I read my Bible to see what men ought to do; and read my newspapers to see what men are doing – John Newton ( former slave ship owner turned Anglican Priest).
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s)
1. This week, my country Jamaica, celebrates the anniversaries of both our Emancipation from Slavery and our Independence from Britain – our former Colonial Master. It’s a time of much speech making by our leaders, exhorting a nation to pursue greatness by ‘standing on the shoulders’, of the ‘authors and perfecters’ of our modern nation. It’s also a time of merry making, gala shows in our major towns, and in throughout the diaspora, and our course partying across the nation. And the performance of our world renowned athletes including ‘Bolt’ and ‘Shelly-Ann’, but also rising stars like swimmer Alia Atkinson, and 400 M Hurdler Kalese Spencer, at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, adds tremendously to the joy of the holidays and the spirit of celebration. Even as we agonize over a murder rate which is among the highest in the civilized world, and an economy which has not grown significantly in a quarter century, thus triggering grinding poverty, migration to more affluent countries, and terrible hopelessness.
Fear grips Negril West End after second murder
2. The Palestinian Israeli conflict continues to dominate the news here in the USA. With no end in sight as the Israelis are determined to blow up all the tunnels that Hamas uses to attack their border communities. And the Palestinians are determined to end the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the midst of this war, the civilian deaths continue to rise, thus triggering condemnation by the a major UN Organization, as noted in the tweet below – an unusual move in this ‘ everybody tries to be balanced ‘ world.
THE WORD OF GOD
All week long the single most important thing that The Lord taught me, through His Word, and His inspired word, was to seek wisdom. His wisdom! And so the first message sent to my church at St. Andrew ( Anglican) Parish in Kingston Jamaica, was all about seeking the wisdom of God in the midst of war and murder.
THE FIRST MESSAGE
First the context: One Contemporary and Secular. The other The Word of God.
All week long we have watching, once again, war being waged far away in The Middle East , from the comfort of our homes. Every detail, the latest developments in the efforts to pursue peace, every expert on the conflict, is presented to us on HD TV. Yesterday the main news was the ‘ blunder’ of Secretary of State John Kerry; seeking the advice, and perhaps using the influence of the financiers of the ‘terrorists’ Hamas, labeled by the press as extremists, rather than the moderate Palestinians. And thus coming up with a “peace plan’ which apparently infuriated the Israelis, and did not achieve the much hoped for Cease Fire. So the blame game continues; as it has since 1947 when Israel declared its Independence.
On holidays, and worse, on holidays with grandchildren, one does not get much time to read the word during the days. Morning and bedtime devotions are ok, but that’s it. So yesterday, during a, ‘lull in the fighting’, so to speak, not in the literal sense, but rather in the high energy, high intensity activities, I got a chance to read. And I am now working my way through Proverbs. As I read chap 2:10, the verse, ” For wisdom will enter into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you”…especially wisdom and discretion, the clear intent of The Lord touched my very soul.
This verse touched my heart so much that I sent off an e-mail to leaders in my country, pleading for them to accept this wisdom from God, so that our nation may be rescued from evil. Having regard also that a few night ago, The Lord woke me up to read, in Isaiah, how the children of Israel rebelled against Him repeatedly, and His promise to rescue them, and the need for them to cry out to him day and night. For mercy! And the revelation that ‘every promise that God made is answered “Yes” in Christ Jesus, and then we say the Amen, to the glory of God. 1. Cor.1:20
The key in all to this however, as in all the Bible, we are called to ‘fear God’ and obey all His commandments. And then ‘wisdom will enter our heart…..”
So in that context came the revelation this morning about the real reason for the conflict in the Middle East, and who is at fault. And as we read, the thought came into my head that, the tragedy and the apostasy and the consequences thereof, that attends Israel on account of disobedience, is a metaphor for understanding the individual and collective problems of mankind across the world. Including our Jamaica.
The revelation comes from the Book of Judges. How did I get there. Definitely not on my own. For as I began reading this morning, Proverbs 2, after having had it as ‘a song in the night ‘ last night, ‘ wisdom ‘ , triggered in my mind, ‘ by faith (and the wisdom of God) Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, conquered kingdoms, administered justice…..’. In the great chapter( 11) on faith found in the book of Hebrews. In fact I did not even remember the names quoted above, including Gideon, but just ‘administered justice’.
And as I began reading the chapter on faith, Gideon came into my mind. That is how I ‘arrived’ there this morning.
What did I learn:
– Israel was under siege at the hands of the Medianites because they ‘did evil in the eyes of The Lord “.
– to the extent that they had to ‘seek shelter’ in ‘mountain clefts’…..modern day bomb shelters
– they could not plant any crops, as the Medianites, and the eastern people ‘ ruined the crops all the way to Gaza’. So this is where it all began.
-the Medianites and their allies so impoverished the land, that the Israelites cried out to God. Today they depend on the Americans to provide weapons of war, and ‘shield’s to protect them from rockets.
– When the Israelites cried out to God, ‘he sent them a prophet’. Now bear in mind that in this dispensation, the only ‘ prophet’ that The Lord will send to anyone in any kind of trouble, on account of disobedience or ignorance, is His Son Christ Jesus. There is no other. read the first fee verses of Hebrews carefully:
” In the past, God spoke…..through the prophets….but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son”. Hebrews 1: 1–2
– The entire account of the story of how Gideon rescued his people from the hands of the Medianites, can be summed up in a single Word. ” You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me, that her own strength has saved her….
– It is fascinating, given the Word from the OT appointed for this week in Genesis where ‘ Jacob wrestled with The Lord ‘, that before Gideon started his rescue mission, he too had a time of wrestling with The Lord .
– Finally , on a personal note, every night before going to bed, among other Psalms, I have been led to read Psalm 83. A Psalm where the writer calls out to God, not to be silent in the face of the imminent attack by the Medianites and their allies. And calls on God to ” do to them as you did to the Median…to Sisera…to Oreb and Zeeb. Both of the latter feature at the end of the story.
Final Comments: Regardless of diplomatic blunders, or attempts by successive Presidents to pursue peace in the Middle East, only Israel can find the peace it seeks. And only if they chose to listen to the prophet God sent to them, to turn them back to He who rescued them out of the hands of Egypt and the Median. Again and again!.
And by extension, regardless of how much money is poured into rescuing people from addictions to various substances; no matter how much resources are made available to us in Jamaica to fight against crime and violence; despite the breakdown of the Berlin Wall and the promise of peace in Europe; mankind will not achieve the peace it seeks until and unless all of us turn and accept He who died on the Cross of Calvary. Christ Jesus. Otherwise, we might feel that it is the Americans, or Bill Gates’ Foundation, the EU, Chinese industriousness, or the IMF/WB, or the new BRIC Bank, or Japanese help to fight climate change, or Human Rights Advocates, or ‘heaven forbid’ Dudus or Kartel, that has rescued us, and ‘ boast against The Lord, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the sea and all that is in it.
THE SECOND MESSAGE – also sent to members of my congregation in essence makes the point that there are not many things that we have to learn about God. One is that He is very much a God who has compassion on all His created people. A God who more willing to ‘cover sins’, than He is ready to ‘judge sinners’. A God who sent His only Son to suffer and die, for the sins of “Adam’s helpless race”…all mankind lost in Sin. This character of God, is the kind of wisdom and knowledge that will be ‘pleasant to our souls’, and the wisdom that will cause ‘discretion
to protect us’, and ‘understanding to guard us’, in all our ways. Whether in Jamaica or in The Middle East!
God’s Word is always rich in meaning and often beyond the full comprehension of man. But certainly one of the things we learn from this week’s reading in the gospel is , ” When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick”. Matthew 14:14 NIV
The point here, is that if we focus on the miracle of feeding the fish, and miss the fact that, it was out compassion why Jesus performed such a great deed, in the same way that out of compassion God rescued the children of Israel miraculously from Pharaoh, then we would not have learnt the lesson Jesus was teaching.
That we too ought to have compassion on the people in the news in Gaza, in Israel, in Ukraine, in Holland, in Malaysia, in Syria, in Africa where the Ebola virus is raging, and elsewhere wherever people suffer from various trials. But also in our own country, on people who we meet, people who do not share our faith in Christ Jesus, people who disagree with us on doctrinal issues within the body of Christ, those who rage against us for whatever reason, friends who have lost their way, family members who disappoint us, our own church members with whom we have disagreements, whether laity or clergy, those on the ‘other side of the debate on same sex relationships’, the corrupt and those corrupting the morals of our children, and the Kartels and Dudus’ of this world. And together with others, cry our for them and for our own many many sins, in the same way that the blind men cried out to Jesus, ” Son of David have mercy on us”. In the same way that Paul agonized over the lack of faith of his own Jewish brethren in the Epistle, and prayed for them.
Also having regard to the fact that Jesus warned us in Matthew 9:12 NIV, that ” It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice. For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners”.
So yes, we worship ( and bring our sacrifices before ) a mighty God and Blessed Redeemer; yes we get involved in raising money for the church; yes we meet in fellowship with each other; yes we meet for Bible study; yes we meet together in Synod and at Healing Conference and for Clergy retreat and Cursillo: but if after all of that we are not filled with compassion for ‘sinners’, for those who Jesus cried our ” Lord forgive them for they know not what they do”, and do not share in Paul’s declaration ‘that I am a debtor to the whole world’, on account of the death of Christ, then, as church, we would have missed the point altogether.
For ultimately, a church that has the ministry and message of reconciliation, and a mandate to call unbelievers to be reconciled with God, our aim ought to be the same as Paul; to declare that ” I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God”. Acts 20: 26-27 NIV.
It is in this context then as church we ought to commit ourselves with Anglicans across the world to promote the Five Marks of Mission.
The Five Marks of Mission
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)
– See more at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/mission/fivemarks.cfm#sthash.OBz14OOI.dpuf
The whole will of God! All because, like Jesus, we have compassion on all persons who God place in our path as we go through life; all because we too have received mercy from God in and through Christ Jesus.
We continue to pray with compassion in our hearts therefore, for all those who are sick, those who grieve, and all who face trials of any sort. For mercy! From the Son of David, who is indeed, ” Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”. And whose grace is sufficient for all.
THE THIRD MESSAGE – came into my mind in three parts over the last couple of days. The first a meditation inspired by the wisdom of God as recoded in one of the most popular verses in the Bible Proverbs 3:5 and quoted above.
FOLLOW THIS PATH
G. Campbell Morgan ( 1863-1945)…a famous Bible teacher and evangelist, who pastored various churches in England including Westminster Chapel in London.
Verse: Proverbs 3:5
So simple and so clear is the statement, that interpretation is unnecessary. The reader, then, will be patient if for once this writer becomes reminiscent, and so a witness rather than an advocate. I distinctly remember the day when I left home to face life, amid its crowded ways, for myself. My father, whose philosophy was certainly that of the Hebrew wisdom, gave me these verses as providing a complete guide to life. Looking back over the intervening years I know he was right. In them there has been much of failure, many turnings aside from the straight highway, many devious and sorrowful wanderings from the true paths of life. All such failure, such turnings aside, such wanderings, have resulted from leaning to one’s understanding. The measure in which I have trusted Jehovah, and acknowledged him, has been the measure of walking the in the paths of real life. Doubt of God, pride of intellect, and independence of volition, these are the things which blight and blast. Paths chosen for us by God all lead onward and upward, even when they seem to us to turn about in inextricable confusion, and to move downwards to the valleys of humiliation and suffering. he is the All-Wise, and to him, wisdom is the way by which Love gains his victory.
The second part was triggered as a ‘song in the night. In the midst of a deep sleep, I was awakened to read God’s word, as my country and all nations seek peace. And having ‘put pen to paper’, the message continued as thoughts of wisdom kept flowing into my mind.
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools” Ecclesiastes 9:17 NIV
And they are foolish who do not fear God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth the sea and everything that is in it.
For those who fear The Lord the promise is that:
” Wisdom will enter their hearts, knowledge will be pleasant to their souls, discretion with protect them, and understanding with guard them”. Proverbs 2:10-11 NIV
And to fear God means to ” Trust Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways to acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5 NIV
Therefore it is not sufficient to call on His Name during an Independent Service, or message. It is not acceptable just to call for Divine Intervention when we are at ‘our wits end’. But, rather, as directed in the book of Deuteronomy to heed the cry of The Lord God of Israel:
“O that my people would fear me and follow all my commands all the time, so that it may go well with them and their children”
And in this dispensation, to do the work of The Lord and to follow His commands is to ” Believe in the one whom He sent”. The One who He sent is Jesus; and to believe in Him is to commit to serving Him, the Light Who ‘dawned’ on the people of Zebulun He who Isaiah described as :
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
PART THREE – really places a bookend to this word from God about wisdom. As ultimately all our struggles, whether in the Middle East or in Jamaica, whether in Ukraine or in Russia, whether in America or in Europe, whether in Africa or in Asia or South America, represent our ‘struggling with God’, in one form or another. And the central point is that God will always win. His way will always prevail. And every hardship, every illness, every trial and temptation, is meant to teach us to learn to depend on Him alone. Even in death! And not to lean to our ‘own understanding’. Otherwise war and sickness, poverty and wantonness, murder and immorality, greed and pride will reign in the hearts and minds of mankind. And no world leader, whether in Jamaica or in the Middle East, no matter how powerful or popular he or she may be, can make any lasting difference, until and unless people learn that ‘the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom’.
A SUMMARY OF SERMON BY FATHER ANTHONY HOLDER AT HOLY SACRAMENT EPISCOPALIAN CHURCH IN SOUTH FLORIDA THIS MORNING
Wrestling with God – from the story of Jacob in Genesis 32
– Jacob had many faults including stealing Esau’s birthright, and conning Isaac in order to receive the blessing that was due to the older child.
– He thought he was always in control and his destiny was in his hands
– he was on his way home and reached a point where he poured out all his belonging and sent them ahead of him and he was left alone.
– then he came ‘face o face with God’. And wrestled with The Lord. The text is unclear if the wrestling was with himself, another human being or with God Himself.
– he could not prevail against God, and was left a ‘wounded wrestler’, with a permanent reminder, having had his hip dislocated, of his encounter with God
– having wrestled with God he underwent a name change – Israel – and became the father of the children of Israel
– we too wrestle with God when we face trials, when bad things happen to good people, when we face illnesses, when we have important decisions to make and sometimes sleep eludes us. And we come to know God more and more in that wrestling.
– we also come to appreciate that God will always have his way with us as man cannot wrestle with God and prevail. So we need to trust Him more and more even when we don’t understand what is happening to us.