Stop taking your ball home – A sermon on John 15:18-27

When you were a child did you ever play ball games with your friends? It could be football or catch or simply throwing a ball against a wall. Anyone who has done this, or played a game which uses a solitary piece of equipment with a group of others, has probably experienced the most archetypal act of childish petulance; that moment where the person whose ball, or whatever, you are all playing with decides that things aren’t going their way so they pick it up and take it home with them. That moment when someone selfishly decides that, because they aren’t getting their way, nobody will be able to play.
It’s been years since that happened to me. At least, it’s been years since it happened to me in a literal sense. However, I feel it happening in a metaphorical sense within the Church whenever we discuss the increasing secularisation of our society.
I’ll give you an example. Last month I went to Spring Harvest in Harrogate. Whilst there I attended a talk about a new evangelism tool being rolled out by the Church of England called Talking Jesus. It is a series of videos, followed by group discussions, designed to give people the tools to feel confident enough to discuss their faith with friends and family who do not yet know Christ. It’s a great idea, very similar to the Alpha Course, and one which has the potential to equip Christians around the country to share their faith in a way which could really impact the lives of others.
Well, that’s what I thought of it, anyway.
At the end of the presentation the lady who had put it together asked for any questions or comments and the hand of a man sitting in the row in front of me shot up.
“You talk about sharing the Gospel, but what use is that in an age where Christianity is marginalised and mocked by an increasingly left-wing media? Especially the BBC, every single person there hates us.”
I’d love to say I kept a poker face, but I put my head in my hands.
We had just sat through something about a course designed to help people to talk about Christianity in a secular world and it immediately set off complaints of marginalisation of Christianity and a hatred of it in certain areas of the established media.
I kept my mouth shut, but I could just think of two things. Firstly, we are not a marginalised, persecuted minority fighting against some sort of Godless establishment; we actually live in a country with freedom of worship, freedom to share our faith and where Church leaders sit in the upper chamber of our Parliament.
Secondly, yes – there are people who hate us. There are people who want Christianity consigned to the history books. There are those who think it has no place in our society. But here’s the thing; Jesus told us this would be the case. He told us that the world would hate us for following him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What should come as a surprise is how some Christians and parts of the Church choose to react to this. We heard Jesus in John’s Gospel earlier talking about the hatred and persecution his followers could expect to encounter, but what he doesn’t tell us is that we should throw our toys out of the pram when we come up against any resistance or opposition. He doesn’t tell us that we should insist on retaining a privileged position in our society and that we should throw our toys out of the pram when that doesn’t happen. He doesn’t tell us that we should try to impose His teachings on everybody else and that we should cry about being persecuted when everybody else won’t accept that.
I say all of this because it seems to be a recurring theme in pulpits of all denominations at the moment to speak about the marginalisation of Christianity at the moment. It’s striking how often it is brought up whilst talking about all kinds of topics, usually as a way of painting a world in which the odds are all stacked against us. To an extent, of course there is a truth in that. Christians are in a definite minority in this country, and I mean people who follow and worship Christ as opposed to those who simply identify as Christian because they are British. There are laws passed, workplace rules enacted, and social norms widely accepted which all go against the Law of God. We see greed, hatred, prejudice and immoral behaviour all around us, woven into the fabric of our society, and we should absolutely take a stand against it (and, by the way, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a modern phenomenon; these things are as old as time itself).
However, the thing we may be getting wrong isn’t whether or not to make a stand, but how we make those stands and what issues we choose to stand against.
For example, there is a lot of publicity generated about Christians who are disciplined at work, or even fired, for either sharing their faith or for refusing to carry out basic responsibilities of their job because it goes against their beliefs (and it’s amazing how often that involves denying services to gay couples). Christian media, Church leaders and various newspapers pile in, all shouting about the erosion of faith in this country. Very often, though, when we look at the cases we find that there is an awful lot more to these cases than headlines and soundbites present to us. A teacher was recently fired, apparently just for sharing her faith. Pressure groups such as Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre got the story into papers, TV and radio, presenting it as another way Christians are being persecuted in the UK. However in reality, the teacher involved had told pupils they were going to Hell for not being Christians, made derogatory comments about pupils’ dress and consistently preached at classes despite being an English teacher, not an RE one.
If we worry that we are ridiculed by society, maybe we are making a rod for our own back here. We are called by Christ to live in truth; when we simply react to half heard stories or one-sided headlines, when we complain because society isn’t exactly how we want it to be, we remove ourselves from truth and, rather than living in Christ, we live in a world of our own making and with our own values. We can bemoan the fact that the world isn’t how we want it to be all we want, but simply stomping our feet and saying that the BBC hates us all (which really isn’t true, by the way) is just counter-productive.
So, if this isn’t the way to go, then what is. Jesus tells us plainly here. In verse 21 He says,
“But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who has sent me.”
If the world truly does hate us, then Jesus is clear that it is because they don’t know God the Father. This is not a reason for us to throw our hands up and ask “what’s the point?”, but it’s an invitation to go out into the world and show the Father to it. Not to brow beat people with religious talk, not to try to force everyone into following God’s Law, but to speak in truth and love, and to demonstrate God’s love for all in every interaction we have.
That is why we need to learn how to share our faith in an effective way. Not in a way that involves preaching at people, preaching belongs in a public forum. Rather, we need to be able to share our faith by our actions, never being afraid to let people know whose name we act in, and never being afraid to talk about Him when the time is right. But always, always in a way which gives Him glory and shows others love rather than condemnation.
And yes. It still does sound quite scary. But Jesus tells us about how we are not alone in this,
“The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning.”
We cannot hope to act in God’s name or speak in God’s name if we do not possess God’s Spirit within us. And He offers this to us. We always need to remember that it is by the Spirit, not by our own efforts, that we will show the Father to the world.
Some people will not want to know. Many will reject what God is doing and what we are saying in His name. But that has always and will always be the case and, while we should never give up, we should learn to accept that opposition to Christ will always exist.
But some people will start to listen. Some people will open themselves up to God’s truth. But this can only happen if we stop focusing on how the world makes us feel and start focusing more on Him.
Jesus didn’t go out into the world and complain that the Jewish leaders were trying to kill him, or that he wasn’t being listened to by everyone, or that his followers were being marginalised, or that he was chased out of some towns. No, he found people in every situation he could find; people in authority, people with no authority, the educated and the uneducated, the tax collector, adultress, widow, fisherman, soldier, rabbi and all other walks of life. He found these people where they were and he showed them love, accepted them, told them the truth and left it for them to respond as they wished.
This is how he calls us to be as well. Not to throw our toys out of the pram when the world won’t conform to our standards, but to love others and demonstrate the hope that comes from living in Christ. It isn’t something to complain about, but something to be rejoiced about for all eternity.

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