For some messages one has to pause and reflect on what the Lord said during week. But on this occasion there was no doubt. The Lord even told me how to begin.
They call him the President. His name is mentioned in hushed tones in my country. Among those operating as street vendors, and those carrying out other other legitimate business concerns in downtown Kingston, our capital, the talk on the ground is that " paying taxes" to this man, ensures a life free of petty thieves and harassment. And conversely not doing so can cost you dearly. He reportedly controls huge areas of the city and is said to be the " Don" for an area called Tivoli Gardens, which is the "headquarters" of the constituency represented by the Prime Minister of our country. The American State Department has issued an extradition request to the Jamaican government, citing cases of alleged smuggling of guns and illegal drugs among other things. So far the Jamaican government has resisted the order, citing technical and and legal reasons for its decision. This week the Americans released what some aspects of the media decribe as a "damming report", about Jamaica's efforts to prevent the smuggling of drugs into the USA and cited our refusal to, or delay in, acceding to their request for the extradition of " The President", as part of the evidence of for their assertions. And so this issue is being hotly debated in my country.
Is the Prime Minister not correct in defending the constitutional rights of every citizen, including this alleged high ranking drug and gun dealer? Others contend that the PM may have one view and there may be other views, and therefore if there is an issue of interpretation, why not allow a court of law to so adjudicate? While others ponder another weighty matter, and wonder if the PM, based on his actions, is in some way , fearful of this " criminal" who allegedly wields such enormous power, not only in his constituency, but across the country. And thus the removal of this man, ordered by the political directorate or by the courts, doesn't matter which one, may trigger the kind of social unrest which may not only topple the government , or cost the PM his very life, but send Jamaica down a road from which there may be no return. Scary stuff isn't it. Who really runs this country where last year over 1600 persons were murdered? Who is really in charge? Is this a democracy or a place where in a moment all pretenses about being a civilized and sovereign state can disappear ?
So what did the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel say in the midst of this conundrum, this stand off between the Americans and our Prime Minster, this debate on constitutional rights, this difficult situation and what Jamaicans call " preckeh" ( big trouble) and what some may well be describing as utter madness? Firstly I found a message in the Old Testament reading for our church this Sunday - the third Sunday in Lent. It's the well known story of Moses and the burning bush which is the prelude to God sending and equipping his prophet to rescue the people of Israel from the bondage of another " President" - Pharaoh of Egypt. And Moses asked God for a name that he could tell the people who sent him. And so the God of Abraham and the God of Issac, and of Jacob, the God of Moses' forefathers, gave a name by which He should be called.
And so we call God, " I am who I am". Of equal if not greater importance to us is the fact that this is the same name that Jesus took on to Himself when He began His Ministry here on earth.
And so Jesus declared that, " I am the Good Shepherd" and " I am the Bread of life".
Secondly the Lord led me to the Isaiah passage which prophesied, thousands of years before Christ was born, the names by which He would be known.
" For us a child is born
and to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders,
And he will be called.....
And so we call Him: " Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Then in the next verse (7) there is a message to those who think that they rule in this world:
" Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.'
Thirdly, and in the context of " dons" emerging in areas of social decay, where poverty reigns and marginalized peoples are beholden to the largess, mostly illegally acquired, of strong arm men, while those with resources, in some instances acquired because of personal or collective injustice and immorality, offer little or no help, the word of the Lord thundered from another part of Isaiah.
" And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you alone live in the land.......
Woe to those who rise early in the morning
to run after their drinks;
who stay up late at night
till they are inflamed with wine.
They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
and tambourines and flutes and wine,
but they have no respect for the deeds of the Lord,
no respect for the work of his hands.......
So man will be brought low
and mankind humbled.
But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness...
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their sight.
Finally two verses from different songs kept playing in head all week and I sang one repeatedly and reflected deeply on the other and gained much comfort form both.
" In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we shall have the victory"
" I delivered you when bound;
And when wounded healed thy wounds.
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turned thy darkness into light".
So on reflection, one can recall that before " The President", there was his father, "Jim Brown" , perhaps even more feared than this present Don, and before him Claudius Massop and a host of other names which many Jamaicans recall with regret as part of the history of why we are now such a violent society. The reality though is that all of them share a common history - they all died violently and young. And so the word of God came to me very forcefully, from the same book of Isaiah:
" All men are like grass
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of God blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.
So " The President", and other men who reportedly live a life of crime and violence, men and women who call evil good, and good evil, people who think that they are clever and claim that there is no God, like those before in history, will all wither and die, but the Word of God will stand forever. So this - potentially explosive situation - too will pass and Jamaica will survive because " a remnant" of people who love God and are obedient, cry out day and night for mercy, and know that in and through Jesus all prayers of the righteous are answered.
So what is the essence of the word of God to an embattled people, to a praying people, to a Prime Minister concerned about constitutional rights and potential social unrest, to a society which has for far too long largely ignored the needs and cries of the poor, and turned away from the God of our forefathers, and the Mighty God Jesus, in whose name some of our national heroes, paid the ultimate price to rescue us from slavery and bondage to other " Presidents".
The message comes from another time, and another place where another set of people were under siege from another "President", as is recorded in the book of Esther.
" When Esther's word were reported to Mordecai ( that she was afraid to go to the King without being invited - and thus put in motion a plan to save the Jews - as to do so might incur the penalty of death) he sent back this answer. Do not think that because you are in the king's house you of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time like this?
Then Esther sent this response to Mordecai: Go , gather together all the Jews are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even if it is against the law. And if I perish I perish.'
I pray God that those of us who only see only one, and perhaps two villains in the scenario which played out so publicly and Internationally in my country last week, will stop and think again in this time of Lent. In this time of introspection, in this time of fasting and praying, in this time of sharing with the needy, in this time of coming before the Holy One of Israel and pouring our many sins - in thought word and deed and in what we have done and left undone - and asking for mercy. Mercy from a God who is full of compassion and slow to anger. Mercy from a God who " emptied Himself of all but love and became man and suffered and died on a old wooden cross for the sins of all mankind. A God who has even accused the " church" in the past, and even now challenges us to do better, as declared in the words from the prophet Ezekiel:
" Woe to the shepherds who only take care of themselves! Should not the shepherds take care of the flock.........You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the stray or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because they was no shepherd, and when they scattered they became food for are the wild animals".. Chap 34:2-5 NIV
So here we are, living in land where people created in God's image have "become food for the wild animals". Food for those who mean them no good, but use them for their own selfish ends, and who discard them at will when necessary. Food for " Presidents", and if truth be told, sundry politicians of various parties and philosophies and in various times in our history. And if we the church of the " Good Shepherd" who laid down his life for the sheep, keep silent, and do not share the good news of the gospel of Christ, and do not share our lives and resources with others in need, do not call for justice and do not live righteously, then no doubt, 'salvation' for them will come from another place. And we who think we are safe in our " gated communities" and in our churches, and afraid to risk our lives for God's suffering people may not be as safe as we think. And those in the press, those filled with righteous indignation, and those who live in the ghettos and call for justice, but who have ignored the words of the living God, if they do not repent of their sins and ask for mercy, they too may not be as safe as they think. Those who believe that they have all power, and at the sound of their names people quake for fear, need to remember that before them many others have gone the way of all flesh, but the Word of God can never die. And the Prime Minister needs to knows that, who knows but that he has been brought to power for a time like this, and if he keeps silent, and does not act decisively, then salvation for Jamaica from the tyranny of evil men will arise from another place, and at the very least, he will get no credit.
So we all have a stake in this situation, so let us fast and pray and trust God, and be obedient to His Word, and like Daniel who chose to be thrown in the lion's den, rather than obey another President, we shall not perish, but shall have, in Christ Jesus, everlasting life. Why? Because we not just call Him, but know Him, through Christ as : Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we shall have the victory........ because in Christ, like Moses before the burning bush, we are standing on Holy ground.