A friend of mine from a long time ago learned a phrase while he served in the military. It was one of those sayings he repeated often enough. Eventually it became the one saying that I remember about him. After all, it is the thing he said the most. And that’s unfortunate because his saying was this: The minimum is good enough otherwise it would not be the minimum.
Now, most of us might smile at the implications of this saying. Set your sights low enough, and it is likely that you will not fail. Set your sights low enough and it is likely that you will achieve a moderate level of success. And, I suppose there are some areas in life that such an attitude can serve us well. But there are other areas in life in which the human spirit cries out for achievement, hungers for a striving after excellence. If you went to a concert by Yo Yo Ma, what would be your reaction if this happened: he came out, he took the stage, and as he took the stage, cello in hand, how would you feel if he bowed profoundly to the audience, smiled and said, “the minimum is good enough, otherwise it wouldn’t be the minimum.”
The audience, with you in it, would be outraged.
Today’s reading from Jeremiah addresses what happens when we strive for minimum, rather than excellence in our walk with God through Jesus Christ. “My people have changed their glory into something that does not profit.” And, they have forsaken the fountain of living water, and instead have put a huge effort into digging their own cistern. Cisterns were means of collecting water that became stagnant over time. Cisterns do not hold living water. And apparently the cisterns hewn out by the people were not even able to hold the stagnant water they were meant to collect.
Well, here’s a metaphor for living the Christian Faith. Even after 2000 years there are aspects of living the Christian faith that most people really don’t get. Yet, a cursory glance at the New Testament shows us that those aspects of Christianity are there.
Here’s one: most people both within and outside the Church see Christianity as focusing on the sinfulness of human beings, and many people stay away from the church because they cannot bear to hear a message in which they are condemned—if not by the church—at least in their own conscience.
In reality the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is far more interested in how we apply ourselves to living into the fullness of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, we are called to be preoccupied less with sin, and to be more preoccupied with the putting on of virtue. We encountered one such passage in Bible Study this week:
I Timothy 6.11: Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.
This is by no means the only such passage found in the New Testament that directs our attention in this manner.
We have explored lately 1 Peter 3:16 which instructs us that we should be always ready to give an accounting for the hope that is in us. Other passages are frequently to be found in the New Testament.
Our challenge in Jesus Christ is to strive after excellence in living in the power of the Holy Spirit; in studying how we might be signs of encouragement to one another, and lift up one another; our challenge is that true Christian Leadership is to direct attention towards the transforming message of the Gospel and not the destructive things that so often passes as a poor substitute. We are called to be vessels of the living water; not broken cisterns hewn by our own negativity and lack of vision.
And how easily we miss that message! Is it because that vision is too wonderful that we cannot bear it? Is it because the vision calls for a greater transformation of our thinking, beyond which we feel that we are not capable? I don’t know, but I know this my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We do not serve Christ when we settle; we serve him much better all the more as we learn to strive after the real message of the New Testament, which is nothing less than the transformation of our selves, our souls and bodies, to be the reasonable, holy and living offering to God.