“The Golden Rule” Colchester Federated Church, February 20, 2022, (Luke 6:27-38) Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Today we heard challenging words from Jesus as he continues to teach his followers about the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Plain. We heard the Golden Rule: “treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” We also heard Jesus say: “Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them.” “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Let’s face it, there could be a sermon series on just this section of the Sermon on the Plain with a sermon on each topic. The Golden Rule. Loving your enemies. Being compassionate. Not judging. Forgiveness. These are difficult teachings that can even be stumbling blocks for many would-be Christians and for life-long Christians.
Because it’s easy to talk about loving your enemies until your enemy terrorizes you every day at school, work, or home. And it’s easy to talk about being compassionate until a loved one is hurt. And it’s easy to talk about forgiveness until something happens to us that seems unforgivable. It’s why we debate whether Jesus meant for these teachings to apply solely to his audience in ancient Palestine (the crowd that he was looking in the eyes and preaching to that day on the level ground) or if Jesus intended these words to apply to those who would follow in his footsteps long after he delivered this sermon. Because the reality is that these teachings can change our lives, but they do need interpreted.
For instance, Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well.” Now do we honestly believe that Jesus intended for people to allow themselves to be abused over and again? Letting someone continue to harm us also harms the person perpetuating that violence. Maybe not physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Violence takes a toll on everyone. Jesus was challenging the notion of an eye for an eye which was a common form of justice in his own time. Jesus was demanding love and forbidding retaliation in order to have a community structured on kingdom of God values and not just the values of the world.
Violence met with violence often leads to more violence. Of course self-defense is a different matter. But we’ve seen how violence can spin out of control. Violent words can lead to violent actions. So it’s important to remember Jesus preaching love of enemies. It’s not something that we particularly like to hear. Though we also keep in mind Jesus’ most important command to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves in the midst of all of these teachings we’ve been hearing.
Jesus further talks about not judging and you will not be judged, not condemning and you will not be condemned. These words remind us that only God can ultimately judge human beings. When we find ourselves feeling pretty high and mighty and judging other people, Jesus reminds us to leave the judging to God.
This section of the Sermon on the Plain also includes Jesus’ teaching to “be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” Mercy and compassion are complex and nuanced subjects it could again take many sermons to tackle. In the book Speaking Christian New Testament scholar Marcus Borg argues over the usage of the words mercy vs. compassion. Borg makes the case that mercy implies that we should forgive people who have offended us just as God forgives us. But that for many of us, mercy is too narrow a concept. To get to the heart of what we mean in Christianity, we should be compassionate as God is compassionate. Borg writes, “Mercy is a reactive virtue; we are called to be merciful on those occasions when we have been wronged. Compassion covers a much larger area of life, indeed, all of life; we are to be compassionate.”
How do we forgive people who wrong us? That’s a question that we can wrestle with forever. Though Jesus’ call to love our enemies helps us on our way. Because when we hold onto the hurt and the pain that someone else caused us, we end up hurting ourselves the most. Jesus came that we may have life, and have life abundantly. Living lives mired in the pain of the past isn’t fully living because it’s not embracing who God is still calling us to be.
The invitation of Jesus today is the way of love. The radical way of love, not some cheesy romanticized version. Loving your enemies? That’s incredibly difficult. Not responding to violence with more violence? But what if that makes us look weak? Well, we know that in fact choosing love makes us strong. Treating people in the same way that we want them to treat us? But what if we just don’t particularly like that person? Yet, there will be people who don’t always like us and we would still hope to be treated with respect. These lessons that Jesus taught are meant to transform us because they fundamentally change the way human beings are prone to react. Jesus was giving us another way of being in the world.
When I was in youth group at my UCC church in Wadsworth, Ohio we would talk about living in the world with our imaginary Golden Rule Gloves on. We would hold up our hands and put them on together. Would you like to try it with me? Hold up your hands. And these are fancy gloves with snaps by the way. So putting on your Golden Rule Gloves goes like this— “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Imagine that every day, as a follower of Jesus, you have Golden Rule Gloves on as you go about your life in this world. Does that change how we treat other people? May it be so, and thanks be to God. Amen.
Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash.