Monday, July 22, 2019

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is our way of resisting evil in all it's forms, even now when racism, discrimination and exploitation are so popular. 

"Do for others what you want them to do for you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and of the teaching of the prophets."  Matthew 7:12 (GNT) 

 Jesus taught the Golden Rule and commented on it in this verse in a way that puts it on par with the great commandment of Moses. When He was asked what is the greatest of all commandments, Jesus said, "The greatest is this, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength and soul. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself." And then He commented on that commandment almost the same words He says here, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets also." Matthew 22:36-40.

Transcript of the [audio for this sermon] preached extemporaneously
at Briensburg UMC on July 21, 2019.

The Golden Rule doesn't just pop out as some random verse in the Sermon on the Mount. The Golden Rule is the apex of the Sermon on the Mount. The few verses remaining in the Sermon on the Mount after this is given are Jesus landing the plane by telling us how important it is to implement all these teachings that He's been talking about in this Sermon on the Mount. And by telling us the importance of building our lives on a solid foundation like a wise builder would build their house on a rock and not on the sand. Everything preceding just built up to this point. It begins with the Beatitudes. He talks about prayer. He talks about love and forgiveness, alms giving, all these spiritual things that He talks about. And as He approaches the Golden Rule, He talked about not judging other people and then He puts a little pillow there to lay the Golden Rule on when He talks about ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened unto you.

Even anybody as bad as sometimes we are, as messed up sometimes as we get, still if a child asked us for a loaf of bread, we wouldn't give them a stone. Or if they asked us for an egg, we wouldn't give them a scorpion. And He said even more think about how your heavenly Father wants to give good things, right on top of all this about the providence of God which He's already pointed out is for everybody. "He makes it to rain on the just and the unjust." Now He places this Golden Rule.

Which Norman Rockwell has depicted here as our landmark that we want to use today, the painting by that name where right in the middle of the painting he wrote "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule is universal. It's for us to apply in every situation in our lives. This is the ethos of our faith. It's a call to empathy at it's most complete levels. In every situation, in every relationship, you want to be helpful to people and not hurtful. And that applies to every person that you know. Even Jesus was talking about that's why it's so important to connect that with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount because he said even to your worst enemy, "Do good to those that revile you. Pray for those that persecute you."

This is our way of resisting the evil around us by doing good. This is our way of pushing back against the people that are pushing from the other way. We push back by loving them as Christ has loved us. We push back by standing firm in our faith and belief in the teachings of Jesus and implementing them in each situation. So it's universal in that sense, but it's universal in the sense that it's for everybody to do. It's for everybody in every situation. It's for all the other people for us to encourage that in others too regardless of what their beliefs or practice may be regarding religion or spirituality. This is for us to teach everyone, encouraging everyone.

When you look at that picture, you can see people dressed in all different outfits from all around the world, from all different faith traditions. And if you look real close, the different people are carrying different emblems of their faiths, different religions from around the world, different cultures. The people of all different kinds and races and cultures and beliefs and everything, you can tell by the expression, by what they're wearing, by the tokens of faith that they're carrying.

This is a picture of a piece of paper that Norman Rockwell typed up as part of his preparation for painting this picture. One thing was to take a piece of paper and type up on there and do a little bit of research and find out what all these different other religions said in the core of their teachings that was similar to this. It's really the Golden Rule phrased differently by these other different religions. It's a universal teaching. The whole faith community comes together around this apex of all of our teachings. And however we may understand anything else that we talk about or sing about or pray about or argue about anything else, in whatever religion we have this is the goal of spirituality. This is the high point of spirituality.

The Golden Rule is a universal rule for all humanity regardless of what else we think or do or believe about anything. The Golden Rule is collectively applied as well as individually, implementing the teachings of Christ. It's to be implemented even in our groups. And many times when we think about the judgment of Christ and think of the great white throne judgment and we all picture there like we're all standing in line waiting our turn, the books are open, each one of us individually judged according to the things that are written in that book. But in Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about dividing the sheep from the goats, He speaks of that as the judgment of the nations. That's pretty inclusive of everybody as a group. What we do as that two or three when we gather together, what we decide, the Golden Rule still applies.

What we do as a congregation, as a community, as government entities, as state and national organizations, worldwide. Everything that we do no matter who we're doing it with it still stands under this judgment of almighty God. And we have our place in that. So we have our responsibility to that. What we may be able to do might not be very big. Might be like the people that were given little investments by the guy that went on a journey in the Bible. And the one guy didn't have very much so he thought he would just bury his talent while the other two invested theirs. And when the master came back, found out that wasn't the right way to do it.

We may only be able to pray. We may be only to say a word here or there or do something, we may not be able to do much. Remember back when they restored the Statue of Liberty, they did that with pennies. And now the politicians, who are they going after? Saw this on the news or on your email? Those little one dollar, five dollar donations because a whole bunch of small things adds up to a whole lot more than a few big things. We're called to apply the Golden Rule collectively as well as individually.

And then in our church we have this general rule, "Three General Rules," that date back to before the Methodists were called Methodists. When they were just kind of meeting and talking about and they had these rules about how to implement the teachings of Christ systematically, methodically in our personal lives, in our group lives, how we can group together, in our church life or in our political life. 

And rule number one, "Do no harm." Think about that in relation to the Golden Rule. If you don't want anybody harming you, don't harm other people. And number two then, "Do good." Do the kind of good to others that you hope others will do to you. And "Stay in love with God." Use the means of grace and make them available to each other, emphasize them, see Christ in each other. Do the best we can for each other. Share the sacraments of the church with the community.

Make everybody a part of the prayer life. Connect with each other in prayer. Lift up each other in prayer. Study the Scriptures from the viewpoint of Jesus and His love. We apply the Golden Rule to the way we practice our religion and our faith then it transforms our religion and our faith in our personal and corporate spirituality.

So the Golden Rule is not like orders from headquarters or just something to debate and discuss as an interesting idea or a philosophy to consider. The Golden Rule is an invitation. An invitation to join Jesus and the other spiritual masters of faith through the ages. To do as Paul said, "sit in the heavenly places with Christ."  The Golden Rule is our pathway to the heavenly places, to the ultimate goals that we feel in our hearts and minds about what spirituality is for. As we practice and implement the Golden Rule, we go up a few notches. And when we don't, we go down a few notches in our faith journey, in our own spiritual lives. And we take everybody around us with us either way.

Christ brings us this great invitation, this great opportunity to practice and to implement and to share and to call others to join us. In doing unto others as we would have others do unto us. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Good Samaritan

And the teacher of the law answered, "The one who was kind to him." And Jesus replied, "You go then, you do the same." Or as other versions say, "The one who showed mercy." 

Today we are continuing with our landmark series of spiritual landmarks, personal landmarks for me in my spiritual journey. We have been departing from the lectionary to do this this summer, but today this is also the lectionary reading.

It converges also with the day when the new orders have gone out to round up immigrants across the United States. There seems to be a little bit of a contrast there. The picture that I have here is of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. It's right there next to the Supreme Court building. It houses our United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the Council of Bishops, United Methodist Women Headquarters and has offices for a few other denominations that have similar social views as we do on social justice. And the sign out there on the front says, "For the love of God, protect immigrants."

Transcript of the [audio for this sermon] preached extemporaneously
at Briensburg UMC on July 17, 2019.

This landmark represents a way that we can speak as one voice across our denomination, speak truth to power. We don't mean this to be political, I don't, and people I know don't. But there are people who do make these things political, and it makes it difficult sometimes and awkward, especially in places where there's a smaller group like ours, that is trying to stand for some issues of justice in a community where there is a lot of religious interest in making religion more about politics than about social justice and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Yet, that's the time when it's most important that we stand together. And we don't stand alone on this as we don't on other issues. We just might stand a little off to the side in our community, we might not be the same as everybody else, but there are a lot of other people across the country who do stand for the mercy that Jesus is talking about in this parable. It's important that we find our voice, that we step into the directions the Lord leads us, even if we don't really know how or what to do or what to say. But take it a step at a time and do what we can to move in the direction that the Lord invites us and leads us and sends us.

This is one of those cases. We have a responsibility to preach on the Good Samaritan, to preach on mercy, when mercy is being withheld so blatantly. God is merciful. Psalm 136 is a psalm that is like a responsive reading and that Jesus certainly had used and we have it in our hymnal as well as in the Bible as a responsive reading. It has these 26 verses and they have an attribute of God and they celebrate his creation and then they celebrate his deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery and then they challenge us to continue to express the mercies of God in our relationships with each other. And the first verse says, "Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for his mercy endureth forever." And then each one of those verses has another attribute like that, and says, "For His mercy endures forever," and everybody repeats that.

And that's what God is, God is merciful. God is merciful. And this is affirmed by our religion and by other religions. The mercy of God is forever. And it knows no bounds. We should be thankful for that, because it's His mercy that provides for us. It's His mercy that enabled us to be here together today. It's by His mercy that we can accomplish anything with our lives. It's by His mercy that He sent Jesus to be our Savior. He loves us and that mercy is a tremendously important part of that love. And that's why the Good Samaritan story is tied together as an explanation in this passage in Luke of what a neighbor is when God says, "Love your neighbor."
That's what he means. He means to have mercy, like the Samaritan had mercy on the one who was suffering, the traveler who was suffering. 

One of the attributes of mercy is clemency. "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." That's from the letter St. James wrote. God invites us to join him in extending clemency to the people around us. That idea of the judgment, of merciful judgment, that's what we all hope to find in God. That's what we have found in God. Has He not forgiven us for our sins? Do we not praise Him because He doesn't hold everything against us so rigidly, that He could? Aren't we just glad and thankful that He cuts us a little slack and gives us a little latitude in what we do and what we say and how we treat the people around us? Or even more how we fail to treat the people around us in the things we say or do, in thought, word and deed. God is merciful and gives us clemency and that, that's part of what He says when Jesus said, "You go and do the same." This is our religious duty. This is our faith speaking, this is our God speaking to us, telling us to have mercy on people. Telling us to extend that mercy to everyone. And through this parable of the Good Samaritan, to extend that mercy to those who are running for their lives, from all kinds of other oppression.

Kindness. "Be therefore merciful as your Father is merciful." That comes from Luke 6:36. Jesus said that when He was talking about being generous and kind -- just as the way God is generous and kind. When we have a need, we go to the Lord and we pray for God to help us with that, and God does. He tells us to do the same thing. To be kind to people around us. To be kind and generous. And we may not know how. And we may not have the resources. But we can pray about it and then we can find our way, we can offer words of encouragement and support if nothing else. And a lot of times, as we do that, we discover that actually we do have resources we can plug into. Actually there is a little more that we can do. We don't want to just send good thoughts and prayers, but we do want to send good thoughts and prayers. We don't just want to. But out of that, we want to also send our good works and our good deeds that support those good thoughts and prayers, that flow from that.

When we pray for our kindness for those around us, for travelers, for immigrants, we pray that God will show us something else that we might be able to do to help support that. It might be just something small. Really for most of us it probably will be something small. But we pray that God will put that on our hearts and then we pray that we'll know our hearts and follow our hearts and do what God leads us to do. And be kind as our Heavenly Father is kind. 

Compassionate. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." It's from Hebrews, chapter four. The Bible is inviting us and encouraging us that we can take anything to the Lord and find His compassion to help, whatever our need may be. It's a little bit like what we said about kindness and praying for people and then finding what we can do to help them. This is us bringing our need and our concern and our issues to the Lord and praying on the other side of that coin that the Lord will show us what to do, will help us, will answer our prayers. This is the mercy seat. This is bringing things to the place of mercy. It's the throne of God.

As Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, "Bold I approach the eternal throne." We have that invitation to boldly approach the throne of God, to lift up the concerns that we have, to pour our hearts out before Him, to receive the grace that we need for ourselves and that others need as well, and to ask God for that and to continue walking in that way. So today as we think about the events that are heavy on our hearts, heavy on the hearts of all whose religion stands opposed to the suffering of the children that is occurring at the border and whose religion, like ours, stands against many of these policies, let's think about this Good Samaritan and ask some of those tough questions of ourselves.

Who's suffering? Who's passing by on the other side? Can we pass by on the other side maybe because we have some policy that we want to support? Can we pass by on the other side because we have a politician that we want to support? Or does God invite us and challenge us to be like the Good Samaritan, who regardless of any differences that we may have with the persons that are suffering, we lend our resources, we lend our hand, to do what we can. And then we plug into other resources of those that can take it a little further than we were able to.

And then we come back by and we visit to make sure if there's anything else that we can do. That's all the Good Samaritan did. That's all God expects of us. Psalm 136 ends with a verse similar to that with which it began. "Oh give thanks unto the God of Heaven for His mercy endureth forever." Amen.

Photo by Lara Andrews, Feb. 5, 2018, Grace UMC: United Methodist Building on Capital Hill next to the Supreme Court Building. Sign reads, "For the love of God, protect immigrants."