Sermon preached on Sunday, October 2, 2022 by Fr. Antony Hughes
The Golden Rule is, I think, part of what Aldous Huxley called "The Perennial Philosophy." By that he meant the common threads that exist in every religion. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" appears in one form or another in many, if not all religions.
That is a wonderful testimony to the all-encompassing love of God. He has enfused all of creation with his Spirit and Logos as the Logos theologians in the second century believed.
The Lord of all permeates everything and every one and I believe is speaking at this very moment to every human being who has ever or will ever exist. God's love is uncontainable and irrepressible. I would never be part of the favorite sectarian pastime of dividing the human race into acceptable and unacceptable. Forget trying to limit God. It is not possible.
As we judge, Jesus says, we too shall be judged and I do not want to be judged harshly because I judged others harshly.
So Jesus tells that we must forgive those who wrong us, give liberally to all who ask expecting nothing in return, to go the second mile when asked to go one, to turn the other cheek when struck and to love our enemies. In these commandments the nature of the God is revealed for undeniably this is what he does for all of us. "We love him," writes St. Paul, "because he first loved us."
My twin brother was speaking to an Evangelical friend of his about the viability of an eternal hell. His friend, of course, believed in a literal, eternal hell of fire as a punishment for, well, I guess you can put into that group anyone you want. My brother asked him, "Why is it that we are commanded by God to love our enemies, but he doesn't have to?" I don't know his friend's counter response, but, try as I might, I can't think of a good one.
One thing I do know is that the Lord does not ask us to do anything that he would not do. Forgiveness is who he is and who we are invited to be. The Golden Rule is not just a group of words, it is a reflection on the Nature and Power of God. Unconditional acceptance...is that not how we all want to be treated?
"If to be a human being, created in God's image, means living a life that will serve to others as a reminder of God..." as the great Prophet and Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught, then the Golden Rule is a great place to start.
I think that during our short lives it is better to practice love and compassion than to waste our time fighting nonexistent culture wars that cannot be won without aggression, violence, and tyranny. When religion bases itself on moralism, meritocracy, and transactionalism violence is never far behind.
Those who claim to have ascended the moral ladder glare at those below them and assume the power to force their will on the lowly immoral masses of which most of us are a part. And, of course, their theology is so far from the Gospel it cannot be called Christian since the Lord Jesus consistently favored the lowly, sinful masses, not dominating or judging, but loving them.
Here is a pertinent quote from Olivier Clement:
"The key to spiritual progress is, therefore, evangelical love for one’s enemies. This is first of all – something very simple, but very difficult – the refusal to judge, the refusal to assert oneself in despising or condemning others. Only such an attitude of mind brings detachment and peace. The rest is secondary."
St. Seraphim of Sarov illuminates this universal truth:
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil."
It is so simple and not so easy. We must choose deliberately and consistently to be gentle and kind even when it is hard, especially when it is hard. We must never yield to the temptation to dominate others. We are called to be the servants of all. We are instructed to be willing to give our lives in the service of others. We must seek to understand one another, replacing judgment with compassionate curiosity and fear with vulnerability. Love flows from understanding.
For me no better quotation encompasses the immense, all-encompassing love of God than this from Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. I have quoted it before and it never grows old. It has within it the power to transform our minds.
"Then Christ will say to us, 'Come you also! Come you drunkards! Come you weaklings! Come you depraved!' And he will say to us, 'Vile creatures, you in the image of the beast and you who bear his mark. All the same, you come too!' And the wise and prudent will say, 'Lord, why are you welcoming them? And he will say, 'O wise and prudent, I am welcoming them because not one of them has ever judged himself worthy. And he will stretch out his arms to us, and we shall fall at his feet, and burst into sobs, and then we shall understand everything, everything! Lord, your kingdom come!”
Brothers and Sisters, I would so much rather be wrong than unmerciful.