Thursday, September 1, 2016

1 September 2016
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:12-14 (NRSV)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2:3-5 (NRSV)
“We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” 1 John 4:19-21 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. We have now come to the Golden Rule; probably one of the most famous Bible verses ever, and most difficult to practice. Verse 12 is the public expression of everything we’ve seen to this point. This is what a regenerated heart looks like. This is another topic the Bible has much to say about; while I was looking through all the verses related to Mat.7:12 it occurred to me that I could just list them all here and skip the commentary, the way Jonathan Bagster did in his devotional Daily Light on the Daily Path. There are that many.
             Jesus is speaking of a habitual pattern of behavior that elevates others, that is content to sit unnoticed in the background, ready to assist at a moment’s notice. This becomes a characteristic way of acting only when it is based on a habitual way of thinking which, like forgiveness, is rooted in Christ’s love for us; as if His love is too great to be contained; as if His love pours itself out in spite of our best efforts to keep it in. When we do unto others, we are doing as He has done to us.
            Which leads to this-in saying ‘others’, Jesus seems to me to be including everyone. There are no exceptions here that I can see; nothing in the preceding verses that indicates to me any one would be excluded. In fact, we have already seen in Ch.5:43-48 the command to love our enemies. It is this very thing-love for our enemies-that sets us apart. This kind of love in action can only come from understanding our place in the Father’s heart. This, obviously, is not easy. As I have said before, we simply cannot do it on our own; we need divine intervention.
            This is why Jesus says ‘enter through the narrow gate’. Not that following the Law is easy either, but obeying rules is easier than liking them. And of course, not obeying them at all is easier still. The bottom line here, I believe, is this-giving our lives over to God in total surrender, giving Him permission to have His way with us without limits or conditions, is a harder, more unnatural thing to do than to obey a set of rules. Especially when we do it just to look good, to impress others. We are not concerned with impressing others, we are concerned with loving others and the Golden Rule is how we do it. I remember years ago someone -I can’t remember who-would talk about giving up our right to ourselves. Indeed, God alone has a legitimate claim to all of us. If we look at the Beatitudes as a window into the heart of God, we should gradually become more comfortable and secure coming under His control.
            If it is difficult for us to surrender our rights to God, how much more so to surrender them to one another; yet that is what we are called to do. Not so much surrender, maybe, as to put them aside. How totally opposite from the way of today, where people-unbelievers and believers alike-seem to be demanding their rights, right and left (no pun intended). So many are concerned with being offended; so few concerned with offending God to whom we owe are very existence.
            We can practically practice (pun intended) Jesus’ Golden Rule, get the ball rolling, so to speak, by engaging in random acts of kindness. Of course, this will require paying attention-waking up, living in the present moment, as the mindfulness people say. Something as simple as a smile, a thank you, holding a door, letting a car turn left in front of you (if you have the nerve; I know that’s pushing it). There are endless possibilities; as many as there are minutes in the day. Begin, as I said, by paying attention to what is around you. Look for the opportunities God gives you. The other side to this is to disengage from habitual acts of criticism. Disengage from the forceful imposition of will, in word (spoken or written or both) and deed.
            Remember where you stand, secure with God; and then imagine Him standing or sitting beside you. He already is, anyway. We all, to some degree or other, bear the Imago Dei; when we do for one another we are doing for God. Strive to enter the narrow gate, and maybe to take someone with you. Or inspire someone to ask where that path goes. May the Lord bless you all and keep you this day. JRG

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