A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
I watched the original ( 1966) version of this highly acclaimed movie, last night. A script taken from a book of the same name, which I gather was at one time on the reading list for high school students right here in Jamaica. A movie in which a principled British Stateman stood to a King who would have his way. A true story of KIng Henry V111 and the Royal Chancellor of Britain, a man of God. The King won and the man of God lost his head. But not his soul! While it’s a moot point if the same assertions could be made of the King, and his vassal, Oliver Cromwell.
I had no intention of inculding this very profound commentary on British society during that long past era in this week’s blog on the Jamaican society in 2020. But I couldn’t help wonder if the famous lines “ what does it profit a man to gain so much and lose his soul’, directed at Thomas Moore’s accuser, who assigned words to him which were patently untrue, if those words aren’t accusing us today.
This as we struggle to open back our economy after, if that’s what flattening the curve means, or during if we are wrong, the most terrifying event that any Jamaican of this age, has had to live through. For that’s the most graphic message that my patients have conveyed in their description of how the virus has affected their lives. Absolute terror! That’s why many of them, some over age 90, others in their 80’s defied government orders and came to see their doctor. And were eternally grateful that I had not abandoned them in the midst of the most difficult period of their existence. They came to talk. To reveal their anxieties and even depression. They came to be assured that they did not have the virus. They came for other more mundane reasons. To refill their prescriptions. To get a check up. But mostly they came to share their fear of, and talk about, this pestilence on the land. Thank God we have been spared the horrors that have been visited on New York and London. Places where many of my patients, in the inner city in St. Andrew and in a fast growing rural town in the midst of the island, have many relatives and friends.
So after despite the Popcaan #unruly crowd, those who failed to maintain social distance, for whatever reason, many who did the right thing and stayed home ( except for the ‘misdemeanor’ mentioned), made the sacrifice, are now facing the threat, unless a vaccine is found quickly, of a resurgence of the virus, as the country, as it must do eventually, tries to open back the Economy. For while man ought not to live by bread alone, it cannot ignore the need for to put food on the table. Which is what the Government is valiantly trying to by seeking to bring back the tourists, shortening the curfew hours, and cranking up back the productive sector. Nothing working with that! In fact they are to be applauded for trying to balance people’s lives while balancing their pockets!
So why am I ( being led to ) resurrecting the ghost of Sir Thomas More and warning a nation about losing its soul? The problem is to found in the words of another famous piece of English Literature: “ It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”.
As before COVID-19 descended on Jamaica, and I dare say the world, but this morning we are concerned primarily but not exclusively, with Jamaica land we love, the normal to which many are now yearning for, as we open up our economy, was not a good place. Yes, as a people we have achieved much, and for which we are forever grateful. But, going back to over 1000 murders every year is not a good thing. Going back to 30% of our people living on Chronixx #Captureland is not a good thing. Going back to land where political tribalism of the worst sort, has helped to carve out enclaves known as “ Garrisons “ with the attendant and well now social ills, is not a good thing. Going back to an educational system where so many of children emerge barely functionally literate and thus contribute to our famously low levels of productivity, is not a goof thing. Going back to the kind of toxic masculinity, whatever the genesis, which has occasioned so much pain and angst in so many relationships, and death, is not a good thing.
Going back to a culture, where in particular one aspect of the genre of music, despite its claim to have currency in international circles, stands accused, for a long time led by one of the best minds in the land, the late Ian Boyne, of misogyny, of producing gun lyrics, of gross sexual immorality and of undermining the very moral foundation of the land in general and “Gaza” in particular, is not a good thing. Going back to a land in which privilege and power and hubris, all combine, in an unholy combination, to not only successfully engage in acts of corruption, but has arguably resulted in the kind of inequity which has plagued and stymied the development of the lives of ordinary Jamaicans #FromBullBayToSixMiles and beyond, is not a good thing.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, and who knows the source of so much which has occasioned the “ worse of times” in Jamaica. Going back to a church divided not only by denominational cleavages, but more importantly by doctrinal differences. Not the least of which is the wholesale capture of large swathes of the church community by the “ prosperity gospel”. Which is no gospel at all, but an attempt, as one of my Bishop’s once said famously “ an attempt to sneak into heaven incognito”, by avoiding suffering, and dying to self with and in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, for all these reasons, and more, Jamaica, and the world, which before COVID-19 arrived was behaving very much like in the days of Noah when the flood came. Marrying and being given in marriage! Completely oblivious to the great sins of the time which “provoked “ God to bring disaster on the world. And to start over again. A world which had completely lost its soul!
A country and indeed the world – think climate change, world poverty, and how according to the classic Walter Rodney’s book, “ How Europe underdeveloped Africa, the build up of nuclear weapons – which in the solemn and accusatory words of The Encounter by John Newton was guilty of :
An evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame of fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career …..
For if truth be told, before COVID-19 struck, Jamaica, as described above, was guilty of being on a “ wild career”. Whether we like to admit it or not! And whether we would try to sugar coat the truth or not, and paint over the cracks with evidence of progress.
But there is a worse, and perhaps final accusation, from yet another great English writer. None other than T. S. Eliot in his seminal poem “ :
………But it seems that some thing has happened that has never happened before; though we know not just when, or why, or where.
Man have left God not for other gods, they say, but no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first reason,
And then money, and power, and what they call life, or race, or dialectic.
The church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what do we have to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressive backwards.
For truly if we examine critically, and with the discernment of the Holy Spirit, what obtained before COVID-19 , we will find a world and Jamaica sucked into its vortex, “ advancing progressively backwards”.
Question is, do we accept the accusation that COVID-19 is, or do we just ignore the realty, that one of the most terrifying experiences that our people have gone through, or still passing though, has come as a wake up call. And thus plan for a better Jamaica in the future under God. Or just return to our version of normality with the nation’s soul still at risk; like the children who live in the inner cities.
Questions which I posed to my church this week in a couple of emails and which thoughts embodied in them might help us on this Post COVID-19 journey.
THE FIRST EMAIL
G. Campbell Morgan
Verse: Exodus 10:26
“Not a hoof shall be left behind”. This was the final word of Moses in a persistent conflict against anything in the nature of compromise. Pharaoh had attempted to bring this about since after the fourth plague.
Note the the stages of these attempts. At the beginning he had declared that these people should not go to sacrifice to Jehovah their God. After the plague of the flies, the fourth, he suggested that they might sacrifice, but they should do without going away from the land.( Exodus 8:25).
This Moses at once refused. Then Pharaoh suggested that if they must go, it should not be very far away(8:28). On this Moses entreated for him, and the plague was removed, but he would not let them go. He proposed later, after the eighth plague ( that of locusts), that they should leave the women and children behind(10.8-11).
Moses refused. After the ninth plague ( that of the darkness), he suggested that the cattle be left (10:24). Then Moses spoke this final word: “ Not a hoof shall be left behind”.
That is the attitude of the man of faith. Evil is always suggesting some compromise. To listen to it, is to remain enslaved. The only way into liberty is to leave the land of evil; to go accompanied by the women and children; and to take the all property also. It is when that attitude is assumed, that men pass out from all bondage, and find the liberty which is in the purpose of God for them.
Comment: Many years ago, I ceased believing in coincidence. Therefore, for the Lord to ‘open up ‘ this meditation in my Classic Devotional Bible, on a morning when Jamaicans awake to learn, if they didn’t hear last evening, that we are opening up again for business, having been locked down by COVID-19, cannot be coincidence. But in a sense divine intervention!
So what do we make of this message? Is COVID-19 a plague sent, or allowed by God, to arrest us, as a church, and as a nation, and as a world, from compromising with evil. For a people who are to be a holy nation, read again the words of the epistle from last Sunday:
1 Peter 2:2-10
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light……:
Cannot compromise with evil. And God knows that, not only have we been guilty of compromising with all kinds of evil things in our land, but in some instances, O Jesus, we have been the very Pharaoh. Have mercy O God. Have mercy!
So I would suggest, and this meditation from the very heart of God, demands that, as we go forward, at the very least as a church, pray God as a people also , although we have limited control over that part, that “ not a hoof is left behind”, as we enter a new phase of our relationship with a Holy God. After what is, was, continues to be, a virtual plague upon the land.
Of course I could give examples, and perhaps begin with me first, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, God have mercy, but each one of us needs to look deep within our souls, and ponder on how much we have compromised with evil. And I am not just talking about the big ticket items, although that is without doubt a part of it – promoting same sex marriage, downplaying the evil of intimate homosexual relationships, flirting with, sailing close to the wind of legalizing abortions. But what may appear to be little things, little sins, white lies if you will, all add up in the mind of a Holy to rank disobedience. The meditations yesterday, or the day before, warned against “ fraternizing with bad things”. The one today is even more explicit in the warning: “ Not a hoof is be left behind”.
Finally note the injunction to “ carry the women and children and all property”.
We cannot be mindful only of “ rescuing ourselves individually “ from evil, but we must be responsible for our family, and extended family and church family and national family too. “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”! Really!
As I write St. Paul’s famous words come to mind, “ I am not guilty of the blood of anyone.” A passage of Scripture that bears much reflection:
THE WORD OF GOD
““Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
Acts 20:25-31 NIV
And there is one in Ezekiel also about the people of God being appointed watchmen to warn the nation. And if we fail to warn them them we too will be under judgment. A passage Father Michael Elliott highlighted in my Bible many years ago.
I leave it there. Much more is in my mind, but I leave it there. For if we don’t spend the time reflecting on what the Lord is saying to us in the midst of the greatest and most terrifying event in the history of our world, then we are guilty of believing in coincidence in a world where God is always sovereign. And who knows might stand guilty of the blood of others.
Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us; Lord renew thy church as we are determined not to leave one hoof behind, and flee from evil, so that the church may renew the nation(s) who are so mixed up with evil, they can’t discern right from wrong “ ah nuh nutten”.
THE SECOND EMAIL
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Psalms 133:1-3 NIV
The words of Psalm 133 greeted me as I opened my Bible this morning. And brought me back to “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”!
For to “dwell in unity” is to be one with Christ Jesus. A prayer that our Savior prayed on the night before He died. The “ High Priestly Prayer”, recorded in John 17. But to be one with Christ is to be Holy. Yes, to have fellowship with one another in God’s house. Yes, to share in the sacraments. Yes, to share God’s love with the poor and the vulnerable, and what one former Archbishop of Canterbury termed , “ the refuse of human society “. Those left behind in then, the Industrial Age!
So to be holy in Christ is to leave behind literally and metaphorically, more than what we normally consider important. Thoughts which came to mind as I went for my morning walk yesterday while reflecting on “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”.
Post COVID-19, we must not continue to fret. And to be fearful! For Scriptures teaches us that such activity “leads only to evil” Psalm 37:8. These evil things, like anger, and grumbling and worrying, are sinful for they individually or in combination, tell God that He cannot manage our situation. The same God who in Christ, assures us that “ I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but let not your heart be troubled I have overcome the world”. The end of John 16!
Perhaps we have forgotten, in this dispensation of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, that many died in the desert during the Exodus, because of such evil things. Grumbling and complaining! And worse, when these things provoked Moses to wrath, it led to Moses being rebuked by the Lord, and being prevented from going into the promised land.
This list is clearly not exhaustive, and we can consider so many other things. But the essential point is that, one of the benefits that ought to flow to God’s called out people, which is what we are in Christ Jesus, is that after this kind of plague upon the land, we really need to consider how much we have been faithful as a people in pursuing holiness. Or have we been guilty of being disobedient to God’s eternal instructions to His people, in Canaan , and now in “ Babylon”: “ Do not do what they do”.
Are we, therefore, easily identifiable as Christians in this “ corrupt generation”? Do people see us as different? Do they see the Christ in us? Or more profoundly, do they see us at all? Or have we merged into, and become one with, the tapestry of the world.
A prayer which I send up to God with my grace in the mornings before breakfast, comes to mind as I write:
“ Consecrate me now Lord, with the power of grace divine. Let my heart look up with a steadfast gaze and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord to the Cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to thy precious bleeding side”.
Many of us will recognize it as a verse, and the refrain, from the well known hymn, “ I am thine O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I long to rise in the arms of faith, and be closer drawn to thee…
I am not sure when and why this prayer came to my mind. But it did. And did a long time ago! Perhaps the Lord knew that I needed it, as like so many of us, “ I am so prone to wander, wander from the God I love”.
And who knows, that God determined by His Sovereign grace, that the world needed a wake up call. Calling us, a people who are so prone to wander from His love, back to being a :
chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light……:
My friends in Christ Jesus, unless we ponder over these things, I would suggest that it will profit us little, if we seize the opportunity to return to church as it was before COVID-19, and make little or no change in our lives as God’s people.
Called in Christ Jesus to “ dwell together in unity”. Then and only then will the blessedness of:
“ It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”…….be our experience. And help to renew this nation!
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church, renewed in unity in Christ Jesus, may renew the nations(s) that have wandered from the God who created and sustains them in Christ Jesus and the Power of the Holy Spirit. Whether they know or believe it or not!
Remember the Scotts who are Anglicans and who are in so much grief this morning, on account of the headlines in the Daily Gleaner.
May the God of all comfort envelop them with His love and mercy and power to persevere. This God who in Christ Jesus died on the Cross of Calvary so that in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified, we may become holy and be assured of the victory over Sin, death and all evil. Not a hoof is to be left behind! Truly in Christ and Christ alone.
At St. Luke’s Church October 2017. Dr. Paul Scott to the right, definitely, and I think his wife to the left…is that correct Archdeacon?
THE THIRD EMAIL
“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 NIV
It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the “ Children of darkness”, are often more determined than the “children of light” – Martin Luther King jr.
I found this quote at the end of a very instructive passage of Scripture ( above) in my Classics Devotional Bible this morning. And what I get I share.
Comment: That’s the context in which we, the children of Light, must vow to “ not leave one hoof behind”. In Majesty Gardens! In St. Clements. In the Girls Home. In Ambrook Lane – helping Minke. Everywhere that injustice and inequity and suffering and hunger and anger and that which causes an assault on human dignity reigns; wherever the image deo is marred but not unrecognisable to the Creator and Redeemer God. There should the children of this God be, in rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying and going after the stray, and seeking to know God’s will in these COVID-19 times; in addition to , not rather than, turning our attention to opening up back the economy.
For indeed, what shall it profit a nation to welcome back tourists and plug the gaping hole in the budget and yet stand to lose its very soul because we have, ‘’ left our children – children of the wretched of the earth who have now become our nemesis as gunmen and those who don’t take telling and filled with thoughts of revenge and driven by toxic masculinity, as obtains elsewhere also – and aged and vulnerable, left them all behind”. Before, and now if we are not vigilant, also after COVID-19.
So is MLK jr right, are we asleep, or is his vision of the mission of the Christian, the child of Light, too ambitious or too demanding?
Lord renew thy church with a clearer vision of what it means to follow Christ; the One who died on the Cross to save the wretched of the earth – those in need of salvation. And not those who are very comfortable with their sins and their situation!
Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) who ignore the plight of the wretched of the earth. In Fanon’s Angola, in MKL jr America, in Wilberforce and Wesley’s UK and in Sam Sharpe’s Jamaica. And in the whole wide world for whom Christ died. So that men may not perish but have eternal life. In India, in Pakistan, in China, in Italy, in Spain and in Germany