Hilbert Berger, a noted United Methodist pastor and lecturer on stewardship was once giving a lecture on stewardship at a college in Taiwan. His interpreter, a genial Taiwanese Christian, appeared to be an enthusiastic translator and they were working extremely well in tandem. Berger wanted to be sure he was getting his theme across, and emphasized stewardship in every way he could.
When the lecture was over, he said to the interpreter, “I thought that went very well, didn’t you?” “Oh yes,” said the interpreter, “very well indeed. There was only one word I didn’t understand. How do you say, Steward-sheep?”
Communication is hardly an exact science.
David Halberstam, the famous journalist, tells the story of a friend of his who was visiting Japan. Reminded that taxi drivers often did not speak English and that it was therefore a good idea to carry with him something bearing the imprint of his hotel in Japanese, the friend picked up a small box of matches as he left the hotel.
Later, he climbed into a taxi and produced the box for the driver, animatedly pointing to the address printed on it. The driver’s face lit up, as if he had just got the point, and he quickly sped away. Half an hour later, he brought the car to a screeching halt, turned and beamed to his passenger, and pointed out the window — to a match factory!
Again, a matter of faulty communication.
Sometimes, even in our own language, we are less than perfect communicators. When I went away to college, 1200 miles from home, letters from my mother were treasures. One week I opened one of her letters and discovered to my annoyance that it had been written with a piece of carbon paper turned backwards, so that I had to hold the writing up to a mirror to decipher it.
She confessed in the letter that my rather, who was a practical jokester, had insisted she do it. I was frankly angered, for I valued my weekly letters and usually read each of them several times.
Years later, I realized that my father, who never wrote me a letter himself, was using this way of saying hello. By causing my mother to cast the whole letter into a different framework, he was imposing his personality on her letter. He was trying to communicate with me, but for many years I missed the message.
God, says the Apostle, has tried to communicate with us. He has told us He loves us. And He has done it in the most straightforward manner possible. He has shown us His love,” in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Not mere words. Not a message that could be misinterpreted.
He has shown us how much He loves us in the death of His Son.
First He sent His Son, as Paul says in the book of Philippians, in “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (
That’s the first rule of a real communication, isn’t it? Become as a native. Speak the native idiomatically.
There was an article in the newspapers about a young man in Milwaukee named Manuel Garcia whose hair fell out in patches because he was receiving chemotherapy for cancer. His head was shaved and he worried about how he must appear to his friends.
When his brother Julio learned how upset he was about his appearance, Julio shaved his own head and then enlisted the support of fifty neighbors and relatives who did the same thing. Soon Manuel’s hospital room looked like a convention site for bald-headed men, and it greatly cheered him.
Christ became like one of us — born of a woman, subject to childhood diseases, confined to a single race and nationality, coping with the pressures and prejudices of His time, experiencing the loss of loved ones, dealt with rejection and misunderstanding, going through pain and death.
“And being found in human form,” says Paul, “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death as on a cross” (
Nothing could be more godlike, could it? Our world is haunted by the image of the rejected Son of God dying for the very persons who rejected Him.
Most of us are not made that way, are we? We believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We despise the people who have despised us, and turn on those who have misused us in any way. But not God. God, the all-wise Parent, has overlooked our selfishness, our tantrums, our sinfulness, and has shown us His love through Christ’s death on the cross.
It isn’t any wonder that grown men and women have been changed by hearing of this love, or that an Italian artist named Francetti is said never to have completed a painting of Christ on the cross because every time he tried to paint it he wept so hard he could not put his brush to the canvas.
On March 15, 1985, Wayne Alderson, a successful labor negotiator from Pittsburgh, appeared on the Today Show. The significance of the date was that it was the fortieth anniversary of Alderson’s being wounded as the first American soldier to cross the Siegfried line into Germany in World War Two. He had a permanent crease in his head from the wound.
Asked for his most important memory of the occasion, Alderson replied that it was of a redheaded friend who saved his life that day. Alderson had come face to face with a German soldier. The German threw a grenade at Alderson’s feet and Alderson shot the German. The grenade exploded almost instantly, sending Alderson to the ground, face down in the mud.
A nearby German pillbox opened fire in his direction, and he knew that if the grenade had not killed him the machinegun fire would. But his friend turned him over, so he could breathe, and threw himself across his body, shielding him from the deadly fire.
“I can never forget the person who sacrificed his life to save me,” said Alderson, tears in his eyes. “I owe everything to him.”
“I can never forget…. I owe everything to him.”
This is precisely what the Apostle was saying. God has shown us His love by Christ’s death on the cross. There is no mistaking the message. We can never forget what He has done. We owe everything to Him.
Now the only question is, What are we going to do about it? Will we go on loving casually, selfishly, as if God had not given us a message at all? I’m afraid some of us will. We’ll go to the club for lunch, or off to the lake or the golf course, and life will go on as usual, without much thought about God.
Even if our consciences are pricked a little bit now, we’ll manage to soothe them. By tomorrow, it will be as if we had never heard a thing. Our lives will go on comme d’habitude, as the French say, “in the usual manner.”
You know what I heard a man say the other day? He was repeating what a friend had said to him. The friend said to him, “Dick, if you don’t change directions, you’re going to end up where you’re going.”
Think about that. It’s true for you too, you know. If you don’t change directions, you’re going to end up where you’re going.
Is it where you want to go? Is it what you want your life to be? Or does God have something better for you? One thing is clear, God loves you. That’s what the cross was all about. That’s what millions of sermons through thousands of years have been about. That’s the message God has been sending all those centuries. You can’t miss that. The question is, What are you going to do about it? What difference will it make in your life?
May I tell you a story I have told you before? It was told originally by a priest in a church in Paris, about three young students who were walking along a country road in France. The students fancied themselves intellectuals and philosophers, and they were discussing the power of human thought.
One of the subjects they deplored, as they spoke, was religion. Religion, they agreed with Karl Marx, is the opiate of the people: it drugs people into acceptance and compliance with a world order that is inferior. As they walked, they passed a little church. One of the boys dared another to go into the church and tell the priest what they had been saying — to tell him that religion is really passe and has no place in the modern world.
Unable to refuse a dare, the young man went in. He found the priest and said his piece.
As he turned to leave, the priest said, “My son, why have you told me this?”
The boy admitted he had been dared to do it.
“Ah,” said the priest, “then you would accept a dare from me as well?” And the priest dared the young man to go into the chancel and stare for a moment at the crucifix and say, “Jesus Christ died for me, and I don’t give a damn.”
Embarrassed, but unable to avoid the dare, the boy went into the chancel. He looked up at the old crucifix, blackened by years of incense and candlelight. The face of Jesus was still visible. It was filled with pain and agony.
“Jesus Christ died for me, and I don’t care a damn.”
Again he turned to go.
“One more time, my son,” said the priest, “and I not ask again.”
A final time the boy looked up at the pathetic face, twisted in the torture of death. He started to say the words but they would not come. He looked and tried again, but no sound would come out.
At last, slowly, he turned around and approached the priest. “Father,” he said, “I want to confess my sin.”
And at this point the priest who was telling the story to a sophisticated congregation in Paris leaned across the pulpit and said, “I know this story is true, my friends. You see, I was that boy.”
God has shown us His love, and in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Now what are you going to do about it?