I’ve been coming to the little town of Bourg-St-Andeol on the banks of the Rhone river for more than twenty years. We’re here as a family this year spending the month of July with family friends. Their kids and our kids get on really well together and we enjoy the fellowship of long-drawn out meals. Both Jill and our friend Benoit celebrated their birthdays this week, having been born on consecutive July days a few decades ago. We’re staying in an apartment in a 17th century town house that is arranged in an ‘H’ shape around two courtyards, one of which opens onto a narrow street while the other contains a peaceful little flower garden.
France is a very beautiful country. Cycling through fields of sunflowers and golden grains on Saturday I was reminded of a dish towel we saw in Scotland. In that case the script read something like this: God was extolling the virtues of his creation in Scotland – the heather covered moorlands, the deep lakes, the majestic mountains. The angel Gabriel challenged Him saying: “If you given them all of this they will be perfect!” God’s response: “Ah, but wait until you see who their neighbors are!”
In similar fashion we could note that God would have said of France, amid the fields, vineyards, flowers and cusine: “Ah, but wait until you see the politics I’m giving them!”
France is known for “La Grève”, “The Strike”. Not a summer seems to go by without truck drivers blockading ports, railroad staff walking out and public servants ceasing to serve. Maybe this year in the wake of emphatic victories for the socialists in both the presidency and the legislature the labor force will be less confrontational. However, in the midst of the current Euro crisis, the plans that the new administration have for growth will be severely limited by the massive debt that the nation has incurred in the continued pursuit of its generous social programs.
But politics and scenery are not the only things France is known for. In the year 498, the Frankish bishop now known as St. Remy, presided at the baptism of Clovis, recognized as the first king of the French people. He prophesied: “This nation of France is destined to defend the church of Christ. When she is true to this cause she will be blessed, when she fails this cause she will suffer. Even so, she will last until the end of time”. Of all the nations of Europe, France is the oldest, and her record as a defender of the church of Christ was proven at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 when the Islamic invasion of the Moors was turned back. In the centuries since the role has been sporadic, but it can still be said that historically many have left the shores of France on behalf of the gospel.
In the modern era we rejoice in the growth of evangelical communities across the nation, and also the renewal that is coming to many Catholic congregations.
There has been Christian witness in Bourg-St-Andeol for at least 1800 years. Andeol, a disciple of Polycarp, the martyr bishop of Smyrna – Izmir in modern Turkey, and himself a disciple of John, was murdered here by the Romans in the early years of the third century. A sarcophagus in the ancient church here is said to contain his remains. The bishop of Viviers was the guest preacher at a service here last Sunday. His message was a very solid exhortation to serve in the Spirit of Jesus Christ: To make disciples as He made disciples, and not mere followers; to love as He first loved us, not in a spirit of camaraderie, but with real giving love; and to love the world “so much”, as the Father loved the world so much he sacrificially sent his only begotten one!
May the nation and people of France increasingly live up to their prophetic destiny.