Thursday's National Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston was the 34th in this annual national exercise that started on January 17, 1981.
The first occasion was only three months after a bloody general election campaign culminated in a change of government in the Caribbean nation on October 30, 1980, and was conceived as an important moment for national healing and unity.
The midway point between that first prayer breakfast and the latest, came on January 16, 1997, exactly 17 years ago. The speaker on that occasion was the Reverend Sam Vassel.
Below are excerpts from Reverend Vassel's sermon [NOTE: Click on the arrow above for audio excerpts from the sermon]
God’s plan and programme for this country is not destruction; it is not the dismemberment, disembowelment and disfigurement. It is not the status quo that causes people not to realize that the place, sung about, “Jamaica, land of beauty,” is the place in which they live. God’s plan and programme for this place, as people understand the faith of the living God and his interest and involvement with people, is a plan for good; a plan that this place can be an example, a light to the nations.
Beyond our population; beyond our prosperity, the name of this country is known abroad. We are strategically placed geographically and historically to be an example of what God can do, and in the 17th year of this Prayer Breakfast, God calls this country to access a healing that is possible and necessary, if it is to survive at all!
It is one of those situations where it is all or nothing. You are called into accepting God’s or the option is disfigurement, disembowelment, dismemberment and death!
What is the malady? The malady is a religion; 70 per cent of us subscribe to it, but is a religion that is essentially superficial, a religion that is essentially jaundiced and, though well intended, has the major fault of being turned in upon itself, having bought an erroneous doctrine that there must be radical separation between religion and secular life. And so those who don’t want us to dabble will tell us from time to time: “Church man, stay a church!”
But God, who is the maker of heaven and earth… that God is not a God who will be put into a box and and will be sanitised from the daily lives of people! That is not a God who will be confined to religion! That is a God who, in the face of the spectre that some people feel of religious fundamentalism, insists to be systematically involved!
The jaundice of this country is a jaundice of a religion that is self-occupied with religion; and they wonder why they pray and God is not answering! They wonder why people are asking, “So what good is the prayer breakfast?”
We came here in 1981 with such anticipation! I was here because I lived and worked in that area in which the blood flowed. We have been shot at and when we came together in that first January we said “Yes, the leaders are going to come together!” But the religion is facing despair, where the people that have been praying are saying “But we have fasted and you have not heard? Instead of seeing people coming together to love one another, we see incidents of hate and incidents of dismemberment happening every day and even the people who subscribe are saying “What good?” To say nothing of the cynics and the skeptics: “They are meeting again in the 17th prayer breakfast, to what good?”
But, brothers and sisters… it is going to have to be a new day!
[NOTE: To access audio excerpts from Reverend Vassel's 1997 sermon, you may click on the arrow above]