspired Augustine of Hippo ( 354 - 430...born in North Africa as the son of a pagan father and Christian mother...he established the doctrine of the church, gave a clear statement concerning the person of Christ, and made the grace of God the theme of theology in the west) one of the great Bishops and early Father of the church to pen the following words which are so full of meaning for us in this age of unbelief and fear:
" I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are very wise and very beautiful, but I have never read in either of them: " Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden".
So this message from the Lord is for all of us across the world who are " heavy laden, who are weary and burdened about a 1.7 trillion dollar debt, or having over 300 persons perish in a fire, or revolution in your country where you own government has turned on you, or where Christians and Muslims are fighting, or where Jews and Palestinians are at war, or where HIV/AIDS is ravishing your people, or where unbridled capitalism is so rampant that people resort to " occupy Wall street. Wherever!
So then the question or command of " test me in this " lies unresolved. Unless of course we chose to ignore fear, let go of prejudice, regard each other as people made in the image and likeness of God. All people! And follow Christ. So the Lord sent a final message from one who paid the price with his life to gain freedom for his people during the dark days of World War 11 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And then the " dawn came " after a long night.
A TRUE RELATION WITH CHRIST
Verse: Matthew 9:9.....As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. Follow me, he told the him. And Matthew got up and followed him.
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one. " I will walk about in freedom; for I have sought out your precepts". ( Psalm 119:45)
Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluity, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ.
With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relationship of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perspex even to put it into practice, but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianize without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship.
In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became man, because he is the mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him. Discipleship is bound to Christ as the mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the mediator. Only the mediator, the God-man , can call men to follow him.
Comments. This message in general, and the reflection by Bonhoeffer in particular about following Christ, were written for two people, in particular, with whom I spoke about the Lord Jesus recently. One is a strong believer in her denomination but has issues with Christ. The other also goes to church regularly but also clearly has issues with Jesus as the Son of God. More importantly, this message was written for all of us who attend church regularly, and who need to "test ourselves in this", and see if we are indeed " bringing the whole tithes into God's house, and not robbing Him", but being true disciples of Christ. And not just believing in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in words only; but truly becoming more and more each day, a disciple of the mediator, Christ, the only one who can call people to follow him. As there is, as the words of Bonhoeffer suggest, a huge difference between the two. Finally the Lord in His wisdom has inspired this message for all who would " follow Obama", or follow Bustamante, or Norman Manley, or any current charismatic leader " until they die". Or any other human being who can serve to inspire a people to great heights. But to trust in the Only One who through His Life, Death on the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, can " give rest to the weary" and " remove all burdens". Whether financially, morally, politically and spirituality. So let us resolve to " test God in this", resolve to follow His Son Jesus, and see if He will not fulfill His promise and open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such a blessings on Jamaica or wherever you live. So much that we cannot find room for it.Amen.