But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

These virtues listed by Paul as the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ age given to us when we submit our lives to God the Holy Spirit. They are the primary characteristics which distinguish the Christian from the non- Christian. Christians are known by their good deeds.

The absence of these virtues gives rise to conflict and strife in our nation, homes, families and work-places. Their absence prevents us from practising neighbourly love which is the glue that binds us together.

The virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, are necessary for peace and good living in any community. Without them, individuals and communities will experience a life marked by enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy and drunkenness (Galatians 5:19-20).

As citizens of this county we must be concerned with the crime, violence and lawlessness which seem to be taking ground in our nation. The problem is accentuated by the growing number of young people who are involved in these incidents. What do we say when the police bring charges of murder against young people ages 17, 18 and the like? The concerns raised by the Commissioner of Police in his press interview last week seem to suggest that we are going in the wrong direction. Do we as a church have a message to counteract the evils of crime and violence that affect our nation and our brothers and sisters in our sister islands?

The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord which the Church observes today reminds us of Christ anointing for a special mission of redemption. This Feast can serve as a reminder to the Church, that it is called to a special mission of making Christ known in every community where the Church exists. This mission, to which each Christian is commissioned by virtue of his or her baptism, is clearly stated in our baptismal service.

What is our mission to the nation at this time? In the Old Testament reading the Servant’s role is understood within the context of justice: ‘I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations’. In the Acts reading Peter’s sees his role as proclaiming an inclusive Gospel of God’s love for all people. Let me share with you what I believe to be our message and role at this point in time to our nation.

The Church in our nation should see it as a duty to instil in our citizens Christian virtues that build character. These virtues can help our people to live responsible and productive lives, and cement in our psyche the national motto ‘pride and industry’. We should give prominence to the virtues found in our text; these can be useful as we seek to bring about a more humane society that promotes justice and goodwill. These virtues can be the antidote for the evils of greed, envy, hatred, jealousy and covetousness, which are the main causes for the social problems of crime, violence and lawlessness we now experience in our nation and region.

The ease in which we are willing to assault each other, destroy a life and act violently, is a clear demonstration that we do not value human life. Life is sacred, it is a precious gift from God and we must not engage in any kind of action that cheapens human life. Part of our mission must put emphasis on the fact that life is sacred. No one’s life must be violated. If we can get our people to accept that life is sacred it will reduce the violence that pervades every sector of our society. We must denounce all forms of violence –physical, mental, criminal, psychological- and abuse that devalue human life and rob people of their dignity. The sacredness of human life must be paramount in our mission to the nation. Human life cannot be compromised.

It is God’s intention that people should work and be productive: ‘In the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread’ is not a punishment. It is requirement to work, to be creative and to be productive. Paul understood this and wrote, ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat’. Part of the problem we face is that many persons are looking for an easy way to live. They are not willing to work for what they need; motivated by greed and covetousness, they are willing to use all methods of dishonesty to fulfil their desires. In the process they are prepared to steal, kill and use violence, for them the end justifies the means.

The Church’s message to the nation must encourage people to work for what they want and to employ their skills usefully in the service of mankind. It must also challenge our people to live within their means and to be content with what they have. We must not give people the idea that life is a free for all. When we encourage people to be lazy and not to work and to wait on handouts, we are sowing the seeds for deviant behaviour. Maybe, some of the problems of crime and violence might have to do with the fact that we have not insisted that our young people should work and be productive. Maybe, we have made life too easy for them.

Our text speaks about patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control; against such there is no law. I believe that as a Church we should teach our people to be tolerant, to exercise self-restraint, and to walk the extra mile. When we react violently to situations we make a bad situation worse and we perpetuate the cycle of violence. When this happens it is difficult to break the chain of violence. There are times when we have to walk away; being able to walk away is not always a sign of weakness as some would want us to believe, it calls for a strong person to have the have the ‘guts’ to walk away. Walking away can prevent violence.

To prevent violence requires us to keep silence at times. This is done within the context of self-control. Sometime we have to suffer wrong and sacrifice our rights to avoid violent situations arising. Sometimes it is better to suffer injury than to pursue our rights. I guess some of what I am saying does not make sense because we are bent of vengeance and retaliation. Not many of us are able or willing to walk the extra mile in the pursuit of peaceful coexistence.

The Epiphany season invites us to become lights that lead people out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. 

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