True North: Thoughts on Standards to Live By

True North

Today is Epiphany Sunday.

What is an epiphany?

A sudden manifestation or perception, perhaps through an experience of the divine, that reveals the essential nature or meaning of something.

It is what we might call the “AH-HA” moment.

Our usual scripture reading is the story of the Three Magi.

Three gentiles who come to see what the new star signified.

And they found the incarnate God.

Emanuel – God with us.

Not just Israel.

All of us.

That was the epiphany of the Magi.

That is epiphany we celebrate.

But my choice for our scripture lesson today is from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which parallels Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is teaching his disciples what it means to live the Jesus way.

This is also an epiphany.

A sudden manifestation or perception through an experience of the divine that revealed the essential nature or meaning of something.

What was the something whose essential meaning or nature is revealed?


It is a long lesson.

Jesus describes what makes people happy, what makes them suffer.

Jesus describes the “Golden Rule” and the love of neighbors, even when they are enemies.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to judge and condemn but to forgive and be merciful.

He tells them not t be deceived by their own perceived understanding or righteousness, but to seek out a good teacher.

Jesus points out that good people produce good, so that is one measure of how the disciples will be perceived.

Good lessons, all.

Do these things and you will live the life of a disciple of Jesus.

A life cared for by Jesus.

And then Jesus says this:

Luke 6: 46-49

46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’

Every morning I take my two dogs, Lucy and Roxy for a run.

I take them to a small cemetery near my house and let them go off leash.

And they love it.

They are free.

They run.

All flapping ears and wagging tails and what appears to be sheer joy.

But before they were allowed to do this, they had to learn one basic rule.

It was their epiphany.

Come when you are called.

Come when you are called keeps you from chasing deer into traffic, which can get you hurt.

It also keeps you from chasing rabbits into the woods, which can get you lost.

Come when you are called means that you will have life.

A life cared for by me.

Overt time I started to notice something about both Lucy and Roxy on their runs.

As they ran around, they would periodically stop for a moment and look at me with their ears up.

They seem to ask:

Are you still there?

Is this OK?

Am I safe?

Can I keep going?

Or do you want me to come to you?

They only have one rule, but they needed to check in to make sure they were following it.

I would say either “come” if I thought they needed to go in a different direction.

“Go” if I thought they were OK.

And that is what they do.

Come or go.

Here or there.

Now Roxy is deaf.

Yet she still stops and looks for me on her runs.

She can’t hear my voice, but she still can see me.

It’s her habit.

I am her true north.

She sees me and knows what she is supposed to do.

Then she does it, most times.

I thought of this when I was reading today’s scripture.

It was kind of what Jesus was doing.

He was training his disciples.

He was telling them that they needed to come to him, listen to him and learn from him.

He was giving them instructions for a lifestyle that would help them through a life of discipleship.

But they had to follow the instructions.

They had to do what he told them they needed to do.

Doing what they were instructed gave them a firm foundation that would withstand the flood waters of the world that would from time to time seek to destroy them.

If they did not do these things, they might get washed away.

It’s the doing, not just the knowing, that is important.

And how do you know what to do?

Listen and learn and refer to the instructions Jesus gives when you are unsure.

Then do your best to follow them.

These instructions are your standard.

Your benchmark.

Your true north.

It has been quite a few years since I graduated from high school.  

But I remember it was an exciting time.

I was 18.

I was an adult.

I was ready to take on the world.

I went off to college and for the first time in my life I was free of my parents’ rules and regulations that had managed and controlled my life for 18 years.

I was free alright, but free to be anything from a tremendous success to a horrific failure.

Suddenly I had to make choices that had previously been made by Mom & Dad.

What would I study?

Who were my friends going to be?

What kinds of activities would I get involved in?

What kind of relationships would I get involved in?

And at 18, ten years from the age of reason, I couldn’t predict all the potential consequences of the many choices I had to make.

Some of these choices involved meaningless things.

Others were life changing.

Some could be life threatening.

And I realized quickly that I did not know how to make some of those decisions.

So, when I needed to get some outside assistance, I called Mom and Dad.

The resource where I knew I would get good guidance.

The standard.

The benchmark.

My true north.

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is encouraging his disciples to do the same thing.

“Here are some instructions for life in God’s Kingdom.

If you need to, refer to them.

If you follow them, good things will result.

If good things are not happening, maybe it’s because you forgot the instructions.

Look to them.

Reorient yourself.

Find your true north.

Get back on track.”

The divine “stop and look”.

It’s a good plan.

Kind of summed up in that old meme, “What would Jesus do?”

But we can’t make it superficial.

Some years back I watched “Freaky Friday” with my daughter.

There is a scene where Jamie Leigh Curtis is dropping off Lindsay Lohan at school.

She leans out the window and yells “Make good choices!”

Lohan rolls her eyes and sighs.

We have always thought that line was pretty funny in my house.

It is a pretty superficial instruction in a complex world.

How do we make good choices?

There are two options.

One is by thinking about the consequences of poor choices.

That does not always work, does it?

Drinking and driving is a no brainier right?

But people still do it.

Taking drugs seems obviously to be a bad thing.

But the rehabs are full.

Promiscuity can ruin lives.

But you would never know that if you watch TV.

A better way would be to listen and learn from Jesus.

Make Jesus your true north.

Make Jesus a benchmark in our heads.

The instruction manual for the life of a disciple.

For life itself.

Have an epiphany!

And when you feel or lost, stop and look.

If you are a football fan, when you hear the word “Omaha” what comes to mind?”

Peyton Manning calling an audible.

He looks over the opposition and sees trouble.

He tells his team to check with him.

He gives them another play.

And they change what they are going to do.

That is what we need to do when we aren’t sure what to do.

We need an Omaha moment.

With someone we trust.

With Jesus.

“Hey Jesus, what do you think?”

And the answer might be:

Change the play.

Do this instead and you will avoid a problem.

Live my way.

Love God.

Love yourself.

Love everyone.

Do what I would do.

Choose the thing that produces good.

My words are the strong foundation that will withstand the flood waters of life.

Now go and do it!

That is the one thing that is critical.


Doing what Jesus wants us to do.

Jesus admonishes us.

Don’t call me Lord and then do whatever you want.

That won’t work.

You can come.

You can listen.

But if you don’t do, a fall is coming.

If you do what I teach, you can stand up to anything the world throws at you.

Rely on God in difficult times.

Make peace with your enemies.

Be tolerant.


Be kind and care for others.

These are the things Jesus calls us to do.

Our standard.

Our benchmark.

Our foundation.

Our true north.

But the world is a complicated place.

And we don’t want to use superficial memes to support difficult decisions.

We need to pray.

We need to read scripture.

We need to talk.

We need to listen.

We need to learn.

And we need to pray.

We are in one of those moments today.

We are on the brink of war.

The issues surrounding this are complex and difficult.

But we need to seek our true north.

Did you notice that I said we need to pray twice?

At the beginning and at the end.

Let’s start our consideration of the current state of the world with this prayer based on a prayer written by Jill Duffield, editor of Presbyterian Outlook.


The sabers rattle and voices are raised vowing an eye for an eye and threatening to blind the whole world. Fear mounts, rhetoric grows intense and pride threatens to destroy and kill. As our anxiety grows and we worry more and more about what might happen next, we ask that you speak again your word of beyond-understanding-peace.

Help us to hear and heed the words of our Risen Lord, “Peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you.” Remind us relentlessly that you bless the peacemakers and prod us to be among those peacemakers who are blessed.

God of power and might, as we wonder when wars will cease, infuse us with the Holy Spirit so that we will speak the words you give us, become the ambassadors of reconciliation you require of us, and passionately love the world in which you have placed us.

God of grace and God of glory, pour out your power on us, your people, so that we will have the courage to disrupt the narrative of violence by proclaiming in word and deed the life-giving story of sacrificial love made know to us through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Call us to you.

Make us listen to you.

Help us to learn from you.

Guide is to live the Jesus way.

The way to peace.

Be our true north.


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