MAKE FRIENDS QUICKLY

Posted on September 15, 2012

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A MALAYSIA DAY sermon

On September 16, 1963, the Federation of Malaya was expanded to include Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, taking the name “Malaysia”. There is a saying: “The more, the merrier!” but more also leads to more complications and after just two years, Singapore was separated from Malaysia, and even today after 49 years, many in Sabah and Sarawak remain unhappy about a number of unresolved issues affecting them. Despite attaining independent status, national integration and harmony among a nation’s people is not so easy to achieve and should not be taken for granted.

How important is national integration and harmony? What happens when we don’t achieve it? The history of humankind is littered with discord and civil strife. Here in Malaysia there was the infamous May 13 ethnic riots of 1969. I was home in Taiping for the university long vacation. But my wife to be was in Kuala Lumpur. She was attending a Girls Brigade council meeting and they did not hear the announcement that a curfew had been declared. So after the meeting, she and her friend were driving home on a near empty Federal Highway when they were stopped by a screaming mob with parangs and sticks. Providentially, the police cars arrived at just the right time and literally escorted them to a nearby police station where they had to spend the night. The course of my life could have been so different and the happy family life I have enjoyed for these past forty over years could have been terminated even before it had even begun. Many others were not as fortunate.

When time is still on our side, we need to ensure that we won’t see another May 13. God-forbid that there should be a next time when innocent lives would be so cheaply and cruelly lost.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “MAKE FRIENDS QUICKLY with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5.25,26, RSV)

In the passage prior to His admonition to us to “Make friends quickly…”, Jesus made clear and practical how important it is not to aggravate nor insult one’s friends and neighbours but to be conciliatory and to seek reconciliation as a prerequirement for true worship of GOD: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5.21-24, RSV)

Christ’s meaning is clear: WE MAKE FRIENDS AND WE MAKE PEACE with others.

Jesus advises a proactive step before the situation deteriorates. Jesus’ advice was for a more friendly, faster and favourable settlement. “MAKE FRIENDS QUICKLY…” Civil strife often stems from ignorance, suspicion and wrong information. Today’s Malaysia is very polarised with the various ethnic communities functioning quite exclusively from one another. Accusations against one another, particularly on the basis of ethnic differences, are frequent and common. Age-old stereo-typing are still circulated, poisoning our minds and hearts. Prejudice and suspicions once sown are difficult to uproot.

In Malaysia, our friendships cannot just be within our own faith and ethnic community since our fellow country men and women are of various ethnic and religious origins. Every human being is defined as a person made by GOD in HIS image and as a person for whom CHRIST died. What does “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” mean practically to followers of Christ? Followers of Christ should be colour-friendly; socialise and deal with all human beings without prejudice or undue fear; will not stereotype any ethnic community negatively; will not make or pass on racial slurs as “jokes”; should be helpful and freely serve any who have genuine need.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28, RSV)

On this important day, we don’t need to hear a sermon which will remain only in our memory or notebook but one which can find its way into our hearts and be easily and successfully translated into action.

Practically, let each one of us endeavour to expand our friendship circle and spend more time with persons of another ethnic/religious background in school, work or neighbourhood remembering that each one of them has been made in the image of God and for whom Christ has died. It may sound so simple, yet it is the advice of our Lord Jesus and it shall bring so much more good to the country. It is the perfect patriotic gesture. If we persevere with this simple act, it will build a better Malaysia for our children. As people who have learned how to love like Christ loves us, we should be seen by all Malaysians to open ourselves to all. Let our friendship be sincere and genuine, caring, uplifting and encouraging to our neighbours. We should be good listeners not just talkers. We should be alert to the needs of others. Listen to their stories, not just eager to tell ours. Let them be a part of the social ministry of our churches. We serve others not just ourselves.

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” (Colossians 4.5,6)

In this wish to befriend other Malaysians, we have Christ’s own example to follow. Our Saviour’s example in relating to and making a hero out of the Good Samaritan; the Poor Widow who made an offering to God of her last two mites; the Prostitute who washed his feet with her tears and wiped it dry with her hair- HE abolished all the racial, gender and class prejudice and discrimination of His day.

(NB. The above is a summary of a sermon (in Bahasa Malaysia) at the Malaysia Day Sunday service of the combined churches in Kluang, Johor, Malaysia.)

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