“Abandon hope all ye who enter here!” Dante’s supposed inscription at the entrance to Hell (Divine Comedy) is an unwritten subtext threatening soul & sanity as I enter the General Assembly and a week of intense meetings with fellow leaders on Edinburgh’s historic Mound. I fear that Thursday’s debate about allowing ministers to ‘marry’ people in same-sex relationships will further divide and distract us (as a national church) from the vital job of showing and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

How appropriate that, our new moderator, The Right Rev Dr Derek Browning should preach on ‘Hope in Christ’ at Sunday’s St Giles service. Funnily enough, just before the service, in which our new moderator The Right Rev Dr Derek Browning inspired us towards ‘rainbow hope’ in Jesus Christ, I quoted the same John Cleese line, Derek used, “It’s not the despair… I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand!”

What hope have Scotland’s (men’s) football team of qualifying again for a European or World Cup? Our hopes are raised with magnificent victories over teams like France, Italy & Ireland only to slip to defeat by minnows. Such can be the pain of dear hopes dashed ‘in love’, that it’s understandable wanting to hide from romance and further intimacy to protect your heart & soul from ever feeling so ‘let-down’ again.

I’m optimistic by nature, but the General Assembly can drain me like a ‘Dementor’. But, after Derek’s sermon and the ‘Call to national Prayer’ on Saturday I’m encouraged to hope that God’s Spirit will be allowed to move with fresh force to drive us to trust and depend upon Christ more. Rather than point people to ‘The Great Church of Scotland’, which is a defensive tendency in days of declining membership and negative press, the vision is surely ‘Jesus Christ’!? Pointing everyone to Jesus Christ.

“The vision is Jesus. Not Christianity. Not prayer, mission and justice. Not worship leading or church planting or evangelism. If you love Jesus you’ll do that stuff: you’ll pray and worship and go to church and preach the gospel – but in doing all those things don’t lose the why, don’t get lost in the crowd.” (Pete Greig / Dirty Glory)

If we call our self ‘Christian’, ‘Disciple’ or ‘Follower of Jesus, inserting an adjective before it simply dilutes its meaning: centred, orientated and defined by ‘Christ’. ‘Born again, liberal, conservative evangelical, gay, heterosexual, and other further descriptions are all unnecessary and unhelpful. Christ is the one to define and direct our identity.

I’m sharing digs with 2 great blokes who both hold quite different theological outlooks to myself, but shared faith in Jesus Christ, humour & humanity allow us to overcome serious differences to thrive in each other’s company and share prayer for Jesus Christ to become more The Focus for ourselves and our beloved church and land.

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” (Romans 15:13 / MSG)