Worship this morning began with the words “All people that on earth do dwell…” As a Christian I must have sung that hundredth psalm hundreds of times yet it suddenly hit me that there is no mention of Christ or Jesus. It could be sung with equal sincerity and enthusiasm by any Jew or Muslim yet no-one would ever think it an inappropriate way to begin an act of Christian worship. Of course, the same could be said of any of the Hebrew psalms but that “all people...” brought it home to me in a particularly striking way.
Later we jumped two and a half millennia to sing the words of Fred Kaan “Let us rise and join the forces that combine to do God’s will“. Granted that hymn is anchored firmly in Christian tradition with an opening challenge to “live for Christ alone” but I cannot believe that Fred Kaan means us to limit the forces that combine to do God’s will to card-carrying Christians.
Our service ended with John Oxenham’s great hymn “In Christ there is no East or West” with it’s call to “Join hands then, all the human race” and a claim of kinship to “all who my Father’s image bear“.
The title of J.B. Phillip’s book “Your God is too small” has been much quoted but these verses seem to be going further, to be telling us our Christ is too small. Christ is bigger than the Church, Christ is bigger than Christianity, his purpose of making God’s kingdom a reality on earth as in heaven embraces all humanity and all creation. Jesus told his disciples “he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40) and whoever is working to realize the values of that kingdom, whether they acknowledge Christ as its source or not, share in that purpose.
The values of God’s kingdom – peace, justice, forgiveness, love – are under threat today as much as ever, if not more than ever, and we urgently need Christ’s timely reminder that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Sometimes it would seem as if the kingdom of Satan – of violence, greed, revenge, injustice xenophobia – is more united than God’s but we dare not let it be so. Populism seems to be the order of the day and it is usually the populism of selfishness and greed. There is an urgent need for a populism of good, of reconciliation, of peace. A coalition of all who acknowledge and struggle for the values of the kingdom regardless of theology or philosophy, whether they be Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Humanist or of any other creed or none.
One last word, for any who may find Jesus’ words “No-one comes to the Father except by me” a stumbling block. I suggest that an answer lies in three words from John Oxenham’s hymn: “all Christlike souls are one in him”. Many who do not profess to being Christian may be Christlike – I believe Nelson Mandella had Christlike qualities. Sadly not all who do profess to being Christian are Christlike.. Donald Trump professes to being a Christian! And if that seems too judgemental I would add that most of us, I suspect, see Christlikeness as a goal rather than an achievement.