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Before And After The Referendum

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Before And After The Referendum
(Sermon by Rev David Denniston, 14 September 2014)  

Read : Exodus 14: 19-31; Romans 14: 1-12; Matthew 18: 21-35 

This weekend in our nation of Scotland there are many who are feeling anxious and uncertain. According to the opinion polls there are a surprisingly high percentage of voters who remain undecided on whether to vote Yes or No in Thursday's referendum. For these folks there is great uncertainty and not a little anxiety as they attempt to weigh up competing claims, conflicting assertions and contradictory evidence.  

For those of us who have already made up our minds there is also uncertainty and anxiety. Our uncertainty may not be with regard to how we might vote but rather on what the outcome might be.  

Again the opinion polls suggest that the vote on Thursday could go either way. The implications of a vote one way or the other may make us anxious, depending on our own convictions and our own vote. 

So whether we are undecided or firmly decided, there is uncertainty ahead and a natural anxiety. 

As you may know, on the Scottish Parliamentary Mace are inscribed four words: WISDOM, JUSTICE, COMPASSION, INTEGRITY. 

These values do not indicate how we should vote on Thursday, but they perhaps suggest something of the principles that may guide us in our deciding and lead us beyond Thursday into the future, whatever that future may be. 

And as Christians there will be additional values and principles that will guide how we come to our decision, Yes or No 

As Christians, the decision we take will not simply be based on short-term economic benefits nor simply on what will be good for us as individuals . . . 

We will be asking questions such as who are our neighbours, in Scotland and beyond Scotland and what is our responsibility to each? 

What impact will our decision on Thursday have on the poorest and most vulnerable of our society? 

What is the nature of and best expression of inter-dependence in our ever shrinking world?  

Is a vote one way or the other going to take us further down the road towards world peace or towards more sustainable environmental policies? 

How do we best secure a long-term good, stable, prosperous, peaceful, just and more equal society and for whom are we seeking these things... ourselves? Scotland, these islands, Europe, the world . . . ? 

And so on . . . 

Speaking to people over these last few weeks and especially in these last few days, the one thing that is making people of different views feel anxious and uncertain is not the vote on Thursday, but how we face Friday and beyond; how we - as a nation - move on beyond the vote. How we ensure unity and community however our nation decides. 

Beyond Thursday and beyond the choice we each will make we still have bigger challenges ahead for which we must all pull together regardless of our views. And we will do so out of love for one another, love for our society, love for our nation and love for the Kingdom of God and its values and priorities.  

The themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy and patience are dominant in today's Gospel reading, and in our epistle from Paul's letter to the Romans the apostle is urging his readers not to divide over secondary issues and urges them not to quarrel over different opinions.  

It is on this path of unity and reconciliation that we must walk beyond this week and its momentous decision and it is towards such unity and reconciliation that we must work; and as the church, as Christians we have a key role in this.  

There will be some of us who wish were not at this point, that we were not facing this decision, that we were not being presented with such a stark choice, who feel and fear that a simple Yes / No vote has unnecessarily divided the nation, has demanded of us a polarised decision and has destroyed the opportunity for consensus.  

But this is where we are and we cannot change it now. There is no going back and whatever the result on Thursday, we must go forward. 

We may perhaps feel like the Israelites fleeing Egypt! We cannot go back, but ahead of us is the Red Sea. How can we go forward from here? 

The fearful Red Sea that many people see ahead and which causes them anxiety and uncertainty is not the vote itself but how we find a way forward thereafter. It is not Thursday, but Friday that concerns many. How do we find a way through the division, the possible recriminations, the fact that on Friday morning half the nation will feel relieved or exhilarated while the other half will feel deeply disappointed or despairing.  

Will we find a Moses to calm the fears of the people, to call them forward and to carve a path through the turbulent waters? 

Well perhaps, just perhaps, this is part of what the church is called to do in coming days. And indeed, the Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Revd John Chalmers has set the road towards such a role for the church in his emphasis on respectful dialogue and the plans for a national service of reconciliation.  

Not that we should overstate the extent or depth of the division in Scotland; aside from some examples of bad temper, inappropriate name-calling, some hotheads on social media and a few thrown eggs, in comparison with similar constitutional debates throughout the world... even in these islands in times past! . . . this has been a largely positive and civil referendum debate.  

And yet, there can be no denying that there are divisions... but did you see that picture that has been going the rounds this last week on the internet and social media. There are two houses adjoining one another, the one with Yes posters in its windows the other with 'No Thanks' in its; and strung between the homes is a banner stating 'We love our neighbours'! Good! 

In the main we are a people well able to overcome such divisions and put them behind us and walk and work towards a good future whatever the result. But this will require good leadership and a willingness of all to seek unity and be reconciled. 

When it is all over, a decision will have been made. Half of us will be pleased with that decision and half of us will not be. But some things . . . MANY things will remain the same. 


The church will still face the same challenges and opportunities and we will each still need to pray and work and commit to the future of Christ's Church in our land and in this place. We will still need to struggle and act and pray for social justice, will still need to reach out in care to the poor and vulnerable, still need to listen to the broken and pray for the sick, still need to open our doors and our hearts to the troubled and the lost, still need to bear witness to Christ in this city and this nation, still need to seek less destructive ways of living with the created world and with one another. 

There has been much passion evident in the referendum debate. That is natural and inevitable. But as Christian people let us get just as passionate . . .indeed even more passionate about the Kingdom of God, mission, prayer, justice and mercy. 

And if we have concerns and anxieties about what lies ahead of us beyond Thursday's vote then let us, like the Israelites faced with the Red Sea, fall to our knees and cry out to the God who has, time and again, responded to the cries of terrified people, and parted the deep waters of chaos and provided a way through to a promised land of peace and new life. God is the one who hears our cries. God is the one who knows our fears. God is the one knows where the dry path to the Promised Land lies. And God is the one who longs to set our feet on that path and lead us into new life.  

As the church - as God's people in Scotland let us point the way - and with God's leading and in his power take our nation forward to and through the troubled waters to find the unity, reconciliation, justice and peace and hope for the future for our nation . . . a hope that ultimately does not lie in constitutional arrangements however important these may be, but a hope that lies in the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Christ. And in bearing witness to these and working for these our job as a church on Friday coming will be exactly the same as it was on Friday past.  

Rev David Denniston, September 2014


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