It’s easy to see a problem and say ‘We have to do something!’. It’s even easier to say ‘You do something!’. But it takes something more to say ‘what shall we do?’ We might think that is abdicating responsibility- after all, if I’m asking the question, then I’m not taking the initiative myself, unless of course that is precisely the first move that is needed…
Often I’m tempted to charge into a situation and try the first thing that comes to mind, but gradually, through painful experience, I’m learning that may not be the ideal, and so I’m discovering that asking questions like ‘what shall we do?’ help me to make the right decision. In first aid and medical care this is called triage- figuring out who/what to treat first, to get the best outcome for a patient/department etc- the classic I was taught was to make sure I’m not distracted by the sprained wrist that’s producing a lot of noise and risk missing the bleeding that is far more serious.
What shall we do? In the specific instance I’m referring to this phrase is used by someone in a crowd, responding to Peter on the day of Pentecost… he’s been accused of drunkenness and has defended the disciples, turning his defence into an accusation that the crowd bear a shared responsibility for the death of Jesus, who God has raised to life, and that this Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah… It’s one of those moments where things could have gone very wrong- 7 weeks before a similar crowd did cry for Jesus to die, and at other times in the book of Acts we will see the crowd aren’t so friendly, but as I read this passage (Acts chapter 2, this comes in verse 37), I imagine a silence falling, and then one voice, followed maybe by others, calling out ‘what shall we do?’
When someone asks you that question, there’s a pressure, and a responsibility- ok, I have to get this right, which is a bit scary… Peter, fortunately for him, has recently had his training refreshed- the last thing Matthew records Jesus saying in his Gospel is that the disciples should ‘go and make disciples of all nations- baptising them…and teaching them… (you can find this in Matthew 28 verse 19)… so, maybe after a panic-stricken millisecond, he responds ‘repent, be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, every one of you’- in other words, if you’re seriously asking, then let’s do the thing, let’s take this seriously.
And they do.
That’s the second scary thing- what if someone does take my answer seriously? The good news in this context, and wherever we’re talking about faith, is that the next bit really isn’t my responsibility- its between an individual and God- they ask me what do they need to do, I say repent and believe, be baptised, they say ok… It’s not me they’re believing in, it’s not me they’re asking to forgive them, they don’t get baptised in my name. Which is a huge relief!
Of course, the question ‘what shall we do?’ doesn’t just apply to a response to the Gospel, and it isn’t simply a question about plans for Saturday night either. There is a genuine, huge question of ‘what shall we do?’ that faces us every day- what shall we do about the destruction of the environment that is leading to climate change (according to most everyone but the Trump), what shall we do about the refugee crisis, what shall we do about the homeless in our town, the poor in our street, the broken relationship in our family, the habits of our mind. What shall we do about the election, the health service, the corruption and apathy that litter our communities?
I guess we have to start by doing something… registering to vote, and voting… voting for a candidate (and ideally a party) that you believe can and will make a difference. Maybe making some decisions about your habits of shopping and how you use your time. Maybe giving up something to help someone else. Right now, because I don’t know your circumstance, I can’t tell you the answer, but if you sit in front of a mirror you’ll probably see someone who can; they just might be afraid of the responsibility.