Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Good Life - 1 Peter 2:11-12.

There is a current controversy in Norfolk. Norfolk is a very rural county. Apart from in the county town of Norwich, most people seem to be engaged in agriculture and even the local football team is nicknamed "The Tractormen". It is one of those places about which townies make lewd jokes suggesting that there are a lot of brother-sister marriages. The implication is that people who live there are a few ants short of a picnic in their mental capacity. It is said that when a cerebrally challenged child is admitted to hospital, the doctors talk about it as NFN which stands for "normal for Norfolk". These slurs are, of course, completely untrue, but are typical of metropolitan prejudice.

The problem is that the local Conservatives have selected a parliamentary candidate with a reputation. In 2005 she was in the newspapers having conducted an extra-marital affair with a Tory MP. Following this exposure she returned to her husband while the MP divorced his wife and has since remarried. Now, she has since been selected as a parliamentary candidate, but her selection has now been challenged on the grounds that she never told the selection committee of her former indiscretion. Since this is the first thing that comes up when you Google her name, one might argue that the omission was that of the selection committee rather than hers, but the bigger question is should it count against her that she has been an adulteress?

On Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 program, a discussion took place on the merits of the case between Iain Dale, a well known blogger and Anne Atkins, a well known columnist. These two come from widely different backgrounds. Dale is gay, and his stand is libertarian, Atkins is the wife of a Church of England vicar and stresses 'family values'. Should a Christian protest at the morality of our elected representatives? The argument is that if you can't trust them to keep a solemn vow made before God at their marriage, how could you trust them with their electoral promises? The counter argument is, shouldn't a Christian be willing to forgive an adulteress, just as Jesus did in John chapter 8?

In 1 Peter 2 verse 11, the apostle begins to tell us how we should live in the world we are in. He writes to Christians, not to pagans. He tells us that we are aliens and strangers in the world. "Dear Friends" as the NIV translates it is too weak. "Dear loved ones" would be nearer. He is assigning us to the team made up of those for whom Christ has died. And though we are loved by Christ we are not playing at home; we are the away team. We are aliens and strangers in the world.

Go to any Premier division football match and you will understand what this means. Among a crowd of 50,000 you may be among 1000 cramped in the visitors' enclosure. Even the word 'enclosure' makes you sound like an animal in a zoo. You are certainly treated like one. The majority in the crowd sing their chants at you, mocking you and making you feel small. They are trying to intimidate you. But minority that you are, you are still part of a team. You sing back, determined not to be silenced. Imagine yourself to be the one Spurs supporter sitting among the Arsenal fans. You would certainly keep quiet. When they sang "You're not singing any more!" it would be true for you. But here in the visitor's enclosure you are among friends, your team is all around you. Though you may be a minority you are encouraged by their presence. Your church may be a minority in your town, but you have colleagues who are covered by the same insignia.

Elijah was alone. He had defeated the prophets of Baal, but then he had run away, and here beneath the Juniper tree he was all by himself, afraid and in despair. When he finally is confronted by God at Horeb, he is told, "I reserve 7000 in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal." He is not alone. He is part of a team with a captain who cannot be defeated. Go to Spring Harvest or Keswick. Feel the strength of the team around you.

Fighting Mike Tyson must be one of the most intimidating things in the world. Evander Holyfield did it twice. He is the only man to have won the world heavyweight championship four times. Holyfield claims to be Christian. He has "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" embroidered on his fight dressing gown. As he trained for the fight he had sparring partners who mimicked Tyson's style. He was determined in his training.

We have to be determined in our training to live the Christian life. We have to abstain from sinful desires that war against our soul. We are waging a war against sin, not against sinners. Were it against sinners we would have to fight our friends, because the one criterion for becoming a Christian is to be a sinner. All those without sin need not apply. Christians are not defined by what they do not do. The reason we have something to say to the world is that we are sinners just like them. Our only difference is that someone has fished us out of the water. Those sitting wrapped in a blanket at the bottom of a lifeboat have no sense of superiority over those still in the sea. Our only plea is "Save them too!"

Not all desires are sinful. Sex is a wonderful gift from God. It is not sinful so long as it is confined to marriage and used to reinforce the structure of the family. It is a sin to misuse it. How destructive it can be when it is misused! To earn money is not a sin, even if you earn a great deal of it. But to use it to puff ourselves up and to oppress others is sinful. From him to whom much is given, much will be required. It is not a sin to live in a big house; but what an opportunity to give hospitality! Do you have a big car? The more people you can take to church.

Anne Atkins was wrong to expect the Tory candidate to live up to Christian standards unless she had been a Christian. People who live in the world of politics don't do God, said Tony Blair's presence on Earth, Alistair Campbell. We have no right to hold the world to account. The world will do worldly things. Being a member of the Church of England, Anne probably assumed that every English person is also a member unless specifically opted out. In that case they should behave like Christians. It is a delusion. We Christians are few in England today.

Our ambition should be to live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds. To what end? So that they may glorify God on the day that he visits us. To do that they will have to change before he returns for there is no mind changing after death.

Evander Holyfield claimed to be a Christian, but then it comes out that he had 5 kids out of wedlock with 4 different women; that he had been 'healed' by televangelist, Benny Hinn, who received an alleged $265,000 “donation” for the healing; that he has been linked to alleged usage of performance enhancing drugs; that his house is 54,000 square feet with 104 rooms and a bowling alley and that he has failed to pay child support for one of his 9 kids.

Live such good lives among the pagan...

Iain Dale was also wrong to assume that a Christian must be all forgiving. The offer of forgiveness is there from God. Sufficient grace is available. No more restitution needs to be made to God. No more bulls to be slaughtered or lambs killed. All that is needed is repentance. "Neither do I condemn you," said Jesus, "go and sin no more."

He wants a God who:
Shows complete, benevolent blindness
To our foibles.
Who does not notice when we err.
Forty-winks at deviation,
Falling short or reprobation.
Wouldn’t make a fuss
About us.

Because we stress the forgiveness of God, the world thinks that God doesn't mind sin. Because we stress the love of God, the world things that God is not also terrifying. Because Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount to "judge not that ye be not judged", the world thinks that it will not be judged on the last day.

We must expect the world to accuse us of doing wrong. How could it not when the world operates according to a different set of principles to us. We will not convince the Dawkins of this world by the force of our arguments. Few have been forced into heaven by the weight of logic. But many have looked at the likes of John Newton, William Wiberforce, Eric Liddell and others and asked, "What have they got in their lives that is missing from mine?"

We don't do good works to make us feel good, to repay the Lord for what he has done for us, to satisfy our conscience, to earn merit or to impress other Christians. We want to glorify God and have others do so too.


Anonymous said...

I am horrified that you don't know that Norwich City is known as 'The Canaries'! Canary breeding was big in Norwich when the team was formed. Prejudice has many forms and you dismiss the NFN label (actually supposed to be used by Norfolk GPs). I am surprised that you think it is worth mentioning this particular prejudice. Norfolk is the home of Elizabeth Fry, Thomas Paine, Thomas Browne, Julian of Norwich, and Nelson to name but a few of the reformers and thinkers that helped shaped England....all living up to the Norfolk motto - Do Different-

Terry Hamblin said...

Mea culpa. However, it was all meant in good fun. See next post.

Terry Hamblin said...

Apparently, it is Norwich's rivals Ipswich Town who are known as the Tractormen. Suffolk rather than Norfolk. Easy to confuse if you don't live there!