Theme: Intentional Disciples: Called and Empowered
There are moments in life when we experience a sense of an inner urging or disturbance of the spirit which can only be described as a “call” that comes to us, which is of a far-reaching nature, and which has the potential to change the course of our life forever. Accordingly, there are those who have planned to live a comfortable life in their community or nation, and a call comes to their life, whether by marriage, economic hardship, or an experience of crime and violence, which leads them to migrate to a life overseas.
There are those who have set their sights on certain vocational and career paths, and a call comes to them which takes them on a different path altogether. Perhaps, there is a sense in which all of us, in reflecting on the course of our life, may discover that it has taken a different path from the way we had planned it, and that leads us to conclude that, somehow, God has been working a different purpose in our life, and through his call took us on a different path.
Christians, in speaking about their journey of faith, often speak of their baptism, conversion, and response to the gospel of Jesus Christ, making use of similar images of life-changing moments, whether momentary or protracted, as an encounter with Jesus Christ and the call to discipleship.
The term discipleship can, however, be used in a very loose and all-encompassing sense. In this way, everybody in church who has been baptized is a disciple. Roman Catholic writer Sherry Weddell, who has written several books on Intentional Discipleship, began her extensive work in this area when, in conducting research, she discovered that many members of the church whom she interviewed were dumbstruck when asked to speak about their relationship with God.
When asked the question, “Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?” Many were silent. To her surprise, she came to realize that many members are essentially at a passive stage of spiritual development, and concluded that “Our fundamental problem is that most of our people are not yet disciples”. I believe that conclusion has cross-denominational application.
In making a positive statement of the nature of discipleship, she states that discipleship begins when “adult persons at last have the occasion to hear the good news of the gospel, renew their own baptismal covenant, consciously choose Christ as their own personal Lord and Saviour, and commit themselves actively in the life of their Church”.
For many Anglicans, this kind of language is a bit unsettling as it is not the way in which many speak of their faith, having entered the church as cradle Anglicans, been baptized and confirmed, and somehow, expected to imbibe the culture of the church and grow in faith along the way. As a Roman Catholic, and one who shares similarities in religious culture, she puts another spin on the issue which is more hopeful, by acknowledging a dormant element in such expressions of faith which may come alive:
“Even if we were not ready to receive them fruitfully when they were conferred, the graces poured out on us in baptism, confirmation, and holy orders are not lost. Sacraments that bestow a character can be “revived” when the recipient comes to personal faith, repents, and chooses to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple in the midst of his Church.”
The Anglican Consultative Council, one the of four Instruments of the Anglican Communion, passed Resolution 16:01 at its meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia, between 8 and 19 April 2016, calling on all Anglicans to become involved in a season of intentional discipleship. The Communion-wide Call is stated as an imperative: “For every province, diocese and parish in the Anglican Communion to adopt a clear focus on intentional discipleship and to produce resources to equip and enable the whole church to be effective in making new disciples of Jesus Christ”.
The Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, in conjunction with the Province of the West Indies, has embraced this call and has launched our season of Intentional Discipleship, which is being reflected in the selection of the theme for this Synod.
In the biblical narrative, Christian discipleship begins with the call of Jesus to ordinary men and women to follow him. From these encounters, a number of paradigms have been developed to give expression to the nature of Christian discipleship.
In the synoptic gospels, that is, Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the call of Jesus to his first disciples, is a call to “drop their nets”, while in John’s gospel it is that of “staying with Jesus”. In the latter case, the first disciples are disciples of John the Baptist, and whose call comes in the form of an invitation in response to their question to Jesus as to where he is staying, and to which he responds, “come and see”. The text goes on further to say that they went and saw where he was staying and they “stayed” with him that day. From that encounter the paradigm of “staying with Jesus” has also been used to talk about the nature of discipleship.
- Russ Crabtree, in one of his many publications, provides for us some further expansion on the nature of Christian discipleship by citing Mark 1:17-18 which falls within the context of the gospel reading for this service and which reads as follows – ‘And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for People.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him’. He argues that:
- The word “make” in that context speaks of formation. Jesus envisions a creative, formative process through which new capacities within the personality would emerge within the life of those called by him to discipleship.
- It speaks of a process. The tense of the verb is future, which means that an instant transformation is not what Jesus has in mind. Instead, Jesus envisions an unfolding of their lives with a vision for what they will become.
- It speaks of impact. Using imagery familiar to the disciples (fishing), Jesus asserts that the world will be different as a result of their formation.
Against that background, let us examine more closely the gospel reading from St Mark which constitutes the third lesson for this service. There we see Jesus entering centre stage with a proclamation in verse 15:
“The time is fulfilled; and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This proclamation signaled the fact that God was now at work in a profound way in the life of the people bringing to pass the fulfillment of their long-awaited dream of the obvious reign and rule of God in the world. This rule of God was not just for the Jewish community of faith but for the world at large. The call to repentance needs not be seen as a mere reference to the fact that people were in sin and living wayward lives, but a call to move beyond the limits of their understanding of the ways of God, so that they could become participants in this vision of the kingdom of God which was dawning.
Bearing in mind the fact that every major activity of God involves the cooperation of individuals, Jesus then goes on to engage specific persons with the good news of the gospel, and to issue the invitation to enlist as disciples. And so he approaches the first two persons he wanted to be in a special relationship with himself, Simon Peter and Andrew. They were about their daily business and routine of catching fish when he issued a call to them.
We need not believe that Jesus, seeing these men for the first time just said, “come” and they came as blank slates, as it were. As Jewish men, they were a part of the community of faith, cherishing the expectation of the coming of the Messiah who would bring in the reign of God, and so Jesus called them against the background of the message which we saw him proclaiming in verse 15 – God is doing a new and profound thing, repent and believe.
The call to these two men is, then, a call to make that response for themselves first of all, and then to come and participate in bringing others to this point also, that is, to make the personal step of becoming a disciple, and then to become involved in the work of discipling others. So these men were being invited to catch the vision, to move to another level, by repentance and faith. In other words, they could not call persons to repentance and acceptance of the gospel if their response was not indicative of having taken that first step. But a positive response to this call is not to be taken lightly as it comes with a cost.
- They had to commit to a relationship with Jesus not knowing exactly where it would lead them.
- The demand to become ‘fishers of persons’ and hence, a life of discipleship and participation in the mission involved a reworking of the priorities of their life.
- This re-alignment of the priorities of their life involved giving up that which had occupied a central place in their life, namely, their economic livelihood, way of life, and, in the case of James and John, sons of Zebedee, whom we encounter in verse 19, they left some family connections behind, as we see them leaving the boat, the nets and their father behind.
What then can we say about discipleship against the background of this text? In answering that question, I want to assert that, far too many of us Christians have no sense of being called of God in Christ to a life of discipleship. So, as a church we are being challenged to re-visit the notion of discipleship and what it means for all of us, laity and clergy alike. So let us explore what this may mean in light of this text from St. Mark. It means:
- An active and engaging relationship with Jesus so that we can be formed as disciples.
Something about the person of Jesus in the disciples’ initial encounter impelled them toward a positive response to his call to discipleship. No doubt, it was the deepening of this initial impact which kept them faithful to Jesus and to his call to discipleship for the rest of their lives. In the case of St. John’s account of the call of the first disciples, John the Baptist’s having identified Jesus, with the pronouncement “Look, the Lamb of God” as he pointed to Jesus, the two disciples then asked Jesus where he was staying, and Jesus told them, “come and see”. The text tells us that in response to Jesus’ invitation they went and they stayed with him.
Reflecting on the nature of discipleship which arises out of this experience of “staying with Jesus”, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, posits the notion that discipleship is not just a momentary or occasional experience. Discipleship is a state of being. It is not just something cognitive or for occasional and ritual practice. It is about who we are, and how we live; not just the decisions we make, not just the things we believe, but a state of being, reflecting the deepest levels of selfhood. In other words, what makes one a disciple is not just turning up from time to time for church or for an act of religious devotion. We all know of Christians whose practice of discipleship is an occasional appearance at church, and who turn up from time to time in their personal relationship with God when it is time to pray about something they want, and then they go about their business when they have received what they consider to be an answer, until they think they need something more from God.
Sherry Weddell, highlights the nature of the relationship with Jesus for one to be a disciple and from which would arise intentional discipleship and the sharing of the faith with others. So, she says:
Transmitting the faith is an organic, whole-person, whole-life concept that goes beyond instruction in facts or doctrine. What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted… The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of “being” with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of “feeling” compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as good and something positive and beautiful … we can’t successfully transmit the relationship at the center of the faith unless we ourselves consciously participate in that relationship.
In fact, she breaks down the spiritual journey of discipleship into what she identifies as Three Spiritual Journeys, which not only point to the personal and deep nature of the relationship with Jesus but the fact that it must find further expression in involvement in the communal life of the church and involvement in the mission of the church:
There are three concurrent spiritual journeys that, in practice, are often treated as separate:
- The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship.
- The ecclesiastical journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation.
- The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending the Eucharist, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).
And while for many of us Anglicans, the spiritual journey began in infancy with the sacrament of Baptism, intentional discipleship becomes a reality when the other two journeys come alive and become a part of our Christian pilgrimage.
As we noted earlier, the word “make” in Jesus’ call to the first disciples speaks of formation, and the formation which Jesus envisions for them is a creative, formative process through which new capacities within the personality would emerge within the life of those called by him to discipleship as they remained in a relationship with him. That reality of the vision of transformed lives which Jesus had in store for his first disciples still stands for us as would-be disciples today.
But we who would claim to have entered a life of intentional discipleship must understand that it also must issue in discipling of others. In other words, the relationship shared with Jesus must inform your relationship and mine with others whom we would also seek to bring into a relationship with Jesus.
Some time ago, Dr. Herbert Gayle, the anthropologist, addressed our Clergy Conference and painted in a most vivid manner the way in which the area leaders and dons provide a relationship with the boys within their communities through mentoring, and are able to create the kinds of criminal minds which we now dread as a society. Do you think these boys and young men can afford the guns and high-powered weapons they carry to execute their crimes?
The challenge for us as a Christian community of men and women is, what are we prepared to do in terms of mentoring our boys and girls, as well as parents, so that they can come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and be mature and responsible citizens of this nation? And let us take no comfort in the fact that the question is being raised in St. James while under a state of Enhanced Security Measure. The truth be told, we are not doing a good job as a Diocese with those who we already have in the church, and we could begin there anew. Whatever vision we have for this nation in 2030 will never become a reality if the adults who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ do not take on an intentional role of mentoring our youth within and outside of the church, and the countless unchurched adults in our nation.
- The call with its urgency and demand requires realignment of the priorities of our life.
This is a fundamental issue of where one places value and worth in life. This realignment of priorities speaks about a re-configuration, a separation, a giving up on some things that are not consistent with the call to a life of intentional discipleship. When Jesus called the disciples as in the gospel reading, they reworked the claims of family, job, and way of life in relation to the call to discipleship. But the re-alignment needs to be at even deeper and more personal levels.
In Matthew 13:44-47 there are several sayings of Jesus which speak to the issue of discipleship and the re-aligning of life and one’s values which must take place:
- The Parable of the treasure hidden in the field;
- The pearl of great price/value.
The first introduces us to the story of an individual’s willingness to risk all that he possesses to acquire that which is of supreme value.
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
What Jesus is, in fact, underscoring is the intensity and strength of purpose and commitment which causes this person to leave no stone unturned in achieving that which is deemed to be of ultimate value. Together these two sayings of Jesus speak to the issue of establishing values, and the decisive action which follows in relation to where value is placed. Nothing else measured up to the importance of these things in the life of these persons or could diminish or kill their interest or focus.
The point being made in these parables is that we have to make a deliberate and intentional commitment concerning where we are locating value in life, and as a consequence, what will give structure to the way we live out our lives.
The matter of valuing, prioritizing and decision-making is one which comes to one group of persons in a very forceful and unavoidable way, that is, the terminally ill. The awareness of the shortness/curtailment of life brings a new sense of value and meaning to life affecting relationships, connection to nature, and the things to which one has devoted one’s life. I never forget the bombshell one of the members of our Cancer Support group dropped in a meeting held right here on these premises quite a few years ago, when she said “I thank God for my cancer” as she offered her testimony of how this diagnosis had become a positive life-changing moment for her. They have a very profound lesson to teach us about what really matters in life. It is only a pity that some wait so long to learn the lesson and some of us are too emotionally upset to learn what they have to teach us.
Ours is a challenge in the normal flow of life to so hear the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we apprehend the urgency, priority, and profundity of that call, that we respond by giving it our all, letting every other area of life flow from this one value, and ultimately, living what is called a Jesus-Shaped Life.
Nevertheless, my sisters and brothers, any conversation about value and meaning must recognize that value and meaning do not inhere in some abstract philosophical principle for Christians but, in the fact that we are created as human beings by a loving God and in the image of God. There is, therefore, an inherent value in each human life and each human being must live with that sense of being valued by God and called to live a purposeful existence.
The issue of where we locate value in life cannot only be about our personal assessment of things that relate to us, but must also have some relationship to how we value and treat other human beings. The great spiritual director and theologian, James C. Fenhagen, in his work Mutual Ministry has this to say about discipleship:
To become a disciple means to see for oneself the values that energized the life of Jesus of Nazareth, to struggle with them, until there comes that moment when by the grace of God they become our own. Commitment to an ongoing and disciplined enrichment of our relationship to God, the affirmation of human need and worth in the face of the demonic pretensions of those principalities and powers that control our lives, the desire to serve life out of love rather than power or reward, and a deep identification with the poor and the hungry and the oppressed; these are values that we can see in the life of Jesus. They are values which when affirmed and lived will make a profound difference in the quality of life of the world that is emerging. It is through psychic and spiritual intercourse with values such as these that we are called to be value bearers in the name of Christ.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby in his recent book, Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace, argues that “we need a deep sense of the priority of the human person, whoever they are and wherever they come from”. He goes on to speak in a most pointed manner to the way in which value is being assigned in a distorted fashion in today’s world of globalization:
“… the more interconnected the world becomes, the more power is held over individuals and nations by economics, by money and flows of finance. Mammon – a name given by Jesus to this force – gains strength through our obedience. The more we let ourselves be governed by Mammon, the more power he has, and the more the vulnerable suffer”.
We here in Jamaica are witnessing the impact of this trend as we are seeing the impact of Mammon in a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor with a growing sense of accommodation and normalization of this reality. This widening of the gap is evident in the lifestyles and consumption patterns of the society which borders on the vulgar at times, even as the policies of government may contribute to this trend while attempting to solve other problems. Thus, while many of us were glad to see the income tax threshold raised to the level of $1.5 million, the many whose wages fall below this bar not only did not receive any benefit, but were enlisted in carrying the burden of compensating for this relief by transfers of certain goods and services to indirect taxation.
The church cannot accept this as a given which is determined by the free-market economy. So Archbishop Welby reminds us of a fundamental principle of Catholic Social Teaching that –
“… the wealth of the world is given by God for the benefit of every person in the world. To amass an unfair proportion is thus to deprive others. It calls for a vision of God that overcomes, in its beauty and generosity, the innate selfishness of our societies.”
There is of course a wider global issue with which the forces of mammon are not prepared to engage, and it is, what is the ultimate consequence of the ongoing displacement of workers through the adoption of technology? The answer that very often is advanced is that persons need to be retooled for the job market. The reality is that the jobs that are available for the most part for those retooled are the service related jobs which pay the lowest possible wages. It is in this light that BPOs (Business Processing Outsourcing) are an attractive option for job creation in Jamaica, but the downside is that these are low paying jobs which are not utilizing in creative ways the potential of tertiary graduates within the nation for whom these are the jobs that are available. And we must ask ourselves as a nation, is the investment made in tertiary education by students and the nation reaping its due reward, and is this the way in which we intend to harness the creative potential of this core of learning? So while it solves one problem, it simultaneous raises some other challenges for us.
Today, the society is very concerned about the crime statistics as these relate to murders in particular. The murders and blatant criminality which are evident in our society today do not simply begin in the mind and heart of individuals with no connection to the rest of society, and functioning with a totally different set of values, and so, once we get rid of the known criminals, Jamaica will return to the peaceful existence we once enjoyed. (It is here that I would also like to locate the debate which is current regarding the powers of INDECOM, as there are persons who do not believe that there should be accountability for the way in which the life of certain members of society is treated by the Police as representatives of the State). I believe that as a people we are losing our sense of that which is of ultimate value and in this process, are losing our sense of the value of human beings, meaning every member of the society. When a young man engaged in a life of criminality can boast that at age 23 he has outlived his peers and is still continuing on the same path, it says something about the value he places on his own life, and the absurdity of anything called longevity entertained by others. And this has been echoed for quite a while in the retort from some young men involved in criminality who with defiance declare “me done dead already”.
Just about every social survey undertaken in recent years reveals that the leading concern of most citizens is crime and violence. And we have tended to speak of violence in terms of the acts committed against persons by criminals. Yet there is more to violence than this. There is the violence of poverty, hunger, neglect, lack of opportunities for advancement (economic and social), territorial and political victimization which are still very much alive in this country. The most insidious aspects of violence, or victimization, is the way in which it undermines a person’s sense of selfhood. It is degrading of persons, and constitutes a violation of who God made us to be.
“Me done dead already” is as much a reflection of the value the young man places on his life, as it is on us who create a society that leads our youth to such an assessment of themselves. As a society we must ask ourselves what are the priorities and values which are driving life in our nation, or are these self-denigrating and nihilistic youth reflecting something of us and where we are as a society today?
We are a society pervaded by a culture of corruption, and the Auditor General, a young person, and a committed Christian, in the diligent exercise of her duties, seems to be fighting a singular battle, as she points to irregularities in the operations of several of our public institutions on a regular basis, but these are usually brushed aside by the offending institutions and nothing is usually done to bring to account those who are responsible for such violations. The commitment and the will to do something seem lacking, because it is so much easier to identify the young men of St. James and other parts of western Jamaica involved in scamming, albeit with pressure from the United States, than to go after those with the right political connections and power who deprive the society of resources that belong to the people of this nation.
If we are to identify ourselves as intentional disciples, then it is clear that we must respond to the call of our Lord to a radical break with our current mode of operation and way of life and to realign the priorities and values of our life as a church and as a nation?
- The call of God in Jesus Christ is about a process of transformation through the unfolding of who we can become as we realize our potential as disciples through the conferring of authority and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the work of discipling and the execution of the mission of the church.
As we have seen, the call to the disciples meant abandonment of some of the old ways of life and venturing into the unknown to the task of “fishing for persons”. It meant a radical step of faith because, the disciples did not know then where discipleship would lead them, and that it would involve death for some of them. It meant attachment to the person of Jesus Christ and to the gospel which he proclaimed. That meant radical changes in their life and a new centre or focal point.
For the people in Jeremiah’s time, as reflected in the Old Testament reading, it meant a new place of priority assigned to the pursuit of truth, justice and righteousness. They were people with a religious attachment as members of the community of faith but, they were now being called upon to go through a moral, religious, and attitudinal transformation in which they were to be guided by the very character of God.
In the Bible there is an interesting connection between the god one follows and the life one lives. So it is that our God who is truth, justice and righteousness, will infuse the life of his disciples with these characteristics both as demand and blessing. When in faith we turn to God, he allows these things to infuse our life by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Is this not also the role which the Holy Spirit played in the life of the disciples as seen in New Testament Scripture? When the Holy Spirit descended upon them they were empowered and able to be faithful witnesses to the gospel and the mission to the world as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles.
In Mark 3:14-15 Jesus entrusted to those he called a mission which no doubt could have been quite unsettling. There we are told that:
Here we see Jesus entrusting authority to the disciples to caste out unclean spirits. This was in an age in which the popular worldview was one in which illnesses, mental disorders, and distortions in the life of people were perceived to be the result of the operation of evil spirits. We may not speak of unclean spirits as the New Testament does, but there is the persistent problem of distortion in human life through the ages and in our society today. And if there is this persistent reality of distortion in people’s life, then it means that there are people who are existing in a state in which their situation needs to be changed through the effective exercise of intentional discipleship.
To be entrusted with authority over unclean spirits is to have authority over those things which bring distortion to the life of people. In addition, authority over unclean spirits is one sign of the presence and operation of the Spirit of God. Jesus was, therefore, sending them to participate in the divine mission of liberation and transformation for persons living lives of distortion and brokenness. Do evil and unclean spirits still exist? Perhaps! Perhaps not! Do distortions in human life still abound? They most certainly do! Christian discipleship can mean no less than a commitment to participate in God’s ongoing mission of liberating those whose lives are characterized by distortion and brokenness.
In John 20:21-23 the authority given to the disciples is somehow confirmed with the bestowing of the gift of the Holy Spirit by the resurrected, but not yet ascended Lord. Given all of the misunderstanding which abounds in relation to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple, I find St. Paul a useful reference point on this subject.
St Paul, in Ephesians 4:1-16 as in 1 Corinthian 12, addresses himself to the way in which the gift of the Spirit is expressed in their calling in Christ to discipleship, indicating that the gift is in relation to their calling as individuals but also as a community. He underscores the importance of maintaining the unity of the Spirit, while drawing on the image of the human body to reflect the oneness which must characterize the life of the church. Christ’s gift allows each to play a unique role and make a distinctive contribution to the life of the community. So, the ministry exercised by each of us as intentional disciples, pastoral and lay alike, is not just of the nature of a personal escapade, dependent on personal effort, but, is exercised through the divine assistance, and whatever gift we have received is given for the benefit of building up of the whole community of faith.
However, Paul’s image of the nature of the church as a united community cannot be used to justify an inwardly focused church. We must be in the trenches with the people of this nation, hearing and articulating their suffering, but at the same time journeying with them towards the achievement wholeness and of the common good. Our national and political culture is one which still allows persons to enjoy certain privileges and exemptions which are not available to the public at large. This has been part of our historical reality and it has not changed. We must as a society and as disciples of Jesus Christ continue to push against those things which are inimical to our common good.
Walter Brueggemann in his text, Journey to the Common Good, sums up for us the nature of the situation and the imperative which is placed upon us as disciples of Jesus Christ:
The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good”, the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people (disciples), at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity.
And how may we connect the commitment to the common good with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Sherry Weddell has some further thoughts to share with us concerning the endowing and empowering of the disciples by the Holy Spirit with gifts (Charisms):
Charisms are some of the many graces that we receive in baptism and confirmation. A charism is “a favour” or a “gratuitous grace” given a member of the body of Christ to empower him or her to build up the Church and to witness Christ to the world. Charisms are supernaturally empowered ways in which God’s mercy, love, truth, beauty, and provision will reach others through us. Most importantly, charisms, unlike natural talents or skills, can never be kept to ourselves or used deliberately for evil.
But charisms are not just something which we imbibe by being a part of the culture and life of the church. It is something which arises out of our relationship with Jesus Christ. So Weddell continues:
Like personal vocations, charisms almost always manifest after the point in our life when our faith becomes personal and we begin the journey of discipleship. They may also manifest for the first time when we meet a person or situation for which that particular gift is needed. In short, charisms tend to show up at the mysterious intersection where the Church and the world cry out to God in need and a disciple takes up his or her call to follow Jesus.
I rather like this last sentence by Weddell.
“In short, charisms tend to show up at the mysterious intersection where the Church and the world cry out to God in need and a disciple takes up his or her call to follow Jesus”.
Simply put, I would say that the point of need of the church and the world is in terms of sharing in the lament for our society, but also in pointing to the hope and vision which reside in our faith in God in Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of February there was a furore about the appointment of an Acting Chief Justice and people took sides on the issue in a way that has become characteristic of the manner in which we deal with national issue. Accordingly, for some, this was an unfortunate moment in the life of this nation. And yet, I believe that this was one of the most important moments in the life of this nation in recent years as it made the population aware of the nature of our democracy in a way that no level of political education has done before. In a culture in which there are voices which seem to suggest from time to time that if one is not an elected official, one has no say, citizens were being made aware of the fact that there are three pillars for the balancing of power and the protection of our democracy – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. So we must affirm the value of such debates and not retreat from any position which seeks to safeguard that balance of power. Our church spoke to this issue in a joint statement. Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact that in a society in which so many citizens claim to be powerless, the popular voice had its impact as it should in a democracy, and thankfully, action has now been taken to ensure the integrity of our democracy.
At the same time the injection of a sense of hope and vision for the common good of this nation must not be only as we reflect in hindsight. We must be at the forefront and in the midst of the challenges and laments of our people.
When we think of the breakdown of morality in the society, we tend to be very selective in who and what we identify as typifying such moral failure. It does not only reside in the lower echelons of society, but it sits at the top of our society where we can find philosophical and economic reasons to justify such actions, and so our most profitable institutions can cease to employ persons who can enjoy basic terms and securities which have characterized civilised society as we have become prisoners of mammon. So employees must be on renewable contracts with no health insurance, no pension benefits, no leave facility, and no job security while profits soar, management makes excessive salaries and shareholders enjoy bumper dividends .
But now our government is on the same path as our Pharmacists in the government service have now been brought under the same terms of employment. Who then is to protect the citizens from such violations of long-earned benefits of workers. Have we forgotten the uprising of 1938 which changed the working conditions of the workers of this nation?
Part of the remit of any government must be the protection and enhancement of the common good. There is a prevailing philosophy among many in the world of business and commerce and some ideologues, that government must keep out of the marketplace and allow those who operate in this sphere to self-regulate. This we have seen in the position taken regarding the issues of fees which banks are charging their customers, and in the employment practices which I have cited above. We, therefore need to remind the government of the events of 1938 that brought about some drastic upheaval and change when the owners and operators of certain industries were allowed to self-regulate the wages and working conditions at the expense of workers. We also call on the Trade Unions to be more vigilant as to the erosion of the rights of workers taking place in this country.
While we as individuals and congregations are not fishermen by vocation for the most part, the image must remain embedded in our minds. Today, across the diocese, the cry is one of lamentation – we are ageing and diminishing in numbers and material resources. And the question may be asked, what are we doing by way of fishing?
There is a wonderful story which was told by the late Moravian Bishop Neville Neil as he preached on the call to ordained ministry in the Chapel of the United Theological College of the West Indies some years ago. He and the late Bishop S. U. Hastings went out fishing one night. They had taken a youngster out fishing with them. The fishing was good and the fish were taking the bait. After a while they noticed that the youngster was not catching any fish. Pausing to see what was the problem, they discovered that although bait was placed on the youngster’s fishing line, he was not throwing the line into the sea because he was afraid of the fish.
My sisters and brothers, Church House, or more particularly the Bishop, does not have a formula or special insight that will be able to look in the waters where each congregation is located and then lure the fish into the fishing nets or fishing line if members are disengaged or afraid of fishing. There is nothing that is going to change the picture in our congregations, the diocese, and our witness within this nation, if the image of the call to become fishers of people, to be intentional disciples, sharing the gospel with men and women who have not yet responded to it, is not acted upon as a personal and communal mandate.
My brothers and sisters, we who would seek to respond to the call of God in Christ, must be clear that that call involves some clear reordering of the priorities of our life. It involves the assignment of a place of priority to Christ in our life, and the exercise of a vibrant faith in, and through living out of the gospel. The world will never know, if we ourselves do not know the Saviour Christ who calls us, if we are not prepared to make the necessary changes, and if we are not prepared to make bold steps in the living of the life of faith and in discipling others. And perhaps this is the moment in which we are being called upon to renew our baptismal and confirmation vows and embark on our pilgrimage as faithful, intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.