Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chavez, a disciple of Castro; and disciples of Christ. Morality and Discipleship

The prayer which undergirds this Ministry was never so needed as it is tonight. As there is indeed a difference between a nominal Christian and and a Disciple of Christ. And it is this difference which will help to redeem a dying world or let it remain the same. As a Church, the body of Christ, we therefore, have much of which to repent. And Lent is a good time to do so.

" Lord renew thy church, beginning with me:
Lord renew the church, that the church may renew the nation(s)."

The big news in my country, in the Latin American and Caribbean Region, and indeed across the world was the death of Hugo Chavez. This Venezuelan President who died from  complications associated with cancer, was a friend of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. As Hugo Chavez acted on an initiative began under another President, and was known across the Caribbean as the "father" of the Petro-Caribe fund which inter alia, provided a facility where we could access oil at reduced rates.  And therefore  both our current leader Prime Minister Simpson Miller and former leader P. J. Patterson responded to news of his passing with deep regret and shared fond memories of the relationship they had had with him. Chavez was also an acknowledged  " disciple" of Fidel Castro, and saw himself as a champion of the poor, in his own country and across the Region. And like Fidel was not afraid to " take on " the mighty USA. But on the other hand others saw him as controversial figure, who decimated the Venezuelan economy with his leftist policies and was a dictator whose firebrand rhetoric caused many to flee to the USA.

This week also in my country the Annual Grace Kennedy Foundation Lecture ( one of our large and more successful companies which exports food and other things to the USA and 
Europe) featured  a Lecture entitled: Moral Dis-ease. Making Jamaica Ill? re-engaging the conversation. And before a packed ballroom in a large hotel in our capital Kingston, where there was standing room only, the UWI/Boston College/ Cambridge University trained Anna Perking made the case that MDS - Moral Degenerative Syndrome - was making the Jamaican society very ill, and suffering at its very core from a form of moral disease. No doubt this very timely lecture has already spawned a lot of debate in a country where murder, rape, corruption and injustice   are " hot button" issues, affecting the lives of countless persons thus triggering much, fear, anger and a sense of helplessness.

So for me the Word of God which came in various ways this week was such a joy, and like a well watered area in the midst of a desert.

Just this morning, as I  prepared for soul for worship, and giving thanks for the past week,words spoken to Abraham, the " Father" of the three great religions of the world, Judaism, Islam and 
Christianity, took on a whole new meaning. Especially within the context of the Theme for our Lenten studies this year,
 " Discipleship".
" Do not be afraid, Abraham.
I am your shield,
your very great reward".
Genesis 15:1 NIV

Why? Many thoughts flew through my mind. If humans beings, including Christians believers ( and who therefore ought to be disciples of Christ, and not Castro, or Obama, or Michael Manley, or Marcus Garvey or any other charismatic leaders that history throws up from time to time)  ever took these words seriously, our world would be quite different. Just think about it. If God himself, in Christ Jesus, was truly our very great reward -all that we needed and wanted in life - then would there be any famine in Africa spawning those awful pictures which flash across our television screens year after year. If our goal in life was to seek God and God alone, would there be so much waste in North America - millions of pounds of food, and other things go to waste there annually, and no doubt in Europe and parts of Asia? Would there be any fertile ground for leftist politicians like Chavez, and Castro and others to flourish?

Would there be any sexually disease in the world? Would there be any HIV/AIDS?  Would there be any  rape and its awful consequences? Would there be any broken marriages caused by infidelity, physical abuse or plain lying, if we were satisfied with seeking God alone and therefore committed to a monogamous relationship with a partner of the opposite sex. Committed to the vows taken before God and man. Committed to being there for our children in the same way God declares that " He is our shield, our very great reward". Committed to forgiving our neighbour, and more so, to loving our enemies, as Christ taught us.

Would we be guilty of killing each other over a cell phone? Would there be any need for " scamming our neighbours in North America, and then justifying it by labeling it " reparations" in the dance hall setting. And which examples were quoted in an attempt to validate the diagnosis  of MDS during the Lecture on Moral Dis-ease in Jamaica. Would we be so stressed out about life in IMF controlled Jamaica, or high inflation riddled Venezuela or " sequestered" USA, if we believed that God is our shield and therefore there is no need to worry about tomorrow or fear the past.
In fact just yesterday I came upon a quotation from an unknown source which makes the point much better than I can.

I was regretting the past and fearing the future.

Suddenly my Lord was speaking: 
' My name is I AM.' He paused.
I waited. He continued,
'When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I Will Be.
When you live in this moment,
It is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.

And which of us can claim not to be guilty, very guilty of being profligate and wasteful of the resources of this earth and which could be shared more compassionately with others in greater need. So it's not just the people in the rich countries, but a feature of human life that needs serious analysis and action. No doubt part of the reason why MDS is such a  pernicious problem in Jamaica.

This week I continued my Lenten devotion discipline of reading Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship, and the following thoughts grabbed my attention.


" Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth consume, and where thieves break though and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness! No man can serve tow masters: for he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold on to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. ( Matthew 6:19-24)
 The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come be ween Christ and ourselves - neither the law, nor personal piety, nor even the world. The disciple always looks only to his master, never to Christ and the law, Christ and religion, Christ and the world. He avoids such notions like the plague. Only by following Christ alone can he preserve a single eye. His eye rests wholly on the light that comes from  Christ, and has no darkness or ambiguity in it............ 
Worldly possession tend to turn the hearts of disciples away from Jesus...earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. if he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on his accumulated wealth, and makes a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.
 But where are we to draw the line between legitimate use and unlawful accumulation?  Let us reverse the word of Jesus and our question is answered: " Where thy heart is, there shall your treasure be also.". Our treasure may of course be small and inconspicuous, but the size is immaterial; it all depends of the heart, on ourselves.. And if we ask how we are to know where our hearts are, the answer is very as simple -everything which hinders us from loving God above all thins and acts as a barrier between ourselves and our obedience to Jesus is our treasure, and the place where our heart is. 
But Jesus knows that the heart of man hankers after a treasure, and so it is his will that we should have one. But this treasure is to sought in heaven, not on earth. 

And as I write I recalled another Word from God which came to me during my devotions this week.

" Since, then you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourself 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 on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator. here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, But Christ is all, and in all. 
 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another and forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put n love, which binds them together in perfect unity. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus , giving thanks to god the Father through him. Colossians 2: 1-16 NIV

Some final thoughts: Becoming baptized in the Christian faith, and becoming a member of the church is a start. Then one has to learn the discipline of becoming a disciple of Christ; a lifelong journey. There is world of difference between being a morally attuned or even accomplished person and being a disciple of Christ. This issue came up during the Lecture on Moral Disease in Jamaica. And is a real live issue for many secularists, who have been having a " field day " in my country, writing in response to the ( unapologetic ) decision of the headmaster of a local high school, to have a " crusade" at his school, thus giving the students an opportunity to respond to Christ's call to follow Him - and become  disciples. The argument presented at the lecture, and which undergirds the general argument by the secularists, is that one does not necessarily  have to be a Christian to be moral.  Perhaps!  But the more important question is how does this kind of  "morality" in the long run, help to renew a broken relationship with the God of Abraham. And which question, in the final analysis,  is the only real issue with which mankind has to contend. How does a Morality which is fashioned without the Cross of Calvary, help persons to believe and accept that " God is their shield, their very great reward"?  And without which goal in life, history will forever throw up a Chavez, a Castro, even a Marx and a Lenin. Without which goal in life, there is no relief from dis-eases like HIV/AIDS, no relief from broken marriages, no relief from rape and pillage, no relief from famine and privation, no relief from murder and violence. No relief from idolatry, malice, anger, rage, . No forgiveness of our enemies, much less loving of those who persecute you. Can we dare claim that Christianity ushers in this kind of " utopia". Clearly no. But hear this! Every time, and everywhere  a true disciple of Christ eschews violence, and hate, and anger and rage for the sake of Christ; every time and everywhere a committed child of God, who is prepared  die to self and take up his or her cross " clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and peace" for the poor and the destitute and the forgotten in this world for the sake of Christ; every time and everywhere a disciple of God spends him or herself  seeking justice for others and heralds righteousness in their personal and corporate lives for the sake of Christ, " the kingdom of God " is breaking in on earth, as it is in heaven. And the final event which will herald the destruction of the heavens and the earth as we know it, is the return of Christ and His rule over all the earth .So the issue of whether of not Chavez was a disciple of Castro, a friend of Jamaica, a believer in Christ, is not the important one. The real question for the entire human race which is going to determine our fate at the end of time, and not just at the end of anyone's life; the real issue is not whether or not we were moral beings and thus helped to temporarily check the moral dis-ease in our respective countries. But rather, whether or not we were disciples of Christ! Whether or not we ignored the sacrificial death of God's only Son! Whether or not  we choose to follow Christ, and not let mammon get between us and Christ. We may wish that Chavez' soul rest in peace. And others too when they die. But that is not for us to decide. Only the One who the Bible reports has the right to say, " Away from me I did not know you".  The implication of which is that we did not follow the Crucified One. But rather someone, or something else. I pray God that we will use the opportunity still available to us, and take up our cross and follow Christ. And not Castro, nor Obama, nor Chavez, nor our lusts and possessions, and imaginations and that which power provides so temporarily and fleetingly. Amen.