The World Does Not Know Him
Paul said 'Your lives are hidden in Christ' and elsewhere he said, 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels'. The hymn 'Just a closer walk with Thee' expresses the spiritual feelings of Christians from time to time.
'Through this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
Just a closer walk with Thee, Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee, Let it be, dear Lord, let it be'.
Another hymn on the same theme was recorded by Jim Reeves and expresses Christians' feelings of being at odds with the world, society and culture.
'This world is not my home I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
Oh Lord, you know I have no friend like you
If heaven's not my home Then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me From heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home In this world any more'.
It is somewhat strange being a Christian today in this land of ours. It was not so long ago that the Christian narrative was the umbrella under which everyone sheltered. Even if many were not professing or practising Christians their personal values were influenced by Christianity. That is still the case but not to anything like the same degree. It is an old cliché that people who go to Church are hypocrites. Actually it has not disappeared. Within the last few days, someone expressed that view in conversation to me. This is an unfair judgement and it is made out of ignorance though it reflects perhaps some experience of being treated badly by someone who went to Church or of observing contradictory behaviour by some church goers in week day life. Our church going is not an end in itself. Neither is it simply for ourselves, each of us. It concerns others. Our worship is on behalf of the whole community. We are the leaven in the loaf. We are the salt that savours the whole. Our worship is for those we pray for even if they do not know it or appreciate it.
And our worship is for our Maker, the Living God. This is no vague and undefined entity. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Jesus. We witness to the Son of God, risen, ascended, active, interested and redeeming in our lives. We are taken out of ourselves for a little while, we are raised up, enlightened, calmed, healed, blessed. All that can happen but only you in your secret soul know that is has happened. Afterwards within minutes you will be in conversations with others about all sorts of things as if you had never been together with the Lord. A harsh critic might say that we deny our Christian Faith with our conversations about everything other than Christ. You must know the experience even in family life of people not seeming to have the slightest idea or clue about what your Christian Faith means to you. They assume you are interested in something you are not interested in. They assume you have similar views about matters which you do not have. You keep quiet. You do not fight your corner. You do not argue back. The World Does Not Know Him.
It is said often in the newspapers and sometimes on TV and radio that many Christians are now afraid to confess their Faith in Britain today. There are reasons for this; firstly, belief in God is thought to be uncool; secondly, Christianity is despised by a vocal minority of atheists; thirdly, the Churches are associated with and tainted by bad conduct by clergy and others towards children in the past; fourthly, it is considered weird to have any personal moral standards and fifthly, politicians have eroded Christian teaching from national life. In our Old Testament reading we heard the challenging and inspiring words of the prophet Isaiah rallying people back to faith and witness. 'I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel'.
Now there is a great idea – a wonderful promise. Imagine that instead of congregations in Scotland dwindling over the years to come, our grandchildren and theirs experienced a great revival of Christianity. Suppose the Holy Spirit moves across the land. Think about some great Christian leader in the politics of the time. Worship back in schools. Christianity adopted again as the national Faith. Tatoos of Jesus rather than dragons and aliens. It seems a far fetched hope and a forlorn aspiration and prayer. But, who knows. It could happen. Nothing is impossible with God. If you have risen from the dead, you can do anything. If you welcome that presence in your own life, you are indestructible. We may not see it but that is not to gainsay its possibility. Christianity in Scotland will not end with us. It may seem at times as if all is lost but that is not the case even now. It is true that The World Does Not Know Him, that Scotland no longer seems to know him, that Alex Salmond has given up on knowing him and that Nicola Sturgeon does not want to know him. But the Lord is working in the lives of many many people including the lives of people here.
In the New Testament reading we listened to the words of Peter urging faithfulness among new converts. He likens new Christian life to be the spiritual equivalent of actual early life as a baby. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like new born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. Here are ideas of innocence and dependence. They are the opposite of the self-centred affirmations required by life today in every walk of life. They are the opposite of the internet with its range of options catering to every aspect of the human character. They are the opposite of reach and aggression and of ambition and dominance which are exemplified in our public politics. This is an alternative lifestyle which brings health and peace to the mind and soul. But it is strange and weird to society and to those without the slightest comprehension of its truth or sensitivity to its power.
Peter reminds new Christians that Jesus was himself unrecognised and rejected. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says, 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame'. Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone' and, 'A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall'.
Jesus reversed the values of the world for all time. It is by Christian standards that implicitly or explicitly things are judged in the human community. Even if Jesus is not acknowledged it is His teaching and example that is the gold standard, the full measure of human aspiration and conduct. That is how nations make peace. It is not an inbuilt characteristic of human nature to be good and kind and loving. Our history shows the opposite and the 21st century so far has thrown up such atrocities and incomprehensible cruelties that stretch our minds to breaking points. Left to our own devices and allowed to choose our own values, human are violent, greedy, cruel and murderous in large measure. No political leader however makes any connection between our tendencies and the Christian Gospel of personal redemption and salvation. The World Does Not Know Him.
Actually, what we never hear is that Jesus also judges the world. I am not saying that he sits and sends lots of people to hell and damnation. But if Jesus is the Living Lord, and if he offers salvation and eternal life, people are judged against that also. We are judged against that also. There is an edge to Christianity that may have been blunted in our time but it is still there able to cut and thrust. People used to say God is not mocked. Certainly God is mocked and blasphemed every minute of every day in our society but the idea here is that there are social consequences for us all in such behaviour and that God has the final word. If this Christianity free life is so great why is there so much human misery all around? Primary school children are being treated for depression would you believe? But if they started their school day with a Bible reading, a prayer and a happy hymn, would they not be helped? If there was a faith ethos in our schools would that not increase the well being of everyone? If people lived alongside Jesus Christ would they not make better life choices and save themselves a lot of grief?
'But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy'. So says Peter and it is true for us. The World Does Not Know Him but we are called to witness for him. Our purpose is to declare the praises of him who saved us and who is saving us and who will save us. We are God's special people – not special in ourselves – but special because the grace of God works within us. Peter says Christians are aliens and strangers in the world and calls them to live as Christ lived as witness and testimony to their faith. Let us do the same. The World Does Not Know Him but we know Him and so rejoice.