WWYD (What Would You Do–and Why)?

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

I begin today with a story about a man named Joe; and his dog, named Reebok.*

Joe is a twenty-nine year-old, single real estate attorney.  He’s been working with the same firm now for almost four years, his first job since graduating from law school.

Reebok, Joe’s dog, is a five year-old yellow Lab.  Joe has owned Reebok since he was a puppy.  At first Joe got Reebok as a sort of trophy pet.  Joe had never had a dog growing up.  In fact, his dad told him that a pet dog would be a burden, despite however cute you may think he is as a puppy.  Nevertheless, Joe had wanted a dog since he was a small boy.  And now, just about to graduate from law school, Joe reasoned, it was high time to get a dog.

By “trophy pet” I mean that Joe viewed Reebok as a possession, something he owned and could treat however he wished.  This was his long-hoped for dog, emphasis on his.  He would show his dad just how responsible and capable he could be.  So he cared for Reebok, feeding him just the right amount of food at just the right times of the day, took him along on daily runs—which is why Joe named him Reebok, by the way—and spent long hours training him to obey and perform a few interesting tricks.

But in time, as often happens, Reebok became more of a friend to Joe than a trophy.  The runs continued.  So did the training and interesting tricks.  But the disciplined routine of feeding ended: Reebok ate his science diet, sure.  But an abundance of human scraps were added to this, not to mention the times of meals grew far less routine.  These two, man and best friend, became something like stereotypical bachelors.

That’s when Joe landed his job with the law firm.  New days with long hours meant running with Reebok and other social times suddenly became mostly a weekend affair.  Joe built a doggy door in his back door and fenced in a rather small backyard so that Reebok could at least have a modicum of liberty during the long hours of absence from his beloved master.

Add to this that Joe was sometimes required to travel overnight, to meet with a client in another state or whatever.  On these occasions Joe would simply leave three or four meals’ worth of food in a bowl for Reebok along with a full and rather large water bowl.

It seemed to be working; although, granted, this new routine was something of a compromise.  And always on these occasions Joe would hear a voice in his head, as if his father’s, saying things like, “I told you so: dog’s are too much responsibility”; and, “aren’t you a bit ashamed that you cannot care for your dog like you used to?”

So, on this particular morning, Joe is running five minutes late.  He set up an important meeting for 8am, a meeting with a high profile client at which two senior partners would be present.  But during the night his furnace stopped working.  Worried his pipes would freeze, he contacted an emergency repairman who arrived, at last, at 7:20.

That was fifteen minutes ago, the amount of time it took to explain the situation to the repairman.  Backing out of his driveway, he is more than a little nervous about leaving his house and things in the care of a stranger.  No matter.  His commute takes 30 minutes and he has only 25.

He races to work, hoping against hope to make it by 8:00.  Maybe, if he goes just five mph faster, and if he can just make a few more green lights than usual. . . .

Fifteen minutes later he has indeed made those green lights—or perhaps yellow, or even orange if you catch my meaning.  It’s looking more and more like he will make it on time after all.  He begins to breathe easy; he reaches over to his passenger seat to check his overnight bag.

Did I mention?  From the 8:00 meeting he will go to the airport, where he will to catch a 10:15 flight for another important meeting a time zone away.  This meeting is in fact more important than the 8:00 meeting, just as high profile but without a senior partner present to support him if necessary.

And right then it hits him.  Reebok!  He’s forgotten to feed his dog!

Hundreds of thoughts swarm in Joe’s mind all at once.  Can a Labrador go 36 hours without food and water?  Joe isn’t sure.  But he already feels somewhat guilty for neglecting his pet over these past several months.  Well, can he go to the 8:00 meeting and catch a later flight?  But this will most likely botch the later meeting, a possibility that will likely result in losing his job.  So, what about the 8:00 meeting?

Can you picture it?

What should Joe do?

What would you do?

Well, I’ll tell you what Joe did.  After agonizing for almost ten more minutes, and at only a hundred yards from the firm’s parking lot, he pulls over, calls his secretary, and informs her that he will not be in for the morning meeting, that the senior partners will have to conduct it without him.  That’s right.  He decides to return home and take care of Reebok before going to the airport for his second, more important meeting.

That’s what Joe did.

But this leads to a larger, higher question.  Why did Joe decide to do this?

Perhaps it was out of fear.

Perhaps Joe couldn’t stomach the thought of returning home from a business trip to a sick, dehydrated dog—or worse.

Perhaps Joe was afraid of what his friends and neighbors might say if they were to find out about his negligence.  What others think of us is a powerful motivator.

Or perhaps he was afraid of compromising his own honor.  He was not the type of person who would neglect or abuse animals, especially his own pet.

On the other hand, maybe Joe was motivated by love.

Maybe Joe cancelled his important meeting in order to demonstrate an outward, selfless love to Reebok.

Maybe Joe had allowed himself a healthy level of emotional attachment to Reebok, resulting in a tender and compassionate love that generated sympathy, even empathy, toward another creature.

What motivated Joe?  Fear, or love?

What motivates you?  What would you do in Joe’s shoes, and why?  Are you motivated to act out of fear, or love?

This reminds me of a certain parable Jesus taught us.  In this parable there is a wealthy man who must go away for a time.  He leaves three stewards in charge, entrusting each according to his ability.  To one steward, the wealthy man leaves ten talents of gold.  To another, he leaves five.  And to the third man he leaves one.

After some time the wealthy man returns.  The first steward comes forward and reports that he has used the ten talents of gold to gain ten more.  The wealthy man says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The second steward comes forward and says the same thing: with the five talents he has made five more.  And again the wealthy man says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But the third steward—do you remember what happened here?  He was brought forward to make his report and he said to his master, “I know that you are a harsh taskmaster.  For that reason I buried your talent in the dirt.  Here it is.  Take it.”

A “harsh taskmaster”?

I wonder, how do you view God?  Is God a harsh taskmaster for you?  Do you seek to honor God out of some sense of fear, or guilt?  Or are you more motivated to serve God out of affection, emotional attachment, tenderness, compassion, love?

What motivates you?  Fear, or love?

So: why do I bring all this up on Trinity Sunday?  What does this “either fear or love” scenario have to do with the Trinity, one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

The Bible does not say God is fear.  Neither does it say God is guilt.  No!  Rather, the Bible says God is love.

God is not some harsh taskmaster, holding rules and regulations over your head to be obeyed lest you lose your salvation.  If you view God this way, it’s time to stop.

Instead, God has always existed in loving, tender, compassionate relationship.  Think about the ramifications here.  God has always existed—long before any of us existed, long before humanity existed, long before the universe existed.  And yet, even then God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Trinity—a perfect relationship in perfect love with each other.

Always!  That means before Adam and Eve.  That means before sin entered the scene; before humanity fell, before any covenant was made between God and humans; before the ten commandments were written; before the rules and regulations of the Old Testament became norms for a chosen people; before Jesus came to earth as a baby; before the Church ever was established; before the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Judea and all Samaria to the ends of the earth.

And God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will continue to love each other after Jesus’s return.  That means after all the rules and regulations of our world will be utterly obsolete.

Do you see?  Love wins!

Rather than allowing fear to be our motivator, love!  Love!  Love!

Do whatever you do out of God-honoring love.  Pray from a heart of love.  Give because you love Christ and his Church.  Serve out of your emotional attachment to God and God’s people.  Feed your dog because Christ’s love won’t allow you not to.

This is grace; this is love; this is communion.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

________________________________________________________________________

* I am grateful to Martha Stout for this story, which she tells in her book The Sociopath Next Door (MJF Books: New York, 2005).

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