St Michael’s, June 26th 2016
Readings – Psalm 2, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 12:15-21
(Transcribed from recording)
Gracious heavenly Father,
Our simple prayer is that we might hear your words,
know how to apply that word to our lives,
and know how to serve you faithfully in all that lies ahead,
in Jesus’ name. Amen
So, the people have spoken. By 52% to 48% the decision has been taken to leave the European Union. For some of you, that is a cause of great joy. For some of you, it is a cause of great sorrow. Some people will see that this is as God’s will for the country. Some people will see this is as God’s judgement for the country. But the question I want to ask this morning, is how should we, as a church, respond. I don’t have a full script for a sermon this morning, in fact I don’t have anything written down, but I have very briefly, four key principles, which I believe we need to bear in mind.
And the first one is this, that the Lord is in control. We may well have been surprised by the result on Thursday evening, and I’m sure there are people working for polling organisations who are now thinking about alternative employment. But God wasn’t surprised by the outcome on Thursday evening, Friday morning. God holds all of our futures in his hands. And he knows what the future holds. He knows what it’s going to hold for us in terms of the economy. He knows what it’s going to mean for the people of Scotland. He knows what it’s going to mean for the people of Europe. And we are told in Hebrews 12:28 that, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And it seems to me that at this time of great uncertainty, the first thing we need to remember is that the Lord is the Lord of history, and we have every reason to place our faith and our confidence in him.
The second principle comes out of our reading, 1 Timothy, and that is that we very much need to pray for our leaders. Not least because that is what scripture commands us to do,
I urge then, first of all that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy2:1-2)
We need to pray that those who lead us at this time will have a wisdom beyond that which they naturally possess on their own, that they will turn to the Lord and realise that any authority they have has been given by the Lord Almighty. Of course, we don’t actually know who our leaders are going to be, so we need to pray also, that men and women come forward who recognise that they are accountable to God, and have a faith and trust in him. And we need leaders who can articulate a positive vision, and can clearly see the way forward, wherever that might lead, according to the path that Jesus has shown.
So God is in control, we need to pray for our leaders. We also, of course, need to heed that greatest command, to love our neighbours as ourselves. And there are at least three different dimensions to that command at this time.
First of all, within this church, there are going to be some people who voted Remain, and some people who voted Leave. But as a church, we are not called to be a club of the like-minded. We will, as a church, always be comprised of people who disagree with one another. And our duty is to keep on loving one another, even when we do disagree, because God’s plan for the church is to create people from many different opinions, many different backgrounds, and make them one as the body of Christ. So if you find yourself in political discussion with the person next to you and find that you disagree with how they voted, please remember that they are a brother or sister in Christ. And that is the most important thing that you have to bear in mind. And lovingly share the peace with them by the hand, and not the throat. Thank you!
The second dimension of course, is that we are to love our neighbour, no matter what their national identity, no matter what their background, no matter whether they are an immigrant, or someone born in this country. One of the scandalous things about the parable of the good Samaritan, is precisely that it was a Samaritan that reached out to this Israelite who had been beaten up and was lying on the ground. And however we understand our nationalism, we need to make sure that we extend a welcome, and we keep on loving people who are different from ourselves.
And this leads me on to the third dimension. We’ve heard very little on the news about anything other than the result of the referendum over the past few days. But I am sure that, even though unreported, the persecution of Christians has been going on around the world. They are still blowing people up in Syria, there are still churches being bombed in Nigeria. And even if we decide we are going to be independent of Europe, we still need to remember those who are suffering for their faith, and we need to have a clear vision of what it means to welcome those who seek asylum because they are being persecuted. We have a duty to love our neighbour, not just the person next to us, or the person in church, but the person in our community who is different, and the person on the other side of the world, particularly those who are suffering because they bear the name of Jesus Christ.
The fourth principle I want us to bear in mind, is that one reason we are called to be a church, is that we are a community of hope. We are a community of hope. There will no doubt be many people who are confused, fearful, upset. But we are told, in 1 Peter 1:4 that, we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. So yes, if we’re fortunate to have a house, that house might fall in value. Fortunate to have a pension, that pension might fall in value. But the most important thing is that we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. And we need to think seriously what it means as a church to live in light of that hope. After all, there are many brothers and sisters around the world that have absolutely nothing, but they have a vibrant faith because they know their treasure is in heaven, and they live accordingly. What might it mean for us to live with such hope, in such uncertain times?
And one final thought, I think the reason why one side of the campaign won and the other lost, is that that side of the campaign had a positive clear message, whether or not we agree or disagree with it. And it seems to me that one of the problems as a church is that so often we do not present a message which is positive, which is clear and which is united. It seems to me that if we are to make a visible difference in these uncertain times, we too need to have a positive message that is clear, easily understood and can be heard.
So what is that message? Well, this is where I want to turn to our gospel reading from Matthew. Listen again to these words, spoken through the prophet Isaiah and so wonderfully fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ,
Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope. (Matthew 12:18-21)
Isn’t that just such a wonderful passage? A passage which reminds us of two wonderful truths, that no matter if we’re feeling bruised, or a bit like a smouldering wick this morning, he has been anointed with God’s Spirit to care for you, to gently deal with you, to heal and to nurse you, and to comfort you. But he has also been appointed by God’s Holy Spirit to lead justice to victory. And in his name, one day the nations will put their hope. And all that’s happened this week is only one stage in his whole plan of history, where gradually God is gathering the nations, and one day we will all worship in his presence. And that, to me, seems to be the ultimate focus in times such as this.
Quite how all I have said this morning actually translates into practice, I don’t know yet. The Lord, I am sure, will reveal that in due course. But let’s not forget that we worship a living God who is in control of history. Let’s not forget to pray for our leaders with imagination and with wisdom. Let’s remember our duty to love one another. And let’s remember above all, that we have a hope, and we have a treasure stored up in heaven that is firm and secure. And as we remember those things, may our life as a church speak so much of the presence and person of Jesus Christ that in these times, others too may want to find a living hope in Jesus Christ. Amen!