A few weeks ago on facebook there was a video of a horned mountain ram with its head stuck between two young trees. It was obviously stuck there for some time and was quite distressed. Some hikers happened to come across this ram and took its picture in the woods. One of the hikers was brave enough to try to help the ram get free . . . and after bending one of the saplings down in order to get a good grip, the man pulled and prodded the ram’s horns trying desperately to get the ram out of his troubles while still trying to avoid getting gorged by the ram. The ram of a course did not quite understand what was happening and tried his best to avoid the man who would eventually become his savior. After struggling with the tree and with the ram for quite some time the ram was finally freed and ran off into the woods.
It occurred to me watching this dramatic video stream that many of us have been exactly in the same position as this ram . . . caught between a rock and a hard place . . . sometimes out of curiosity . . . sometimes out of our own stupidity . . . and sometimes perhaps just out of bad luck, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is in those awkward moments in our lives where we find that we really need a savior . . . whether it’s a friend with bail money or a father who can drive us home (because we can’t) or a concerned mom or wife who at first screams at us for being so careless and then turns around and hugs and kisses us because we are now safe . . . these are the moments of our lives that we do not soon forget. These are also the moments that most shape our lives . . . whether for the good or for the bad.
For it in these moments that we find out who it is that truly cares for us . . . who cares enough to face with us our humiliation and our shame at doing stupid things for sometimes less than honorable reasons and it is in these kinds of moments that some of us find God . . . or more accurately God finds us.
For many today the thought of a commandment that God has given us is like a red light that is there to be driven through. For many, being told not to do something becomes only an obstacle to our lives and our fun that ought not hold us back from doing the things we desire. But the commandments of God were never meant to hold anyone back. They were designed only to help us gain true happiness in the world in which we live . . . a world ruled by natural laws.
In construction, we put up barriers when we work so that people will not wander into where they should not go. The barriers are meant to keep them from harm and not to say they are unwelcome. Along every highway in the world you will see guard rails where danger exists. These guard rails will keep your car from falling down a cliff or from falling into a river or from head on collisions should something happen to you while you are driving . . . should you fall asleep or lose control. Such are the commandments that Jesus talks with us about in the gospel today that we should follow . . .
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete [and] 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.”
For it here in this particular gospel that Jesus adds to the Father’s Ten Commandments that were meant to keep us safe in this world and he adds yet one more that explains all the others, that we should at all times and in all places love one another as he has loved us for it on these commandments that hang all the law and the prophets. This is at the heart of Christianity and it central to our religion . . . for Jesus came into our world to save us and to redeem us all as we were struggling in our sin . . . and it was through his death that we were all set free.
And though we have . . . all of us . . . every single one of us . . . been redeemed by the blood of Christ, not all of us have been saved . . . for many of us have refused to believe that we have been set free and stubbornly remain where we are. Like a caged man sitting in a prison cell . . . many of us will not turn to see that the door has been opened and that we are set free . . . and because of sin, or guilt or any number of reasons we will not leave the prison in which we find ourselves, and sadly it is here where many of us will die.
But it is not so with you, for Jesus tells us who believe that “you are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” This is at the heart of the Gospel and it is life giving to all who believe that Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Orthodox Christianity is under attack from every side today, more so than any other religion, simply because it is the only one that is based on the truth. The enemies of Christ could care less about Islam or any other false religion. Satan doesn’t need to destroy them because they ARE false and thereby help his cause by luring others away from a saving faith in Jesus Christ. You have to consider the fact that if Christianity were a lark, no one would waste their time trying to tear it down or murder all of its adherents. Atheists would be just that – neutral, non-God believing people, shaking their heads at the simple-mindedness of others who believe in silly gods. But instead many of them see themselves as anti-Christian crusaders (and rarely as anti-RELIGION crusaders). Why? Because Christianity is true. It is exactly as Jesus himself foretold in the Gospels: “Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake… You will be handed over by your parents, your brothers, your relatives, and your friends; and some of you will be put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.” (Luke 21:12, 16-17, GNB) Personally speaking, these single-minded attacks on my faith actually emphasize the fact that Christianity IS the one, true faith, and are a comfort to me in my belief and should be in yours as well.
God has over the ages been present with us through the natural world. He has made himself known to us through his creation. He comes to us daily . . . in living water . . . . as rain, as waterfalls and even in our personal daily shower. He provides living water to refresh us, food to nourish us and love to sustain us. He has done all this to make himself known and reveals himself in all religions and in all beliefs throughout the whole world and across all of time. But it was through the willing sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus Christ that we have been given proof positive of God’s existence and his abiding love for us. It is through Jesus Christ that we have truly been set free and inheritors of God who awaits all those who truly call upon his name . . . Amen