Last week I attended the Baptist Union of Scotland’s Assembly in Motherwell. As always there were many stories and reflections from people on the frontline in the work of the Kingdom; answering questions such as, where is God at work, where can we join him? What areas of life are we passionate about? The three main areas where we can share our faith, with passion, is the home, the workplace and the community.
Coming back on the train, I was reminded of one community where people feel passionate, i.e. the football community. Having left Glasgow on Saturday morning and settled into a good book, I was interrupted in my thought by a lively bunch of guys who boarded at Perth. They filled the carriage with noise and laughter as well as the chink, chink of beer bottles. I have to say that I quite enjoyed their banter. At one point the guard came along asking for, ‘tickets please’. The place went silent and I began to fear the worst, as I guess some others did, that this young girl might get some sort of sexist comment or be at the receiving end of inappropriate humour. The air was tense, with anticipation of the worst that could happen, when she then asked, ‘any connections at Inverness’. To which, after that pregnant pause moment, one wee wise guy replied, ‘I used tae hae a great granddad there but he’s deid now’. The carriage erupted in laughter to the mild embarrassment of the guard. It could have been worse!
As the journey progressed and the beer got consumed the gathered community of football fans began their songs of worship. I was amazed at how many songs they knew off by heart such as a rendition of the pop song ‘Spirit in the Sky’ which ended by saying that when I die I want to be laid in a box with Bobby Cox. So they had worship, they had a cult hero, they had an identity, which was shaped by the fact that they had an enemy, i.e. a rival team, in Dundee (who wear orange), who they would have been glad to see relegated, according to their liturgy. And yet, they did not wear their colours as that would have meant, by law, they could not have drank on the train but as the train went on they were empowered to witness, by the spirits they consumed, as to who they really were and what they worshipped.
If all of that sounds a bit like what we do as Christians; it should be worrying. Why? Because what I have just described sounds a lot like religion. And, as we were reminded at the Assembly, being Baptist started as a movement not a denomination. As Elie Haddad of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, where the understanding of the word Christian is to be born into a certain culture or be associated, historically, with crusades, reminded us; that it is better to be identified as ‘a follower of Jesus’.
If we look like and sound like what the world worships, then we are suffering from an identity crisis. Fortunately, our hero is the way the truth and the life whom we can follow, sacrificially, in expectation that he will continually rebirth his church for mission in any given time, culture, home, workplace or community and the means we have of connecting with him is prayer. That was one thing my lively congregation on the train did not have but I have the privilege to pray for them. I don’t think that influenced the scoreline, by the way, but it may help us, if we practice it, to know how best to be followers of Jesus in the midst of our community.
Listen then to how Jesus prayed for you as you follow him and see how, surprisingly perhaps, love and unity is a large part of that witness:-
Jesus Prays for All Believers
“My prayer is not for them alone. (I.e. Jesus Disciples, see verses 6-19) I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
 New International Version. Pradis CD-ROM:Jn 17:20. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.