We have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken

We have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken

Who is it that your rely on? What is it that you rely on? Who do you trust never to let you down? What do you trust never to let you down? By its very nature Christianity is a reliable and unshakeable foundation for life. No matter how difficult things may be from time to time, you can always pray. Christian prayer is not a shot in the dark. Christian prayer is an expression of faith in God’s existence, love and care. The basis for this faith is not our own feelings but Jesus Christ’s life and promise to us.

He said 'I am with you always, till the end of time'.
He said 'The gates of hell will not prevail against my church'.
He said 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them'.
He said 'I leave my peace with you - peace the world can never give you'.
He said 'Love one another as I have loved you'.

Jesus speaks to us and relates to us in that aspect of our life and consciousness which nothing can reach and no-one can destroy. 'We have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken'. Our faith and Christianity cannot and should not be an ‘add-on’ to life, an alternative, an option, a choice. It goes much deeper to the very foundations of our being, far beyond our capacity for scientific understanding or visible analysis. Worship is an expression of that depth of our life experience. For those who do not attend church, coming here for funerals or weddings is usually an uncomfortable occasion. It is so because they are obliged in listening and participating to measure their normal language and conduct, values and motivation, choices and actions against some things quite different, spiritual and moral vision, proclamation of divine and eternal facts of faith and the challenge of accountability and responsibility for all that they are and have become in their life’s journey. No other context offers this. Nowhere else is this given. To be a Christian is something very different from not bothering with God throughout your life. The difference is not that we are dull and unexciting people, but that we are trying to live our lives out in the perspective of God’s love for us. That is a large issue and a life long challenge. There’s nothing weak or mealy-mouthed about being a true Christian. It is a tough lifestyle to follow seriously. To measure yourself against Jesus Christ is to compare with the incomparable. But - we are not judged against how nearly we approach Jesus in the conduct of our lives but in how much of Jesus we allow into our hearts. It is not a process of hardening and endurance but one of softening and surrender.

You all know the story of the great Scottish athlete Eric Liddell. It was told in the film 'Chariots of Fire'. But - perhaps there are some things about Eric Liddell that you did not know. During the summer of 1924, the Olympics were hosted by the city of Paris. Liddell was a committed Christian and refused to run on Sunday with the consequence that he was forced to withdraw from the 100 yards race, his best event. The schedule had been published several months earlier, and his decision was made well before the Games began. Liddell spent the intervening months training for the 400 yards, an event in which he had previously excelled. Even so, his success in the 400 yards was largely unexpected. The day of 400 yards race came, and as Liddell went to the starting blocks, an American masseur slipped a piece of paper into Liddell's hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30, "Those who honour me I will honour." Liddell ran with that piece of paper in his hand. He not only won the race, but broke the existing world record with a time of 47.6 seconds.

Eric Liddell returned to Northern China where he served as a missionary, like his parents, from 1925 to 1943 - first in Tianjin and later in the town of Xiaozhang in Hebei province. Liddell's first job as a missionary was as a teacher at an Anglo-Chinese College (grades 1-12) for wealthy Chinese students. It was believed that by teaching the children of the wealthy that they themselves would later become influential figures in China and promote Christian values.

During his first furlough in 1932, he was ordained as a Congregational Church minister. On his return to China he married Florence Mackenzie of Canadian missionary parentage in Tianjin in 1934. They had three daughters, Patricia, Heather and Maureen. In 1941 life in China was becoming so dangerous that the British Government advised British nationals to leave. Florence and the children left for Canada to stay with her family when Liddell accepted a new position at a rural mission station in Shaochang, which gave service to the poor. He joined his brother, Rob, who was a doctor there. The station was severely short of help and the missionaries who served there were exhausted. There was a constant stream of local people who came at all hours to get medical treatment. Liddell arrived at the station in time to relieve his brother who was ill, needing to go on furlough. Liddell suffered many hardships himself at this mission station.

There were battles all around between the advancing Japanese soldiers and the Chinese Eighth Route Army. When the fighting reached Shaochang the Japanese took over the mission station and Liddell went back to Tianjin. In 1943, Liddell was interned at the Weihsien (now known as Weifang) Internment Camp with the members of the China Inland Mission, Chefoo (now known as Yantai) School, and many others. Liddell became a leader at the camp and helped get it organised. Food, medicines, and other supplies ran short at the camp. There were many cliques in the camp and when some rich businessmen managed to smuggle in some eggs to the camp, Liddell shamed them into sharing them with the rest of the camp. Fellow missionaries were forming cliques, moralising, and acting selfishly. Eric kept himself busy by helping the elderly, teaching at the camp school Bible classes, arranging games and also by teaching the children science. He was known to the children as Uncle Eric.

One of Liddell's fellow internees, Norman Cliff, later wrote a book about his experiences in the camp called "The Courtyard of the Happy Way" which gave details of all the remarkable characters in the camp. The writer stated that Liddell was "the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet. In all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody." The camp was originally a mission school named The Courtyard of the Happy Way. In his last letter to his wife, written on the day he died, Eric Liddell wrote about suffering a nervous breakdown in the camp due to overwork, but in actuality he was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour, to which being overworked and malnourished probably hastened his demise. He died on 21 February 1945, five months before liberation. He was greatly mourned not only at the Weihsien internment Camp but also in Scotland as well. A fellow internee, Langdon Gilkey, was later to write, "The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric's death had left." According to a fellow missionary Liddell's last words were, "It's complete surrender" in reference to how he had completely surrendered his life to his God.

In 2008 it was revealed by the Chinese authorities that Liddell had given up an opportunity to leave the camp and instead gave his place to a pregnant woman. Apparently, the Japanese did a deal with the British, with Churchill's approval, for prisoner exchange. Therefore, because Eric was a famous athlete he was one of the chosen as part of the prisoner exchange. However, he gave his place to another. This information was released near the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by the Chinese government and apparently news of this great act of sacrifice came as a surprise even to his family members.

In 1991, a memorial headstone, made from Isle of Mull granite was unveiled at the former camp site in Weifang, erected by Edinburgh University. A few simple words taken from the Book of Isaiah 40:31, formed the inscription: "They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary." The city of Weifang, as part of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the internment camp, commemorated the life of Liddell by laying a wreath at the memorial headstone marking his grave in 2005.

"It’s complete surrender". That is the way forward in the Christian life. Every day we have the choice to be a Christian or not. Every Sunday we have the choice to come to church or not. In publicly professing Jesus Christ we have set the bar and standard of our life at the highest possible. Many fail to keep such professions of faith. Many drift away. The vows are not to us here but to Jesus Christ Himself. We have inherited a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It is not a kingdom protected by armies or wealth or power. It is a kingdom of complete surrender. Our Lord himself lived as such giving up His life in obedience to the will of His Father - this he did willingly for the joy set before Him. It is worth it to continue as a Christian - for the joy set before us.

Robert Anderson 2017

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