What Would You Do If You Were Not A Christian?
What would you do if you were not a Christian? What you be doing just now? Would you be down at the Almondvale Centre worshipping there? Would you be away for the day to somewhere exotic like Portobello or South Queensferry? Would you just be at home with your feet up watching the TV and catching up on your soaps? Would you be out in the garden weeding and tidying up? Maybe out on the golf course or away for a walk with the dog? Preparing a family lunch? What would you be thinking about yourself, your life, your family? Would you be asking yourself any questions?
Would you miss coming to Church? What in particular would you miss? If someone in your family wanted to get married would you just go to the registry office, or perhaps a hotel? If someone in your family died, what would you do for a funeral service? Would you find a humanist celebrant? Or put together a service yourselves? Would have Jim Reeves songs played or Cliff Richard or Freddie Mercury or Steeleye Span or Dire Straits? Maybe Alfie Bowe or Katherine Jenkins? Maybe some Scottish songs or pipe music?
Would you start seeking something to fill the gap in the life of your soul? Might you be reading self help spiritual books? New Age ideas? Would you have a wee dabble in spiritualism? Try a séance just for fun? Would you fancy the Jehovah's Witnesses? Mormons? Would you have a look at Buddhism?
Would you enjoy being free of God? Would the guilt trip be over? Would you smooth out any sense of hypocrisy? What would you do with the money you used to give to the Church? Give it to some good cause? Spend it on your family? Or yourself? What would you be thinking if you passed by and heard the Church bells ringing at 5 to 11? What would you think if you met people going to and coming back from Church? Lots of people must be in this position these days all over the country. Do you think you'd be happier and more fulfilled? Or might you become stressed and anxious and unwell? Would you coorie in within yourself and become a lot quieter. Would something be missing in your life? Would you sense within yourself a hardening of your heart as you convince yourself you made the right decision to give up on God? Would you boast to your friends that you had done so?
Maybe you would not miss the Church after all. Maybe you don't want to admit that or are afraid of finding that out. You would have broken your promise to God. You would not have kept the faith. You would be a deserter and not a follower of Christ any more. Would there be a traumatic effect on your mind and soul and body? In your last days, would you be at peace? Would you be content to think that when you die, you die? End of. No judgement to follow. No eternal life, no heaven, no reunion with people you loved and who loved you.
If Christianity had no eternal promise would you still be a Christian? If your life ended here on earth would you still think it was worthwhile to have believed in God? Even if it was all only for this life, would you change anything or everything? If there were no moral restraints because you no longer believed in God, what would you do? Would you up sticks and go and live in Spain? Would you take out equity on your house and spend it? Cash in your pensions? Would you squander any inheritance you might have left your children? While not seeking to break the law of the land, might you go on a bender, tell some people what you actually think of them, leave your husband or leave your wife? Would you fall out big time with members of your family since it would not matter any more? Would you become addicted to anything, drink, shopping, gambling, the bad internet? Might you become seriously depressed? Would you have any sense that you had lost your soul?
On the other hand are you 'Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast; There by His love o’ershaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest?' Are you convinced, convicted, empowered and strong in Christian faith so that whatever may happen you will never give up being a Christian? Do you know the Lord that well? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit this Pentecost season? Do you long to come to Church to sing and pray and listen to the Word? Is it central to your weekly routine and purpose? Are you uplifted and encouraged by your faith and faithfulness and to you give with a glad and willing heart? Would there be such emptiness and depression within you if you could not worship? Maybe you are more of a Christian than you think? Maybe you live closer to the Lord than you'd admit to anyone. Maybe you walk quietly with the Lord every day of your life.
And maybe you are in between these states. You would never give up on God, no matter what happens in life. Would you say with Job and with a Lewis highland woman told that her soldier husband had died during the first world War 'Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him'. Yet neither are you filled with joy in Christian life. Your days are not overflowing with prayers and your faith is quiet and undemonstrative. You are stable and do not visit spiritual depression or spiritual ecstasy. You have a modest assessment of the strength of your own faith. It is not great but it will never die. Nothing can threaten it into oblivion. The writer of Psalm 139 imagined giving up on God and imagined God giving up on him. Yet he concluded that he would never be able to live without the knowledge of God's presence. The issue then was how good would his relationship with God be. He could not avoid God and God did not avoid him. How could they get along? Well? Indifferently? Poorly?
Jesus offended some of those who heard his teaching and preaching when he started going on about his body and blood being the means and food of eternal life. They took him literally. He was speaking spiritually. Even the disciples – remember they too were devout and practising Jews – could not understand this and thought it close to blasphemy. Jesus asked them 'Does this offend you?' And Jesus recognised those who there and then were giving up on him. The text says 'many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him'. This means not the familiar twelve disciples, but the larger group who followed Jesus around, his itinerant congregation, men and women. But then Jesus did ask the Twelve, 'You do not want to leave too, do you?' And Peter replied, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'. Peter recognised that he would never get this chance again. He realised that he would never meet anyone like Jesus ever. Even if he did not fully understand the language of Holy Communion at that time, he could see in Jesus the reality of the Living God. He could sense the power of eternal life in Jesus. For Him, Jesus proved his words to be true in his conduct and teaching and in his public ministry.
So if you were not a Christian maybe you would thirst for and seek the eternal life that Jesus offers the world. Maybe you would have a go at all sorts of things and live an experimental life for a time and then like the prodigal son, you'd compare the emptiness with the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 'I tried the broken cisterns, Lord, But, ah, the waters failed! E’en as I stooped to drink they fled, And mocked me as I wailed'.
It is true that God works away in people's lives. It is not visible. We can't capture it on mobile phones or TV cameras. But as Paul realised God also works through visible people called to witness and teach and preach and care and heal. In fact this is why we have a Church of Jesus Christ in the world, His body continuing his redeeming work. There are many who have given up on God and that is where they will stay unless they are reached by the Gospel of redemption and returning love. As Paul says, 'How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?' We have to be proactive in proclamation.
On Tuesday I listened to the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa Julius Mwamba speak with conviction and power. I felt a warming of the heart. He told us that St Andrews Church Nairobi in which I myself have preached, now has a membership of 6500. He said that they have an admission service every month and 100 new members join at every service. He told me that they have in his Church 37 parishes who want to split into more manageable charges due to increasing numbers. Here we are putting congregations together due to decreasing numbers. He said that they are short of ministers. Expatriate Kenyans living in London who are members of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa have formed a congregation and outreach project. It is mission in reverse. Once we took the Gospel to them – now they are bringing the Gospel here. There would be no Church of Jesus anywhere in the world if people had not been willing to hear a call and put their lives on the line as Christians. And it is our turn now to do the same. What Would You Do If You Were Not A Christian? Maybe you'd hear the Gospel anew and respond with a full heart and a committed life.
'Now none but Christ can satisfy, None other name for me;
There’s love and life and lasting joy, Lord Jesus, found in Thee'.