CHURCH CORNER: Big question is, what will we do?

By Dan Wilson

Hope Lutheran

WWJD. What would Jesus do? This saying has become a money-making mantra for many people today. With the click of a mouse, probably on your WWJD mouse pad, you can buy WWJD T-shirts, WWJD bean bag bears, WWJD coffee cups, WWJD beer steins, and for only $239 (plus shipping and handling, of course) you can buy a diamond-accented WWJD cross.

Wow! Probably more money spent on WWJD stuff in a year than Jesus saw in his lifetime. Certainly a lot more than a poor widow’s two copper coins.

This saying has sadly even become a rules guideline for some Christians to exclude the very people Jesus would include. If you can’t answer WWJD (or at least our version of it), then this isn’t the church for you. If you can’t answer WWJD (or at least the way we want it answered), then you obviously don’t fit. Hogwash.

Jesus has already shown us WWJD. In fact the question really should be, “What DID Jesus do?” The question is not, “What would Jesus do?” We already know that answer. The real question is, “What would we do?” or, better yet, “What WILL we do?”

Amazingly, this saying is not even a current saying. In fact, when it was first asked in print, the question being asked was not what size WWJD T-shirt do you want. Do you know where WWJD comes from?

The question was raised in a book, “In His Steps,” written in 1896 by Rev. Charles Sheldon of Topeka, Kan. The book describes a homeless man in his early 30s (say, wasn’t Jesus a homeless man in his early 30s?) who walks into the fictional First Church of Raymond, the most proper and prosperous church in town. He is rejected/neglected by the good people of the church, walks up to the front of the church following a sermon about following in Jesus’ footsteps and delivers an impassioned speech.

“I’m not an ordinary tramp,” he says, “although I don’t know any teaching of Jesus that makes one tramp less worthy of saving than another, do you?…It seems to me that there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such (church) songs went out and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do?” He then collapses and eventually dies.

This book helped to launch the Social Gospel movement in the United States. Yes, the very words WWJD helped to bring “liberal” Christianity to the forefront of American religious life. What has now become a saying that generates tons of money and, sadly, often boundaries, was originally meant to really be a critical question aimed at Christians who simply were not living a life in the footsteps of the one who answered the question for us through his real actions.

So, what would Jesus do in our towns and churches today? Would he welcome sinners to eat with him? Would he welcome the stranger who might be different than we are? Would he reach out to our neighbors in need? Would he be caring enough to accept people rejected by a self-righteous society that often judges first?

We already know what Jesus would do. He lived a life of radical grace and radical love. He ate with sinners and forgave them. He welcomed those who were excluded and embraced them. He stood with the outcasts and gave them life and hope. He reached out to bring light and hope to a pretty dark and hopeless world.

The big question for Christians, and nonChristians, today is, “What will we do?” The next time you see the phrase, WWJD, remember, there is a lot more behind that question than a bracelet.

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