Sunday, March 22, 2009
Matthew 5: 43-48, Romans 12: 9-13
I am truly gratified by the comments so many of you have shared with me, telling me of some situation you have found yourself in these last couple weeks, and how you've tried to apply the Three Simple Rules to that situation. It's becoming clear to you now, that what once seemed so easy is starting to get complicated.
At a superficial level, it really is that easy. Three Simple Rules thing; this don't hurt anyone, try to help every now and again, and go to church. Easy to talk about, and mostly easy to do. Most of our days do not contain any drama. We wake up, we eat breakfast, we start our days, we come home, we go to bed. No one got hurt, no one died.
But choices do come up. Some days have drama, and present opportunities to deepen our involvement in the world. A friend calls and needs help, or to talk. A car accident happens in front of you. You or a loved on gets sick. You see an ad on television for an animal shelter or a children's ministry, and it gets under your skin. You read about a situation in a faraway continent, and it will not leave your thoughts. You look at the weather, and wonder if humans really do have an impact on the climate. It no longer easy and we have to make choices, choices that bind us to others in ways that complicate our lives. What then? How do we Do no Harm in situations where feelings will be hurt? How do we do good in ways that will inevitably draw us in other peoples' traumas?
Scripture is clear here. In the Matthew passage for today, it compels us to love our enemies. To pray for those who do not wish us well. To pray for those who want to hurt us. Romans says to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. All of it is a language that says that to not be involved in the people around us, to not be involved in the world, is to be less than we are called to be in the name of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be involved, somehow.
But what happens, we think, if we were to completely commit to this? What if we gave away all of our money, leaving nothing for the heat, the household groceries, the gasoline, the bills. . . that doesn't seem smart, does it?
No it doesn't. And it is definitely true that to not be in control that way is a matter of doing harm.
Doing Good here, isn't a sense of responding to every need that put in front of you. It takes more thought, more prayer, more commitment than that. It takes more than to commit to do no one harm--in other words, to avoid revenge when society calls for it. Doing good calls for you to actively pray for the people you despise, and to care for them when they are in need. And to realize that There are some things you cannot control.
You give someone in need a grocery card, and they buy $50 worth of Pringles and beer. Sure, you are angry, but does that make your witness to the love of God any less for the giving? You let someone merge in front of you down on Memorial highway where Pioneer Av. comes in before the stoplight at Carverton. The person doesn't wave to thank you, and the person behind you honks at you. Does that really mean you shouldn't have done it? Of course not.
Doing good is a choice, and requires preparation, forethought, and prayer. Not to go and find opportunities, but to discern to which need you are being called. Because there is more need than you can possibly fix. Therefore what must be cultivated is more than a sense of response. What is needed is a realistic sense of self.
Bishop Job does talk about the sin of expending oneself and one's resources to such a degree than one can no longer respond in love to the world's needs. We know we can't solve all the worlds' problems; in fact we can't fix any, truly.
What so often becomes the response to the enormity of the worlds' ills is to not respond to any. To take care of ourselves, to put up a fence around myself and my earthly possessions.
That is also an incorrect response, because then we are not doing God's will.
So what, then? How to be called by God into service in the world, and yet to not exhaust ourselves and our resources?
It's all how you see yourself.
We are children of God. We are the "apple of God's eye", to use Bishop Job's phrase. We are uniquely known and loved by our creator, who is still the primary force in the world. So we don't have to be.
Or, try it this way--once we realize that we are not the engine, we are not even one of the spark plugs, but rather we are just the wire that carries the spark from the plug to the chamber, then we are free to trust that the spark will be there for us to carry, and we are not responsible for how the spark is received. We are not the chamber, we are not the fuel line, we are not the piston. We just carry the spark, and all we are called to do is carry the spark. We are just a component, and the working of God's will in the world is the coordination of many components, the coordination of which is not our responsibility. We carry the spark. We are responsible to make sure we carry the spark as best we can, that we keep ourselves healthy, and ready to do what we're supposed to, when we are called to.
So, when you do see that ad for the starving children in Africa, you can respond to it if you feel called. When a friend calls, you can stop to talk. You job in life is to carry the spark from God to the world, and work, play, home, all are places where that job can be done. To do good in the world is to carry God's spark into it as cleanly, as powerfully and as clearly as you can, and to keep yourself ready and able to do it when you're asked.
Someone wiser than me said once that we are neither required to finish the job, but neither are we required to stop working. That's how we are to think of a life of Doing Good.