If you buy a skein of yarn for knitting or crocheting, it is a given that the center part of the skein will be a tangled mess of yarn. It's just what happens when the yarn is wrapped at the factory. It's not knotted, but it's tangled, and a mess. It takes patience to get it all smoothed out.
Edie had a ball of yarn at church on Sunday. She had reached the messy, tangled center of the skein. It was colorful yarn, transitioning from yellow to pink to green to blue and back again.
Ann Ammerman and I, and later Bill Sperati, worked at getting it untangled. That involves loosening the tangle, passing the ball of yarn through twisted loops, and repeating the process. After about 10 minutes the end was in sight. We were almost finished. A kind soul walked through the Gathering Area and asked, "Do you need scissors?" I think Ann and I both reacted the same way: "NO!" We could have broken off the yarn tangle 10 minutes earlier. Cutting it would be taking the easy way out, a shortcut. It would have created a loss of perfectly good yarn. And it would have wasted the patient work we had put in to sort through the tangles.
Shortcut is not a Biblical word.
The early chapters of the Gospel of Matthew are full of short snippets that tell us the teachings of Jesus:
Jesus is tested in the Wilderness
Jesus Heals the Sick
You are the light of the world
I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets
Thoughts on murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths
Turn the other cheek
Love your enemies
The Lord's Prayer
Give to the needy
Store your treasures in heaven
Don't worry about tomorrow
Don't judge others
Ask, and it will be given
Wise and foolish builders
Healing the man with leprosy
The Faith of the Centurion
Calming the storm
Healing a paralyzed man
Calling a tax collector to be a disciple
Raising a dead girl, healing a sick woman
Healing the blind and mute.
Matthew covers a lot of territory in a short section of the Bible. If you don't know any of these stories, take a few minutes to read some of them. Most of them are two to three paragraphs long and only take a few moments to read. They are samplings of how to live, of the power of Jesus, of the strength of faith.
In the middle of all these stories is a teaching from Jesus:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (NIV, Matthew 7:13-14)
Remember I said "shortcut" is not a Biblical word?
Well, it depends on the translation. There are several translations that put the Bible into more conversational English, hoping to make it more accessible for readers. Pastor Jason has been exploring some of these Bibles. Last year he was using the Common English Bible during Bible study. This year he has a copy of The Message Bible.
In The Message Bible, that Matthew reading says:
"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention." (The Message Bible)
Don't look for shortcuts to God. The way to God requires total attention.
If you look at the stories surrounding this section, it makes total sense.
Jesus wasn’t just saying that people will be blessed. Jesus said that the people who suffer the most on earth would receive those blessings.
Jesus didn’t just say he came to fulfill the Law; he said the Law as explained by the Prophets remains important. (And what was the Law as explained by the Prophets? I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other Gods before me.)
The laws of murder and adultery are bad. But so are anger and lust.
You can’t just turn your back on those who hurt you. You have to learn to deal with them, to love them, to share with them, to forgive them.
You can’t take the easy way out. The house on a rock foundation is harder to build but will last longer than the house built on sand.
The way to God requires total attention.
I’ll be trying to remember that when the shortcuts appear and seem so tempting.
- Ann Warner