Sunday, October 21, 2018
Read Matthew 5.1-20
We often skip vital principles and lessons when we read narratives like this. It talks about a city on a hill and, in the writings, I read about a city on a hilltop. Hence, you are reminded that you are at the top of the top because being on a hill already puts you at the top.
Remember the Bible is talking about a city, not a house. We often have a problem understanding the Christian faith because we are a product of the European enlightenment and we chop things up in ways that cause us to miss a holistic understanding of things. Christianity is a community faith; it is not like “God and I alone.” That is why he says it is a city—in other words, it is a community on a hilltop. The church is better defined as a community. It is missionary by nature. Somebody has said that it is the only society on earth that exists for those who are not members of it. That is why it is light and salt. The salt is of no use until it has contact with the carcass. For the salt to preserve, it must make contact with the decaying world. The church has been called out of the world but has also been called into the world. Jesus says he called you there, where there are wolves and other predators but you have to survive. In other words, you must be wise. Jesus at the beginning of his ministry began to teach and the sermon on the mount is a classic of his teaching—it is the syllabus. I encourage you to find time and read it more carefully.
Before we had the NT we had the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible that had three parts: the law (also called Torah), the prophets (also called Nevim), and the writings (also called Ketuvim). The categorization into old and new testament is problematic because there is the temptation to discard the old as no longer relevant but Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5.17-18 NIV)
If we say that God is divine and holy and all-wise, then it stands to reason that whatever God created and said was good is good. If so, how do we relate to that which he created and said was good?
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. (Psalm 24.1-2 NIV)
How do we relate to nature—God’s creation? He evaluated it and said it was good until man came; and it got worse when woman came—forgive me. And, since then, God has been having a hard time. What happened was the result of pride, selfishness, greed, and so on; and those are the enemies we have to fight, not the one sitting by you.
Salt could be understood metaphorically in terms of wisdom and knowledge. We are repositories of God’s wisdom on earth because we have wisdom from him from above. Light gives illumination and helps us see but can also attract unwanted insects. Hence, there are people in the community that are not good that we must watch out for. The city is a living community which must work and be an example. When people see the church, they must see a model for the values that people need.
I applied for a visa for a conference I was attending and was told it will be ready in ten working days but it was ready before then. When I got the envelope, it had ‘VIP’ written on it. I applied for a single entry visa but they gave me multiple entry visa. When I got to Johannesburg, we had to be picked up with some Nigerians but there was a long delay and we later discovered that they had been denied visas. Later, we realized that the government did not want to have anything to do with Nigerians. So, here were distinguished persons from Nigeria who had been denied visas because of others.
Christianity is not a personal faith but a community faith. Hence, the behavior of one of us affects everyone else. When you read the book of 1 Corinthians carefully, you will see that when one part of the body is hurting, it affects the others. I pray that our church will be an example of a community helping each other so that politicians can look at us and learn lessons. What is more worrying for me now is that some of the Nigerians now enter South Africa with Ghanaian passports though they are not Ghanaians. We must stand up and stop this because if they get to know that Ghanaians and Nigerians are the same, it will affect us. The light must dispel this darkness; the darkness must not prevail.
The scripture says that when men light a lamp, they put it on a platform to give light to all. The platforms are the opportunities God has given us to work. We must stand on those and shine for the Lord. So if you are teacher, you must be the best of teachers. If you are business man, you must do it with integrity and be the best of them. Christianity must count, otherwise people will trample over it.
We must have respect for nature that God has created, including the ecology. Can you imagine that God has given us the best of environments yet someone puts a machine in the middle of a river looking for what? And without respect for others who depend on it! And such a person says he has the mind of Christ.
In some countries you can’t cut a tree at the back of your own house without permission if it is a tree of a certain size. I once visited a friend in London and he had a large tree in his house that was creating cracks in the house. Looking at the problem, I was wondering whether they were going to cut the tree. But my friend told me there had been a meeting and it had been decided that it was the house rather that should go since the tree had been there for more than 300 years. In Ghana, I wonder what would have happened. Meanwhile we have scientists that understand the rhythm of life, the carbon cycle, and so on.
The northern part of Ghana should have been greener than the southern part of Burkina Faso but what are we seeing? Yet we say we are marching to Zion. God is not interested in people who are not thinking right. If you were God, would you invite people who do ‘galamsey’ to heaven where the streets are made of gold? They would start digging all over without regard for anything.
The point I’m making is what Paul made in Romans 12.1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12.1-2 NKJV)
That is the miracle Africans need—the emancipation of the mind that does not help us reflect the image of God in our dealings. Let us make Christianity count.
At the conference, we discussed potentials of cooperation between the African Pentecostals and African-initiated churches. I realized they had put down my name for the final discussion on the way forward. It sounded odd because, normally, it is the organizers that would do that. I wondered about this for a while but one of the organizers told me they decided to let me chair it because if they let a white person chair it, they could be accused of trying to impose their ideas on the rest, among other issues.
Surprisingly, even though the discussion was supposed to be about development and our faith, the discussion veered into discussing matters like who is Christian and other peripheral issues. We spent so much time discussing who was in the room and I discovered that they had some internal problems, even beyond apartheid. I then understood why they did not want one of them to lead the discussion even though they were the ones hosting it.
Sometimes, as Christians, we focus on peripheral issues. Sometimes we like to ask: “Are you a member?” What does that mean? This is not a secret society. The question should be “Are you are Christian?” The vision is to the nations. If so, you must think that others are better than you. If you think your mother is the best cook, you haven’t traveled before. In other words, let’s make allowances for each other.
The church is not a tribal community; we must let people feel at home. We must not let other people feel like they don’t belong. We are pilgrims traveling through the earth. And, as pilgrims, it is best to travel light. The Bible says to put aside every excess weight. (Hebrews 12.1) God is calling us to be a delight to the world.
May the Lord help us and have mercy on us all.
Psalm 24.1-2, Romans 12.1-2