We all have our flights of fancy. I still pray daily for revival in the Church of Scotland and throughout the land. Politicians offer visions laced with poetic language describing a beautiful future for everyone. Winston Churchill once said, 'A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen'.
In our New Testament reading today we heard that Paul had his fantasies also. Scholars think that Paul wrote Romans while he was in Corinth probably in 57AD. He was about to return to Jerusalem taking with him donations for the Christians there. For ten years before writing the letter Paul had travelled around the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelizing. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia, what we know as parts of Greece and Turkey today. Paul considered that these tasks had been completed and he expressed his fond wish to preach the gospel in Spain, where he would not "build upon another man’s foundation". But in journeying there he would pass through Rome and so visit the Roman Church which he had not founded.
What he didn't take account of was what would happen to him if and when he returned to Jerusalem. As we know, when he did go there the Roman Governor took him prisoner in order to save his life and protect him from Jews who had sworn an oath to kill him. After several court hearings he was absolved of any crime but Paul appealed to the Roman Emperor in order to continue to have Roman protection for his life. And so he ended up in Rome as a prisoner and is generally held to have been executed during Nero's persecution which began in 64 AD. His plans to evangelise Spain may never have come to fruition. Some scholars have suggested that Paul may have got there after being released from house arrest in Rome but there is no evidence or proof that he did so. And the tradition that he was martyred in Rome is strong, suggesting that he did not ever leave.
Paul reflects on the larger interaction of gentiles and Jews and Christians. Charity may be taken for granted today as part of the fabric of our social existence but it was not always so. Roman society was not charitable in nature. Helping the poor was an obligation in Judaism and became a central tenet and aspect of Christianity. It still is today after nearly two millennia. So Paul agreed that the newly converted gentile Christians should help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem financially because they, the gentiles, had received and benefited from the Old Covenant as well as from the New. As he draws his letter to the Christians in Rome to a close in chapter 15 Paul repeats his plan to evangelise Spain and asks for prayers for his own protection when he goes to Jerusalem so that he can fulfil one of his life's ambitions – to visit Rome and meet and greet the Christians there, as he says, 'with joy and together with you be refreshed – that is by the presence of the Holy Spirit'. It did not work out that way. As Robert Burns noted ‘The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley’.
Life is not working out for us as we would have wished and hoped either: 21st Century Jihad is happening. Unwelcome. Unwanted. This century will be the century of Islamic confrontation with the west, with Christianity and with post-Christendom. Politicians tell us that the present struggle with the Islamic State will last for months or years. It will last much longer - for decades at least, even longer. Politicians are little regarded because they do not tell the truth. One of the consistent lies our politicians tell us that Islamic State do not represent Islam. President Obama said that Islamic State speaks for no religion. David Cameron emphasised its criminality rather than its creed and belief. No Christian leader in this land speaks out against Islam's basic ideology. Not one refutes its claims. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams even suggested that Britain should allow Islamic Shariah Law to operate in this country.
The truth is that the Islamic State was Islamic. Its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi holds a Ph D in Islam Studies. The 10,000 Islamic State soldiers were all Muslims. There was no-one of any other faith or philosophy among them. They followed Mohammad's teaching in the Qu'ran in detail. They grew beards and shaved moustaches. They prayed five times a day. They wanted a centralised Islamic world state and they were willing to die for it.
They based their beheadings of enemies on the Qur'an itself. Surah 47 says 'fight them so that God may chastise them at your hands and humiliate them and grant you victory over them...when you encounter the infidels strike off their heads till you have made a great slaughter along them'. Mohammad himself did this when he beheaded over 600 Northern Arabian Jewish males in 627AD.
Mass slaughter is also taught in the Qur'an Surah 8:67 says 'No prophet has been enabled to take captives until he had made great slaughter on the earth'. The point is that there is Qur'anic justification for what the Islamic State does. It is fulfilling Mohammad's own instructions. Three of Mohammad's wives were Jewish girls whom he had kidnapped. So the practice of kidnapping and enslaving women and girls continued in the Islamic State. This is terrible stuff. Compare it in your mind with the teaching and example of Jesus. Islam is a dreadful racket and it is time that western leaders said so.
The Islamic State also killed Muslims. This is because under strict Shariah if a Muslim stops praying he is regarded as having given up his faith and is liable to death. Many Muslims in this land do not keep to Shariah and if the Islamic State ever gained control here these nominal or liberal Muslims would be killed along with the rest of us. They know that well enough. There are many nominal Muslims in Iraq and Syria and Egypt and throughout the Islamic world. And so – the Islamic State is fulfilling the Quran's instructions to kill them for their lack of piety and devotion.
It is folly for our politicians not to state clearly that there is a global battle against Islam itself. Islamic State, Al Quaeda, Boko Haram, Taliban and Al Shabbab are all driven by Islam. They are not aberrations. They are the real thing. And new groups and cells and armies will appear throughout this century with the same ideology and with jihad against all infidels.
In Muslim countries there are multiple television stations propagating hatred and warfare against non-Muslims. On the internet there are many websites dedicated to jihad. There are countless mosques where sermons are preached railing against freedom and democracy and there are many Islamic schools raising up boys to glory in jihad and martyrdom. It was recently found that in Birmingham, this message was being fostered in some Muslim schools.
Islamic State is certain of victory against the unrighteous infidels and especially against the great Satan America. The present state of Iraq suggests that they have reasons for their optimism. They want nothing more than to see American troops again in Iraq where they can kill them and die and reach their imagined paradise where they will receive their reward of 70 virgins per martyr.
This is what the 21st century will be about. The more the world sees of this the more it will decide that Islam is a false alternative to Judaism and to Christianity. It is not a fulfilment of these as it has claimed. It is a step back – a very big step back. It is regression. It is a return to cataclysmic spiritual darkness. It is an ideology driven by violence, will to conquer and inhumanity. It is coming to a mosque near you. There are about about 1.7 billion Muslims in the world although some estimates are higher at 2 billion. There are 2.2 Christians all told. I'm sure you have noticed how many news items are about Muslims and Islam. You might even be as fed up with them as I am. But Muslims think that they are setting the agenda and that it is all about them. This will not get any better in years to come – it will get worse. Muslims hope, pray for, believe in and expect to live to see Britain becoming a Muslim country. This could happen to our grand children. There are large and extensive misuses of the freedoms we have in this country and they mean that we are not strong morally or spiritually as a nation to defeat determined inroaders over the next decades.
We need Christianity big time. We need Christianity back in the centre of national life. We need to aspire to become a Christian nation again. It is not that we were ever perfect – we never were. But Christ was the gold standard of our understanding and aspiration – and the criterion by which we judged our life and actions. Ever since the heterosexual revolution of the nineteen sixties with its false message of 'free love' and Labour's Roy Jenkins' (himself a serial adulterer) legalisation of abortion and homosexuality in 1967 – along with the acceptance of drug culture and living with debt as a way of life – this country has lost its place in the firmament of righteous nations. We are weak and vulnerable and Muslims are sure we will fall.
What can we do about it? A lot. We can recommit to Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour. We can reinvest our time talents and money in His Church so that it will live and not die. We can show on our faces that we share in Christ's victory over all that the world threw at Him. We can think and be alert to what is going on around us and without resorting to violence we can argue and campaign for Jesus Christ as long as we breathe on this earth. We can pray and sing our hearts out. We can love God our Maker with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength. We can give ourselves up to seeking God out in our personal life and living. We can become born again Christians filled with the Holy Spirit. Multiplied the land over, we can arrest this decline of community and nation. Are you up for the spiritual fight? Will you stand up for Jesus Christ?