I love watching movies! But there was one movie that I hadn’t gotten around to watching even though the dvd was sitting on my coffee table for months. It was Call of the Wild, by Jack London and starring Harrison Ford.
I remember it being one of the first grown up books I read as a kid. Call of the Wild is not always pleasant. But the struggle to get dogs to pull a sleigh together is a vivid image. They go from a pack of snarling, growling individuals that snap and bite to a team that pulls together and gets everything from mail to food delivered across long stretches of cold northern territory.
The scriptures today remind me of the courage and hard work that goes into forming a dogsled team. Jesus knew where he wanted to go, and nothing was going to steer him away from his purpose. People who tried to get him to change course were left behind. His fellow travelers, the team he had put together, were told in no uncertain terms that there was only one destination, and if they didn’t want to go in that same direction, they were not in the team. The priority was on the destination, nothing else. The destination was bigger than family connections, cultural traditions, or expectations of rewards. The goal had to be at the centre of every decision along the way. Even revenge on those who insulted him would not get to his goal. “Shall we rain down fire from heaven and destroy them like the prophets of old did to their enemies?" Nope, Jesus had no patience for treating people like that, no time for violence. He wanted his disciples to love their enemies.
He wanted team players who would pull their weight and let go of the need to be right, or the need for power or control. To practice forgiveness of the wrongs others did and keep focused on helping people hear the good news of God’s redeeming love.
He wanted to pull people from their individual agendas into a team that could smoothly go the distance and be in it for the long haul. Just like a dogsled team working together to travel the vast distances in the north.
Paul was focused on that too. In his letter to the Galatians, he reminded them of the end goal they were working towards, and what stood in the way of them reaching it. A goal of love, where everyone would know true freedom to live without anxiety, guilt, shame, resentment, depression, anger and fear. Paul’s phrase ‘Living by the flesh’ is better translated as ‘living by impulsive selfishness”, and the list of attitudes and behaviors that destroy teamwork as well as mental health is long. Some seem odd to us today. I’m not sure the last time I was tempted to indulge in some sorcery, for example, if I substitute superstition instead of sorcery, it has more meaning for me. The rest, hostility, arguments, jealousy and the like certainly do tear us into pieces and keeps us all from moving forward. Snapping at one another like dogs fighting over the lead spot in the dog team means that we are at a standstill. The sled won’t budge and we won’t get one inch closer to Jerusalem! But when we deal in healthy ways with conflict or selfish agendas, and substitute love and gentleness and the other fruit of the spirit, we can really get flying as a team.
How do we know we are using healthy ways? When we have love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the fruits of the spirit. When we open ourselves to Christ’s vision, when we set our faces to Jerusalem, when we remember why we do what we do, the fruit reminds us and guides us to rise above our impulses, selfishness and self-destructive behaviors. The fruit helps us to work together as a team and to stay focused on where we want to go.
Where are we headed? On the road to freedom, and not just freedom for you and me, but freedom for all. Can you imagine what it would be like to feel even a little freer from all the stress and challenge of your life? 5% less anxious about money or 5% less jealous of your partner’s friendships or coworker’s successes or neighbor’s car or family member’s vacation home or friend’s travel plans? 5% calmer, 5% more comfortable with prayer, 5% more courageous in talking about your faith? 5% more understanding of what triggers your emotions? Now some of you who are new to our church might be thinking these are ridiculous claims, and maybe some of you who have been coming for a long time might feel the same. But I bet if you think back to what brought you here, you might recognize a yearning to have that freedom. And for those of us who have been here a while, if we look back to who we were a month ago, a year ago or even ten years ago, we might just be able to see that yes, we are that 5% better than we were. I know that this congregation has helped me develop more resiliency when it came to dealing with all the craziness that Covid put us through. I am definitely more prayerful than I was, and more focused on making our community a healthier place for all, a little closer to being the new Jerusalem that Jesus, Paul, Luke, John and more worked together to build.
The Call of the Wild was in the end a call to freedom. We have a call to freedom too, just like Buck the sled dog. The United Church of Canada says that we are called to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope filled communities, united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship and daring justice. Here we say we are called to Worship, Inspire, Engage, and Empower. Together, with the Spirit, let us work as a team to journey to new ways of living with each other and the world in love and freedom.