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Chaplain's Comments

 

DO WHAT?

One of my favorite movies is called The Devils Advocate. It’s a story of a young attorney from Florida who was recruited to join a law firm in New York City, headed up by none other than the devil himself. Space will not allow me here to rehearse all the events, but the most memorable scene in the movie to me is when Old Scratch (that’s what our forbearers used to call the devil) reveals his hand and tries to coax the young attorney into having relations with his sister to produce the Antichrist. The devil (Al Pacino) makes a memorable speech. “I’m a fan of man,” he says. He goes on to rehearse his interaction with mankind down through the centuries. And he belittles our Creator, saying that many things were given to man, but it was always on the basis of, “look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, but don’t bite,” etc. etc. ultimately, it’s a long litany of the do’s and don’ts that he accuses God our Father of attaching to us. The keyword for the whole thing, according to the Devil, is “DON’T.” DON’T DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT, AND DON’T DO THE OTHER.

Sadly, all too often that is the picture that we have of the Christian Faith, to say nothing of those outside the Faith who are passing judgment on us. It’s just a system of things we don’t do. And it becomes an intolerable burden of rules and regulations and do’s and don’ts that have to be abided by. Nothing could be further than the truth as regards our Faith. And I have to admit that I have fallen prey to this kind of thinking and often been discouraged in my walk with the Lord. But then something happened.

I love German shepherds. I have one, a huge American Kennel Club boy, weighing in at 100 pounds. For all his size, he really is just a Gentle Ben. He plays for the neighborhood kids and always sleeps at the foot of my bed and wakes me up in the morning.

The other day I was out walking him down by the river that borders my house. He was having a blast – – running through the tall grass, sniffing strange and suspicious sense, grabbing sticks that he thought would be great to play with and throwing them up in the air and catching them, and then, to my disgust, jumping in the river and going for a good swim. That resulted in the wonderful wet dog smell that doesn’t go away in the house until he dries off. He enjoyed himself thoroughly and of course I let him, subject only to the very basic commands such as come, stay, don’t touch, sit, down and wait. That’s it

And his freedom to run through life enjoying it as much as possible and only subject to those few commands made me think of my own walk, my frustration in living what we Anglicans call from our prayer book, “the godly, righteous, and sober life” – – and in a flash my mind went back to the comments of an ancient Hebrew prophet that were so appropriate then to that kind of situation, and even down through the millennia are applicable to you and me in our walk with Christ today.

For the Christian faith is not a system of do’s and don’ts. Let that ancient prophet tell us what true religion is, and it is not only simple, it’s simply profound. This is what he had to say:

“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with 10,000s of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He had showed the old man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of the, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6: 6 – 8.

And there, distilled down to the absolute basis, that is the backbone and the reality of our walk with God. I’m not saying that there are things we should and shouldn’t do. But like that wonderful German Shepherd of mine, God has left us free to run and frolic and enjoy life on this great creation, to taste it to touch it, to indulge in it, to enjoy and explore every good thing that he has created for us. Yes, I had a few strictures for my German Shepherd. But they reminded me of what that ancient prophet had to say for us, and there are so few strictures placed on us.

The first is to do justly. That means be fair in your dealings. No matter if you are provoked, no matter how grave the offense or troubling the situation, do what is fair, and sometimes, instead of what you think someone might deserve.

The second thing is to love mercy. You cannot walk through this life without encountering difficulties and situations that may call for payback from you. Don’t. Love mercy, be benevolent, don’t do onto others as humanity thinks necessarily should be done. Go that extra mile, mitigate your judgment, and remember in dealing with others that they are just like you – – – from dust you came and to dust you return. In our modern way of putting it – – “cut them some slack.”

And finally, just as my Shepherd knew who was his Master, and was subject to the few things that I ask him to do, so that ancient prophet put it when he said for us to walk humbly with our God. He asks so very little. He has given us so much, touch, taste, to enjoy, to ponder and reflect upon, and in the quiet moments of our life, to seek Him to whom all flesh one day must come – – – in essence, remember who YOU are, and consequently remember who HE is.

That’s it. For you and I are not serving a system of rules and regulations that ultimately become impossible, because we are human, to keep. And that’s not saying there aren’t some things that we need to heed. But if you feel burdened down, if your faith is more trial than triumph, remember these words of that ancient prophet concerning relations with our Creator:

“And what does the Lord require of thee----but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

That, my fellow Compatriot..that’s it.

Father John Sigmon
Chaplain, ATM, SCV