Hope is the anchor

Hope is the Anchor

Who or what is the anchor in your life? Maybe it is your life partner. Maybe you are your life partner’s anchor. Maybe its your family. Maybe its your Church. Maybe it is the Lord Himself. But here is a novel idea. That the anchor of our Christian lives is hope. Hope seems something unstable, ethereal – it is about future fulfilment not yet realised. You may have doubts about the future of Christianity in the land. You may have doubts about the future of this Church and congregation. Anchor these doubts in hope and you can see immediately how helpful and beneficial this can be. Hope in Christ is not vague or woolly or dreamy. Hope in Christ is hope in His resurrection. It is that great. It is that powerful. Hope in Christ is not wishful thinking. It is based in Jesus Christ Himself. It is personal.

Thinking about your own days ahead. Are you insecure or apprehensive? Do you worry about how you will spend the last days of your life? Do you become melancholy? Here is something to grasp hold of: hope is the anchor for the soul. If you are filled with hope every day, then every day can have its blessings. Scottish Presbyterianism is not noted historically for its cheeriness. Our Scottish character has often been caricatured as one of doom and gloom – continuing for example in the well known comedy character Private Fraser of Dad’s Army. Most Kirk Sessions have at least one Private Fraser.

The Irish have a reputation for good humoured carousing and merry-making. That may be in part due to the influence of Guinness. And it is not the whole picture. The IRA have marked the Irish character as being cruel and murderous. We think of the Welsh as singers and poets and rugby players. The English have always come over as full of confidence. David Cameron is a sufficient example of this, unaware of and not listening to the concerns of others with differing estimates of the voting inclinations of the people. Historically Scots have been mostly failed warriors on their own behalf but successful in the context of the British Empire and the two great wars of the 20th century. Where will the Peoples Republic of Scotland turn to for hope? Is it in the Five Year Plan or Ten Year Plan which were offered to Russians under communism? It it the concept of ‘The Long March’ - that is – times of austerity, violence and sacrifice as in Mao’s China? Even Barack Obama’s optimistic slogan ‘Yes we can’ is now discredited. America seems to be on very much on edge and given to hysteria. Democrat and Republican zealots invest huge quantities of emotion and worship in their leaders but it seems unlikely that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be able to change very much.

When we come to Church on Sunday we do not automatically see it as an expression of hope. And yet the resurrection of Jesus offers us the greatest hope available to humanity for all time. And we have a share in it. The writer of Hebrews had good reason to state that hope is an anchor for the soul. Those were times of persecution for Christians. If you are suffering for Christ the only thing you may have left is hope. There are differing aspects to this Christian hope in Hebrews. It is hope in the unchanging nature of God’s purpose. So the writer mentions Abraham as an example of God accomplishing the promises made. We are children of Abraham; we are his spiritual descendants. That is itself is evidence and proof of the faithfulness of God. The writer of Hebrews says that this is enough to encourage greatly because it actually happened. Christian hope is realised. That is God’s Covenant. That is God’s purpose. That is God’s promise. For you. To you. The anchor for the soul is in the historical evidence of God’s fulfilling of his purposes in the lives of His people. In your life and in mine. Now in the 21st century we can look back at all the Christian centuries and see the many witnesses to Christ whose lives form the body of proof of the faithfulness of the Lord. And it is not all based on Abraham. It is based on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. No-one can offer the world any greater hope than Jesus because He overcame bitterness, hatred and violence in forgiving love - and - he rose from the dead into resurrection and eternal life.

The writer of Hebrews offers carrots and sticks. It is strong disciplinary stuff but it is reasonably fair and balanced. He writes, God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realised. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. It may not always be easy to get the balance right. How do we instil, initiate and encourage faith? In years past preachers dangled people over the fires of Hell. Missionaries travelled throughout the highlands of Scotland. Some even visited St Kilda.

Harry Reid in his book Soul of Scotland describes some of the harshest ministerial proclamation of Scotland’s Christian history. The worst was John Mackay, in the later nineteenth century. Mackay organised three Sunday services, each of them lasting for more than two hours. In addition, there were further services, complete with rigorous religious instruction, on four of the other six evenings. Attendance was obligatory for those who wanted to escape hellfire. No cows or ewes could be milked on the Sabbath day, and no non-religious conversation was allowed from Saturday evening until Monday morning… Mackay discouraged spontaneity and any expressions of happiness. The children had to carry their Bibles at all times; and all fun and games were forbidden. Rigour, disciple and devotion such as this are not much found in Christian circles today but they are within Islam. John Mackay may have been a cheerless evangelist – actually we don’t know. John Knox has always had a forbidding reputation but in fact he was a convivial man who enjoyed the company of men and women. John Calvin was no grim humourless demagogue. He had warmth and happiness within. Harry Reid also says you could argue that in much of contemporary Scotland, an overtly Christian counter-culture would be a justified antidote to wasteful, indulgent and selfish ways of life. How do you attack and expose the false values of the time while communicating the saving love of Jesus? He himself had the same problem.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. Matthew 16 records Jesus saying to them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. But to his disciples Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. If you preach an exclusive critical Christian challenge in today’s Scotland, you will just be marked out as a bit of a nutter, a fundamentalist, a right wing zealot, a crank, fanatic and divisive figure. All the pressure on Christian communicators is to be comforting and entertaining, positive and uplifting. And Jesus was all of these.

Paul was always encouraging Christians in positive witness, in the way they lived, treated one another and acted towards non-Christians. He wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica. 'For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe'.

Christians have a right to be critical of the world, of the values and behaviour of society in our time. But our message whether in words or conduct, whether in faith or works, preferably both must always offer something better than what we are criticising. We have to offer hope, we have to offer Good News, we have to show a better way. But the Christian Gospel is an alternative to the secular philosophy that dominates public life in Scotland. No Church leader except the last Moderator of the Free Church David Robertson offers that distinctive clarion call. There are no Billy Grahams around either. It is left to faithful local Christians to keep the flame of faith alive for future generations. It is left to us. It is up to us. Or as some say it is down to us. We are the hope for Christ’s name and Lordship. We are the hope for the future of Christianity. We are the hope because the risen living Lord Jesus within us is our hope. And we will not be disappointed.

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: replies@robertandersonchurch.org.uk