Have Faith In God
George Clark asked me to cancel this year's St Andrew's Day Service. He said it was because he can no longer get into his kilt. That is a good example of local humour of which there is an abundance. Jim Walker recently told me that he had called his daughter 'Torpedo. I asked 'Why?' 'Because she's always looking for a sub', he replied. He told me that he was one of thirteen children and added 'Ma faither kept a collie dug tae round us a' up at night time'. He told me that once a neighbour complained to the police that his father was out in the street improperly dressed. At his court case the sheriff asked him if he was married and how many children he had. 'Thirteen' he replied. Then he asked what he was actually wearing out on the street. 'My pygamas' he replied. The sheriff then dismissed the case saying 'You were in your working clothes'. I met a lady on Bathgate Road. 'How are you?' I asked. 'Fine', she replied, 'And I've got a day oot next Friday'. 'That's nice', I replied. 'Where are you off to?' 'To get the camera up ma back passage', she replied. There was no answer to that.
Scottish humour is unique and wonderful. One of the best examples is Jonathan Watson who for some years had a BBC Radio Scotland comedy programme on Saturdays at lunchtime and of course still has a Hogmany TV programme of impressions mostly of Scottish footballing people 'Only an Excuse'. I can remember one item from the BBC Radio programme from years ago almost word for word because it was so Scottish – a kind of humour I have never heard anywhere else and indeed which could not be understood by anyone beyond our borders. It was when Cathy Jamieson was justice secretary in Jack McConnell's cabinet in the Scottish Parliament. Jonathan Watson offered up a parody as follows.
Bernard Ponsonby - 'Justice minister Cathy Jamieson, are you not concerned about prison over crowding?' 'Prison overcrowding son, listen, you don't ken nothin' aboot it; you want to try the first day of the Primark sale. If Margaret Curran hadnae had a hauf brick in her handbag, we'd huv got naewhere. Bernard Ponsonby. 'And do you have a good working relationship with the First Minister?'. 'Wee Jack – aye – he comes roon tae oors for his tea when Bridget's awa gallivantin. It fair pits ma man oot. He likes the ootsiders tae dip in his mince'. And what about your opposite number, Nicola Sturgeon. 'Whit? Miss Marple – cheeky wee bitch'.
It would not be Scotland without the ability to laugh at ourselves. I remember seeing a man who lived in Shettleston in Glasgow being interviewed for the Scottish TV News. The item was about the short life expectancy of men in that area. 'Are you concerned that men in this area die earlier than anywhere else in Britain?' asked the reporter. 'Ach – if you lived here you widnae want tae live any longer either', the local replied offering up a toothless grin. It is the lack of pretension that marks out the best of the Scottish national character. But where does that come from? Canadians are more humble than Americans and New Zealanders are quieter than Australians. Is it a natural thing for a smaller country living beside a large country to be less self-confident, less self-promoting? Is it a consequence of God fearing Calvinism and of an expression of Christianity which emphasised sin at the expense of forgiveness and repentance at the expense of encouragement? Is it just the weather? Is it the history of defeats in wars at the hands of the English? More positively, is it because of a once national certain knowledge of God's favour and the balancing senses of calling and importance and worth and value that gave Scots a dignity of equality that raised us above other standards of judgement such as wealth and fame and achievement? I do not think we Scots are necessarily nicer than any others on these islands. But we have our differences and our peculiarities. What we no longer have is an over-arching collective national Faith in God.
The secularists have not so far campaigned to de-Christianise St Andrew's Day. And yet the logic of their antipathy to Christianity is that Scotland's National Day should be a secular event without any connection to a Christian Saint. Maybe they are content that the connection is now so stretched, so vague, so nominal, that it is virtually meaningless. And yet it does recall us to our Christian past. Children in schools are taught about St Andrew and how there is a relationship with him in Scotland today. But it is a bit like having a monarchy without an aristocracy. For though there are still hundreds of thousands of Christians in this land, we have been sidelined and our views have been ignored in the secular politics of the day. There is absolutely no sense of national Christian vocation in Scotland today. Christianity played no visible or audible part in the referendum debate. The Churches sided with the 'No' campaign by silent aquiescence. There was a sense that if the 'Yes' campaign had won, the place and status of Christian institutions in the land including the monarchy would be threatened.
Have faith in God. More people believe in God in some form or other in the world than not, 80% to 20% according to statisticians. God is the only stable and certain and dependable entity in human life and consciousness. Our days are limited and our knowledge very partial. Faith in God is a daily reliability, proven from generation to generation and century to century. Faith works. So the prophet Isaiah reminded the people that God initiated the personal relationship we have have with him. God created us, formed us, summoned each of us by name. God is with us in and through the tests and trials of life, when we are in the spiritual desert and our souls are dry, when we have to walk through fire, be it humiliation or struggle, when we have to pass through events when we are out of our depth, God will lift us by the hand and see us through. 'I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour...Do not be afraid, for I am with you...I will bring my sons and daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made'. That is why the Church will never die. God will always call and sustain people to witness for him in every place and generation. That is why we must rejoice and be thankful and praise the Lord and continue to have faith in God.
The author of the book of Hebrews describes faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is not forcing yourself to believe against your better judgement; it is not false optimism. Faith is something definite and profound, consistent and reliable. Faith is a word which describes our personal relationship with God. Atheists today misunderstand and denigrate the nature of faith. They think it is out with reason and rationality and even common sense. But that is not what Christian Faith is. Faith is an umbrella word to describe the whole of or knowledge and experience of God. God's love and salvation and eternal life. Here and now. We feel it, we sense it, we know it. Abraham is the great paradigm of faith but too often we think of Abraham as taking a blind risk, a bet, a gamble. That is not how it was. Abraham's faith was sure and certain because God had spoken to him and called him in a very definite and undeniable way. If God speaks to someone in that dramatic way, it never leaves that person. That's why I am still preaching the Gospel because I know the Gospel is true because God called me in a definite clear and certain moment. That's why I do not waver in the face of this day and age, and can dispute with those who deny the existence of God. It is also why I am at odds with the way Church of Scotland conducts itself, the way it is managed, its weedy and uncertain voice, its public relation speak, its political correctness.
Hebrews chapter 11 goes on to list some of the great people of faith of the Old Testament. By that is meant not people who went out on a limb and took a chance on God. It means people whose certain knowledge of God grew and inspired an enabled them to achieve things for God. There are many such in this world today. It is a desperate arrogance and wilful blindness on the part of militant atheists which denies the scale and effectiveness of Christian life and living for good throughout the world. Have faith is God does not mean that you are to suspend your critical faculties. It does not mean you do not have questions. Faith is a much deeper stronger dynamic than that. It is the whole world view that you have; it is the eternal vision that you have. It is the divine relationship that you have. It is the knowledge of salvation that you have.
And it is Jesus Christ, a very visible and verifiable person, historic, real, corporal, with words and feelings, witnessed by and testified about. We do not think of Jesus as a person of faith but as a person to have faith in. He was sure and certain hat he was God's Son. The basis of his every breath and thought was his knowledge of God as his Father. That solid foundation he transferred to his disciples and they to others and so to us down the ages. Our faith today is as definite and strong a foundation as was Paul's faith in the early days of the Church. It is as true as was Martin Luther's faith and that of John Newton and John Wesley and David Livingstone and Mary Slessor and Florence Nightingale, Billy Graham and Mother Teresa.
Have faith in God; rejoice, celebrate, recommit, continue, persevere. Everything else fades and fails including our very own lives. Faith remains the bedrock of Christian grace and understanding, more precious than money or fame. It will carry you through into eternal life.