You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world
Christian views, Christian attitudes, Christian teaching, Christian ideas, Christian principles are at odds with the various opinions found in human society. This is very obvious if you look at any newspaper stand in Scotmid or anywhere else. Screaming judgemental headlines, photos of footballers and pictures of young women with not many clothes on are the daily diet of many. Even the so-called better newspapers are shouty, partial and tacky. The great issue is to get a good headlines that will attract attention and sales. Some newspapers are better at that than others.
On April 9 1972 The Sun's headline famously was “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please put out the lights” and two days later, The Sun's headlines was “It's the Sun wot won it”. The Sun also offered one of the most outrageous headlines in newspaper history on March 13 1986, “Freddie Starr ate my hamster”. Some headlines are very witty. Mad Muller – “Islamic hate preacher goes shopping for yoghurt”, “Large lorry carrying fruit crashes on motorway – creates jam”, “How do you solve a problem like Korea” and the wonderful “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious”. Christianity's headline has always been simply this, “Jesus is Lord”.
Time magazine last week reported on a poll which had asked just one question of Europeans. “How corrupt is your country” In Greece people said 99% corrupt, In Italy, people said 97% corrupt, here in the UK people said 64% corrupt, in Finland people said 29% corrupt and in Denmark, people said 20% corrupt. According to this survey our country is almost two thirds corrupt – that is - almost two thirds of its public life, government organisation, quangos, business, commerce and social enterprise are corrupt. That is a staggering indictment of life in Britain today. There is strong evidence however. The Westminster MPs expenses scandals, the criminal management of banks, the sorry state of the BBC, the idolatry of footballers and entertainers, the general discourtesy of our society, the large scale black marketing, the abandonment of family life, high levels of illness, much stress, the harassment environment in which ordinary working people try to survive, 'Benefits Street'. Our life and living as a nation is not admirable. It is a great contrast to the values and ethos of the peoples of Britain during the time of the 1st World War, for example when external threat brought out the better nature of everyone. Some here who lived through the 2nd World War will remember similar solidarity and purpose. The more freedom and the more money people have, the less they live well.
You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world. Our faith makes us better. Our faith redeems us from lesser, baser forms of life and living. We are not morally superior; we are not perfect; we are saved, we are imbued with the life of Jesus Christ who lifts us up and sets us apart. We make no headlines and we have no power and less and less influence – but – we are liberated from the thrall of the basic principles of this world and the way it works in front of our own eyes, everyday. We have to live in this world, to be sure but for a little while, here this morning, we can leave it behind and share in the life of the risen Jesus who heals our pain and eases our struggles and concerns, who points us in the right way and invests us with his own Spirit and presence so that we do not fall. In the privacy of our own homes and inner souls, we can relate to Jesus Christ and know His truth and peace.
The good news is that the Kingdom of God exists. Jesus is the Lord of the lives of many in this world at this time. There is an alternative. There is release. There is freedom. You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world. Had Jesus not lived this would not have happened. It is no accident – It is God's loving plan and effective means of saving human lives from loss and spiritual darkness and self-destruction. There is an answer. Christ is the answer.
The Church at Collossae was a battle-ground of and for ideas. We take our Christianity for granted. But we only have faith because others struggled for Christian truth in their day and age. It seems as if we have lost the battle in Scotland. In times to come we may be judged as those who in our generation did not keep the faith. I mean the people in general and the Scottish and British Governments in particular. Christianity requires active mode; we cannot be passive, we cannot be complacent, we must not fall asleep. Paul was refuting alternative views of life and destiny which were part of the congregational life at Colossae. We must not imagine that these New Testament churches were pure and perfect. You only need to read Corinthians to realise that that was not the case. They were not dissimilar from our congregations today in that there were many competing opinions and people were at different stages of the Christian personal pilgrimage.
Greek culture was polytheistic. Greeks were also heavily into astrology. And they liked their angels and some wanted them to be included in worship. Jewish Christians in the congregation wanted distinctive identity from these influences; for example they wanted all new Christian males to be circumcised. They also wanted strict dietary rules following what we know as kosher type eating habits. We members of the Reformed Christian tradition can be thankful for the simplicity of our teaching and understanding of Christianity. People may not accept it but, at least, they can debate what they wish to reject.
Paul would have none of this stuff and he would not allow a hybrid Christianity to develop either which mixed up the Gospel with all sorts of other ideas. The power of Christianity lies in Jesus Christ and in no-one else. The extent to which He is raised up, honoured, worshipped and served is the measure of Christianity purpose in the world. You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.
It is completely against the general tenor of human behaviour to die spiritually to something; it does not come naturally; it conflicts with 'survival of the fittest' evolutionary understanding. All human activity is predicated on affirmation, the positive thought, the better understanding, on superiority of intelligence, perception, capacity. The Olympic motto is 'Faster, Higher, Stronger'. And so it must be. Jesus Christ is a complete contradiction of human values. It was by dying that He mediated eternal life. It was by losing that He was victorious. It was by obedience to God that He overcame the world. It was by loving others that He created a place in human hearts for His resurrected life. You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.
Is this then a stand-off – an irreconcilable conflict of ideas? Does Christianity occupy a ghetto in human culture? Is there no meeting place, no recognition? It is not as bad as that. There are nearly 2000 years of visible Christianity. There are many good examples of Christian life and living. There is much betterment of human society through Christian service. When humans raise up one of their own to respect and honour, we find that they are Christian. William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, of course, Pope Francis and Nelson Mandela though he knew he did not personally live well enough to call himself a Christian, it was in Christ that his politics of reconciliation were found and grounded.
We are the visible body of Christ. Christians throughout the world are Christ incarnate. We are Christ's eyes and hands. There are many of us. In Scotland though, we do not punch our weight. There could be over 1,000,000 confessing Christians in Scotland today. 400,000+ in the Church of Scotland, the same again in the Roman Catholic Church, growing numbers of independent evangelical churches and fellowships, Baptist, Brethren and other Christian people. More than half the population of Scotland claims some adherence to Christianity by family connection. Yet the Scottish Government ignores us. We are not organised, we do not all agree on everything. We do not have a single representative leadership. We are not out on the streets. We don't threaten to stop paying taxes. We don't fight dirty. So we are not influential for our numbers. We are taken for granted. It doesn't matter that Christians are by and large law abiding citizens who look after themselves and their families, work hard and are responsible. Christians are often involved in good works benefiting their communities and setting good examples. We are not acknowledged or respected sufficiently. We are in a way 'the quiet in the land'. A large body of people who live in peace and cause few problems for anyone. We do not fuel the addictions that afflict our society, alcohol, drugs, gambling, crime, violence. We are saved people. Christ within us lifts us from the consequences of human inclinations at their worst. Throughout the world we are the largest identifiable social grouping. And growing still – over two billion of humanity. Praying collectively and powerfully always. Our Lord Jesus Himself while on earth never occupied the high seat of power; He was not visibly successful by the standards of the day. Yet within Him was the original nature and power of our Creator and Maker, the Father of our souls. And His life and power rumble on through history today. Politicians cannot see it. People cannot see it. Unless a person is born again that person cannot see the kingdom of God.
You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world. And you were born again into Christ's real and true presence. This is what our worship represents. This is what it is. An affirmation of a kingdom – a reality – different from politics and society, global organisations and the nations of the world. Stretching into eternity. Lasting longer than empires. Unconquerable in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You died with Christ to the basic principles of this world in order to live in Jesus Christ now and forever.