Today we begin a new sermon series on Three Great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children and Love of Creation. These are ways in which we are called upon to let God’s love and grace flow through us to make a positive difference.
Today our focus is on love of neighbor. Jesus tells us that loving neighbor as yourself is the second great commandment right after loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. He says that loving God and neighbor is the fulfillment of all the laws and prophets; it’s what this faith boils down to.
So we take seriously the command to love our neighbors. A core value is to look out for their welfare. Do nice things, be kind. Back when I was a Methodist in Iowa, I got appointed to serve a church that had a big corner lot parsonage. And they had just purchased a great big Toro top of the line, manly-man snow blower. This thing was extra wide, self-propelled, with a monster auger. I’d never seen anything quite like it and when winter rolled around I’d get to use it, not only to plow out my own drive and walks but I always dreamed of being like my grandfather who, when it snowed, used to get up way before anyone else, fire up his snow blower and clean out the snow for everyone on his block.
I waited and waited for that first big snow. And then it came. Six inches of dense wet snow. I rose early in the morning and fired up Mr. Toro and we set out on our adventure of neighborly love. I’m cruising down the sidewalk, doing other people’s work before my own. Snow flying out, some of it blowing back into my face. But I’m feeling good, worthy, all neighbor-lovey. I’m continuing the legacy of my grandfather. What, you elected me as neighbor of the year? Aw, shucks, I had the thing started anyway. . .
And then wham. The whole thing shuts down. I discover an extension cord tangled up in the auger. It had been strung across the sidewalk to power Christmas lights on their mailbox. The cord ruined. The auger broke. And not only did I ruin that cord, I looked up the street and discovered that I had nicked the cords of all of my neighbors. I had to finish my job by hand and wait until the neighbors woke up to give them a big surprise. A dork on the front porch explaining why he was going to buy them a new extension cord.
Not all of our efforts of neighbor love are going to turn out how we envisioned. Good thing, God looks on our hearts and shows mercy even if some neighbors will take something like that as an opportunity to nickname you Mr. Toro from then on out. You’ll find that there is probably another neighbor who becomes a life-long friend all because you made an effort. We’re judged by our efforts of faithfulness, not necessarily the result. So we plug away.
We tend to think of our neighbors as people who are generally like us. They are of similar economic and cultural background. This was especially true in Jesus’ day. But when someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan where the neighbor turned out to be someone of a different race, culture, nationality and background. The point of the story is that a neighbor is anyone in need. We are all connected. Neighbors don’t have to live right next door. They can be on the other side of the world. Earth is our neighborhood. And people of faith are called upon to respond as the Good Samaritan did to anyone in need regardless of their beliefs or station in life. It’s about being a decent human being.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about the application for neighbor love through what we know as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It’s a basic virtue. One that apparently is not our default position as humans because nearly every religion has some version of the rule to elevate our eyes from our own needs to see the needs of others. Most of the ways it gets expressed is in the negative. Confucius and Judaism, for example, say: Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. But Jesus turns it around to a positive. Do unto others. It’s proactively seeking the good instead of simply refraining from certain behaviors. Yay Jesus!
But for the Golden Rule to really work we have to mention a caveat. It requires imagination. You don’t tell a masochist, someone who enjoys pain to do unto others. And you have to realize that what you would want done to you is not the same thing that your neighbor would want.
Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Love Languages,points out how this works. He says there are 5 different ways people tend to really feel loved. Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Acts of Service and Spending Quality Time. Usually you wind up with someone who has different ones than you do. They feel most loved by acts of service and you words of affirmation. You love it when they tell you how much they love you or give you a massage and so you are always expressing your love verbally. But don’t be surprised if you hear what I’ve heard, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you love me. But what would really make me feel loved is if you’d do a better job cleaning the toilet.” We have different ideas of romance. So I’ve learned that it’s the doing, the acts of service that really get to her.
The Golden Rule really is golden when you remember that what you would want done to you is for others to be sensitive to your wishes. Then you treat others as they wish to be treated. But to do that means we pause and reflect on what it’s like in their shoes. What they want. That pause is the golden moment. And I promise you that when you incorporate this into your life it will make your life better.
Besides, it’s a command of Jesus, and life goes better when you follow those. In the Golden Rule Jesus says something I hadn’t noticed before. It says in all things do unto others. . . All things. The Greek conveys the sense of every little thing. It’s not just the big altruistic acts we are called to embrace but it’s about weaving into the fabric of our lives, to pay attention all the time.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Yeah, but what if my neighbor is a real jerk? In Luke’s gospel the Golden Rule is in a section of dealing with one’s enemies. It’s a reminder not to respond by becoming a jerk too. You can do better than those who irritate, frustrate and anger you.
It requires imagination. What you would want. How to apply it. How would it feel if I were in that person’s shoes?
We can change relationships when we remember the Golden Rule and make life better for others. Just think, later you will receive a phone call from a telemarketer who is making $8 per hour in a job they do not enjoy. 99 of 100 people will get mad and say something nasty. But now they’ve got you, a follower of Jesus Christ who just listened to a sermon on the Golden Rule. You don’t have to buy what they are selling. But you can think about what it is like to be on the other line. “I’m not interested but I do wish you well, the rest of the evening.” Think about how a gentle word that isn’t harsh would come across to someone who only gets nastiness from others.
You have tremendous power to make a positive difference in someone’s life that will carry on and spread like ripples in the pond. One person will be touched by your grace and extend it to another and so on. The world could be transformed by the Golden Rule and we need to be reminded of that truth every now and then so we can be intentional about applying it to life.
Works with relationships, strangers, and people meet on street. Works with business.
In 1913 a young man opened a store called the Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. He applied the Golden Rule as his business model. Treating customers and suppliers and employees -everyone by the Golden Rule. James C Penney. He pioneered profit sharing for his employees. By 1925 he had over 1000 stores. James Cash Penney store. He said treat people the way you want to be treated everything else will fall into place.
I heard one guy say that he learned to apply the Golden Rule as a manager to performance reviews he has to give. He thinks through how he would want to hear tough things and says it the way he’d want it done to him. Just pausing to think of that has made a huge difference in the receptivity of the employee to make adjustments.
CBS news did a story on Elton Simmons who they discovered was a long-term cop who had written over 25,000 traffic tickets but never received a complaint from anyone. How does that happen? Reporters followed him around and interviewed people after they got tickets. He smiled at me when gave me the ticket. I always imagine what I’d feel like. Not look down on them. Speak to them. I’m sorry this isn’t how you want to start your day. We do this to keep safe. We can deliver hard news in ways that are not hurtful.
We’ve seen how the Golden Rule can apply to marriages, and strangers and business and everyday life. There is one more area. It shapes our thinking and reminds us that racism, bigotry and oppression are incompatible with the Christian faith. Civil Rights are based on the premise of the right for people to be treated as they wish to be treated. Foundation of civil rights is the Golden Rule.
So we ask, Where are there places where people are treated the way we wouldn’t want to be treated? The Golden Rule is about how society is organized. When we are organized in that way we get a picture of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Did any of you see the movie 42: The Jackie Robinson Story? It’s about the inspirational story and heroism of Jackie Robinson and the courage of manager Branch Rickey who helped him break the color barrier. Rickey had been frustrated by the lack of opportunity for black athletes and had his moment to step up and decide to do the right thing. But he knew it would be dangerous, that he’d be personally attacked–maybe even physically, a potential career buster.
One thing that is not in the movie is that before he made his final decision to call Robinson up from the minors is that he went to his pastor’s office. He said, “I need a place to think. I don’t need to talk, I just want to be here to be reminded of what I’m about. Can you do something while I just sit here?” He prayed and paced the floor. Thinking about dangers and being reminded to go with God. He found his resolve and shattered the color barrier.
When you see people treated wrongly, pushed down, made small, denied opportunities are you willing to take a risk to stand with people who are not treated the way you would? Are you willing to make a change? We come here to church to gather the courage, to remember what we are about. If this is what you are about, my office is open to you anytime.
Just like I wanted to carry on the legacy of my grandfather loving his neighbors, so too do we carry on a legacy with the Golden Rule as a church. We love our neighbor through so many activities, so much involvement in the community, looking out for those who are in need, for ways to lift people’s lives. From 12 step groups to education programs to missions. We get involved because the Golden Rule is a core value for us. We are hosting a spaghetti dinner in a couple of weeks. Four churches inviting their members, inviting people from our neighborhood to fellowship and to have conversation. That’s how it starts. A practical application of the Golden Rule. Not an abstract concept but made flesh right here. We have a wall filled with stories and images of how Bay Shore Church manifests the thing that has the power to change the world.
How can we leave a legacy as a church because we practiced the Golden Rule? God help me do that. In prayer. Ask forgiveness for times you’ve failed. Ask God for strength to help you practice it.