The Heart of the Gospel
A proverb is generally thought to be a short popular saying, sometimes of unknown ancient origin, which expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought. Here are some funny ones.
The older you are, the harder it is to lose weight, because your body and your fat have become good friends.
Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Hong Kong.
Red meat is not bad for you. Fuzzy green meat is bad for you.
Money isn't everything, but it keeps your children in touch.
Being a couch potato is not the same as being a failure. Being a failure implies that you were actually trying to do something.
Remember: If you don't sin, Jesus died for nothing.
Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.
The Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is a collection of sayings relating to the Jewish pattern of life. It is an example of the Biblical wisdom tradition, and raises questions of values, moral behaviour, the meaning of human life, and right conduct. It is associated with King Solomon who died in 931BC. He no doubt wrote some of the proverbs but others were added over the years. The repeated theme is that "the fear of God (meaning submission to the will of God) is the beginning of wisdom". Wisdom is made female and praised for her role in creation; God acquired her before all else, and through her he gave order to chaos; and since humans have life and prosperity by conforming to the order of creation, seeking wisdom is the essence and goal of life and the purpose of life in relating to God.
In today’s reading we heard some quite familiar pieces of advice. 'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. A fool spurns the father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence. The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings them trouble'. The writer is not here talking so much about material wealth and money but about spiritual health and the welfare of the soul. Good people have happy homes. Making money by bad means does not bring peace. The advice in Proverbs is good but it has limitations. It is a series of rules which we all find hard to keep. It lacks the human touch of Jesus. It does not change the human condition in any lasting way. It does not presuppose a personal relationship with God. It offers no hope of eternal life. Proverbs is a beautiful book and it is full of wisdom and truth. But the second reading which we heard earlier from Romans leads us into a new dimension of life and faith. And it is this that Christian baptism represents.
Paul has been teaching the Christians in the Church at Rome to be transformed through the renewing of your mind. Few people in history have undergone such a radical and complete change of mind as Saul of Tarsus. So much so that the phrase Damascus Road Conversion is commonly used throughout the world to describe a complete change of heart and direction in life. Paul had done his Proverbs thing and he had tried his best to keep all of the teaching of the Old Testament to the finest detail of how to dress and what to eat and not eat. That was all he knew. He thought it was great until he met the Risen Jesus Christ while he was on the way to harass and persecute new Christians, trying as hard as he could to stamp out this new expression of living faith in Jesus Christ that was sweeping the country. Thereafter he served Jesus all his life and wrote some of the most beautiful thoughts that any human ever had, thoughts of love and grace and reconciliation and peace. Have you been transformed like that? As Saul was? Into Jesus Christ? Has it taken the Lord a lifetime to bring you into a state of forgiveness towards others?
'Love must be sincere' says Paul. He is talking about Christian community love, brotherly love, sisterly love, love of other people’s children. You know that when you go into a shop or a car showroom, the sales people smile generously at you for a moment. It is their job. If you look away and then back again they have stopped smiling. The smile was polite but it was in the hope and expectation of a sale. It is said that crocodiles seem to smile before they eat another animal. Politicians smile for the cameras. Do they really like kissing crying babies? The crying babies don’t seem to think so. Paul says Christian love must be sincere. He must have noticed that even in the very first Christian churches there were people playing a part rather than being the real deal. People know if our Christianity is sincere – they can feel it. They know too if we are less than sincere and may judge us as hypocrites. Jesus’ love was sincere and ours in His name must be so too.
Paul urges people to be filled with enthusiasm and energy for Christ. Half-hearted Christianity doesn’t produce the harvest of blessings that are available for the truly committed. Even that is not enough for Paul, Christians he says are to be joyful in hope. I don’t know if any of you here remember Kenneth Roy. He was a newsreader and political commentator on STV many years ago. He runs an internet publication called Scottish Review. It publishes his strong critiques of the Scottish Government and articles by others which the national newspapers will no longer publish. A few months ago Kenneth Roy was interviewed at length on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday morning politics programme. He came across as world weary, despondent and pessimistic. I wrote to him and told him that I was sorry for him and that Christian faith enabled us to remain buoyant, optimistic and hopeful for the future. He replied and said that he accepted that Christian faith offered these things but that he had lost most of his Christian Faith.
Paul goes on with his advice for every day Christian life. 'Bless those who persecute you'. That was something else coming from the once Saul of Tarsus, Jewish anti-Christian enforcer in chief. But he had been transformed by grace and forgiveness himself. And he endured a lot of suffering for Christ all of which he forgave. 'Do not be proud' writes Paul 'but be willing to associate with people of low position'. The Churches have always had a snobbish element to them. There have always been class divisions and upstairs downstairs distinctions. That is not how it is meant to be. There is a lot less nowadays of course in our society in which there is little deference. Even so in the humblest congregations you can still find people with larger egos than they should have who think themselves better than others in their midst.
'Do not repay anyone evil for evil...Do not take revenge', Paul teaches. It is not easy not to want to get back at people for the harm and damage they may have done to you in your life. Most of us have suffered some injustice. It can take time to get the poison out of the soul system. But it is a health giving option, mentally and emotionally, spiritually and personally to do as Paul suggests 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good'. All of this is what being a Christian means and being a part of a Christian congregation means. This is what baptism means. All of the loveliest things of Jesus Christ are given to Ixaac and his family in Christian baptism.
This is the heart of the Gospel. Good news. The very best. That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Like you and me. All of us. And he has done so. 'Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'. In America this is Thanksgiving week-end. It is a national holiday. It was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a national holiday. People travel home to visit parents and families. They eat turkey. It is based on our Christian harvest festivals. But in this country we do not have a national holiday for such thanksgiving. It only happens here in the Churches. America still retains a sense of God’s providence even though it is scarred and marred and abandoned by many in today’s godless society. But it is good to be thankful and not just on one day a year. Our media and politics are always moaning and complaining about something or other. Wouldn’t it be better if we could focus on all the blessings and benefits in our lives? That is the heart of the Gospel. A glad and thankful heart. Baptism reminds us and concentrates our thoughts on the physical reality of our salvation in Jesus Christ. He was baptised. The first Christians were baptised. Down through the ages countless numbers have been baptised. It is a living connection with Jesus that we enact today. The heart of the Gospel, the love of Jesus our Lord for us all. The love of Jesus for you. And what will you do with it? Forget about it? Disregard it? Treasure it? Love and serve the Lord in return? Bless and honour His name always.