The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians: Reconciliation
Matthew 5:1-2, 9
The Reader’s Digest tells about a young boy named Matthew, age 4, setting in the back seat of the family car, eating an apple. “Daddy,” Matthew asked, “why is my apple turning brown?” His father, without taking his eyes off the road, said: “Because after you ate the outer skin off, the meat of the apple came in contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, changing its molecular structure, thus turning it a different color.” There was a long silence, then from the back seat, Matthew asked softly: “Daddy, are you talking to me?”
Sometimes that’s the way we feel when we read the Beatitudes. We have a hard time understanding exactly what Jesus meant, and we find ourselves having to re-define terms like “poor in spirit” and “mourning” and “meekness” in order to be able to get at what Jesus is trying to tell us. However, when we come to the seventh Beatitude, the intent of the Master requires no re-definition. The only thing we need to know is how to fulfill His command.
Every Sunday, at the end of our worship services, I pray: “Lord, let there be peace on this earth and let it begin right here, right now, with us.” I pray that prayer in response to the seventh Beatitude where Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” The point is clear. If we work for reconciliation and peace and harmony amongst the people in our own little corner of the world, then ultimately, by the power of Christ, that peace and reconciliation will spread to envelope the earth.
Now the unique importance of this particular Beatitude is underscored in two ways. One measure of its importance, at least in the mind of Jesus is the fact that it is placed near the end of His list of principles for human behavior. That would seem to indicate that peacemaking is a sign of spiritual maturity. Childish people are spoiling for a fight. Spiritual people want to heal. Childish people put other people down. Spiritually mature people lift others up. Childish people build walls. Spiritually mature people build bridges. Childish people resent. Spiritually mature people reconcile. A second measure of this Beatitude’s importance is found in the last phrase, “they shall be called the sons of God.” Understand, please, that in Biblical times, language was simple–there were not enough words to cover every situation. So to compensate for a lack of descriptive adjectives, they used the words “son of.” For example, if you wanted to say that a person was a paragon of virtue and honesty, you said: “He is a son of honesty.” If a woman became noted for remarkable kindness, she was referred to as a “daughter of kindness.” You will remember that Jesus once called James and John “sons of thunder” because of their hot tempers. And you will recall that in the Book of Acts, Barnabas is paid the high compliment of being labeled “the son of encouragement.” Therefore, this seventh Beatitude is declaring that nothing is more Godly or God-like than working to make peace among the peoples of this earth. Nothing draws us nearer to the heart of God than imitating His redemptive and reconciling ways. Now let me suggest how we can best do that…
First, we must practice consistent acts of patience.
When we study the Bible, we learn very quickly that one of God’s greatest qualities is His patience. Over and over, time and again, He patiently forgives. He knows our weaknesses, He sees our sins, He is painfully aware of our clay feet. Yet with amazing patience, He not only forgives us but He will not give up on us. He sticks with us and stands by us, regardless. The seventh Beatitude challenges us to imitate God’s patient ways.
Ruth Graham is the wife of the great evangelist, Billy Graham. Not long ago, she decided what she wanted to have written on her tombstone. It’s not what you might expect. She saw the words one day when she and her husband were driving along an interstate highway. They had gone through several miles of road construction. They had to slow down and drive in single lanes. They had to make short detours here and there. They had to bump across rough surfaces. Finally they came to a sign posted on the road. Ruth Graham saw it and said to Dr. Graham: “Look! That’s what I want on my tombstone!” At first he didn’t get it, but then it began to dawn on him and he smiled, the sign read: “End of construction. Thanks for your patience.” Those are the words which one day will appear on the tombstone of Ruth Graham.
Of course, that would be a pretty accurate summary for all our lives, wouldn’t it? We all have feet of clay. We all have foibles and failings, weaknesses and shortcomings. We all stumble and fall along our life’s journey. We are all “under construction”—and therefore we need God and other people to be patient with us. And then we need to go on and turn that coin over and be patient with other people. Why not take that stance in your everyday experience? Why not be a bridge-builder at home, at work, or at school? Why not be an avid agent of reconciliation? Why not imitate the gracious patience of God? Do you have any idea what a difference that would begin to make in the little corner of the world where you live?
Secondly, we must practice random acts of kindness.
I want you to understand that I do not regularly read Glamour magazine. But then you probably knew that! And I certainly don’t usually draw sermon material from that magazine. However, not long ago one of our members sent me an article clipped from Glamour magazine. It was wonderful. It was entitled: “Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.” The words stayed with me. “Practice random acts of kindness.” Could it be that that is one way to live for Jesus Christ in this world?
The article began by telling about a young woman who stopped at the tollbooth on the turnpike one day. The toll was 75$. She handed the attendant $7.50 and she said: “I’m paying for myself and for the next nine cars in line.” And off she went. The attendant assumed that the next nine cars were related to her in some way. But they weren’t. One by one, they pulled up to the tollbooth prepared to pay, and one by one, the attendant said to them: “The lady in the red Honda up there already paid for you.” And one by one, they pulled onto the turnpike, scratching their heads and wondering why a perfect stranger would do that for them.
Then the article told about the teenage boy in Chicago who went out to shovel snow off his driveway. As he was shoveling the snow, an idea popped into his mind: “Why not shovel the snow off our neighbor’s driveway, too. I need the exercise and it might be a help to them.” So he did that. And when he finished, he went on to the next driveway…and the next…and the next. Finally, he had cleared the driveways of everybody on his cul-de-sac. Then he headed on to school. Can’t you imagine the looks on the faces of those neighbors when they came out of their homes and saw what had been done?
And there were other stories, too—like the guy in Portland, Oregon who takes a handful of change every time he goes out to lunch and as he walks to the restaurant, he crops the coins in parking meters that are about to expire. Or like the guy who takes one Saturday morning a month and goes out to plant daffodils along the roadway. It’s not a beautification project of some civic club, he just does it because as he puts it: “It might make somebody’s day a little happier than if they weren’t there.” Or like the couple who walked into a service station one morning and said to the owner: “We’ve got a couple of hours to do something nice for someone, and we were wondering if we could clean your restrooms.” He was struck speechless. And he watched in astonishment as they took a mop and a bucket and some Lysol and made his restrooms sparkle like never before. When they left, the guy was even more dumbfounded than when they came. He said: “I can’t believe it. Why did they do that for me?”
Practice random acts of kindness. It’s a neat phrase, isn’t it? But it’s more than just a neat phrase. It’s also a neat, radically different, and God-like way to live. Just think what a difference it would begin to make in your little corner of the world if you were to begin practicing random acts of kindness in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then, maybe most significant of all, we must practice Biblical acts of community.
I have to tell you that I get very uptight when I hear people twist and manipulate the Word of God to justify their own prejudices. Let me give you an example.
Several years back, I was talking with a man who was an elder in my church. Race entered the conversation. He said that his feelings toward blacks were based on the Bible’s statement that because blacks were descended from Ham, one of Noah’s sons, God had cursed them and condemned them to be slaves forever. I invited him to look with me at the story in Genesis again. This is what we discovered. One day, Noah fell into a drunken stupor. His son, Ham, saw him and then proceeded to speak about his father’s behavior in disrespectful terms. Later, Noah realized that Ham had shamed him. So, in anger, he pronounced a curse upon one of Ham’s sons, Canaan, saying that Canaan would be a slave to his brothers forever. Many people have justified their own prejudices by saying that the blacks are descended from Canaan, and therefore are cursed. But the Bible makes it plain that it was Cush, another son of Ham, not Canaan, from whom the people of Africa descended. Not only that, but God had nothing to do with the curse. It was Noah, out of his own guilt and shame and anger, who pronounced that curse. So the idea of some divine curse upon those whose skin happens to be black is absolutely without foundation in the Bible.
In fact, the Bible teaches exactly the opposite. The Book of Genesis makes it crystal clear that the image of God, in which we were created, is not reserved for those of a particular skin color. All are created in His image—all are equally precious in His sight. The New Testament declares that there is one Saviour for all and the way of salvation is open to all, “for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, barbarian and Scythian; the same Lord is Lord of all, and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Read it for yourself. That’s the Jesus who loves and saves us—the Jesus who breaks down the walls that divide us.
My good friend, Leighton Ford, has written these powerful words: “If you read the New Testament, you see how Jesus broke down the walls dividing people from each other. When he chose Simon the Zealot as a disciple he broke down political barriers. By dining with Zacchaeus, He ignored class barriers. In talking with the woman of Samaria, He set aside social barriers. In heeding the appeal of the Canaanite woman, He destroyed racial barriers. A poor widow gave her mite, and by holding her up for praise, He overcame economic barriers. Even in His death, He broke down barriers. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. All stand equal there under the loving, forgiving, redeeming grace of God. Jesus died for all.”
Mark it down, my friends, Jesus Christ provides the power that can help those who are white turn away from hatred, bigotry, and fear. And He provides the power that can help those who are people of color turn away from bitterness and resentment. That’s the power of the Jesus I love, and when you bring your life under the Lordship of Jesus, you begin to experience that power. Oh, by the way, do you remember the man I was talking to you about who believed that blacks are cursed? He believes that no more. He has caught, and been caught by, the love of Jesus Christ. And the day came when I saw him stand before the City Commission of his town and plead for improved municipal services in the depressed, primarily black areas of the community.
Those are three things we can do to imitate the reconciling ways of God. But how do we find the will to do them? Maybe this will help. Dr. Fred Craddock, the great Methodist preacher, was invited to the home of an elderly couple named Nora and Frank. He had preached in their church and Nora had invited him home for Sunday lunch. Her husband, Frank, in his eighties, hadn’t made it to church because he had the shingles. When they arrived, Frank was sitting in a rocking chair by the fireplace. Nora introduced Dr. Craddock to Frank, and then she went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. Dr. Craddock said: “Well, Frank, I understand that you have the shingles. How are you doing?” Frank replied: “It’s awful. The pain is almost constant.” Dr. Craddock asked: “How long have you had this?” Frank said: “I don’t know. I’ve had it since last October or November. I don’t remember which.” Then Frank shouted out:”Nora! Was it October or November?” She called back: “November!” And Frank said: ” Since last November.” Later at the lunch table, Dr. Craddock said: “Nora, how in the world did you know what he was talking about when he yelled out ‘October or November’?” Nora smiled and said: “Dr. Craddock, we’ve been married for 53 years.” Wasn’t that beautiful? She just knew, because she was “tuned in” to Frank.
If we live with someone in a loving, trusting relationship over a period of time, we began to think like that other person. If we spend time with Jesus Christ, we begin to take on the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the way you can become a bridge-builder and a peacemaker in your little corner of the world is to spend time with the One we call the Prince of Peace…