The patron saint of Dubrovnik, where I visited recently, is a man called St Blaise, frequently depicted as carrying the city in his hand. While you are there, even just visiting, it is said that he holds you in his palm also.
Now, a few days of visiting cathedrals and monasteries isn’t quite enough to make me subscribe to the notion of sainthood. I know enough of humanity to doubt that any such perfection will ever be seen this side of heaven. But, as I consider my own home island, something beguiles me about the thought of it being held safely in a protective hand. Lewis needs that more than ever before, as the powers and principalities seek to destroy all in it that is right and good.
If I don’t accept the notion of patron saints, though, who should be the protector of Lewis? Whose role is it to ensure that all we hold dear is kept safe?
Well, call me a heretic, but I’m going to invoke another Roman Catholic saint here, St Teresa of Avila. Addressing the Christian body in its entirety, she said:
‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world’.
If we, the Christian community of Lewis, are indeed his hands, his feet, his eyes, then to us, surely, falls the protection of our island.
That, my friends, means a bit more than we’ve been doing. Lewis is not the last stronghold of the gospel. As I have said before, the stronghold is not a place, but a person, and we have no more claim on him than anywhere else. But he has a claim on us. If we have called out to him, and said, ‘Lord, Lord’, we have to be prepared for the inconvenient possibility that he might have a job for us.
Not a comfy, predictable nine-to-five, and not a highly paid, glamorous position either. This is the God, remember, who sent the Apostles with almost nothing to their names, out to build his church. Might he not be asking us to put ourselves out a little? Is it at all possible that he’s speaking to us, that when we ask in prayer what he would have us do, he has answered many times, but we’re deaf to what we would rather not hear?
I know the answer, because I’ve been there more than once. God doesn’t check with us whether now is a good time. He doesn’t even ask if it’s what we want to do. No, if we listen, here’s what he’s saying:
This is what I have for you. It may not have been in your plan, but it’s always been in mine. Don’t worry about what you will say, or how you will do this – I send my people nowhere alone, or unequipped.
I’m sorry, in one sense, to be repeating myself – but this is important, and must therefore be said over and over.
We all know that society has changed and now, moral decline is catalysed by government. Where once we had leadership, we now mainly have populist politicians, seeking to please the people, like a painted troupe of dancing girls. They say what they think we want to hear. And we obediently become the creatures they have pictured in their minds – approving everything that once we knew to be wrong, and revolted by any hint of the truth.
We know it. But are we, a believing people, going to just accept the rapid decline as a done deed? If we shrug now and throw up our hands, will it go well for us later?
Every one of us already knows the answer. We pray for the state of our world, of our country, of our island.
There is a mission field right here. When I see the anger in people and the hostility that manifests in a community like ours over little things of no lasting consequence, I realise the need.
It’s a need for Christ. People who think they are secularists lash out at the church and its traditional influence. They hiss and spew venom at those who profess the Saviour. In a desperate attempt to not face facts, they mock and deride what they secretly fear, and what their soul actually craves:
Rest in him.
The duty to show them this rests with those fortunate enough to have realised their own need. It rests with people like me, and with most of you reading this.
We cannot simply pray for them, though, with our hands over our ears, and our feet rooted to the spot. Believing people have to take their faith public – to go into these positions where difficult decisions are made.
Surely, in a country where governments sanction the murder of the unborn child, the reinterpretation of God’s fixed law, and the excising of the Bible from public life, there is an expectation that we will try to be where such decisions are made.
Moses did not want to go to such places. He thought someone else should do it, but God told him to open his mouth, and the words would be supplied.
If we don’t believe that, what do we believe? And if we truly do, what are we going to do about it?