Lord renew thy church, beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation
THE SERMON – The text for today is taken from Psalm 51:10. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me
Perhaps one of the finest pieces of literature ever written, Charles Dickens’, ” A tale of Two cities”, begins with these dramatic and very profound words.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
Today as we come together to worship on this the Fifth Sunday in Lent, with our Lord’s Passion, His walk on the Via Dolorosa, the events of Good Friday, and the glorious Resurrection at Easter in mind, and consider the state of our souls, the church and Jamaica land we love, we have much reason to recall these words. For though we have much to celebrate as individuals, church and state, recent events have demonstrated that there is something deeply disturbing, and indeed very rotten, not in Shakespeare’s ‘state of Denmark, but right here in our blessed country Jamaica. How else can we characterize the brutal killing of 14 year old Kayalecia Simpson, and her unborn child, but that something has gone very badly wrong in our nation. How else can we characterize the shocking news that broke last week of a 12 year old girl, raped by two men, one age 52, and now seven months pregnant, but that we are now living in the worst of times in Jamaica. How else are we to regard the news that the man who raped 5 women last year, one a young girl, was recently sentenced to forty years in prison; and the recent act of madness in Westmoreland this week, resulting in the death of an eight year old child and three adults. This my friends is a not a good time to live in our country, and indeed the entire world as the Talliban demonstrated last week in Pakistan, when they engineered the cruel deaths of many Christians by planting bombs in churches. And before them ISIS have beheading Christians for weeks and months.
And so the world, and our people look for solutions. From President Obama to ‘rain down bombs on the wicked’. From the police to enforce the law that post-scribes sexual intercourse with minors – underage girls and boys. From the family, to supervise their children and watch over them more carefully. And from the young ones to be more careful and obedient. All good things, but quietly, and persistently, even against the background noise of fifty shades of grey, as young Amanda observed last Sunday we heard the comforting words of the hymn writer;
In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these, we need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the one
This Rock is Jesus, The only One
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
Yes my friends, this island needs Jesus, as He is the only One who can rescue us from the individual and collective madness which has descended on our land. Because the raging fires and attendant smoke from the Riverton Dump, as bad as it was last Friday, and continues to be in some communities, in the wider context of of a nation gone astray, is but a symbol and sign of the raging fire of wickedness which has captured the hearts of too many Jamaicans. And which evil ultimately, only the Blood of Jesus can extinguish and grant us peace
The challenge, however, for the wisdom of this age, and for us who study God’s Word, is to understand, that however despicable we may regard these acts, and however strongly we may condemn them, the reality is that, such behaviour is the lot of unredeemed souls. For as the Word of God informs us, ‘ the heart of mankind, is not just wicked, but desperately wicked’. This is our inheritance since the first man, Adam sinned, and since then, ‘ all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’.
My friends this is why the text for today is such an important one, for this lesson of the level of wickedness which has invaded the human heart, is one that David, Israel’s most famous King, and a man about whom it was written, that he was a ‘man after God’s own heart’ had to learn the hard way. For in a moment of temptation, David lusted after Bathsheba, a married woman. Then used his power to seduce her. Got her pregnant, and the only way the story diverts from the tragic end of young Kayalecia, is that rather than killing the pregnant woman, he orchestrated the death of her husband. And only after attempting to ‘give the husband a jacket’.
Then when confronted by the prophet Nathan about his heinous crime, we arrive at the text for today. A text located in one of the most important passages in the Bible. One of two repentance Psalms 51 &32. At the beginning of Psalm 51, David recognizing what he had done, first cries out for mercy:
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions………
…against you, you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight
and then mid way through the Psalm, having repented of his egregious sin, David now asks a good and merciful God to :
Create in me a pure heart,
and renew a right spirit within me.
This text appealed to me for three reasons.
The First is that the focus on repentance before God, goes to the heart of the Christian faith, the foundations of which are Creation; where God made everything very good, and made us human beings in his likeness and glory; The Fall – that terrible event in human history where Adam, and from then all mankind rebelled against God, and thus our likeness to God was marred and we became separated from a Holy God, who cannot countenance Sin; Redemption – the great act of Atonement for Sin wrought on the Cross of Calvary by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and Judgement – when this same Jesus who with God’s mighty power was raised from the dead, and Ascended into heaven, shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
In this context then, the reason why it is of great importance to place a focus on this text , is that repentance before God, opens the door to the gift of The Redemption of our sins which is what salvation is all about. And as David declared later,
” a broken and contrite heart” flings the door open even wider. As this act of humility, which recognizes how sinful the heart of mankind has become since the Fall, and which leads us cry out for a new heart and a renewal of a right spirit, is the right attitude which facilitates the development of our love for Jesus, the only mediator between sinful man and a Holy God. For unless and until we understand the nature of our fallen sinful state before a holy God, we can never fully love our Lord Jesus. The need for money will create a dependence on Jesus, but not deep and abiding love. The desire for companionship, for a wife, for a husband, for children, for protection from evil, for relief from illness, will drive us to our knees before God. But only a deep understanding like the song writer, who declares that ” I once was lost, but now I am found’, and of the amazing grace that saved a wretch like me, will move us to love the Lord Jesus with an abiding love. And the words of another wonderful hymn explains this love even better.
My God I love thee; not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
nor yet because who love thee not
are lost eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
upon the cross embrace;
for me didst bear the nails and spear,
and manifold disgrace.
and griefs and torments numberless,
and sweat of agony;
yea, death itself – all all for me
who was thine enemy.
Then why, O blessed Jesu Christ,
should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven
nor of escaping hell
not from the hope of gaining aught,
not seeking a reward;
but as thyself has loved me
O ever-loving Lord
The Second reason why this text, ‘ create in me a pure heart and renew a right spirit within me’, is important, is that within it are the early signs of God’s promise to make all things new. And if we listen carefully, this is the same message that the Prophet Jeremiah brought to his people years later. The context is the same, as Israel had repeatedly rebelled against the Living God. But this loving God, after disciplining His children, declared through Jeremiah, that just as He watched over them to uproot and to tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so He would watch over them to build and to plant,…and further on the Lord declared through Jeremiah that:
The time was coming..when He would make a new covenant with His people, and that He would put His law in their minds and write it in their hearts. And that this covenant therefore would be quite different from that which He made with His people when He brought them out Egypt…and finally that He would forgive their wickedness and remember their sins nor more.
Now my friends we don’t have to be a highly trained theologian to understand that such a promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Especially when we recall St. Paul’s assertion that, ” If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new”, as recorded in the KJV of 2 Cor. 5:17 . For the cry from King David was not just for forgiveness of his Sin, for a pure heart, as important as that is, but that God would create a new spirit within him. And as we learned later, the revelation in the New Covenant that we need to live by the Sprit and not by the flesh, which is one of the fundamental doctrines of the church.
The Third reason why it is important to spend time in this text, is that ultimately, this desire for a new heart and a renewed spirit, although it is a free gift from God, and it is not something that good works can purchase, there is a cost. We must die to self, and live only for and depend on God, and God alone. This reality is the same one that those who in the gospel reading for today ‘wanted to see Jesus’, faced. Listen carefully to part of the answer that Jesus gave Andrew and Philip who took their request to Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it, for eternal life. A careful reading of the entire gospel, and other passages of scripture reveal then, that in order for us to truly follow Christ, self , the old man of sin in us, must die. And in fact must be crucified. There is no other way, as ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’. We must be born again of The Sprit of God. Which was the essence of David’s prayer, and an example to us thousands of years later. A point which Paul’s famous statement validates . ” I am crucified in Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ who lives in me” Galatians 2: 20. Further, for years I have been struggling with another of Paul’s ‘must read’ statements as recorded in Philippians 3;10, and only recently, including the time spent in preparing for this sermon, began to full appreciate its implications.
“” I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to resurrection from the dead”. What this means is that we have to go through much suffering ourselves, and take up our own individual crosses, when we decide to follow Jesus.
So as we consider again the state of our nation and the spate of child abuse and murder, what are the lessons, what comfort, what instructions we can carry home from this worship service this morning?
Number one is that there may be no ‘practical implications’, at all. As one of the dangers of a heart which is anxious to fight against evil, and rescue the perishing, is that, unless we truly know Christ and are lifting Him up in our lives, no good may come of our self-appointed rather than a God anointed mandate. As the battle is the Lord’s and not ours. For it is the message and power of Jesus and Him Crucified Who then ‘draws all men to Himself’, that can ultimately rescue Jamaica from this madness. And not in and by themselves, ‘excitable Christians workers’, wise leaders, and certainly not powerful and compassionate policemen and women acting alone. For Lent I would suggest, is a time for spiritual stocktaking. Time to quiet our souls before God, and seek a closer walk with Him, as Father Kitson, intimated during his sermon on Ash Wednesday. And then as Father Larius preached many months ago, we should, like the CVM jingle says, ” Looking in, looking out, looking better”, leave church quite different from the way we came in. So in this context, we should ensure that having observed a holy Lent, at the end we ought to become more mature Christians and produce much fruit
The second lesson is that, the root of the problem which ultimately manifests itself in crime and violence and immorality and corruption, all three of which are plaguing the country, are restless hearts. And one of the most profound observations made on this subject came from the mind of perhaps the most influential Bishop of the early Church. B Augustine of Hippo as recorded in his autobiography ” Confessions”.
Here I quote. ” You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless unless they can find rest in you”.
And all people who are not redeemed, who have not accepted the Redemption offered by Christ, are possessed of restless hearts. In the sense that, all their strivings, all their desires, all their passions, yes Amanda is correct, including fifty shades of grey, all the demons that haunt their souls including those facilitated by the use of crack/cocaine, the abuse of alcohol, the excessive use of marijuana and other mind altering drugs, the exposure to and in some cases, addiction to pornography, the abuse of power in high places, including the church and state, the unfathomable predilection to commit acts of egregious violence, and the willingness to hurt, are all driven by restless hearts seeking fulfilment and satisfaction in what can never fully quench their thirst. This was the problem that confronted King David. A roving eye and a restless heart. A dangerous if not lethal combination! What was God’s solution? Use the prophet Nathan to challenge David’s Sin. And what was David’s response: Confession. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight….and in verse 5 we read….surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. In this context then it is useful to note that, just this week I was moved to send out the following Tweet, after having been struck by an observation by the great Bible teacher Oswald Chambers
‘ Am I becoming more and more in love with a Holy God, or with the conception of an amiable being who says, oh well sin doesn’t matter any more’.
I would suggest to all who have ears to hear, that the great problem that we face in this 21st century Jamaica, and indeed in the entire world, is a deliberate and well orchestrated and well executed plan by the evil one to dilute the importance of Sin. Before man! Not before a God who in Christ Jesus, in love and by grace, died on the Cross for the sins of the whole world. Not in the shinning light of The Word of God which declared, that the thing which David had done displeased the Lord. Not in the face of the fact that the son born of the sinful act committed by David and Bathsheba died. And because we have accommodated, and hugged up, as the young people say, sin, in high places and in the ordinary every day scene, for years, and let the proverbial genie out of the bottle, we are now scampering around trying to rescue our children and adults.
This is neither the time nor the place to give chapter and verse on this subject, for we are all guilty. But some are more guilty than others. For may God have mercy of those who introduced gun related violence in the western part of the Kingston, and unleashed a monster that has spread across the entire island. May God have mercy on those who exposed our children to wanton immorality, the consequences of which is the source of much concern and lament. May God have mercy on those who have corrupted our music, introduced slackness and violent lyrics which have largely drowned out the rebel music and protest music for which we became Internationally famous. But the point is that there is a remedy. Collective acknowledgement and collective repentance. So this is not a time for public finger pointing, and for being holier than thou, but a time to ask forgiveness, as David did when confronted with his Sin. For the Word of God as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us that,
” If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land”. The context then, thousands of years ago, was the same as now. For the chosen people, the children of Israel, and descendants of Abraham had rebelled against the Living God, as they did time and time again, until at last there was no remedy, and God exiled them into Babylon. But always there was the promise of forgiveness from a gracious and compassionate God.
And so even though we may seem to live in the worst of times, if we repent of our sins, as David did, and seek to have a closer walk with God in and through Christ Jesus, by the Power of The Holy Spirit, our best days as a nation and as a people may yet be ahead of us. So the take home message for us this morning, as we ponder on the state of our nation, is twofold. To repent of our sins, and to challenge sin, as Nathan did, wherever we meet this terrible scourge on mankind. At home, in the community, at our workplace, at school, in our politics, in the media, and most of all in the church of a Holy God. For as David was well aware, the wages of sin is death, and thank God for Jesus, the gift of God is Eternal Life in Christ Jesus.
I close with words from the first two verses of a hymn we sang a couple weeks ago, and which lament touched my soul deeply. To the point where I found myself singing the hymn sometimes all through the day. And which words sum up the right spirit which we need to have before a merciful and holy God. A God who David knew well. And a God who we know even better in and through Christ Jesus. And only with this kind of attitude can we ask God for mercy and help for our troubled nation in times like these when we truly need a saviour.
My spirit longs for thee
within my troubled breast.
though I unworthy be
of so divine a guest
Of so divine a guest
though I unworthy be
my heart will have no rest
unless it comes from thee.