Doing the Right Thing
Most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing. We get up in the morning and go about our day wanting to do the right thing. Most of the time that’s not hard but sometimes we run into a new situation. We run into something we haven’t done before or it’s been a long time and we’re confused or we just don’t know what’s right.
We go out to eat at a nice restaurant and we have to stop and ask, “Is this my dessert fork or is this my salad fork? Why are there three glasses next to my plate? Am I supposed to drink wine from all of them? And which coffee cup is mine?”
Sometimes people call our church office and ask, “Do I need to wear a tie to come to your church? We’re on vacation is it OK if we’re informal?” (My usual reply is shirt and pants are required, everything else is negotiable.)
Good people, wanting to do the right thing but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do.
Someone at work has done something borderline. Are you still friends with them, even though it may hurt your reputation? Someone at work has upset the apple cart and may get fired. Do you try and help them get out from under it or do you turn away? We don’t run into this every day. What’s the right thing to do?
One of your family members disgraces the entire clan. Everyone is mortified. What do you do? Do you invite them to reunions anyway? Do you keep your distance? Do you try and play peacemaker? It happens but not very often. So what do you do? What’s the right thing to do?
Most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing. But when we’re facing a new situation it’s hard to know.
That’s what’s happened to Peter. He’s had to do something he’s never done before and now he has to explain it. The leaders in Jerusalem have heard about his trip and what he did and now they want to know, “Why have you been hanging out with Gentiles? Explain yourself!”
So Peter does. He tells them the whole story.
I was up on the roof about lunchtime and I was praying. I fell into a trance and saw something like a big sheet being lowered down from heaven. Every creature under the sun was on that sheet. I heard a voice telling me to kill something and eat. And that sounded like a good idea because I was hungry! But I said, “No. I can’t! I’ve never eaten anything dirty or unclean in my life!” But the voice told me a second time to kill something and eat it. This happened three times and the sheet was taken up into heaven.
Then three men knocked on the door and said I should go with them to Caesarea to meet a Roman soldier. The angel of God had told him to send for me. What could I do? I couldn’t refuse. So I took these 6 brothers as witnesses and we all went together. When we got to Caesarea the Roman told me God’s angel had told him to send for me, that I had a message for them.
So I told them about Jesus and what do you know all of a sudden they were filled with the Holy Spirit. No kidding! They were filled with the Holy Spirit just like we were! The exact same thing that happened to us was happening to them! What could I do? I had to baptize them! I didn’t have any choice. It was a sign from God!
And all the people said, “Wow! God has called them into the kingdom. Peter, you did the right thing!”
Peter was in a tough spot. He had never faced gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit. This was new and he wanted to do the right thing.
And indeed Peter did do the right thing. He listened to God. He took witnesses. He listened to the Roman soldier. And when he’s done, when he’s baptized the gentiles he explains it all to the brothers in Jerusalem. He doesn’t say, “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” No, he lays it all out for them.
Peter has faced something new and he’s done the right thing.
But there’s something else he’s done and this is what has made all the difference. There’s something else he’s done and this is really why what he did was the right thing. Peter has done something very wise. Peter has done what God did. That’s right! It’s what matters most. Peter has done what God did.
Think about it. In giving the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, what has God done? God has opened up the Kingdom. God has let the outsider in. God has cracked open the closed circle and let the outsider into the fullness of God’s love.
And that’s what Peter has done. Peter has baptized the gentiles and in baptizing them Peter has opened up the Kingdom. Peter has let the outsider in. Peter has cracked open the closed circle and let the outsider into the fullness of God’s love.
Peter has faced a new thing and he’s done well. He’s smart. He listens. He brings witnesses. But what’s most important is Peter does what God does. Peter makes room to the let the outsider in. Peter does what God does. He makes room to let the outsider in.
Do you want to do the right thing? Do you want to do the right thing? Of course you do. We all do. But sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing is.
A few weeks ago during our Sunday breakfast ministry someone stuffed a belt-buckle down into one of the men’s toilets. It took a plumber and $650 to fix. $650 is two weeks worth of food. What do we do? Stop serving for 2 weeks?
And what do we do when we find this person? Flay the skin off his back? Tell him he can’t come back for a month? Ask him not to do it again? Pretend like nothing happened? What’s the right thing to do?
About 2 months ago we started noticing some really odd stains on the walls. Couldn’t figure out what in the world it was. Finally we think we’ve got it. Someone was spitting coffee on the walls. They’d get a mouth full of food, swish it around with some coffee, lean back and spit.
What do we do when we catch this person in the act?
What are you going to do when it happens to you? The borderline person at work. The one who disgraces the family. The one who hurt you is suddenly reaching out and begging for help. The one who left you suddenly wants to make amends. The one who offends your sense of right and wrong needs an advocate. What’s the right thing to do?
In the mid-1960s my family lived in Weatherford, TX, just outside of Dallas. My mother taught history at the local High School. If there was ever a person with a highly developed sense of personal morality, what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s my mother.
Well, one year one of Mother’s seniors showed up pregnant. As the year progressed she became very, very pregnant. Remember this is the mid-1960s in a small town in Texas. You didn’t do this then. And I know my mother took it as a personal affront.
The school administration decided to award the woman her diploma but said she couldn’t walk at graduation with the other students. Her pregnancy was an affront to community decency.
So my mother, whom I’m positive was just as upset as everyone else, my mother the one-time Pentecostal missionary, went in and raised holy hell with the administration. And whether she actually changed their minds, or because they couldn’t get rid of her any other way, they decided the student should attend graduation and walk with everyone else.
As I say, my mother was just as offended and upset by the pregnancy as everyone else. But the student had done the work and deserved to graduate with her class. The underdog needed an advocate. Somebody had to break the circle and let the outsider in.
The Bible doesn’t have a lot of advice on how to tell your dessert fork from your salad fork but when dealing with difficult people, people who aren’t like us, people who look and sound and act very different from us we need to do what God does. When in doubt we should err on the side of doing what God does.
And what does God do? God cracks the circle open. God brings in the outsider. It may stir up controversy and make life difficult but over and over again we find God making room for the outsider. The sick, the lost, the homeless, the powerless, the cruel, the unkind, the immoral, even those who aren’t Christian.
What’s the right thing to do? Let’s put it this way. When in doubt let’s crack the circle open. Bring in the outsider. It will be the right thing to do. How can it not be? It’s what God does. Thanks be to God. Amen.