The Golden Rule

The first week of every February is World InterFaith Harmony week.  In 2010, King Abdullah II of Jordan presented the idea of celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week to the United Nations General Assembly.  He said, “In his speech King Abdulla said, “It is [also] essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust especially among peoples of different religions. The fact is, humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbour; to love the good and neighbour. This week, my delegation, with the support of our friends on every continent, will introduce a draft resolution for an annual World Interfaith Harmony Week. What we are proposing is a special week, during which the world’s people, in their own places of worship, could express the teachings of their own faith about tolerance, respect for the other and peace. I hope this resolution will have your support.”

One of the beautiful things that the World Interfaith Harmony week invites the major world religions to consider is to step down from the place where we think that we own God or that ours is the only path to God and instead stand shoulder to shoulder ministering in a way that we find commonality…we are unified by the golden rule.  Christianity is not the source or sole owner of the idea that we must do unto others as we would have them do to us, but that this is a shared idea between religious traditions.  In fact, it is said that Confucius was the first to write Do unto Others as you would have them do unto you.  In Buddhism, we hear Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. In Judaism, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary.” In Islam, we read, “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” In Hinduism, we read, “This is the sum of duty. Do not do unto others that which would cause pain unto you.”

In our text for this Sunday (Luke 6: 27-38) , we read that Jesus called us to embody this way of living and to go even deeper by loving our enemy.  Jesus words are tough for anyone to hear because they focus on our complex human relationships, but the way of Jesus is relational at its heart. Its about our relationship with God, ourselves and each other.  So to follow Jesus down this path invites us into a transformative process where we don’t just go through the motions of reconciliation with our enemies, but we actually become people who want the best for our enemies. But where we all begin is with a first step and where we all continue is in taking the next step. We don’t have to see the whole staircase or know where we ultimately are headed, but no matter where we find ourselves are invited to take the next step. We are in a sermon series titled Following Jesus and in this study my hope is that we gain clarity on what is our next right and loving step in following Jesus…

The section of our text this morning begins at the place where we read last week. The text tells us that Jesus came down and joined the people “on a level place.”  What I hear is that Jesus is not only moving locations, but that Luke is inviting us to consider how Jesus has come from God to the earth and is now coming down from a high place to meet them, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, ministering with them from a place of empathy, solidarity, and compassion.  Before Jesus spoke the Beatitudes and the Woeitudes, the text read that Jesus raised his eyes upon the disciples and began to speak.  But in our text today, Jesus’ includes all who would listen saying, “But I say to you that listen Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

In this section of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus is concerned about power. He is concerned about the very natural and human inclination to seek revenge through violence, language and dominating our enemies. And so he gives us three scenarios to consider. 

In this first scenario, Jesus says if you are struck on the cheek offer your other cheek .  In this scenario, your enemy is really wanting to humiliate you by slapping you with the back of his hand, to put you in your place. This situation is not primarily about physical violence.  This type of slap to the face would have been a back handed and so then if you turn your face, they cannot slap you again, but are challenged to punch you with their fist.  Now a punch with a fist was reserved for someone of equal importance.  Isn’t that creative! So turning the other cheek is a way of saying,

“I invite you to see what you are doing to the image of God that is standing right in front of you and if you want to continue to hit me, you are going to have to hit me with your full fist….as equals.”

In the next scenario, Jesus invites us to consider how we respond when someone in power treats you in an unjust manner. In the time of Jesus, a wealthy landowner could take a poor peasant who had gotten into debt to court and ask for the person’s outer garment for the day, but in the Hebrew bible in Exodus 22:26 God commands that if a man takes another man’s cloak as a pledge, the cloak must be given back before nightfall so that he can have something to sleep in.  This is because the outer garment is used to protect from the cold, to protect the skin from the sun, and used as a blanket or for a pillow at night. 

But in this case, Jesus says use the system to your advantage. So, if the person in power asks for your coat, give them your undergarments as well.  In this day and time, it was not shameful for a person to be naked, but it was shameful for people to look at a naked person.  At the heart of the matter, the naked one is not seeking revenge, but is inviting this powerful person to face what this practice does to people. And in seeing, he is invited to change his ways.

So standing there in the courtroom naked, exposes the powerful person’s lack of kindness to the image of God standing in front of them and invites them to reconcile as equals. 

In the last scenario, Jesus is inviting us to consider debt slavery. In the Old Testament law, God instructs his people that it is okay to take out and give loans, but only under the condition that no one should be in debt or in need for very long. In Deuteronomy 15, we read that God declares that every seven years, all debts are cancelled.

Why does Jesus ask us to lend without repayment?  It’s because we are to trust that God’s kingdom is a kingdom of abundance and that when we lend in this manner that we are imitating our God who is gracious, kind, slow to anger and abundantly generous. Jesus invites us to check our heart and instead of demanding reciprocal generosity that we offer abundant generosity in a way that is wise and discerning of not creating a power structure between the lender and the borrower, but creating a structure that promotes both parties as equals. 

Chad and I have figured out a way that helps us give abundantly while also not feeling used or abused for our generosity. When someone comes to the church in need, Chad will sit down with that individual and treat them as equals by asking them how much they can pitch in to meet their need, then we give an equal amount and work with this person to creatively come up with the rest of the money through their extended family or other organizations. I’m not saying this is a perfect situation, but it is one that offers both parties a way to participate in solving the problem in a way that says,

“I honor the image of the divine that stands in front of me and invite you to work with me as equals.”

So, the greater question for me is…how do we become people who participate in the active, creative, and transforming ways of the Kingdom of God? How do shift from our natural tendency for revenge and instead work for reconciliation? How do we recognize our own struggle with power and create a safer space of equality?

I think we can use Jesus’ words in the gospel of Matthew to help us understand.  In the Gospel of Matthew after the beatitudes, Jesus goes into a series of teachings that follow this pattern, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you.”  Here are a few of these sayings, “You have heard it said ‘You shall not murder’ but I say that if you are angry in your heart then you will be liable for judgement.” “You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth’ for a tooth, but I say do not resist an evil doer.”  He goes on to say “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  In each of these scenarios, Jesus asks us to notice the anger that arises when someone slaps us in the face or disrespects us or treats us unjustly. Once we notice the anger, then we have the choice to follow our natural inclination to hit back or spew words of hate or we can use the energy of our anger to come up with a creative way for reconciliation.  Jesus does not ask us to become doormats that people walk all over nor does Jesus condone violence in our hearts, but there is a third way that Jesus invites us to explore.  A way that is consistent with the golden rule.

Today, we can understand it at an even deeper level. According to two German psychologists, evolution has wired our minds to think that revenge will make us feel better. But the research shows that revenge does not make us feel better instead it binds us to the hurt that we felt. 

What they are learning is that revenge actually is like a cord that connects us to the person and situation that did us wrong. What keeps this cord strong is our mind. When we seek revenge and actually engage in acts that are vengeful, the research shows that we are more likely to ruminate over the situation. We are more likely to strengthen the neural connection between us, the situation, and the person who did us wrong. But if we let it go, walk away or creatively work for reconciliation, we actually cut the cord that binds us to the hurt. We write a new story that honors our hurt while giving us a way to love our enemy.

As profound as the stories are that Jesus gives us, there are other stories. Stories of people from all corners of the world. Stories of people from different religious traditions that are loving their enemy by creatively working for reconciliation.

The New Internationalist website is full of these stories.  I came across an article titled, “Meet the Peacemakers.”

Today, I would like for you to meet Omaid (Omeed) Sharifi (Share- ifee). Sharifi is an artist who grew up in Afghanistan. He was confused by his countries idea of Hero because all the pictures of Heros were men with guns.  Sharifi had a different idea about who the true heroes are, so he co-founded the Artlords Collective to start projecting a nonviolent, hopeful message for their battle-scarred country.  The Everyday Heroes project depicted Kabul’s municipal workers who get up at 5am to sweep the streets of the city and then they expanded the project to include nurses, teachers, independent journalists who are peaceful, hardworking, and not corrupt. In another project, they started reaching out into the community by offer space that was a paint by number experience so that people who had never held a paintbrush before could participate in changing the narrative of war to peace through art. Omaid Sharifi says, “We use art to say we are more than war. We have a history. We have creative minds. We have things worth preserving.”  They are asking those in power including the United States to see the Image of God in them and work with them as equals.

Meet Bush-ra Awad and Robi Damelin.  Bushra Awad is a Palestinian mother whose teenage son was killed by Israeli soldiers.  After her son’s death, she shut herself away for three years consumed by grief and thoughts of revenge. But her friend new that there was a better way. So her friend orchestrated a meeting with Robi Dame-lin an Israeli mother whose 28 year old son was killed by a Palestinian sniper.  The intense pain these mother’s shared convinced Awad to join Damelin and campaign to end the bloodshed.  And so they both joined the Parent’s Circle which is an organization of bereaved parents from either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This group works to redirect the pain of the parents loss, the energy of their anger, the power of revenge and to channel is creatively into the basis for hope. The Circle believes that any political solution relies on human rights for all and the establishment of two states for two peoples. The group is meeting each other through the human experience of grief & suffering, seeing the image of God in each other, and recognizing that peace is possible when they work together with one voice.

Now, let’s bring this a little closer to home. I have a dear friend who was in an unhealthy relationship with a man. She recognized it was unhealthy but was fearful of what he would do if she tried to leave.  So, she stayed trying to show him love but inviting him to see how his ways were hurting her and hurting their relationship. She also stayed with the hope that he would one day see her for the person God created her to be which is a strong, creative, thoughtful, and encouraging leader.  But over the course of 2 years, he continued to write a story about her that was untrue and anytime she would invite him to see her eye-to-eye, he would get angry and use his language to hurt her.  And so after 2 years, she broke up with him.  She asked him to respect her decision and not to contact her unless his therapist wanted to meet with both of them for mutual healing.  Well, they broke up 3 weeks ago and he continues to call, text and send emails.  Instead of blocking him which she felt like was shaming him and would not lead to his growth, she decided to change his name on her phone.  Now, when he calls, texts or emails, the name that pops up is “Pray for Him.”  She has taken our scripture for today seriously and loved her enemy, prayed for her enemy, and she has a pure heart that only wants the best for her enemy. 

Through all of these stories, we have heard the golden rule being applied in creative ways to very difficult situations. Huston Smith who was considered the most eloquent and accessible contemporary authority on the history of religions said in an interview that in the golden rule we find that , “A sound man’s heart is not shut within itself, but it’s open to the hearts of others. If it is sincere enough, it will feel the heartbeats of others as if they were its own.”

And Jesus said to all who would listen…Love your enemy… feel the heartbeat of your enemy as if it were our own.

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