“The three R’s”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

“Feddersen’s Fables” has the story of a remote and somewhat backward community of people who recognized some weaknesses in their school system and decided to make some changes. They began by electing the better-educated citizens of the area to the school board. These, in turn, hired an aggressive and reputable superintendent. The new super studied the situation and made a series of proposals to the board. The board was shocked to learn of a very high incidence of illiteracy among the high school students, a terrible lack of equipment and facilities — especially the library and laboratories — an inadequate staff for teaching science and math, a lack of teachers trained to help students with learning disabilities and the list went on and on.

The superintendent also made a series of proposals designed to attack the problems. That list was equally extensive, and the new board felt overwhelmed. They decided to call a public meeting of the district in order to lay the problems and proposals before the community, and to see where the people wanted them to start. With its huge agenda the meeting lasted for hours. Finally, an old mountain man stood in the back and asked to be recognized. He said, “All these modern ideas and newfangled notions is what got our schools in trouble in the first place. The whole thing is that the schools ain’t teachin’ the three R’s no more. We gotta get back to teachin’ the kids about Right and Rong and Religion!”

I once read an article about the three R’s of religion. The author suggested that they are “Remorse, Repentance and Renewal.” I felt some disagreement when I first saw them, and the remainder of the article failed to convince me. I believe that, in most instances, remorse is a waste of time. Another “Feddersen’s Fable” might help to illustrate my meaning. A fellow stopped at a bar on his way home from work. He spent too much time and too much money on too much booze while he was there. When he was leaving, he backed his car out of a parking spot right into the side of a Mercedes. He was terribly sorry, and he apologized repeatedly to the owner of the car as he gave him all the necessary insurance information. He was so filled with remorse that he went back into the bar to drown his sorrows. The moral of the fable is, “Feeling bad rarely does any good.”

Since I have an affinity for alliteration, I would suggest that we practice Recognition, Repentance and Renewal. First of all, remember that repentance does not pre-require that something be wrong. In Sunday’s lesson from Jonah, we are told that God repented of the action He was going to take against Nineveh. It would be very presumptuous of us to suggest that the action He was planning was wrong. Repentance implies a change of mind, attitude, direction or behavior. In Christian usage, it means choosing a better alternative.
The school board in the opening fable probably should have repented their decision to have a public meeting. There was nothing wrong about it, but it wasn’t likely to accomplish any good. Gathering more people usually results only in more opinions. “Feddersen’s Fables” defines a committee as “A group of people who spend hours making minutes.” The board had the responsibility to act on the recommendations of their expert. They needed to set goals, establish priorities and initiate action.

In our individual lives, in our businesses, churches, boards, committees, organizations or whatever, we need to be constantly on the alert for both needs and problems. Many times problems occur because needs aren’t met. Jesus told a parable about a fellow who was possessed by demons. When the demons were removed, nothing replaced them so more demons took up the space.

We hear a great deal about the demons of drugs, alcohol, crime, and the like. One program suggests, “Just Say No” to drugs. But campaigns against drug suppliers and pushers will probably continue to fail as long as there continues to be such a profitable market. It is not enough to just say, “No.” Somehow we have to learn to say, “Yes,” to God and to something so worthwhile that the need for escape, illusion, entertainment, or whatever the mind-benders promise to give is replaced by a need to grow, fulfill, accomplish and excel.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t pretend to have the answers to all of life’s problems and society’s ills, but I am absolutely convinced that God does! The age of television has produced a generation of observers and spectators. We want to sit back and be entertained. Lifestyles of futility and noninvolvement produce despair, suicide, and a drug culture that suggests we shoot-it-up-today — what else is there to live for? Some have suggested that the constant threat of nuclear annihilation makes people both fearful and hopeless. I don’t know. It seems to me that death has been around a long time, and everybody has been heading straight for it, even centuries before we found bigger and faster ways to make it happen.

I know it is entirely too simplistic to say it, but the only real answer to hopelessness is hope. The only good answer to emptiness is to be filled with something better than what was swallowed, shot into the arm or sucked up the nostrils. We need to recognize both the needs and problems in our own lives and those of others. We need to repent inactivity as much as evil activity. We need to be renewed in hope. The first recognition must be that we are sinful human beings and, as such, cannot accomplish any one of these things without God.

Erich Fromm has written, “Hope is paradoxical. It is neither passive waiting nor is it unrealistic forcing of circumstances that cannot occur. It is like a crouched tiger, which will jump only when the moment for jumping has come . . . To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime. There is no sense in hoping for that which already exists or for that which cannot be. Those whose hope is weak settle for comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish all signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.”

In the earliest days of the Church, people anticipated Christ’s return at any moment. They also anticipated, even expected a joyful and hopeful response to the Gospel whenever they shared it. There was an immediacy and urgency about getting the message out to everyone. Many scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was the first one written. The language of the book has several strong characteristics. It is filled with action verbs. Sentence after sentence begins with “And,” as though the action continues from start to finish, and an adverb that can be translated as “immediately” or “at once” is used over and over again. The book is short and to the point. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the whole of Jesus’ teaching is summed up in one powerful sentence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Over the years, the sense of immediacy has faded. We have become relaxed in our faith. We procrastinate and become occupied with trivial things. We rarely tell the Good News about Jesus with zealous eagerness, knowing that tomorrow may be too late. We are too busy doing nothing to recognize, repent or renew. For many, Christ’s mission is like a P.R.N. prescription — “Take only as needed.”

A little boy came home from Sunday school after hearing the joyful message of the Gospel. Perhaps for the first time, he had fully recognized his own sinfulness and the forgiveness given to him by his crucified and risen Lord and Savior. He was filled with joy, hope and the power of the Spirit. He did one good deed after another that whole afternoon and evening. At bedtime, his father (not knowing anything that had happened in the morning) sat the boy on his lap and said, “My, you sure have been a good boy today.” The youngster smiled and said, “Whew! I know. I’ve been too busy doing good to be bad.” There’s a lesson for those who listen.

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