I understand why there are still buses running, of course I do. But I did permit myself a wry smile the other day when I saw one whose destination board was displaying the message “Stay home”. The whole purpose of a bus is surely to pick up people and convey them from A to B, yet here it was effectively saying “Don’t catch me!”
It slightly reminded me of the employer who was asked to give a reference for one of his staff who had applied for a new post elsewhere. He wrote: “If you can get this man to work for you, you will be doing well.” Or the one who cleverly concealed what he really wanted to say by putting it on alternate lines and filling the gaps with padding, so that to the general eye it all seemed fine but those in the know could tease out the hidden truth.
Mixed messages are nothing new. Perhaps the first was in the Garden of Eden as the serpent made a persuasive case for breaking the boundary God set, actually accusing God of sending out a mixed message of his own. It’s a subtle trick, so often used throughout history to undermine authority, to question motives and create a feeling that we are being denied our rights.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the pattern of life we are called to in following Jesus allows no room for mixed messages. Among the sayings that Matthew groups together, and we commonly call the Sermon on the Mount, is a direction to say no more than a straightforward “Yes” or “No”. Any attempt to give it more weight by attaching an oath, for example, should not be necessary if we are known as people of our word. Interestingly enough, Jesus – perhaps himself thinking back to the garden story – comments that anything more “comes from the evil one”.
Of course – and it was Jesus who brought this to our notice as well – what we say has its roots much deeper in our hearts. If there’s a mixed message there, no wonder if that is what we send out to others as we engage with them. So it is that Jesus, again in that well-known sermon, calls down a blessing on the “pure in heart”, those who have cleaned up not only what the world can see but who have let him carry out the deep clean that goes right down to the roots.
At this time when it is so important for those around us to know that the light and love of God are greater than the darkness of fear and death, let us not be sending out any mixed messages. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Full stop.
For our worship song this morning, it starts at 0:43