Job 34: 1-12
2 Pe 1: 3-11
As most of you know, in May a team from the St Johns Cartophiles Bushwalking Club participated in an endurance event to raise money for the Wilderness Society. This required a team of four to walk a 100km course in the Blue Mountains in under 36 hours. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done but ultimately, it was just walking. And with all the walking I’ve done, I didn’t expect to learn anything from doing it.
Well … it seems God disagrees, and I learnt several things about myself and about other people during the event. Luckily for me that means I get to do a sermon and have a skite!
In these events the strength of the team is critical, and keeping the team together is paramount. We were warned that we had to clearly understand and agree our team objectives: a big problem is when a team is half way through the event and they find that two want to finish as fast as possible, while the other two just want to finish. The fast ones are irritated by their slower colleagues and start to push ahead, while the slower ones feel resentment that they’re being pushed to go faster and risk not making it at all. The team fractures. We saw a team where this happened: two finished just before us, but the last one came in alone and limping about an hour after we finished.
So, our team discussed and agreed our objectives between the four of us: to all finish, and to finish in under 30 hours. We knew the speed we needed to walk and how long we would stop at each of the three checkpoints for rest and food. We were aligned.
We finished in 30 hours and six minutes. Oops.
Almost immediately we began a post mortem on where we had lost the time:
- Owen and I were prepared to jostle our way through the crowd at the start of the event but Kayla and Sue weren’t, so the we spent some time waiting for them to catch up.
- On the stairs climbing up to Katoomba Owen hit the wall and we slowed right down while he struggled to keep up.
- On the second leg Kayla was in such pain she trudged along slowly with tears running down her face while the rest of us could do nothing but huddle close and walk with her. She dropped out at the halfway mark.
- On the third leg, the overnight walk, Owen & I had to stop for an 8 minute nap. It was only 8 minutes … but then, we only missed by 6!
- I was so busy concentrating on walking through my injured knee on the last leg that I didn’t eat enough to keep up my energy levels, and so slowed us right down for the last fifteen or so kilometres.
- We were dreadfully slow through all three checkpoints. For instance we planned to stop at the first checkpoint for 30 minutes, but were there for nearly an hour.
We identified lots of places where we had lost our six minutes, and lots of people who were to blame – including blaming ourselves. But the point is, it was only six minutes. The real answer was we should have walked a little bit faster.
I was shocked to realise that we almost instinctively tried to apportion blame, and it made me recognise that we live in a society that always seeks to identify who is at fault when someone is unhappy. If a person slips on some steps in a park the council is to blame for poor signposting. If two drunks get into a fight it’s the government’s fault for not having strict enough drinking laws. If someone gets type 2 diabetes from being grossly obese it’s because McDonalds doesn’t have proper labelling on their food.
If I miss out by six minutes, what stopped me walking fast enough?
American film producer, author & Baptist pastor, Michael Catt, wrote, “We are residents of a world that refuses to take any responsibility. “The devil made me do it. My spouse made me do it. It’s my boss’s fault.” On and on it goes … For some reason, God’s people think when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ they are going to be able to blame their parents, the church, their pastor, or their circumstances …[that] … they will be able to pass the buck when it comes to personal responsibility.”
I’m not in line with his theology, but what an uncomfortable thought! And there are even more uncomfortable implications.
In an article in The Huffington Post Dr David Katz, Director of the Yale Disease Prevention Research Center said, “Our culture — at least the movie-going part of it — seems to have embraced the adage: With great power comes great responsibility.
“Somehow, at the same time, it seems to have ignored the inevitable, underlying principle: Power and responsibility are conjoined … if great power brings great responsibility, then presumably modest power brings more modest responsibility. And, by extension, utter lack of power would bring — you guessed it — something very much like utter lack of responsibility.”
The converse is also inevitably true. Lack of responsibility equals lack of power. Intellectually I’m really uncomfortable with the notion that I am somehow subject to the whimsy of a capricious fate. Religiously I’m appalled at the notion.
In today’s reading from Second Peter we heard, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”. We have limitless resources available to us through the Holy Spirit. We are not powerless. And if through Christ we have power, then, through Christ, we have responsibility. We must be personally responsible. We can’t shift blame. We must ignore the siren song of abrogating responsibility.
I’ve moved a long way from a walk in the Blue Mountains, but the blame game lesson that the walk put in front of me inevitably lead me to this point. I realised I’m guilty of it, and I bet you’ve all realised it too. How many of us have seen rubbish inside the door of the church and thought, “Someone should clean that up.”
How many of us have seen dirt on the floor of upper hall and said, “Someone should sweep that away.”
How many of us have seen the garden dry and muttered, “Someone should water that garden.”
Who is someone? Me? Sue? Peter? Rosemary?
Elihu angrily told Job, “… the Almighty … repays everyone for what they have done; he brings on them what their conduct deserves.”
God give me, and all of us, the strength to recognise what we deserve, the recognition of your power in us to do what we should do, and give each of us the strength to take responsibility for our actions.
Help us all Lord, at least metaphorically, to stop worrying about the time we’ve spent in the checkpoint and just walk a bit faster.