Living as Kingdom People (February 24, 2019)
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule, and I would guess that most of us think it’s quite a wonderful thing. A nice piece of advice for our kids, and for how we can live in peace.
It’s not just a teaching by Jesus. By the time Jesus walked the earth, it was already an ancient piece of spiritual wisdom. The Golden Rule is held in common by all of the world’s major religions. We can find a version of these words in Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native spirituality, Sikhism, Taoism. They all point to a spiritual wisdom about the interconnectedness of life.
Treat all other creatures as you wish to be treated.
And if it were just a general rule for life, it would be a good teaching for us.
But Jesus does something different with it. It’s not just about living well with others. It’s not just about being nice to other people. Christian faith is not about being nice people.
In the context of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, the Golden Rule becomes quite a radical thing. It’s about living with others as God lives with us. It’s about imitating God. It’s about becoming God’s kingdom people.
Listen to Jesus again.
“Love your enemies.
“Do good to those who hate you.
“Bless those who curse you.
“Pray for those who abuse you.
“Offer the other cheek to those who smack you.
“Give your shirt to someone who steals your coat.
“Give to everyone who begs.
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive.”
And in all of this, says Jesus, “Do good and expect nothing in return.”
Now that’s a little different than being nice. It is a radical way of living. And in Jesus’ day, it was even more radical.
In Jesus’ day, it was widely accepted that relationships were reciprocal. When a person acted generously towards you, you were expected to return the generosity. That’s what Jesus means when he says that “even sinners do that”. It was part of the common way of being in a relationship.
It’s still part of the way we live. You get a dinner invitation … and we expect that we should return the invitation. You get a gift, and you expect yourself to give a gift in return some time in the future.
And if you live that way, says Jesus, if you relate to other people based on reciprocity, then you’re only living out the qualities of life in the old age. Anyone can do that, says Jesus.
But if you want to live in the new age of God … if you want to live as the people of God … then you’ll live by different standards, with different ways of being, with new ways of relating to one another. God’s people live in different ways. Kingdom people live by different priorities—love endlessly; give generously; welcome all; don’t repay violence with violence but live by the law of love; help and give without expecting a return.
When we live in the new age of God, we will “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” When we live as kingdom people, we will imitate God, who loves without limits, and expects nothing in return from us.
This is the God to whom Jesus pointed with his whole life. We pray it in our Eucharistic Prayer, “Betrayed and forsaken, he did not strike back but overcame hatred with love.”
In Jesus’ teaching, the Golden Rule isn’t just a nice piece of advice. It becomes the basis for a radical new way of living. If we are the people of God, if we are kingdom people, if we truly are Christian people … our lives have to show it. We have to live like one.
And living as a follower of Jesus is different than living in that kind of reciprocal way, that tit–for–tat kind of way.
Our deepest and truest identity is that we are created for goodness, and we live out that identity as we live as God’s kingdom people.
Now let’s be clear. Jesus isn’t saying that if you are being abused to just take it. Jesus isn’t saying that if you’re bullied, you are to take it. In those instances, bullies and abusers take our choice away from us. This is not counsel to be beat up.
Rather, this teaching, this spiritual wisdom, calls us to live in a different way.
This is what Gandhi meant when he said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then — to put it as simply as I can — we have to follow Jesus. We have to do what Jesus did. We have to live as Jesus lived. We have to trust God as Jesus trusted God. We have to embrace as Jesus embraced. We have to include as Jesus included.
And sadly … the church does not. And I imagine how deeply God weeps over the behavior of the church.
I know it’s hard to live this way. I get it when people say you can’t turn the other cheek. It goes against everything we have been taught. It’s unrealistic in the kind of world we live in. You can’t really take Jesus’ sayings literally.
But the thing is that when we meet violence with violence, we only increase violence.
Yes it’s tough. I know. I struggle with it every day. But have we tried it? G.K. Chesterton once said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.”
The truth is that those who have actually dared to take Jesus at his word have found that it does work.
Think Gandhi, with his way of nonviolent resistance.
Think Martin Luther King, Jr., who found in Gandhi a source of hope and a way of acting. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Think Nelson Mandela, who after he was released from 27 years of brutal arrest said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Think Mother Teresa, who even in the darkest night of the soul continued to help those who needed to be helped.
The words of Jesus seem impossible. The reality of our world, however, shows that we have to find another way.
The way of the gospel is always to try and get us to move in the direction of love.
All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington DC has a sign outside their church building: “Love your neighbour//who doesn’t look like you//think like you//speak like you//pray like you//vote like you//Love your neighbour//No exceptions.”
The gospel in a nutshell.
The movement of God’s Spirit is always … always … toward openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, affirmation, and love.
It’s a hard way, I know. Some people are almost impossible to love. Some people will have offended us. Some people will have hurt us. Some people will have alienated us. Some people will have stolen from us. Some people will have taken advantage of us. Some people will have cursed us and destroyed our reputation.
And Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter.”
If you’re a Christian, if you’re a follower of Jesus, then Jesus calls us to: “Do to others as you would have them do to you. Be compassionate as our loving God is compassionate with us. Do it all without expecting anything back.”
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
February 24, 2019 (7th Sunday after Epiphany, Proper 7)
Luke 6: 27–38
Genesis 45: 3–11, 15
1 Corinthians 15: 35–38, 42–50