The people of Scotland have the historic privilege of deciding the place of this nation, whether that is within the Union or as an independent country. It’s not a preacher’s place to tell you what to vote. The Church of Scotland is neutral on the alternatives. Other than saying I think it is your Christian duty to vote, and to prepare seriously and prayerfully as you do, I do not wish to steer you. At least, not about the immediate issue at the heart of the referendum.
But I do want to encourage you to think more broadly. As Christians, we should be thinking about where our nation, whether independent or as part of the UK, is headed. We are already a nation. What kind of nation, society, and place do we want to be? As we consider our answers to this question I’d like to draw your attention to some of the characteristics of nations that God in scripture sets as most important. These give us a steer as to the things we ought to be thinking about. We begin by recalling that a nation, and indeed many nations, are important throughout the Bible.
Key passages worth considering are Genesis 12:1-3, Mark 11:15-18 and Revelation 5:9.
From Genesis, we see that people make a nation. The hillsides and the seashore, the natural resources and the location of some people are with respect to others all matter. Fundamentally, though, it’s people who make a nation. God would make Abram and his descendants into a great nation; territory came second. God deals, with blessing or curses, with the people who stand with, or against, Abram.
Our faith, based on ancient principles, is principally relational. It’s about how we take to do with the God who is present with and among us; and it’s about how we deal with one another: both those who are close by and our neighbours much further away.
Relationship with God mattered to Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel he shows that you can choose to put God first, and you can choose not to. It’s possible to replace a pre-eminent relationship with God with other things, and often these might be money and possessions. In a strongly combination of words and actions, Jesus shows God’s intention clearly. People should put God first; not only as individuals but as whole peoples or nations together.
In fact, the ministry of the special nation chosen by God was to make it possible for all the other nations to see and understand this one true God for themselves, so they, too, could come and worship. And an extraordinarily welcoming picture Jesus says that all nations are welcome to revere God, to come and to pray. If the Jews were special, it was for this purpose; that they were to help the whole earth see God and enable the whole world to worship God.
So nations, made up of people together, aren’t just in it for themselves. There has to be an international element to being a nation. One of the questions you may consider is whether Scotland can contribute more fully to the welfare of the world independent or as part of the union.
The picture in Revelation helps us see that nationhood isn’t about cutting ourselves off, or considering ourselves better, or holier, than those in other nations. For no-one in the world comes to God except through the price paid by the Christ who gives himself for the sins of the world. And the reconciliation Jesus achieves, he wins for people all over the place. No single nation has a special place in God’s heart; God accepts people from the north and the south, the east and the west; all whom he calls through his Son. God has made us to be together even though we have national distinctives, and the time shall be when the redeemed of all the nations across the whole earth shall cry ‘Glory!’
One thing is clear from this quick look at passages throughout scripture: the decision we are called to make in a few days’ time really matters. But the decision is not only about Scotland’s political future. The decision is about what the nation of Scotland, independent or united, will be like in ten years’ time, and for the next generation; for our children and grandchildren as they grow up and live and contribute to the welfare and betterment of the whole world.
What kind of Scotland do you want for them? If these scriptural pictures guide you, then you may want a Scotland that values everyone, one that doesn’t only accept all people but sees the part they can play. You might look for a nation that both calls people to play their part and makes it possible for them to do that. It should be a Scotland where those who are poor are not forgotten, where wealth divides less than it enables, where common wealth is taken seriously and treasured. It should be a Scotland which isn’t insular and isolated but plays its full part in addressing the challenges facing our world. These passages suggest we should have a vision of a Scotland which contributes to making the world more sustainable, less threatening, more hospitable.
I’m sure many of us think that it would be great if Scotland were a place where God was taken seriously by many, where people really were keen to know the life of Christ, to live by his teaching and be made strong by his Spirit. We can’t force that on anyone; but the call to all those who call themselves Christian has to be to take their faith seriously for their own sake, and for the good of the society in which they live. If we strengthen ourselves through faith, we strengthen our nation. That is a challenge every member of Christ’s church has to hear clearly and respond to.
The Church of Scotland has been holding conferences where people have imagined Scotland’s future, not so they can decide how to vote but so we can, together, work out where we want to go. In these meetings issues such as equality, fairness and compassion came out as some of the biggest ideas. Perhaps you can make connections between those words and the passages we’ve looked at today.
As you continue to consider the whole issue, I encourage you to take it seriously. Don’t be put off by the backbiting, the negative campaigning or the complexity of the whole thing. The question will be asked this Thursday. What’s more, though, is that we will still be in Scotland – and we will still constitute the people of Scotland, irrespective of the vote. There may be considerable need for reconciliation in the weeks to come. That has to be founded on a recognition, in advance of the vote, that whether we are saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No thanks’ we are all Scots, and we all belong together. And isn’t it great to see that it is the Church of Scotland, principally through the Moderator, which is spearheading this ministry of reconciliation?
The biggest question, though, is not how we will get on together. The most significant question is: What will we do so that our nation may be one which follows God’s ways and knows God’s blessing in the generations to come? Your answer to that question, partly through your vote, but much more through your faithful, worshipful, servant living, in thought and in words and action, is deeply important now and long into the future.
May God enable us to live out our calling through Christ.
Photo credits: Dave Conner/Flickr; Daniel Peckham/Flickr; greensambaman/Flickr.