Monday, July 22, 2013

O for a MLK Jnr. O for a knowledge of the perfect will and purpose of God

O for a Martin Luther King! That was my deep longing as I listened to the various commentaries and pronouncements on the Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman case this week whilst spending time with family here in Miami. There is so much pain, hurt and anger, and to a certain extent, confusion in the African-American community. And to be fair, a certain amount of revulsion within elements of  White America, as evidenced in their presence at the rallies and in the marches.
President Obama spoke, and delivered himself well, as we have come to expect and appreciate. He " pressed the right buttons", and avoided the trap of appearing to lecture a entire block of the American population on the rampant institutional racism which  the trial brought out, by deftly positioning himself as a possible " suspicious looking character" in the minds of some individuals. And by personalizing his speech in that manner, he came across as an honest broker, trying to mend fences, rather than an " angry black man". But he was, well,  so "predictably in control". And so I longed for the fellow with the rich deep baritone voice, who would have, in my view, brought the Word of God to bear on this highly charged situation, fearlessly, but yet compassionately. Calling for justice, but yet reaching out to the perpetrator of injustice.
Yes, the war in Syria continued, and the saga of  Snowden, ' the revealer of secrets' still managed to grab the headlines. Whilst back home in Kingston Jamaica, the recent doping scandal involving five Jamaicans attracted Prime Ministerial attention, with the PM delivering a major policy speech on the issue which has caused so much pain, hurt, anger, and embarrassment to a sporting mad nation. But the big news continued  to be 'no guilty' verdict by returned by the court which tried Zimmerman.

So as I longer for the wisdom and spiritual direction of a Martin Luther King, the Lord led me to read, and reflect and send three messages . The first one, not in chronological order, was triggered by  my continued reading of a wonderful life changing book by  Thomas Kelly, and about which I wrote last Sunday. Together with the 'performance' of Juror B37  on CNN. And shres a perspective on suffering within the Christain context, and how that suffering by a community and  even individually can assist believers into helping with the pain and suffering of humanity in general. And so I believe that out of this 'evil' - the stand your ground law, and the profiling of African-Americans - will come some good for both black and white communities in America. It cannot have been coincidence, therefore,  that just tonight,  I was led to visit a friend who is a breast cancer survivor, and who is featured in the June edition of the World famous  Essence Magazine.  Chosen no doubt on account  her bravery in being willing to  tell her story, so that others can be helped. And the fact that she is a beautiful woman helped in case also. So we spoke about the quote from Thomas Kelly and the 'privilege' of suffering.


" The heart is stretched through suffering, and enlarged. But O the agony of this enlarging of the heart, that one may be prepared to to enter into the anguish of others!

It comes in the Chapter entitled ' Holly Obedience', which according to Kelly is one of the strands of the inner drama in the souls of men through which The Shepherd seeks His sheep.
And so the quote continues with this...." Yet the way of holy obedience leads out from the heart of God and extends through the Valley of the Shadow.

The point here, is that in a real sense personal suffering for Christ, is 'redemptive', in that it fits us, as no other experience can, to enter into the suffering of others.
Perhaps if Juror B 37 had experienced suffering for Christ, and I am making a judgement  call here, but being led I believe by the Spirit, she would have been better able to enter into the suffering of the African American community. And, at the very least, had more empathy for Trayvon Martin, than  she demonstrated during Anderson Cooper's CNN interview.

But this is not about Juror B 37, but rather about the followers of He who died on the Cross of Calvary. So we, who through our suffering for Christ, are now better able to enter the anguish of others, can pray for George Zimmerman and his family too, to the extent that their souls are in anguish about the entire affair. Without a doubt, we travail before God for the tragedy that Trayvon's parents and friends, and by extension the entire African- American community has experienced.  Including President Obama. But the compassion of He who died on the cross for the entire world, must always, through us, reach out equally  to all who are in anguish, lest we become as parochial and as  self-centered as the Children of Israel unfortunately did. And hence the persecution of Paul and other Apostles in the early days of Christianity, and the rejection of Christ Himself.

I pray God that we may have an enlarged heart for the anguish of all mankind. In Syria, in Tivoli, for the children in the care of the state, for conscientious politicians earnestly trying to make a difference, for the children and their families in that terrible disaster in India, for Sherone and Asafa and others in the " center of the storm", for the many families and communities whose lives have been irrevocably affected by  crime and violence and road crashes, and for .... But most of all for all those who will die, unprepared and without Christ, and for all of whom our Lord was in anguish in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, even to the point where " his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground". But such a heart comes only with the  acceptance of suffering for Christ as a 'natural' part of the Christian journey. Dare we then " fly" from suffering for Him, and for the redemption of this country we love so much. And to whom then shall we turn!.

Sent from my iPad

The second message, in essence deals with the issue which has occupied the minds of thinking men and women over the ages, " what is the will of God"?
And in this context, what is God's will in all of this turmoil happening across the world - in Florida, in Syria, in Moscow, and in Kingston Jamaica via Italy and Canada? And how does one discern God's will and purpose!


GOSPEL: Luke 10: 38 - 42 (all)

Luke 10:38 (NRSV) Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41. But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42. there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

I have had  the joy of sharing in two  of my grandchildren's birthdays in my short stay here so far. And of course taking pictures! What greater privilege could one ask for in life? And yet the gospel reading for today, contextualized in a family setting, and therefore validating the importance of family,  invites us to an even higher calling,  about which  we must forever be vigilant that we do not get 'distracted'.

I believe the following extracts from Kelly's  'A Testament of Devotion', when understood in this context, offer us a clear perspective on the kind of unipolar, one dimensional vision we ought to have of life,  and what is  its sole purpose.  In fact 'hidden' in the book of Acts is a wonderful nugget that answers life's basic questions and sets the stage for this reflection. As the whole purpose of life is for us to " seek to know God". And then to be obedient to His good and perfect will.

The background is that St Paul, was  explaining to the 'men of Athens', who spent their time doing nothing but listening to the latest ideas', about the 'unknown God',   who they worshiped, and which phrase was inscribed on one of their altars.  And so inter alia he said to them:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us ( and here we can recall both the Deuteronomy passage and the one in Romans which address this issue: " Who will ascend into heaven...that is to bring Christ down"....Romans 10:6...and so the passage in Acts is in fact  referencing Jesus as the One who is near to us). For in him we live and move and find our being. ' As some of your own poets have said, ' We are his offspring'.
Acts 1724-28 NIV


Guidance  of  life by the Light within is not exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings toward particular tasks. It begins first of all in a mass revision of our total reaction to the world.. Worshipping in the light we become new creatures, making wholly new and astonishing responses to the entire outer setting of life. These responses are not reasoned out. They are,  in large measure, spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between the ' the worlds judgments of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Center. There is a total Instruction as well as specific instructions frm the Light within. The dynamic illumination from the deeper level is shed upon the judgments of the surface level, and lo, the ' former things are passed away, behold they are become new'.

Paradoxically, this total Instruction proceeds in two opposite directions at once. We are torn loose rom earthly attachments and ambitions -  contemptus mundi. And we are quickened to a divine but painful concern for the world - amor mundi.  he plucks the world out of our hearts, looseing the chains of attachment. And he hurls the world back into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.
The second half of the paradox is more readily accepted than the first. For we fear at means world-withdrawal, and world-flight. We fear a life of wallowing in ecstasies of spiritual sensuality while the cries of a needy world go unheeded. And some  pages of history seem to fortify our fears.

But there is a sound and valid contempus mundi which the Inner Light works within the utterly dedicated soul. Positions of prominence, eminences of social recognition which we once were meant to attain - how puny and  they become! Our old ambitions and heroic dreams - what years we have wasted in feeding our own insatiable self-pride, when only His will truly matters!


This extract appears at the start of the second part of the book and is entitled Holy Obedience.

" Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But  within the silences of of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of man. It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hill comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd's heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home to Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare. it is the drama of the Double Search, as Rufus Jones calls it. And  always its chief actor is - the Eternal God of Love.

It is to one strand in this inner drama, one scene, where the Shepherd has found HIs sheep that I would like to direct you. It is the life of absolute and complete and holy obedience to the voice of the Shepherd. But ever throughout the account the accent will be laid upon God. God  the  initiator,the aggressor, God the seeker, God the stirrer into life. God the ground of our obedience. God the giver of power to become the children of God."

COMMENT: The constant challenge we face in this Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman racially charged/hot button issues//financially and socially unequal/morally challenged/lacking in inspiring leadership/technologically led/television-twitter-facebook/post modern/post ideologically driven/religiously intolerant/Arab spring/lingering pockets of gross poverty and starvation/emerging economies / bringing up  children and attending to family and friends/world, is how do we respond as Christians according to God's holy and perfect will?
How do we direct our lives according to the Word in  Romans 12:1-3 NIV
" Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will".

Unless we are willing to pose and to answer existential questions of this sort, for both self and neighbor, then I fear that we have lost our way as followers of the Christ whose only focus was " the will of His Father". And such a religion may be exciting in terms of the ministry  in which it engages, relevant in respect of the response to the ' needs of the world ', contemporary in respect of the 'what the young people want'. But unless we are assured of Romans 3...the good pleasing and perfect will of God...then it will  all come to naught. It will be of little moment  in the grand scheme of things. But a single life,  absolutely and perfectly committed to,  and in sync with the will of God, what power, what significant change, what difference in the lives,   of   men and women, " restless and lonely , feeble and searching',  can such a life make.

For make no mistake about it, all  abuse of drugs, all search for the ultimate pleasure in life, all seeking for power,  all desire for peace and harmony in life, all the striving of mankind  ultimately has at its  root, a search and a seeking for God. And sadly, like the me of Athens, too many, far too people in this world  worship an " unknown God". Which is what  alcohol, cocaine, heroine, sex, fast cars, power over other men, financial success, music........comes to mean for them
We like, Paul then, with the fixity of purpose that Mary had, keeping our eyes, though grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus the Christ, tell people who this God is, and His purpose for them.
This is the essence of what Kelly is advocating. Drawing near to the ' baying hound of heaven', listening to the Inner Light and the Divine whisper, so that we can better live and share the Good News about God's Love and mercy. To Trayvon Martin's parents; to George Zimmerman; to relatives of that young Glee actor who died recently; to inner city youths in Kingston Jamaica, to inner city youths in Chicago USA, to secular minded youths in Europe; to young Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan; to Bhuddists and to all of God's people who He created with His loving hands.

Sent from my iPad

Finally the third  message underscores the importance of always seeking a deeper relationship with God, always looking to grow spiritually and not  remain static, as there are consequences. And  spiritual decline, may very well be the hallmark of today's generation, on account of an unwillingness, and unpreparedness  to suffer or to be denied any material  need or pleasure in this materialistic world. And that kind of Christianity will never  help to rescue America from its pain, not Jamaica from it shame ( and pain, of being such a violent,  adverse results to drug testings are aberrations and not our that is not our shame, but an embarrassment no doubt) nor Syria from anarchy.

Brother Lawrence

We must, nevertheless, always work at it, because not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the HOLY SPIRIT go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the LORD, who reposes in it, and He will quickly calm the sea.

The except above is from Brother Lawrence's book, " The Practice of the Presence of God", which I just downloaded on my iBooks on my iPad. It is one of the books strongly recommended by Thomas R. Kelly as " one of those who lived in the Center". He also cites Augustine's "Confessions", and  " The Imitation of Christ".

I would recommend that you download this book on your iBooks or Kindle. It will do your soul a whole world o good. Especially in this materialistic world.  As, indeed, not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back. A very profoundly true observation. As Christians, we can never be content with a static life. In fact just yesterday, whilst walking, the thought struck me, as I was praying for the persons whose homes I was passing, that " God would enter their heart", that our God is worthy of asking extra-ordinary things, and not just be asked ordinary prayers. Remember the centurion with the sick soldier, when Jesus was told, " just say the word and he will be healed", as the centurion believed that our Lord did not have to come under his roof,to heal. Remaining static and comfortable in our faith will not allow us to proceed on those kinds of high adventures for suffering humanity.

Actually what provokes all of this is the imagery of Jesus in " our boat" resting, while the storms of life gather, and who, only, if we ask, can 'calm the seas'. What a joy!

Sent from my iPad

I pray God, that He will raise up other men and women , like Martin Luther king jnr, in this age who can with assurance and knowledge of His will,  thunder forth " Thus saith the Lord". Otherwise we will be left with calculated responses, on the one hand, and angry and explosive reactions on the other hand. And there will be no healing, and no Balm in Gilead.
Sent from my iPad