I love card games. Rook, 45’s, 5 Crowns, and Wizard are among my favorites. One game that I always found fascinating but never really got the hang of is poker.
In this game luck and skill are often indistinguishable. Players have to figure out the value of their hand, the value of their opponents hands, and the likelihood they can convince other’s that their hand is the best. The person with the weak hand has a choice; do I bluff and continue to raise the ante trying to get others to fold, or do I simply fold. If a person continues to fold waiting for that perfect hand they will never win. But if a person pushes too hard and people sense the bluff someone will call and they will also lose.
When I read the Sermon on the Mount I can’t help but feel like Jesus is really upping the ante on us. He tells us anger breaks the command not to murder. He tells us lust breaks the command not to committee adultery. He tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other check, to walk the extra mile, and so on.
Then he ends this section of his sermon with these words;
‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
This is the challenge before us, not only be we have to control our actions, and our thoughts and emotions, Jesus throws down this gauntlet saying we have to be perfect just like God.
This makes me reflect on the question is Christianity easy or hard?
C.S. Lewis say this; ‘You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, “Take up your Cross”—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” He means both. And one can just see why both are true.’
Jesus is asking us to do something that is very hard, and is very easy. The very hard part is we are called to be perfect. We are called to be perfect in holiness, perfect in righteousness, perfect in love and so on. That is the terrifying call on us as we follow Christ’s example.
Yet Jesus promises his burden is light! That he will make a ways for us, he will save us and change us. There is a lovely all be it untrue story that floats around the internet about a small boy and the great polish pianist turned politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski.The story goes like this,
‘One evening everybody who was anybody flooded into a great concert hall to hear Paderewski. This was a black tie affair and the crowd contained many impressive people. Also present that evening was a woman who had brought her 9-year old son. From the audience, she wished that as the boy watched the great Paderewski play, he would be encouraged to practice the playing the piano. Being one of the early comers at the hall, the boy squirmed restlessly in his seat as he was weary of waiting for the concert to begin.
Then as his mother turned to talk with friends, the boy slipped out of his seat. He walked down the aisle, strangely drawn by the ebony concert grand sitting majestic and alone at the center of the huge stage. He sat down on the tufted leather stool, placed his small hands on the black and white keys, and began to perform. He gave his greatest rendition as he began to play “Chopsticks!”
Suddenly the crowd hushed, and hundreds of frowning faces turned to his direction. Irritated and embarrassed, some began to shout: “Hey, get that boy out of there! Where’s his mother? Somebody stop him!”
Backstage, Paderewski heard the uproar and the sound of the simple tune. When he saw what was happening, he hurried onto the stage. Without a word nor a bow he walked up behind the lad, reached his arms around either side of him, and began to improvise a counter melody. As the two made music together, the master pianist kept whispering in the boy’s ear: “Keep going. Don’t quit, son. Keep on playing…don’t stop…don’t quit son.” What came out was a wonderful melody not because the boy was a great pianist, but simply because he had a great musician playing along with him.’
This is the easy part of Christianity, the promise that we will be judged according to Jesus work, not our own. We must try to emulate Christ better each day, but than remember that it is Christ’s life and sacrifice that God see when he looks at us.
Is Christianity easy or hard? Yes, now let us go and allow Christ to make us more perfect every day.
***This post is adapted from a sermon I gave at Sackville United Baptist Church. You can listen to the entire sermon here***