September 3, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Our Intertestamental Lesson from Ecclesiasticus this morning deals with something important to God — human responsibility… The doctrine of “human responsibility” is surely one of the foundation stones of Christian social order.
At its simplest level, human responsibility asks: Are we reliable?
All of us have probably heard the well-known story of the farmer who took his dog with him in his pickup truck out into the field to work on his broken-down tractor. He began his work. But not long thereafter, he discovered he had to run into town to get a repair part. He told his dog to sit there and watch the tractor and keep it safe! Then off he went! While in town, one thing led to another, and he finally headed home, forgetting all about his dog.
After dinner, he exclaimed to his wife, “My goodness, I forgot about old Butch.” Grabbing his hat and flashlight, he jumped into his pickup truck and drove back out into the field worried sick about what might have happened to his prized canine friend. And as you might have expected, when the headlights of his truck swept across the terrain and finally spotted the tractor, there sat old Butch – sitting as faithfully and as dutifully as when the command was first given!
Job writes: Ask “the beasts and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee.” “What do they tell us?” we ask. They tell us that if they can be reliable… and trustworthy… (like old Butch), then so should we!
But at its core, the doctrine of human responsibility examines all of us morality. Are we given to doing the right thing before God? When push comes to shove… when we are by ourselves and no one is looking… when we are with others and everyone is looking… when the forces of self-interest impinge upon us… will we do the right thing? Can we be counted on to do what is right?
In our lesson, are given some very worthwhile counsel to take with us in our pilgrimage through life – counsel to establish us as responsible individuals before the Almighty!
First (verses 11-12), do not blame others for the decisions we make. And especially, do not blame God. Over 40-years ago, there was a comedian named Flip Wilson who made it big, in no small part, by his famous punch line – “the devil made me do it!” Do not blame anyone other than ourselves for the decisions we make. And certainly do not blame the Ancient of Days!
Second (verse 13), make good decisions out of reverence and love for God – not out of self-interest. This will smooth out our pathway and preserve us, in large measure, from the quick sands and bogs of life which are lined up as pitfalls all around us.
Third (verses 14-15), after God created us, He did not leave us on our own, we are told. Rather, He lovingly placed in our hands the counsel of His commandments to be our guide. Is it any wonder then that we should recite them together in worship each week to honor the One Who gave them and save ourselves from deception and destruction? The word for commandment does not connotate a cold, steely burden to be performed. No! The word in the Hebrew is debar and it communicates the kind counsel of a father for his children. The Almighty has given us His commandments for our own welfare – to keep us safe and happy!
Fourth (verses 16-17), there are always two pathways before us! Always! Choices are an inescapable part of life. Always before us are paths which lead to water (which is required for life) on the one hand or fire (which can destroy life) on the other… life and death… safety and destruction! Choose wisely… because we are responsible for the choices we make!
Fifth (verses 18-19), the LORD beholds all things and nothing is hid from His sight. He watches all of us continually as a loving Father! So let us not disappoint Him in the decisions we make.
Sixth (verse 20), in all of the myriad of decisions we make daily, weekly, annually, and over the course of our lives – let us remember that our Creator has never ever commanded us – not even one time – to do wickedly. He has never given any of us any license whatsoever permitting us to sin against Him. There are enough disreputable and untrustworthy stooges across this earth – than for Him to add us to their number!
We are responsible primarily – not to ourselves… nor to others! But to the Ancient of Days! And He is always watching… His eyes are always moving to and fro throughout the whole earth to find those who show themselves faithful to Him! Who walk the talk! This reminds us of the Greek philosopher, Diogenes, who approached the citizens of Athens in daylight with a lit lantern. They asked him, “What are you doing?” His reply was always the same: “I am looking for an honest man!”
I think often about the story I once heard regarding the grade school boy who had a paper route during the Great Depression. Times were tough. Early each morning he would receive his bundle of papers, fold each one individually, load them into his bag, then head off to make his deliveries.
One cold winter morning as the sun was casting its first rays over the snow-covered mountains to the east, he pitched a paper from his bicycle to a customer’s front porch. As soon as he sent it flying, he noticed the milk bottles perched on the front porch directly in the line of flight of the newspaper.
And sure enough, the newspaper hit the bottles “dead on.” And sure enough, when they tipped over, one of them broke and the milk ran all over the porch.
The young boy faced at that instant what is known as a “defining moment.” Who was he? What was he made of? What would he do?
He rode his bike home and took some of his hard-earned money with him… along with rags to clean up the mess he had made, went to the store to purchase a replacement bottle of milk and returned to the scene of the accident to “make things right.”
Having cleaned up the mess and having set both full bottles on the porch next to the newspaper, he continued and completed his route before heading to school.
That Christmas, the owner of the home where the accident had taken place greeted the paper boy with an envelope containing a $5 bill – a lot of money during the depression. He explained to the boy that he had seen the entire event unfold from inside the house… and wondered what he would do.
He was so pleased at the boy’s level of responsibility, he felt it his duty to recognize and reward this rare character trait of responsibility!
How responsible are we in life before our Maker and Redeemer? Do we believe in the doctrine of human responsibility? Do we practice what we preach? Are we improving?
God has set water and fire before us… life and death… safety and destruction! Let’s make sure we avoid playing the “blame game” and own our actions.
What say you? What path do we travel? Let us make sure it is the path of those who go by the name “responsible.”
World without end… Amen.