During this period, where we are unable to meet together in church, Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday Sunday 21st June 2020.
Whilst trying to think of a theme for my Thought for the Day today, I remembered that exactly three years ago today I conducted the funeral of an old friend at a church east of Peterborough. Shortly before he died, when he gave me instructions about his funeral, my friend asked me to ensure that on the cover of the order of service there would be the crest of his old boarding school, and underneath it a motto or maxim that had been instilled into him during his school days: ‘Do what is right, come what may’. My friend said that he always tried to live by that motto. Oh, that we could all consistently abide by that injunction! It is one of those rules for life that we could all do well to remember and practice. Doing what is right implies obedience to a set of rules or principles. So my theme for today is Obedience.
The rules which guide our conduct in life may be formal rules – such as rules of law or a moral code or the teaching we find in the Bible – or we may be guided in our decisions by what is termed in common parlance a ‘gut-feeling’. All people, I feel sure, have an in-built sense of what is right or wrong – whether they choose to follow what their minds tell them is right or not!
I have mentioned the law, morals and the Bible. Let’s have a look at each of these in turn.
The reason why we have a rule of law is for the protection and well-being of all members of society. John F. Kennedy once said: ‘ … the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society – but the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of a profession or the tools of a trade, he knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress.’
One of the defects of the written law is that it cannot deal with every conceivable situation which might arise in society. Another defect is that legislators can sometimes get it wrong and create bad law. We have all heard the expression, ‘The law is an ass.’ But without the law we would have anarchy. So I suggest that it is better to have an ass than no other means of transport through life. And it’s a bit like cars. When we realise that what we have is not good enough for our needs, we have the option of upgrading to a better model.
One way of describing morals might be that they are the collected wisdom of society (of which much may be derived from religious teaching). Morality is drawing a line between what is acceptable and not acceptable. We have to exercise a judgment based on what is the right thing to do, what ‘right-thinking members of society’ would accept as a reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. Often, when there are no laws or other guidelines, and when we have no-one else to help and advise us, decision-making can be difficult. We can end up in what is called a moral dilemma, where we have to make a choice between different options and, importantly, the implications of pursuing each of them. For example, you discover that your best friend is having an affair. Do you tell your friend that you know (and others may know), or tell his or her spouse (with whom you are also very close), or do you say nothing. What would you do?
The Bible teaches us a lot about obedience. For a start, we do of course have the Ten Commandments, the law God gave through Moses to the ancient Israelites, and which has been handed down through the centuries. Several hundred years after Moses received the Commandments, along came Jesus and said that there are really only two laws, upon which all other laws are based: ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.’
It is conceivable that there could be a situation where the law, society’s moral code and the word of God do not all agree. Again, a dilemma. Some people who do not agree with one answer might appeal to another for justification, as this little story which I have found illustrates:
After being found guilty of a criminal offence, the defendant was asked whether he wished to say anything before sentence was passed. ‘Yes’, he shouted, ‘as God is my judge, I am innocent.’ ‘You’re mistaken’, the judge replied. ‘He isn’t, I am; you aren’t; six months.’
The two commandments that Jesus gave us remind me of my favourite line in St. Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16) Doing the right thing at the right time, even though we may find it difficult, is always pleasing to God. Therefore I end as I began:
‘Do what is right, come what may.’
The peace of the Lord be always with you.