Now, for this our first chapel back, I want to take a moment to catch our breath and get us on the right footing before things get busy. Ahead of us lies a busy season, with a lot to figure out, a lot to learn, and many things that will need to get done. And it will be challenging, no doubt, but awesome too. And with God before us and our brothers beside us, we are up for the task. You are up for the task. And through it all, we won’t forget what matters the most.
You may have heard or read the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. It’s a story of sibling rivalry that goes all kinds of wrong with Cain lashing out at his brother Abel. God confronts Cain, asking him what he has done. And in a defensive and guilt-ridden response, Cain says, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, of course, God doesn’t dignify the question with an answer. The answer is obvious, of course, yes, yes, of course he is. Of course we are our brother’s keeper.
I heard a story, recently, a true one, and when I heard it I couldn’t wait to tell you. It’s about a boy named Johnnie Ashe. Johnnie grew up here in Richmond, just a few miles from St. Christopher’s. And when he graduated high school, he enlisted in the navy and became a marine. Now, this was a few years back, in the mid ’60s, and he soon found himself deployed to fight in Vietnam. Johnnie was a good fighter, but the conditions were hard, and his letters home made it clear he wanted out.
But just as Johnnie’s tour was ending, he approached his commanding officer and asked if it was true what he had heard, that the armed forces did not deploy two or more brothers into active conflict at the same time. He was told that while it wasn’t an official policy, since World War II, the armed forces had tried to stagger sibling deployments.
And with that, Johnnie signed up for another tour in Vietnam.
Johnnie’s big brother had been on track to go to Vietnam. He was just finishing up UCLA on an ROTC scholarship. And, as you may know, ROTC scholarships come with years of mandatory military service. Johnnie couldn’t bear the thought of his brother going through what he had, so he took his brother’s place, without even telling him of the sacrifice he had made. Johnnie’s brother, Arthur, served the military domestically, not knowing why he wasn’t sent to Vietnam, even as so many others had been.
Years later, Johnnie said he hadn’t told Arthur about the sacrifice he had made because he didn’t want Arthur to feel indebted to him. Their relationship was too good, and Arthur’s safety and success were repayment enough. And succeed Arthur did.
You’ve likely heard of Arthur Ashe, not just because of his statue on Monument Avenue, but also because he grew up playing tennis here in Richmond, on public courts all over the city. He went on to become the highest ranking tennis player in the world, and a trailblazer as the first African American to win a number of major tournaments, including Wimbledon, the U.S. and Australian Opens. Off the court, he made a lasting impact for his groundbreaking work in advocating for justice and equality for all kinds of people. He was an amazing man. And maybe that was all possible because in his heart his little brother knew the answer to that question Cain yelled out thousands of years ago.
I tell you this story because gentleman, we are on a campus full of brothers. We are not tied by blood, perhaps, but if we do this thing right, every day we will answer Cain's question with a resounding “YES!” We are our brothers' keepers.
Davis Hunter read from Luke this morning, a conversation between Jesus and a student of the law. Luke is careful to describe who it was questioning Jesus because, as a student of the law, he would have known every rule, every command, every thing the Bible says one must do to be a good person. And there were hundreds and hundreds of such rules, dictating everything from what one wears to what they eat to how they pray to how they live (Ha! Sounds a lot like school). Trying to follow all those rules is like trying to thread an impossible needle. The student knew it and Jesus knew it.
But here’s the reason why we call the bible “the good news”. Because Jesus says no. Don’t get distracted by all that. Don’t mistake the small stuff for what’s important. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Right. And most of it is small stuff.
There are just two things, he says. Two things we have to do to get this thing right. And now he’s not talking not just to that student, but to us, this morning, with our own enormous list of do’s and don'ts this year. In a year full potential distractions and potential possibilities, Jesus says, there are just two things we must keep out in front of us at all times:
We love God. And we love each other. No. 1 and No. 2. That’s it. There is nothing else.
Because if we get those two things right everything else will fall into place.
And how do we love each other? As brothers, gentlemen. As brothers.