These days we are engaging the teaching of Jesus in what is famously referred to as his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). We are calling this series Synchronize. This past week we considered the very large challenges to change that are found in Matthew 5:13-47. We encourage you to read along as we teach, and to think about these words for your own life. And while we muse on how it is possible for us to actually live out these words of Jesus, think about how vital it is that Jesus chose to share these words with his friends: “he climbed a hillside... arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his… companions” (Matthew 5:1-2, Message Bible). What strikes me is how simple, yet powerfully transformative, this moment is.
Thomas Merton is one of the most influential spiritual writers of the past century. But do you realize what triggered his life’s pursuit? Before he embraced the Christian faith he had lived indulgently, pursuing the normal list of selfish pleasures. Merton wanted to be a writer, and showed some ability, but his writing was shallow and egotistical. When he came to Christian faith, a moment of startling clarity came to him that changed his writing because it changed his vision of life. And it happened so simply.
One day, Merton walked down a New York street with his friend Lax. In the course of their conversation, Lax casually commented that the only worthwhile ambition was to be a saint. Then the friend added that to be a saint required that one wanted it badly enough. Merton pondered this and told another friend about the conversation. To his surprise his second friend simply replied, “of course” (Monica Furlong. Merton: A Biography p. 82).
Merton was both amazed and somehow “straightened up” by this insight from his two friends. It was an energizing and clarifying idea, that the only real worthwhile goal was goodness. For Merton, a new kind of human possibility was uncovered, a possibility that had previously been hidden from his imagination. Christ’s grace is not only his radical acceptance of our flawed humanity, it is more profoundly the power to pursue goodness. Merton’s subsequent story shows how those conversations with his friends were instrumental to his life’s pursuit, the pursuit of goodness as it is defined and made possible by our relationship to Jesus. And it all came about so simply, through a conversation between friends.
Sainthood may sound like something out of reach for most of us. But change the descriptor: how about the pursuit of goodness? Is goodness possible? Isn’t this what Jesus is pointing towards in his teaching? Isn’t this the real gift he want to bring us, the life he not only points toward but makes possible?
And don’t miss how this pursuit is ignited: so simply, when friends share. Consider what you might say to someone today. While your life’s story is being written by the gracious hand of God, you may be part of some transformative stories that are not your own.
We continue our Synchronize series this Sunday at 9:29 and 11:11.
Ponder these questions: 1. Can you recall a conversation that set you on a better life path? What was it about that conversation that carried such power? 2. What words of Jesus have shaped your life? Why? 3. How would you describe goodness? Are there examples of human goodness that have inspired you? How can we move towards goodness despite our very real human flaws and foibles? 4. In Jesus teaching from Matthew 5:13-47, what specific words are most challenging to you? Why? What specific challenge is calling you to move forward?