A sermon, based on Luke 6.27-38, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 7th Sunday of Epiphany, February 24, 2019
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Ah, the Golden Rule, dating back nearly 4,000 years,(1) a primary ethical principle of behavior in nearly all of the major religions in the history of the world and, from the mouth of Jesus, the heart of his moral teaching to his followers, to us, calling us to treat others, all others as we desire to be treated and that we don’t treat others as we don’t desire to be treated.
But there’s an inherent, though, I think, not so obvious problem with the Golden Rule.
The problem isn’t found in the differences in values and circumstances between and among people. Yes, this could be a problem. For if I treat you in accord with what I value, what matters to me, and the concrete situations of my life that may not be (and probably won’t and can’t be!) in keeping with what you value and what matters to you in the course of your daily living.
That said, the problem with the Golden Rule, as I perceive it, for each of us is found in someone closer to any of us than anyone else. Each of us!
Truth is, and speaking always and only for myself (for this may not apply to you, but I think it does!), I don’t always know how I desire to be treated because I don’t always know what’s in my best interests. And regarding my not knowing or disregarding my best interests, I’m not talking about conscious choices I’ve made that I knew might be harmful to me, like driving too fast on a rain-slicked road (and, trust me, I’ve done worse things!). I’m talking about the inescapable and immutable fact that I’m human, thus, innately imperfect. My experience, knowledge, and understanding are limited. Therefore, what I desire for myself may not be good. And if I act toward you in that same way, I, potentially, can and will harm you.
Nevertheless, again, Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Thank God this word is placed within the context, the bright light of another word that illumines its meaning: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”
We are not to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Rather, we are to do unto others, all others – families and friends, strangers and enemies, and ourselves – as God has done unto us. That is, with unconditional mercy.
We must define our terms.
If grace is all that God bestows upon us without our deserving, for example, in the words of the General Thanksgiving, “our creation, preservation…all the blessings of this life…above all (God’s) immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,”(2) then mercy is all that God withholds from us that we, in our sinfulness, do deserve: condemnation.
Therefore, Jesus commands that we, always acting mercifully, judge not, condemn not any other.
Now, this does not mean that we cannot have moral judgments of others and ourselves. This does not mean that we cannot discern and, at times, declare that something or someone or we ourselves are right or wrong, good or bad.
Rather we dare never believe that our moral judgments are True with the capital “T” of God’s judgments…
We dare never believe that our moral judgments are the lasting word about another or ourselves as if repentance is not possible…
We dare never believe that our moral judgments are the final word of the eternal destiny of another or ourselves.
For God, who is the Alpha and the Omega (and everything in between!), has and is the first word and the last word about all of us.
(1) The elemental idea as expressed in the Golden Rule is found in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1754 BCE).
(2) The Book of Common Prayer, pages 58, 71, 101, and 125