I never felt that was a burden. It always felt like a privilege to me. Oh, there were a few times when it was hard to get inspired. I found that if I would sit down in a quiet place and just listen for a while, insights would come. And sometimes my sermons turned out to be duds, but that was good. It provided me a way to find out that my parishioners loved me anyhow. God did, too.
Mostly, I get up every morning thinking about my next sermon. Today, I’m thinking about how to live a practical, moral life.
In 1896 a Congregationalist pastor in Topeka, Kansas, the Rev. Charles Sheldon, wrote a novel based on a series of his sermons. The novel was entitled In His Steps with the subtitle “What Would Jesus Do?” It became a best-selling book, highly influential in Christian circles. Its impact bordered on a movement. The acronym WWJD? became popular in discussions of moral behavior. If Jesus were to be viewed as Savior, why could he not also be viewed as a moral example?
WWJD? emerged again in the 1990s as a strategy for moral action for many Christians. It’s challenging to speculate on what anyone might do about anything. In the case of what Jesus would do, it is easy enough to take a look at the things he did in the New Testament. For most of his life he worked as a carpenter, which in his time and place would have been a builder, more like a stone mason. But we are looking for his deeds that would provide as our moral example.
How, for instance, did he treat children? He invited children to sit at his knees and learn from him. When he was a 12-year-old child, he went to the temple and questioned the elders about things he wanted to learn. How did he regard women? He counted women among his closest friends.
What did he do when he attracted a huge crowd of people who gathered spontaneously to hear him preach? And they came without food? He organized a big picnic. People were fed.
People who were hurting came to him and he healed them. He preached to the masses. He taught his little band of disciples to pray. He even gave them a model prayer to go by. He consoled the bereaved. He wept over the death of a friend. He became outraged that the temple had lost sight of its original purpose and he physically drove the merchants out.
We can easily assemble a list of the things he did. They are described in the New Testament.
I’m even more interested in the things he said. Why? Because, although the New Testament tells us about some things he did, it tells us more in the things he said. If we look only at the specific things he did, we would miss a rich source of moral insight conveyed in what he said. WWJS? opens a vast array of practical applications to life situations. This, we might say, is the “spirit” of Jesus.
In the scripture, we observe Jesus doing loving deeds. And we are instructed. But when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” his words interpret his deeds and we receive richer insights into moral excellence.
I love to speculate about what Jesus would do in pragmatic situations. Even more intriguing to me is to ask what Jesus has said that has relevance to modern life. Things like honesty, truth, possessions, greed, compassion, war, peace, harmony among people, stewardship of the earth, poverty, human relations, international affairs and forgiveness.