My daughter and son-in-law have just moved house. They have obtained, not only a new home but a garden, with diseased trees. Last week my son-in-law’s father posted a picture of himself astride a branch like a cowboy, with a chainsaw in hand ready for the cut. I immediately took a second look to work out if he was sawing off the branch upon which he was seated. He wasn’t and survived to let us know he had enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying afternoon as a lumberjack.
So here is the thing. Sawing off the branch upon which we are seated is a very human preoccupation. In the cause of being modern and progressive, our society is continually hacking off moral branches which have profoundly shaped our society. In our day we have forgotten just how deeply Christian our roots are and are blindsided to the unintended consequences and harms that arise when we dump or forget these foundations.
The 27th of January was Holocaust Remembrance Day which should serve to warn us of what happens when we jettison Christian beliefs. In contrast to the Christian principle that all people, irrespective of race or ability are created equal, the Nazis, convinced by a social Darwinism that promoted the supremacy of the strong and the extermination of the weak set out on their vile industrialised genocide.
Our beliefs matter. They produce our behaviour, shape our expectations and determine our character. We become what we believe.
Sawing off our inheritance means that genuine Christianity is increasingly obscured in our society and misunderstanding abounds.
Michael Gove (yes that Michael Gove) powerfully underlines this point in an article in the Spectator in 2015.
“To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. In a culture that prizes sophistication, non-judgmentalism, irony and detachment, it is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious and backward.”
He goes on to point out that this caricature of Christianity portrayed by media and believed by so many bears little resemblance to real faith.
“The contrast between the Christianity I see our culture belittle nightly, and the Christianity I see our country benefit from daily, could not be greater.”
“The reality of Christian mission in today’s churches is a story of thousands of quiet kindnesses. In many of our most disadvantaged communities, it is the churches that provide warmth, food, friendship and support for individuals who have fallen on the worst of times. The homeless, those in the grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, individuals with undiagnosed mental health problems and those overwhelmed by multiple crises are all helped — in innumerable ways — by Christians.” (Gove, 2015)
So, what’s my point? Simply that our society has become detached from an understanding or awareness of true Christianity. That is where our challenge begins. For we, according to Jesus, are to be like salt preserving and transforming the social “meat” in which we exist and making known the shocking and glorious news of Christ crucified and risen.
The UK in 2023 needs to hear and see genuine, grounded, gutsy Christian faith. I believe that means getting in touch with our roots and living out and speaking out the essential truths of life in Jesus.
Perhaps we too can all too easily saw off the branch we are sitting on from the trunk of our faith. Perhaps too we need to follow Isaiah’s admonition (Is 51:1)
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” Isaiah 51:1
So, for the next few weeks, we are going to get to grips with some of the roots of our faith. We will do this through Paul, the apostle, the man commissioned by God and enabled by the Spirit to turn the work of Jesus into the word of God.
He is arguably the most influential writer in human history, certainly God used him and uses him today to deliver life-changing truth.
“Believe: Truth to Live by” is the title of our next preaching series. We will be digging into the heart of Paul and the message he proclaimed. As we do we will encounter living truth.
So our prayer is that each one of us will be re-invigorated with a fresh confidence in this gospel message and empowered anew to live and speak it out.