Do I Aftu?
Words for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – 9 May 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15v10-11)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
In the Staff Room at St Martin’s School in Johannesburg, as happens during tea breaks amongst teachers the world over, venting of frustrations about the intractability of adolescents and there stubbornness when it comes to assigned tasks is a commonplace. One of the most oft repeated complaints amongst staff was a response, often delivered with an air of being put upon, by students when handed assignments. The plaintive cry of ‘DoIaftu?’ from bemused students who hadn’t yet realised that schoolwork was compulsory used to cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst the faculty. Obedience was always challenged. This was somewhat ironic as the school motto is ‘Non Recuso Laborem – I do not refuse the task’.
Mind you blind obedience is not always the best way to learn. Having gone to a military school everyone obeyed every order outwardly, but our heart was not always in what we were doing and lessons were often endured rather than learnt. In the end we all need to come to a place of choosing to obey rather than being forced to follow if we are ever to find maturity and self-discipline.
This can very rarely be described as a joy-filled journey. On the one hand – the DoIaftu team – there comes a realisation that the task must be done and all that your response has done is to lose you precious time. And on the other hand – the ‘Yes sir, no sir, three bags full’ brigade – had no idea, once set free from the strictures of uniformity, had little idea how to organise their own lives.
Joy, whether in the classroom or on the parade ground, is not one of the first feelings that may describe our learning journey at school. Or for that matter in adult life. We seem to either learn by the ‘School of hard knocks’ or we become hardened ourselves and, looking out for Number One, proclaim ‘Blow you! I’m all right Jack’
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sees obedience differently. Instead of being something that requires us to be automatons or reluctant respondents, obedience is to be for the Christian the fountainhead of joy:
The ‘if’ of ‘If you keep my commandments,’ is unerringly followed by the ‘thens’ of, ‘you will abide in my love’ and, ‘your joy may be complete’.
Jesus introduces his followers to the apparent oxymoron of ‘Joyful Obedience’. Living in a world where being compelled to do anything is seen as an infringement of our rights and an insult to the democratic process – a quick scan of the news media will uncover many cries of ‘DoIaftu?’ – we may find it unusual to find purpose and contentment, love and joy in the context of obeying commandments.
Perhaps it is our early upbringing in the faith is to blame. We are over-used to the idea of looking at what happens if we disobey a command – punishment, alienation, hellfire and damnation – and have no time to look at the contentment and joy that comes when we walk in the ways of God and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
That’s not to say that joy will flood our soul every time we commit righteous deeds instead of giving in to the desires of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. As I have said previously, sin is quite enjoyable, if it were not we would not rush to do it! On the other hand leading sober and righteous lives can seem to have no fun in it especially when it means that we behave differently to those with whom we work or who are near and dear to us. I remember the embarrassment at my last place of secular employment (a laboratory in a printing ink factory) when I handed in my notice to go to Seminary. Several colleagues took great delight in being foul mouthed in front of me as if to prove my faith. Yes, looking back, this vocation to serve God’s people fills me to overflowing with joy and a sense of privilege, but at times I have held on to it with gritted teeth while holding back the desire to clock someone!
Francis of Assisi, whom some say is the one person to have walked most closely in the Footsteps of Christ, was totally in love with God and always eager to obey every command of God – the First Rule of the Society he founded is almost completely made up of the words of Jesus. It was as he followed ‘Brother Jesus’ whose monastery was the world around him that Francis found joy in the most unusual of places. The story in the Little Flowers of St Francis about Perfect Joy (printed at the end of this piece) is a perfect example, if extreme, of what it means to live a life of joyful obedience.
In the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, our Profession Vow encapsulates this when we promise, for the rest of our lives, ‘to live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service.’
My experience is this. When there is no joy in my life I have replaced faith with fear and humility with duty. Joy is what fuels the Christian through the hard times of life and makes the difference between a life abiding in the love of God and a life walking our own lonely path.
We will all face times of trouble, sickness, disaster and suffering. Being a faithful person does not make us immune from the rigours of life and death – God is not some sort of heavenly puppet master who saves the ‘faithful’ from disaster and punishes the ‘unfaithful’ with pain and suffering. (Thank heavens!) God goes through the pain with us and, in an outpouring of God’s own suffering on the cross cover all of us with love and invites us to find joy by walking the path of obedience (Philippians 2v6-11)
It was Yolande Mongo, a 16 year old Mozambican and Prefect at St Martin’s School in Johannesburg, who taught me the most important lesson about learning to live a life of joyful obedience.
One afternoon she met me going about the school. I must have been preoccupied because she stopped me and asked if I was ok. I explained that I was upset and saddened by a few things that had happened recently. Her response was;
‘Father, you are not allowed to be sad. You must always be joyful. If you are not joyful how can the rest of us ever find joy?’
Thank you Yolande for your gentle chiding of a vicar who had got so wrapped up in the job he was doing that he had forgotten to abide in love and become a source of joy.
Listen to the words of the apostle to those called to be saints at Philippi;
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4v4-7)
Friends, we too must always be joyful, for how else can a sad and broken world find its way into the loving arms of our Saviour.
[This blog ‘Do I Aftu?’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
The Little Flowers of St Francis
HOW ST FRANCIS, WALKING ONE DAY WITH BROTHER LEO, EXPLAINED TO HIM WHAT THINGS ARE PERFECT JOY
One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”
A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters − write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.”
St Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent−gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall − then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.
And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ − and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.
And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick − if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.
And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”