How Can We Ever Live the Sermon on the Mount?
The Perfect Stewardship Sermon
Matthew 7:12 (The Golden Rule)
November 1, 2020
Rev. Deborah Dail
Denbigh United Presbyterian Church
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (NRSV)
There are some Sundays when we have so much going on that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s All Saints’ Sunday. It’s Stewardship Dedication Sunday – a Sunday on which all pastors feel some pressure to preach the perfect Stewardship sermon in which we are to talk about money but not really talk about money. It’s Communion Sunday. It’s the Sunday before a national election. And, we’re in the middle of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, with today’s scripture being the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Might this be the perfect verse for all the topics on our agenda today? Perhaps the Golden Rule is like a Swiss Army Knife. On the website for the Swiss Army knife it says: “Those who need to be ready for anything take one of these with them everywhere. Since 1897, the Swiss Army Knife has been a trusted tool of adventurers around the world. Whether you’re exploring the city, the ocean, the mountains or even space, the Swiss Army Knife is the companion you can count on.” “The Swiss Army knife is the ultimate tool. Whether you need a magnifying glass to read fine print or a metal saw to cut through iron, the Swiss Army knife has your back. In addition to a blade these gadgets include various implements such as screwdrivers, bottle openers, and scissors.” The Golden Rule is the ultimate tool for living the Christian life wherever you are. The Golden Rule helps us to be ready for most any situation.
The Golden Rule is not unique to Christianity; the Golden Rule is found in many world religions. In 1993, 143 leaders of the world’s major religions endorsed the Golden Rule as part of the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.” Within our faith tradition, the Golden Rule is remarkably similar to part of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is also found in the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament).
Hillel, a Jewish scholar, expressed the essence of the Golden Rule in this way: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah (Law), while the rest is commentary thereon; go and learn.” (Shabbath 31a as quoted my Douglas R.A. Hare in Matthew, “Interpretation” series, p. 79-80)
When we view stewardship as taking care of all that God has entrusted to our care, the Golden Rule is itself is not only “the ultimate tool,” but it is also the perfect stewardship sermon. It is all-encompassing as we prayerfully consider how to live our lives as followers of Jesus. This rule guides us in how we treat all the other children of God around us. This rule guides us in deciding how to use the time God has given us, the talents God has given us, and the money God has given us.
As we look at the Golden Rule in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule really is that “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” “It’s a summary of Jesus’ interpretation of the law and the prophets.” (Hare, p. 81) It’s another way of saying “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
By extension, I think it’s safe to say that another way of getting at the essence of the Golden Rule is: “Treat others the way God has treated you.” We like how God treats us, right? We like that God loves us unconditionally, we like that God forgives us, we like that God shows us mercy, we like that God does not give up on us, we like that God carries us when we can’t make it on our own, we like that God provides us food and water and all our needs . . . EVEN WHEN we don’t deserve these things. What if we treated others with the same mercy that God shows us . . . EVEN WHEN?
I don’t want to suggest that remembering the Golden Rule makes every decision about how to handle every situation easy. Life is challenging and complex. For example, most of us don’t really want tough love shown to us, but we know looking back on our lives that we needed the tough love someone showed us. It is difficult to discern when to demonstrate tough love to others because in some ways it goes against what we would want in that exact same situation in the moment. It is a challenge to know when tough love is appropriate or not.
We also must be careful in assuming that if we follow the Golden Rule that others will also follow it. There is no guarantee of this, and we should not expect it. John MacArthur says: “Selfless love does not serve in order to prevent its own harm or to insure its own welfare. It serves for the sake of the one being served, and serves in the way it likes being served – whether it ever receives such service or not. That level of love is the divine level, and can be achieved only by divine help. Only God’s children can have right relations with others, because they possess the motivation and the resource to refrain from self-righteously condemning others and to love in an utterly selfless way. (MacArthur, J: Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary Chicago: Moody Press)
Though life is complex and the Golden Rule provides no guarantees for those who follow it, I continue to believe that the Golden Rule is the best multi-purpose tool we can carry with us if we truly want to live as followers of Jesus. Sometimes it serves as a magnifying glass for us as we look at situations and consider how to respond. Sometimes the Golden Rule can cut through our own hearts which can be as hard as iron. We need the Golden Rule on all our adventures through this Christian life we are trying to live.
Well, I’m coming to the end of this sermon on All Saint’s Sunday, Stewardship Dedication Sunday, Communion Sunday, and the Sunday before a national election and I’ve not said much about any of them.
So . . . I will simply say . . .
We are saints because of the mercy of God shown to us in Jesus Christ. God loved us first. God loves us EVEN WHEN. Do to others as God has done to us.
We are stewards of all the gifts God has given us. We are nothing without God and apart from God’s generosity. If we truly believe this, we will dedicate our lives – all that we have, all that we are, and all that we hope to be to God. If you believe that this church carries out the Golden Rule – imperfectly, of course – then consider how you’d like to be a part of that through giving generously of your time, talent, and money.
As we approach the election this week, I hope we will remember the Golden Rule as we vote and then in how we treat others who have voted differently than we have. “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.”
And, as we approach the Lord’s Table today, let us remember that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He loved us while we were enemies of God. He loved us in our sin. He even loved those who put him on the cross. He did for others what was not done to him, yet he still did it . . . for us and for this world. Let us remember Him as we come to the Table of the Lord.