I Will Not Offer To The Lord What Cost Me Nothing
It is getting harder and harder to make the public case for Christianity, for Jesus Christ and for our Living God. It is no harder to attend Church and worship though distractions hinder so many people who would benefit from coming along. It is no harder to become involved and committed as a Christian although getting criminal disclosure in order to work with young people is a barrier for some. It is no harder to give generously in weekly offerings even though the value of money seems less than it was for ourselves and everything seems more expensive. But it is harder to communicate the Christian message and to influence politicians and society in the Name of Jesus.
Over the years The Scotsman newspaper has carried many letters between Christians and atheists, between Christians and agnostics and between Christians and secularists. On Tuesday Neil Barber criticised James Fraser CBE and Rev James McIver of The Free Church of Scotland for making a submission to the Smith Commission on future powers for the Scottish Parliament in the wake of the Referendum. They said that the secular value of equality is 'harmful to
society' and that it 'threatens freedom of employment, freedom of speech and unfettered sexual equality in particular jeopardises the primacy of the heterosexual family'. Neil Barber commented. 'They complain that secular concerns make it “difficult for Christian organisations to
recruit the Christian staff who share their beliefs and agenda”. They argue against a “pluralistic society” preferring instead that universal values should be “embedded in our Christian heritage”. I am incredulous that such a privilege-laden agenda should be described by its exponents as “restoring a level playing field”. He goes on, 'While I fiercely defend the right of religious groups to submit their wish lists to the Smith Commission, I am confident that the commission will negotiate what is right for Scots of all religions and none and will employ exactly the sense of equality and fairness which the Free Church wants to abandon'.
The Christian Gospel is seen here as only one view, one opinion and one idea set against others of equal value. Where issues are irreconcilable, it is Christianity which loses because it is not applying to everyone only to those who uphold it. Many don't do so as we well know. In a democracy, the views of the majority hold sway in elections. They do so often in public opinion also. However the agendas of very small groups of people can and do undermine the principle of majority due to excessive and disproportionate political influence. How is it that in Scotland with about a 5th of the population still Christian, our views can be disregarded and set aside?
It is very hard for Christians to argue for apparent inequality and to state the obvious that some things just are not equal in the sense that they are simply not the same. Governments lump Christianity and Islam together under the term 'religion'. So the rights of one affect the rights of others. There has to be equality. An Anglican Christian School of which there are thousands was recently told by inspectors that the school would be downgraded because it had not invited a Muslim Imam to speak at a school assembly. This denied the principle of tolerance. The school is contesting the finding with the help of the Christian Institute, that body which supports Christians discriminated in the work place. If Christian schools can be Christian only, then Muslims schools have to be Muslim only on the basis of equality. There is no comparative evaluation of the basis and doctrine of Christianity set against Islam. That these lands and peoples have been Christian for 1700 years is of no account. Christianity is downgraded to be of equal value to Islam. Christianity loses out. Islam gains advantage even though it is hostile to Christianity and indeed to its democratic and cultural out workings in society. The truth is that complete equality is not achievable. Not even the preponderance of history and numbers can change this in today's politics.
But there is still freedom to be a Christian and to live the Christian lifestyle. There is still freedom to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in Churches. If this is done on the street however, it can and does invite police arrest under hate legislation. No-one has stopped us from being here today. The focus and direction of our worship is not to the state and not to politicians and not to society but to the Living God, our Maker and to the risen Jesus Christ our Saviour and in the presence of the saints and angels of highest heaven. Jesus was found not guilty of the charges of insurrection and incitement that were brought against him. Paul was found not guilty of charges of social agitation and destabilisation. They both suffered nevertheless but they had not either of them broken the law.
There is nothing to hinder us from being the best Christians we can be. We have no excuses. What we represent is the truth of our relationship with Jesus Christ, nothing less nothing more. We advertise and demonstrate the exact state of our personal Christian Faith. We fool no-one. This is where we are at. If our Church looks neglected, that is because we do not care enough to make it spick and span. If our Church is short of money it is because our Christian Faith is not a priority in our life and living. Time, talents, money. We have more than enough of all three among us to maintain and grow this parish church. If our focus is upwards towards God we will find our way.
King David was rich and powerful. He wanted to atone for the strategic sin of taking a census of the military strength of Israel and Judah. The herding of people together had spread disease over the land. David wanted to make a public sacrifice to God in repentance and petition for delivery. That's what they did in those days. They made large scale public acts of contrition. We don't do that nowadays. There is no-one with the authority to lead national repentance. There is insufficient faith and belief to make a happening relevant. We have foolish political leaders who think they can rule the Churches and despise Christianity and Christ. David arrived at a particular location which he felt was the right one for the public sacrifice. It was however, private property. The owner Araunah offered to give the King a gift of the premises. Monarchs have always received gifts from subjects. They still do. In our land the gifts given to the royal family are in the form of donations to royally sponsored charities. If you give enough you will certainly earn an honour and even a knighthood in return. David however refused to take the premises for nothing and said that he wanted to buy it at market value. He understood that if his worship and sacrifice was to be genuine then he must give of his own wealth and not use someone else's. 'I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offering that cost me nothing'. For all his faults, David understood the true nature of worship. And so his own wrongdoing was forgiven, his worship was accepted and the people were delivered from their ailments. The logic of all this may escape us in this time in which we live. Our monarch frequently and indeed has always worshipped God in Christian services throughout the Land throughout the years. Who knows what evil this helps avert and what good this brings. But those with political power are nothing like as Christian. David Cameron goes voluntarily occasionally to Church only rarely, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband never do so. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon refused to attend the Service of Reconciliation in St Giles high Kirk after the Referendum. The point here is that for Jews and Christians, the worship of God is the true purpose of life and to get it right is beautiful and worthwhile and brings blessings down the generations. 'I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offering that cost me nothing'.
You are all familiar with the story of the rich young ruler who sought to ingratiate himself with Jesus by asking him how he could inherit eternal life. This account of an actual meeting is recorded in Matthew and Mark as well as Luke. But in Mark's version there is an added detail. It says that 'Jesus looked on the young man and loved him'. Jesus' heart went out to this young man. Jesus saw together his good intention and his unresolved problem. Jesus gave him an offer he could refuse. To leave his wealth, position and influence and become a disciple. But the young man was found out. This call did not mean liberation to him but embarrassment and sadness. He had not expected to have to pay such a high price for eternal life. In his case it was everything. He rejected Christ's call. He did not find what Paul later called the perfect freedom of serving Jesus Christ. That is what our worship should mean to us – the expression of perfect freedom in witnessing to Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. It should not be a pain, a burden an embarrassment or an anxiety. It should not confuse or distress us; it should not increase conflict within our souls and minds.
Jesus' disciples were staggered by His response to this young man. In that deferential society Jesus had not deferred to the young man. He had challenged him and exposed him to himself. Peter reminded Jesus that he and the other disciples had indeed left everything they had to follow Jesus. And Jesus responded by affirming that they would never be in want for anything. 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God And His righteousness; And all these things shall be added unto you'. Where we are set and where we profess our Christian faith, in the portion that is given to us, let us never offer to the Lord what has cost us nothing. Let us grasp the vision of life enhancing service and witness to Jesus Christ and let us trust in Him to multiply within us the seeds and roots of the Holy Spirit.