The Gift of Friendship
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 1 February 2003
Click here to see Part 1
We continue today with the ongoing story of the friendship that Yahweh offers us through His Son Yah'shua (Jesus). Last week we saw that it was a free gift that cannot be earned by good deeds or by religious observance. And we saw how little children are supposed to be our rôle model in the reception of the gift of friendship.
The friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) is connected to our faith in Him, or lack of it. Last week we started taking a look at all the wrong emphases that people put on the Gospel life and in so doing somehow miss that friendship. We ended by examining the way in which people put a wrong emphasis on personal struggle and for whom religion becomes a terrible trial when it should be an experience of liberation. Our burdens - and there are many in this life - seen in the wrong way tend to destroy rather than edify us. So often people abandon the Gospel not because what they were doing was wrong but because they put the emphases in all the wrong places. And we come to realise that the problem lies not so much with our effort, or perceived lack of it, but with our doubts.
Today I want to look at intellectual belief. I imagine, if you are honest with yourselves, that non-intellectual people find intellectual people rather intimidating at times, and by the same token, intellectual people find non-intellectual people frustrating because they don't think straight. However, stressing an intellectual faith is another false emphasis. Now don't get me wrong - having a right belief is very important. We need an intelligent theology which, while is may transcend reason, doesn't contradict it at any point. We need to get our theology straightened out. But the need to get a straight theology is nowhere near the beginning of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Yah'shua (Jesus) did not demand intellectual assent to a creed. He did not question Peter as to whether he was sound on the inspiration of the Old Testament. He said, "Follow me". Peter quite simply accepted the gift of transforming friendship with Christ. Then he made his own theology afterwards out of his own experience. And that is really the only kind of creed which can be of any use to any of us. Not the creed that I take over from my great-grandfather or my pastor and press it into my experience. That is an extra burden to be carried. But the creed that is born in the silent places of my spirit out of my own experiences of a gift given to me - that is not a burden I have to carry, but a pair of wings which will carry me.
I have spent years reading the theologies of the great men and women of the past. John Calvin, John Knox, Martin Luther, famous Rabbis, and many, many others besides. Each and every one has helped me in innumerable ways. Nevertheless, you can't catch a Jumbo jet in a butterfly net. You have to wear clothes which meet the spirit and demand of the time. Each generation has its own controversies and revelation to meet them. Today the battle isn't so much about different modes of baptism or the spiritual gifts (though people still argue over such things) but about the validity of Christianity over the emergent paganism. You cannot make the Christian faith of any value by taking over the intellectual clothes of ages past, though they may serve some use. You must have a working knowledge of Yahweh which is born of your own experience of Him - not someone else's - and which is the intellectual counterpart of the new life found in Him.
People who say they are shy of religion because of the intellectual difficulties connected with it, frequently are hiding behind a lie. The greatest religious difficulty is not the intellectual, but the difficulty of being loyal to the Friend. And the loyalty doesn't break down through doubt. It breaks down through more primitive things. It isn't the Virgin Birth that troubles us. It is sensuality. It is not the doctrine of the eternal Sonship. It is selfishness. We do not, as I pointed out last week, refuse other gifts simply because we do not understand them. If someone offers to fit my house out with satellite TV, I do not say, "Oh, please don't, because I'm not sure how it works". And if I am seriously ill, do I object to being driven to a hospital in an ambulance because I do not understand the differential principle in the back axle? None of us understands how the gift of Yahweh makes all the difference to life. The psycho-analyst cannot tell us that. Indeed, if we had to give up either the part of our faith we were able to understand or the part we were unable to understand, we had better give up the first, since it is by far the smaller part! Some of the best men and women in the world know least about the way their religion works.
Now try to imagine a Catholic theologian born before his time taking the apostle Peter to one side by the Sea of Galilee and explaining the Catholic faith according to the Quicunque Vult - namely, "That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance ... the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible ... But there are not three incomprehensible nor three uncreated, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible..." and so on, page after page, until you get to this: "He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity".
Now what do you suppose Peter's reaction would have been? I think he probably would have said: "I'm going fishing!" And you know what? I think I'd probably have gone with him. And if you were an American Peter, you'd probably tell the theologian to "go get a life!"
For goodness' sake, the Gospel is a thousand times simpler than that intellectual Catholic woffle which nobody can understand, let alone the people who wrote it. Now if you were an unsaved person and a Catholic came up to you and said you needed to believe the Quicunque Vult to be saved, what would you say?
Now I don't intend to get into a theological debate on the Godhead because I don't see any point in doing so. Christians were saved long before complex formulations about the Godhead ever came into existence. Far better to tell the unbeliever, "Ask and it shall be given you". Any wayfaring man, however foolish, can take a gift. That is the beginning of the Gospel.
Another false emphasis is on imitation. I wonder if any of you have heard of the famous violinist Kreisler? The older of you here may have heard of him. He was reputedly the best violinist who ever lived. One enthusiastic fan wrote:
"There were tears in my eyes in three minutes. In three minutes he took you right into the lachrymae rerum. He made his violin say things which are unutterable. It was like listening to the voice of humanity crying out in the wilderness of the infinite. The violin laughed and moaned and whimpered. It whispered and comforted and crooned. It sobbed and yearned and agonised. It was speaking in a language too vast and deep for human ears to understand."
Now how would you react if I told you to imitate Kreisler? Well, you might be able to imitate the way he wore his hair. You might be able to imitate his tie and baggy trousers too. But you and I, if we played for a thousand years, could never play the way he did. If we practised, if we studied the violin, even then, we would not be able to do it. Nothing could take you or I where Kreisler was. He had received a gift. If someone could implant in me Kreisler's mind and soul I might get skill by practice. You might get closer to his brilliant playing. But you can never imitate a living thing successfully.
Imitation roses may look all right to us sometimes but I doubt you'd deceive the bees. And people who make them never get the scent right. The thing is, you can't put the life force inside the rose which makes it what it is. You can't even make a wild rose into a cultivated one by doing anything to it externally. Not by dunging, training, or binding. If the wild rose is going to become anything like the cultivated rose, it must receive a gift of life from a higher type of rose, and that must be accepted in the grafting process. Only then can you get fine roses.
You can try to change your lives by good resolutions, by imitations, by effort, but how fruitless it all is until we open our lives to the Friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) and are transformed like a grafted rose - not from without but from within. It is the precious gift that makes the difference.
And so it is with all creative art. Some foreign tourists once visited the English Lake District with guidebooks and a guide. With a third of their attention they listened to what the guide said, with another third they read the guidebook, and with the remaining third they had an occasional squint at the scenery. After visiting the places which the poet Wordsworth loved so much, one of them said to the guide, "I don't see anything very wonderful in your Lake District." But the guide said, "No, sir, but Wordsworth did." You see, he had a gift.
Thousands of us have stood by the seashore, but only Tennyson wrote:
Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O sea.
Thousands of us have lost our loved ones, but only Browning writes:
O lyric love, half angel and half bird.
You see, the poet has received a gift. If you were to set me up with an easel with all the materials an artist wants, I would only be able to make a daub. Turner, with the same materials, could have made something divine. He had a gift. Put a violin in my hand and I might be able to force out a few notes, but give the same violin to Kreisler .. well, you get my point. He had a gift. Yahweh may not want us to be poets, painters or violinists, but He does want to make us saints. So He offers to everyone this gift - absolutely everyone - this gift of new life. You can use your willpower, and that will take you part of the way. You can use your brains, and they will take you a little way ... maybe. You can imitate, and that may take you a little way. But all these things together in music and art and poetry, and in life, will never take you as far as a gift will take you.
There are lots of good exhausted Christians about. They are trying. There are also plenty of worried Christians about. They are doing juggling tricks with their minds, and trying to bend them around impossible propositions of someone else's intellect. And there are lots of spurious Christians about who are trying to imitate. Some of them are wonderful people, but very, very pathetic. They are troubled and amazed at their failure. They are where they are because no one has ever told them where to begin. Many of them are looked up to as pillars of the faith. Many of them know only too well that they haven't got what the New Testament calls life at all. They are very wistful (sad and thoughtful) folk.
If only all three kinds of Christian would put down the noisy tools of effort, and stop arguing themselves into frenzies, and smash up their own painted mummy cases, and sit down quietly, and leave the door open to Yahweh - Himself both Giver and Gift - then they would find that they could rise up, and do and be all that, for so long, and often with anguish and with tears, they have prayed to do and be. That is the beginning of the beginning; the beginning of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), the Son of Yahweh.
If any of you - Christian or unbeliever - have never received this new life gift of friendship, and would like to receive it now, when I would like you to silently pray this prayer with me and say 'Amen' aloud at the end of it:
"Dear Father in Heaven, Yahweh-Elohim, I come before You today to ask you for the free gift of the Friendship of Your Son Yah'shua (Jesus). I know that I am not worthy of it, and I know that by striving, by intellectualising, or by imitating that I will never receive it. I ask quite simply that I may receive this free gift of the New Life here and now, and the Friendship of Yah'shua, which I accept on faith. I thank you for it now and will now go and start to live the Gospel life in this free gift. In Yah'shua's (Jesus') Name, Amen."
Next week I will tell you about the practical realities of this friendship. May Yahweh bless you over the coming week and may you derive much joy from your walk with the Master. Amen.
Click here to see Part 3
This page was created on 7 February 2003
Last updated on 7 February 2003
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved