Near to where I live there is a junction of a cycle path and two footpaths. The local council has thoughtfully placed a bin there. It’s a standard, rectangular-sided litter bin, about a metre or so high and sides half a metre. It’s had a hard life though, being bruised and battered and covered in graffiti. For some reason some passers by seem to want to take out their frustrations in life by abusing it. Occasionally, the bin is found on its side, no mean feat because it is attached to a slab of concrete. This has happened three times this week, but it’s been picked up and set back in its designed orientation, readying it to continue its thankless job of receiving the effluent from our throw away culture.
In the main, most members of the society in which we live conform to its social expectations without question. But there are some who don’t, and the imbibing of alcoholic beverages or other mind altering substances sometimes invokes a behavioural response that reflects the inner turmoil that must be going on within them. As someone drily said to me this week, “When the drink is in, the wits are out”.
However, this piece of litter bin mayhem reflects a degree of anti-socialism that exposes a disconnect between God’s design for mankind and how some behave. Sin plays a large part, but there is also pressure from a society that is stressed by secular, humanist and anti-God influences. In addition, the way our culture is largely based on material values and an economy dependent on mankind purchasing lots of “stuff”, just exacerbates the strains.
Jesus came for the drop-outs in society. Those who were caught up in circumstances beyond their control, such as illness, destitution, divorce, death, prostitution and so on. And in a society that had no safety net for the less fortunate. His message of hope resonated with so many in His time, and as we continue His work on earth, we must find opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet. There has been a suicide of a young man in the next village in the past week or so. Another life lost, sacrificed on the altar of despair and hopelessness. The time is short and the harvest bountiful. Let’s pray for opportunities to share God’s love and grace with those needing to hear it.
In the BBC programme “Pointless”, Alexander Armstrong asks the contestants in turn, “Tell me all about yourself”. It really is a pointless question, because two or three sentences cannot give an answer. Invariably, people will describe themselves in terms of the jobs and hobbies they are involved in, taxi-drivers, teachers, doctors, or marketing executives. Even a vicar or two, I seem to remember. And the same with hobbies – some people have more unusual hobbies like bee keeping or lepidopterology, which they expound with a pride not exhibited by the readers or film watchers. But it doesn’t say much about themselves. What they are really like.
But if asked the same question as a Christian, what do I say? My favourite is, “I’m a pilgrim, traveling through the highways and byways of life, heading for a Heavenly home when my assignment to Planet Earth has come to an end.” But even then it doesn’t say much about who I am; rather it says what I’m doing. “Who am I?” is a much more complex question to answer. I have children and grandchildren, so I’m a father and grandfather. If I walk to the Co-op, I’m a shopper. If I then make some soup, I’m a cook. In a sense, I’m constantly reinventing myself, changing who I am in this terrestrial kingdom. But thankfully in God I am special and unchanging. Because God is unchanging, and I am His son. I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). I am loved (Galatians 2:20). I am precious (Isaiah 43:4). I’m created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). And there are many more Scriptures that describe who I am in God’s kingdom.
Sadly, a citizen of the worldly culture in which we live doesn’t really know much about who they are, because they have no absolute values on which to base their conclusions. And so many people lapse into negative thoughts about themselves. They compare their waist size with an airbrushed model in a woman’s magazine and conclude they are fat, bringing on depression. Social media pushes ideas that are unattainable, bullying the more vulnerable. Advertising exposes our lack of sufficient funds to buy the next “must-have”. And so on. And the clamour of so much stress and conflict hitting our minds can induce confusion and mental illness, and lead to a conclusion that we are without identity and worth. But all the more reason why we should be sure of our identities in Christ, so that we can expose the shortcomings of the worldly kingdom with our testimonies, promoting the wonder of a kingdom, whose King took on the culture of His time and showed us a better way.
But I smile when I think of the look on Alexander’s face, if I said, “I’m a pilgrim…”. But don’t think I’ve lost my senses – I have no desire to appear on Pointless.
D-Day celebrations are being held for the 75th anniversary, 6th June 2019. Remembering the largest military naval, air and land operation ever attempted, and the mind-boggling numbers of casualties, is the very least we can do. The Queen today paid tribute to the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who died, and quite rightly so. In the war years there was a sense of unity that bound people and communities together, as the UK faced a common foe. Just about everyone in the country, regardless of status, pulled together to do what they could, suffering hardship, deprivation and grief in the process. And we always need to remember, and insist that future generations also remember, the sacrifices paid by my parents’ generation, for the freedom of the society in which we live.
The post-Pentecost Early Church was birthed in a wonderful spirit of unity. Acts 2:44 “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” Acts 4:32, “All the believers were united in heart and mind.” So what can a pilgrim tramping through the highways and by-ways of life make of the dysfunctional and disunited Church today? He looks on at the many denominations, different factions and beliefs, the rise of liberalistic theologies, the introduction of sinful practices into church liturgies and government, even the abandonment of many of the principles laid down in the First Century by men and women who were united in their determination to spread the Good News of Jesus in their communities, fulfilling the Great Commission. It would be easy to give a shrug and conveniently turn the head and consider something else. But Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “…I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it“. It is worth considering what Jesus didn’t say as well as what He did say. It isn’t a conditional statement with mankind as a dependency. It’s a straight forward statement of fact – Jesus will build His Church. So every Christian pilgrim needs to illuminate his meanderings through life with the teachings of Jesus, using the foundations laid down by the Apostles and the Early Church as stepping stones, doing our part to protect the unity of our faith, regardless of what others are doing. And we always need to remember, and insist that future generations also remember, the sacrifices paid by the heroes of our faith two thousand years ago.