The Vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist Sermon - Sunday 23rd June 2013

 

A Sermon preached on

The Vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Installation of the new Chancellor, new Vice Chancellor and new Registrar & the 40th Anniversary of
Independence of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas

By the Venerable Keith N. Cartwright

(Archdeacon of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southern Bahamas & Rector of St. Christopher’s Church, Lyford Cay)

 At Christ Church Cathedral, Nassau, The Bahamas
Sunday 23rd June 2013 at 6:00pm

 

“Repent”, he said , “for the kingdom of God has come near”  Matthew 3: v2

  

            This evening the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John the Baptist, our Diocese’s patron saint. It is most appropriate that we celebrate on this wonderful feast of the Church, the induction and installation of new ministry of Mr. Justice Bernard Turner, as our new Diocesan Chancellor, having served many years with distinction,  as our beloved Registrar, and that of our Province as well. The new ministry of Mrs. Diane Stewart, a well educated and distinguished barrister, as the Vice Chancellor, and Mrs. Tonya Bastian-Galanis in her new ministry as the new Registrar of the Diocese, no less skilled and distinguished.

            We give God thanks for you, and pray that you would have a long and fruitful ministry in the legal affairs of our Church, and that you would give honest, upright and sound advice to our Lord Bishop, and the Councils of our beloved Church, and be in the forefront of the defense of her in the affairs of the world. We remember with great admiration, and with a grateful heart, the years of dedicated and committed service, of our well beloved Justice Rubie Nottage, and His Excellency Sir Orville Turnquest, both former Chancellors, who served this Diocese and Province with great merit and dedication. Special thanks must be given to our outgoing Vice Chancellor Mr. Samuel Campbell for his sterling service to our Diocese. Thank you all.

   You are being called to this great ministry on the wonderful Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. It is also fitting that this service commemorates the 40th Anniversary of our beloved Commonwealth. We are proud of our Bahamas, and all its many accomplishments, and we give God thanks for His many blessings bestowed upon us ,over these 40 years.

 

            There are only 3 births that the Church celebrates:

  • The birth of Our Blessed Lord (25th December)
  • The birth of The Blessed Virgin Mary (8th September)
  • The birth of St. John the Baptist (24th June)

We celebrate John’s as we celebrate Christ’s, and as we celebrate Mary’s. This point cannot be passed over in silence. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great African saint, said “John is born of an old woman who is barren, Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin, and John’s birth is not believed, and his father is struck dumb, and Christ’s birth is believed, and He is conceived by faith.”

            John is a kind of boundary between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He represents the Old, and heralds the New, and because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple, because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb.

 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.” Luke 1: 76-77

            The gospel of Luke tells us about the birth of John, his circumcision and his naming on the 8th day, and there is the beautiful prophecy of John’s father Zechariah, which we as Anglicans know as the Benedictus, who speaks of the great things that the birth is heralding and the role that his son, John, would have in them. The child John would go before the Lord to prepare the way. That was his mission in life. Both his name and the prophecy signal the calling on John’s life. Right from the outset, right from his birth, John’s career path was laid out for him. John the Baptist was born to be the forerunner.

Why did the Angel direct Zechariah to give him this particular name?

            Names have meanings, especially in the Bible, often the meaning of a person’s name, tell us something about what God is doing through that person.

            John or in Hebrew Johannan means the Lord is gracious.

            The Lord is gracious, that is what John’s whole life and ministry would be about, God’s free grace, giving us the forgiveness of sin. His job in life is to prepare the way for Jesus. The emergence of John was like the sudden sounding of the voice of God. Basically John came at a time when the Jews had not heard a voice of a prophet for well over 400 years. His voice came as a voice of “one crying in the wilderness”---Prepare ye the way of the Lord---Repent---Make His path straight.

            The most outstanding thing about John the Baptist was his message of repentance. He told the people that he was the person chosen by God to fore run, and to call all to repentance, in order for them to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. John urged the people to repent.

Repentance: is turning away from evil and turning back towards God.

That is why it is one of the customs on the Feast of St. John the Baptist to gather the perennial herb “St. John’s Wort”, named after the saint himself, and it is believed to have kept away evil since the early medieval times. The herb is usually hung over doors and windows to keep evil away. Today it is a tonic to help with mild depression, and sleep disorders, and tension headaches.

But John the Baptist’s message urges the people to repent, which would require a change in man’s attitude toward God, and a change in man’s heart, and also a change in the way man conducts his or her life.

It is nothing less than a religious and moral reformation of the individual. John demanded that the people turn way from their wickedness, and turn to the Lord. Make a radical change!! He demanded a complete turnaround!! He said nothing less would do.

Today more than ever before, our Bahamas needs repentance---Yes my brothers and sisters, as we approach the 40th Anniversary of our Independence, we need to turn around. This country needs to turn back to God, and to the things of God. We as a people have gone so far astray, that the very fabric of our society in crumbling before our very eyes.

There is complete and utter disregard for the sanctity of human life. Human beings, God’s sacred creation, are being mercilessly gunned downed like dogs, as our streets and neighborhoods have become rivers of blood. Even elderly grandmothers are being robbed and slaughtered for mere insignificant  material possessions. People robbing and killing---People raping and stabbing---violence and more violence---- no concern for  human life.

Where, oh where, Bahamas are we heading?

More than ever before, Bahamas, we need our Patron Saint John the Baptist. We need his message of repentance. Our Government, our Opposition, our Judiciary, our Police Force, our Defense Force, our Churches and our communities all seem so hopelessly paralyzed. We all seem to be aimlessly floating and meandering in this river of blood. We seem to be drowning in this well of violence and crime.

It is time to turn back to God, it is time for us to seek repentance, it is time for us to stop the blame game, it is time for us to stop pointing fingers, it is time for us, right here, right now, to make the change that can only come from within. The change that must come from the very depths of our hearts.

Home and family life is the key. We cannot build a crime free society with such a high percentage of our homes being led by single parents, and the vast majority of our births being to single mothers. We need repentance! We need to go back to the family structure, where father and mother raise our sons and daughters. It begins in the home. There can be no substitute for the home with its true Christian values.

Without it we are weakening the foundation in our society. Our children deserved to be brought up in a loving, caring, disciplined and secure environment. No amount of police cars, police officers, judges or magistrates or prison cells, can change the crime situation. We must come back to basics. Home and Family

  • What is the Church doing to strengthen the home?
  • How is the Church nurturing family life?
  • Does society hold parents accountable?

Society requires us to pass a driver’s test to use a vehicle on our roads, however what does society require of us as parents? Parenting has come to an all-time low in our society, when parents are more concern about children dressing up for a prom and a ball, and walking across a stage for a  graduation ceremony, rather than correcting and disciplining our children for outrageous and lewd behavior and,  instead of wanting to know more about the grades and passes of our children and their futures.       IT IS ABOULUTLY ALARMING!!! WE NEED TO HANG OUR HEADS IN SHAME!!! WE NEED REPENTANCE!!!!

WE NEED OUR PATRON SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST BACK IN ST. JOHN’S COLELGE!!!

Parents must be held accountable; we must return the values of a good Christian home. Ours is a country in desperate need of repentance. We cannot be satisfied as leaders of our land, with the great inefficiencies and poor management at various levels, and deployment in our police force, judiciary and in all aspects of the administration of justice in our land.

Are we satisfied with the lack of visible presence of our police on our streets and in our communities in great numbers?   I am told that there are over 2,000 officers on New Providence alone, can we not have greater presence in our inner city and in our troubled  communities?  Why are these inefficiencies continuing? Are we satisfied with the slow and time consuming administration of justice, and the time spent waiting for cases to be heard?  Are we satisfied with the  tremendous inefficiency in how cases are managed? Can we not make it a priority to have these things corrected? There is too much slackness in the system; the inefficiencies must be weeded out. Our people deserve better!!!

There is urgent need for the retraining and the further equipping of the police force and persons in administration of justice at every level. We must come to the conclusion that we need help in this fight. We cannot believe that we have all the answers, just because we are called Bahamian. Help should be sought from proven successful areas in the reduction of crime and the administration of justice from places around the globe who have had proven success in this fight. We cannot allow pride and arrogance to impede our progress.   

We got help to build and manage our new Lynden Pindling airport. What a difference that made. Why is the help not sort in our national security and the administration of justice at the important levels necessary.

Our situation is a National Crisis, and we need urgent and focused attention to these challenges. The blame game has to stop. Crime is not a PLP problem, it is not an FNM problem it is our problem.  A National Task Force on crime is need, with all major stake holders, to properly coordinate all our efforts in the fight against crime and violence. This Task Force must be given the absolute authority to carry out its mandate. It must be a national effort. PLP’s FNM’s and DNA’s, all Churches, business persons  and community leaders must be co-opted in an effort to save our land from this cancerous disease.  A multi faceted approach is required. Place our best minds and our best citizens in this force for the good of our nation. Leave petty party politics out! Let us come together, and join together in unity as a people, to fight this ugly scourge.

We need to take our communities back. What is the Church doing? There are Churches on every corner, but the Church is sadly lacking in our communities. We need to come together to do real ministry on our streets, in our homes, and in our communities. We stay locked up,  and barred up in our Churches. That is not where the action is.  It is on our streets. Can each Church not be responsible for a few blocks or streets in our inner city near each of our Churches? Can we not be responsible? Can we not  make sure that our people have someone to care, someone to reach out, someone willing and able to help? If the Church really did ministry as Jesus did, no child around  the area of the Church would be missing school, no one would go hungry. Everyone would be taken care of. We would really be our brother’s keeper.

Too many of us are only concerned about the tithes and the offerings. We want the people to give 10 percent to the work of the Church, but I challenge you to go and  check each Church’s budget, and see if we give 10 percent of what we take in, back to the communities. We have failed our people in this regard. For many Churches, it has become just a business. Many people are turned off by our greed, and lack of community service. If Jesus came today, he would not recognize some of us. We have gone astray!  John the Baptist demands that we repent, and turn back to God.

 

 John the Baptist was also a fearless man, and he fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it.

When King Herod sinned by taking his brother’s wife, John the Baptist did not hesitate to denounce this grave evil. He told the king straight to his face, he had done wrong and he needed repentance.

Whenever John saw the religious leaders of his day,  the Sadducees and the Pharisees being  more concern with ritualistic formulism, John never hesitated to say so. When ordinary people were living lives which were unaware of God, John would tell them so. Whenever he saw evil in the State, in religious life, in the community; he fearlessly rebuked it.

He was like a light that lit up the dark places. He was like the wind of God,  that swept clean the country. John the Baptist was not afraid to rock the boat. He stood firm! He stood up for what was right. He held up the hand of justice and truth. He was not afraid of any political consequences or social embarrassments.  He stood strong and free.

There is still room in the Christian Church today for the message of warning and denunciation. “The Truth” said Diogenes “is like light to sore eyes”. “He who never offended anyone”, he said,” never did anyone any good”. My brothers and sisters, we live in a society today where truth is trampled, and honesty is starved; where justice and fair play is executed. Ours, used to be a land of new vision and new hope; however it has become a nation disgraced and held in bondage.  It has become a nation where honesty is no longer sought after. Our people no longer speak the truth, we rather live a lie. We live in a materialistic nation, where people don’t really matter, and  where things take the place of love and trust. Our leaders in Church and State have failed us. We have not stood up for the right, we have allowed money and greed to blind our eyes to the truth. History will judge us harshly!!!

Corruption has taken hold of every corner of our society, it is in our Police Force, Defense Force, in Immigration and in Customs and yes even in the Church. When you need a license, you pay off. When you want your water on, you don’t pay the bill, you pay someone. When you want you want your light back on, and you don’t pay the bill, you pay someone. Everything is done quickly for a payoff, under the table. No values, no morals, no principles! What examples  are we setting for our youth?  We have become a nation of wheelers and dealers.

The sad situation today is the attitude of our people, as long as I am not directly affected, as long as I am not hurt, I will do nothing about it. We just sit back and allow injustice, dishonesty, victimization, corruption and greed to engulf us. When good men sit idly by and do nothing, evil prevails. One morning we will wake up and it will be too late.

We must speak out, like John the Baptist. The Church must stand up, we must be the conscience for our society. The people are tired of the smooth, diplomatic games of our Politicians and Church leaders. There is too much talk and speeches and precious little action.  We need straight forward men who are going to call a spade a spade. Too many of us are sweet hearting the powers that be. We need John the Baptist!

481 years ago, Martin Luther, the great reformer priest, preached the sermon about John the Baptist in 1532. He said this, “the real reason for observing this festival, the day of John the Baptist, is not because of his austere life, not because of his phenomenal birth, but because of his beloved finger, message and office”.

Yes, John pointed his finger, not to himself, but rather John pointed people to Jesus. His message was to repent, to get ready, not for himself, but all for Jesus. I well remember one of Bishop Michael Eldon’s last sermons that was entitled like John the Baptist, “I must decrease so that He may increase” reminding us that it is Jesus we must point to and not self. He further reminded us when he   said  that we must “ live simply that others can simply live.” As leaders in our Bahamas today we should remember it is not all about us, but it is about serving God by serving one another.

I wish each and every one of you a “ Happy Stjohnthebaptistmas.”

Let the Church, and let the Bahamas learn from St John the Baptist,  our patron saint. Let us resolve this day to truly repent, to reach out and touch people’s lives, to truly make a difference in our communities, in the home, in the family, in the Church and in our beloved Bahamaland.