ACTS 10:44-48; PSALM 98; 1 JOHN 5:1-6; JOHN 15:9-17
When I was growing up, my father had a phrase he would say when I was preparing to go on a trip or away from home for any amount of time. He would look at me and say, “You know what’s right. Do it.” My mother would ask if I had enough toiletries and then if I had enough clothes. I always assumed the order of her questioning was if I had to run around naked, at least I could be clean. However, my father’s advice was applied regardless of cleanliness. No lists of “Call us”, “Don’t spend all your money on something stupid”, “Don’t go anywhere with strangers”, but “You know what’s right. Do it.”
I thought about that phrase this week in a scary situation. There were no moral choices to be made, but more some quick decisions. My brother David and I were walking my dog down by Eagle River when we spotted a cow moose, which (as it turns out) had a very young calf. She charged at us on the trail and we went leaping into the woods, just like you’re supposed to. Well, David and the dog went leaping into the woods. I waddled quickly into a little stand of trees. Over the next 30 minutes, we slowly made our way back to the car, stopping, calling out, listening and discussing other options. We wanted to be out of the situation, but we also knew the moose was not enjoying herself.
Once we finally got back to the car without incident and then got home and debriefed the situation, David and I both settled down for the worst night’s sleep we’ve both had in a while. It was one of those nights where you wake up, sweating, thinking about what could have happened. As I lay awake on Friday morning, in the few hours of darkness, I thought about how automatically we had reacted. We didn’t debate the situation or the nuances of different options. As we started to make noise and the moose started for us, we immediately moved into the trees. We knew the right thing to do and we did it.
As we saw her go up the trail, pushing the calf in front of her, we knew to move slowly and not crowd them and to give plenty of indication of where we were and to keep our eyes peeled for where they might have gone. We knew the right thing to do and we did it. Granted David and I have been in some wild and hairy situations before (and I do mean wild and hairy), but to a certain extent- you just know what to do in the majority of them- what your options are, what your capabilities are and what you can do in the situation with what you have.
This applies to today’s gospel lesson in two ways. The first is that we, as Christians, often spend a lot of time agonizing over what the right thing is in a given situation. The second is that we don’t often act on what we definitely know to be the right thing to do. Why in our walk of faith do we so often feel paralyzed by indecision?
Jesus tells the disciples in today’s passage, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” So what is the right thing to do? (Love one another as Christ has loved us)
Why does this matter? In the gospel according to John, this is the last command that Jesus gives his disciples before the trial and crucifixion. In the days between what seemed like the end and the new beginning in the resurrection, Jesus knows the disciples are going to point fingers at one another, bicker and blame. He is reminding them, urging them, encouraging them not to do this, but to hold one another in love. To remember the truth and to remember Him as their friend and in that remembering to love one another.
Through John, today, Jesus reminds us that He is our friend and that what was right for the disciples is the same thing that is the right thing for us to do. And we’re called to make it so automatic in our lives that we don’t stop to think about, but that we find ourselves leaping into the woods, leaping toward one another, hurrying to repair breaches, to show justice and mercy- to do what is right in a way that we are surprised later at how it happened.
But, Pastor Julia, don’t you always tell us that we can’t do what is right. That our best efforts are still weak and we cannot save ourselves. You’re right. I do say that. You can’t do what is right.
When we stop there, we are sitting at the foot of the cross, singing “What a Friend We have in Jesus” and that’s all that happens. When we stop with “Well, I can’t be perfect, so I won’t do anything”- nothing gets done. No one is fed, no one is visited, no one is healed, nothing is built and, essentially, we negate the whole purpose of the cross.
Jesus is our friend, our confidant, our supporter, our God-with-us because we’ve been told what to do. Further instruction is not necessary. We have enough to do to keep ourselves busy, and, theoretically, out of trouble. Has anyone here ever reached the end of day and said, “I’ve loved everyone I could today. Good night.”
We need a friend who listens to our venting, our supplications, our charges, our needs, our hopes and our dreams. We need a friend who responds to those with love and compassion, a friend who walks with us. In Jesus, we have this friend, one who laid down his life for us on the cross, so that we might have life.
That friendship calls to us- in our waking and in our dreaming. That friendship binds us together. That friendship goads us and comforts us. That friendship sees where we fall short and makes up the difference in our lives and in the world around us. We are cleansed and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, according to Paul, and therefore we are not called to be concerned with those details.
Knowing this, we are called to be friends in the same way to one another and to all those whom God loves. In this world, there are daily people being charged by loneliness, oppression, fear, doubt, anger, hurt and so many other forces. You aren’t called to help them alone. Your friend goes with you- on the trail, in the wilderness, in the city, in your home. And, yes, things can get wild and hairy- but we’re never left without help.
Jesus gives us the Spirit to guide us; even we don’t know what we’re doing. God has given us the Bible so that we have a guidebook with some directions. And we are bound together, through the ties of faith, so that we can help one another.
Even as Jesus is speaking to the disciples, he knows what they are going to do in the days ahead, but he wants to remind them that there is a better way, a way to which he is calling them, a way to which we are called.
As I abide in you and you in me, Jesus says, this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. You know what’s right. Do it.