How can we change the world?
It is an important question. It is also part of our Diocesan vision: ‘To grow in influence’
How can we be salt? How can we influence society – bring healing where things are going bad, preserve what is good, and add flavour to what has gone flat?
How can we be light? How can we show people the way to Jesus, and to the good life, in a world that can be very dark and in which so many have lost their way?
Perhaps we need a new Constantine?
Constantine lived 272-337AD, and our history books tell us that he was probably one of the most significant people in the history of Europe. It was because of his decision, that Christianity became the religion of the empire, and subsequently the dominant political and cultural force for almost 2000 years. It is because of him that so many of our laws are rooted in the bible.
And surely, if we wish to grow in influence, we should be praying for significant godly leaders, politicians, academics, broadcasters, even celebrities: people who will shape the culture in which we live and influence this nation and Europe for Christ and for good.
Or perhaps we need people of significance who can influence the church: that God will raise up in our generation evangelists like Wesley or Whitefield or Moody or Jonathan Edwards (not the triple jumper!) or Billy Graham. We should be praying for a new influential spiritual figure, with a significance that touches many for Jesus: a new Mother Theresa, CS Lewis, John Stott or Henri Nouwen. We should be praying for real spiritual leaders who can make a difference.
I suspect that most of us think that if we wish to influence people and society we need to go big. We need big people, with big ideas and big power and big events.
But that is not what Jesus teaches.
If we look at vv13-16, you will notice that Jesus does not tell those who are his followers, his disciples to become salt and light. He doesn’t say to them, ‘Be saltier’ or ‘Shine more brightly’. Instead he says to them:
‘You are the salt of the earth. Keep your saltiness’;
‘You are the light of the world. You can’t be hidden’.
And please remember that Jesus was not speaking to political or religious or business leaders; he was not even speaking to a big crowd. Instead, although a large crowd has gathered, he specifically goes away from the crowds (v1) and chooses instead to speak to his disciples, his first followers: fishermen, tax collectors, freedom fighters and some of the women who were already following him.
And it is precisely these sort of people, and not the rich and strong and powerful, who will influence and shape people – not just for a few years, or for a lifetime, or even for 2000 years. They will influence people for eternity. It is these people who will be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. They are the real game changers.
So what are these game changers like?
Well, in vv3-12 Jesus describes the heart of a woman or man who is following him.
1. They are the poor in spirit.
These are not the people you would expect to be game changers.
These are the people who have realised that they are nothing, but that God is everything. They live not by trusting their own abilities or gifts, but by trusting him. They have no self-confidence but complete God-confidence. Catherine of Siena was praying one day when she heard God speak to her. He said, ‘There are only two things you need to know. You are she who is not, and I am He who is’.
So people who are poor in spirit have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. They know that they are known by God and beloved by God. They know that everything they have is unmerited gift from God. They live in a constant daze of gratitude and thankfulness. They pray. And they are set free to love and to serve.
2. They are those who mourn.
How can those who weep change the world?
Well, perhaps they are the honest ones. They realise that life is not simply about moving from one party to the next. It is not about a constant smile.
We tell people to smile for the camera. It is a very cultural thing. In earlier times you never smiled for the camera. If you look at the photos of your great grandparents, it is all very formal and they all look serious. Why? Is it to show the world that we are enjoying ourselves? It is what we want to say to eternity: ‘It was all about enjoyment’.
But the person who mourns is the person who is real. They can be game changers because they are prepared to look at the pain, to take the pain in, and bring the pain to one who has taken onto himself all the pain, and so is bigger than the pain.
3. They are the meek.
These are the very last people we would expect to change the world.
They don’t push themselves forward – they push others forward. And that is not because they have a sense of inadequacy, but because they delight to see others use their gifts and grow in their gifts.
Meekness is not about weakness. It is not a ‘The meek will inherit the earth if that is OK by you’. Think of a stallion at a dressage competition. It has immense power, but it is power that is submitted to another.
In CS Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan – the king, the Christ figure – walks into the camp of the evil witch. Even though he has more strength than all of them put together, he allows them to bind him, to shave his mane, to mock him and to kill him. He chooses to do it in order to save Edmund.
4. They are those who hunger for righteousness.
They are game changers because they have a different set of values. They don’t hunger for the things that this world hungers for. They are not out for money, for status, for comfort, for new experiences, for power or for things. Significantly they don’t even hunger for influence. Instead they have a deep longing for God and for the things of God.
On one occasion Jesus is told that Herod has made a death threat against him. Jesus says, ‘I am not going to change anything. I have to do the work that I have been given’. On another occasion he spoke about what he ate. He said, ‘My food is to do the Father’s will’. He hungered for righteousness. Doing what God wanted was his daily bread. It is what sustained and strengthened him.
Game changers are people who begin to have that deep passion, who hunger to see God’s will done.
5. They are those who are merciful.
The world tells us that we have to stand up for ourselves.
If someone hurts us we need to show them that we can’t be messed with.
And if we feel that we have the right to get what we can from them because of what they have done to us – then we should exercise that right. We should make them pay.
Mercy is so radical because it is the opposite. Mercy begins by recognising how much God has let us off what we owe him, and it is about letting the other off the debt that they owe us.
It is not the people who are out to get revenge who will change the world. They are just playing the world’s game of dog eat dog. No, the people who make the real difference are the people who say, ‘I forgive’.
6. They are the pure in heart.
The pure in heart are game changers because they are totally sincere. They know themselves. There is no pretence, no image. What you see is what you get. What is on the outside is what is on the inside. Their visible motives are the same as their invisible motives. They are rubbish at lying. In this world they are almost child-like, naive. But they are beautiful people and one day we will see that beauty and all our mockery or self-justification will be silenced.
7. They are peace makers.
I am not speaking of the big stuff, but the little stuff. They want enemies to become friends. They weep when people are in conflict with each other, not because they hate conflict (often peace makers have to be prepared to allow the anger and hatred to be directed at themselves), but because they know that God created us in a way that meant that we need God and we need each other.
Peace makers are reconcilers: they want people to be reconciled to one another
Peace makers are evangelists: they long that people would be reconciled with God.
And now we come to the most surprising category:
8. They are the ones who are persecuted.
The people who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world are not the people who exercise power. They are the ones who those who exercise power persecute.
They are not persecuted because they are arrogant or offensive (and I am conscious that we can be very arrogant and offensive), but because they are prepared to make a stand for God, for righteousness, mercy, purity and peace – even when they do it in a way that is gentle and shows great respect for others.
In God’s economy it is not the man with the club who is the game changer, but the man who is being beaten.
Our history books tell us that the game changers are the powerful, clever, attractive, rich and significant people in human history.
But God’s history book, while it will include those who have had roles that our secular world considers significant, is packed full of very ordinary people who have done very ordinary things in the name of Jesus.
Jesus said that if you even just give another person a glass of water in his name then you will receive your reward.
I think of Jenny, who is in hospital now and who has been given only a few days more to live. All she can do is lie on the bed, and she is at times in quite a bit of pain. A few weeks ago one of the junior doctors who is caring for her spoke with her. He said, ‘You’ve got a faith. I wish I could believe’. And Jenny, who is now, in the world’s eyes, one of the least of all, is gently continuing to speak about her faith about her Lord Jesus. That is what it is to be light.
I think of one of the mums in our church. Her mother was struggling with a very painful leg. So she said, nervously, ‘Can I pray for you?’ She prayed that God would heal her mother’s leg. God healed her leg, and it was so real that her mother was in tears for all of the next day.
I think of Stuart. He was a young man who worked with us in London. He was a gifted musician. But when he was a student at York, he told of how on one occasion he was invited to lead a time of worship at St Michael the Belfrey. It is a large student church. He had never done it before. He spoke of how nervous he was. But as he stood up and led the worship, the Holy Spirit came on the place with astonishing gentleness and power – God met with people and they were changed. That is what it is to be salt – to do what you are called to do in the name of the Lord Jesus, often out of your depth and trusting not in yourself, but in him.
Do you wish to be a game changer, a history maker?
You probably won’t become a new Constantine
You probably will not be a new Mr Theresa or Billy Graham.
All you and I need to do is to do what these first disciples had done.
They came to Jesus and they listened to him. They confessed their sin, their self-reliance, that they had hungered after the things of this world and not the things of God.
And they turned to Jesus. They believed him when he said that God’s Kingdom, God’s rule was very close. They put their trust in him, they allowed his Holy Spirit to work in them and they began to live for his Kingdom.
You don’t need to read more books, or go on more courses, or get better qualifications to become salt or light. Instead you need to recognise that you are nobody and that Jesus is everything. And you need to throw yourself on Jesus, possibly take a risk or two, trust him with your life and be obedient.
[When, in a few minutes we come to communion, we come empty handed. We are nobodies with nothing. And we simply come to receive.
Just as we have received God’s gift of life, so we receive his gift of forgiveness, of mercy and help in our troubles, we receive his promises, his strength and his presence.]
That is how we will change the world.