Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Money, Eyes
I am having lunch today with Je Vais. He became my friend three years ago and now he is off abroad for a new job. I will miss him. He has an infectious laugh and a servant heart. Many are the times he has lifted my spirits.
Was it Shakespeare who said that parting was such sweet sorrow? Yes, Juliet said it to Romeo. Saying “goodbye” is easy when friendship is shallow, but hard when friendship is deep. I am looking forward to lunch with Je Vais in one sense, but not in another. We will not break bread again together for – who knows how long?
Was this how Jesus felt at the last supper? A kind of pain mixed with joy? The pain produced by impending separation, but joy produced by reflection on the shared love between him and his disciples. He said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15, NIV). His eagerness motivated by love, not just destiny. He is with his friends, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15.15).
Je Vais referred to this on Sunday when he shared his thoughts on the communion. A deeper grasp of the meaning of that last meal is made clear when we contemplate the sweet pain of saying “goodbye” to dear friends.
Our lunch today will be painfully sweet, but I am glad it will be so. Any other set of emotions would be un-Christian.
The oscars took place last night. In a year or two very few people will remember who won what. Except the winners, and those they love. Parents of Oscar recipients will be bragging about their children’s success for many a long year. And why not? We’d all do the same. Well, I would.
Bragging has its bad side and its good side. Someone once said we should gossip the gospel. I think we should also ‘brag’ the gospel. How do we do that? There are potential pitfalls. We are not to boast about ourselves, “so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:29 NIV11-GK). Paul also warns us, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” (1 Corinthians 3:21 NIV11-GK).
If we are going to boast, in what should we boast and how should we boast? Three tips follow:
- Love Prevents Selfish Boasting. When we love someone we are more interested in them than anything. More than our rumbling stomach, the person over their shoulder, the thing that happened to us last night. “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV11-GK). You might be the most ‘committed’ Christian since Polycarp (look him up!), but if you’re not a person of love you are nothing like Christ. Paul goes on to say, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV11-GK). No, love does not boast, and neither should we – about ourselves. However, there is a good kind of boasting ….
- Weakness is Worth Boasting About. What does Paul mean when he says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NIV11-GK)? Is he on some exaggerated guilt-trip here? I think not. It seems to me that he is looking to expose the things in his life that should make him unattractive and unusable to God. Yet, God still loves him and uses him. These weaknesses might have included his anti-Christian past, his thorn in the flesh, or his lack of eloquence. Whatever they were he was happy to expose them, promote them and talk about them because then it was clear that God was the one who accepted him and empowered him, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11-GK). Not only that, but there is a thing worth boasting about …..
- The Cross is Worth Boasting About. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 NIV11-GK). Boasting is OK when it is boasting about someone impressive – and who is more impressive than Jesus Christ, and what is more impressive than his sacrifice on the cross? Do we talk about the cross enough? I know people might look at you sideways when you bring it up, but how else do we demonstrate how important it is to us? “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV11-GK)
BBC radio broadcast a programme called “Witness”. I came across it only recently – and love it. Eye-witness accounts are used to illuminate significant historic events. The first one I listened to was that of a British soldier captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942. His name is Maurice Naylor. The whole story is captivating, but one incident stood out to me.
His health was failing due to malnutrition and the many tropical diseases from which he suffered. His best friend appeared one day with three eggs – an unimaginable luxury in the prison camp. He gave them to Maurice to help him recover, and left – never to be seen again. What an impressive sacrifice. The eggs that saved Maurice might have saved his friend if he had kept them to himself.
Why did this story grab my attention? Because my wife’s grandfather suffered a very similar fate as a Japanese prisoner of war for several years. I think about his experiences often, though he died before I knew his granddaughter. Two things stand out for me.
- Compassion is Clearest When the Day is Darkest. Three eggs would be nothing to me today, but they were everything to Maurice. Sacrifices carry specially profound meaning when they are voluntary. It is when giving is hard that it carries weight. A person in pain serving another in greater pain illuminates the world. Think of Jesus on the cross. He did not deserve to be there. His friends abandoned him. He was flogged and crucified. But what does he do when a cry for help reaches his ears? The robber says,“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42–43 NIV11-GK). Perhaps those of us who pray to be ‘more like Jesus’ need to recognise that this might well be when we are in need, but someone near us is in even greater need. When I serve a person despite my own pain God’s compassion is all the clearer for them to see.
- Small Things Matter. I am attracted to the idea of doing big, grandiose, impressive deeds. My brain tells me that the bigger the act the more God will be pleased. But Jesus sees things differently. He is impressed with the size of the heart, not the size of the gift. Or more properly, he is impressed with the size of the faith. “He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:2–4 NIV11-GK). The widow gave everything. Maurice’s friend did likewise. I am too quick to congratulate myself when I make a sacrifice for someone. But was it significant? Did it hurt? Was it hard? Did I hesitate before making it? If not – was it really a sacrifice at all?
According to this article, two children racked up a whopping £3,200 bill on their father’s iPhone. That puts my own children’s bills into perspective. We once had to pay for a fire extinguisher to be re-filled. But that’s a story for another day.
The big phone bill story puts me in mind of my ‘bill’ with God. It’s a bill I can never hope to pay. But it has been paid for me. “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15 NIV11-GK). His death as a ransom has set me free from my debt to God.
What impact can this have on me? Three thoughts:
- Humility. God took the initiative to pay my debt. He had a plan for this before time began, and he carried it out through Jesus two thousand years before I was born. “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Corinthians 2:7 NIV11-GK). My debt is paid because God loves me, not because I am in any way deserving.
- Gratitude. God’s bill to me never gets any bigger now that the bill has been settled. Grace is extended to me in advance. I can live in freedom, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV11-GK). Such freedom brings a joy that motivates me to avoid sin, since I want nothing to come between me and my God.
- Grace. God offered grace to me, in turn I can offer it to others. The parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 warns me to treat others as God has treated me, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NIV11-GK). Surely I can forgive those who sin against me when I reflect on my own great debt.