"That Church"

The Three Great Loves: Love of Neighbor

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Scripture: Matthew 7:12
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
September 17, 2017

I once heard a story about a man who worked all his life, had saved all his money, had bought all kinds of gold, and was a real miser when it came to spending.  Just before he died, he said to his wife, “When I die, I want you to take all my money, including my gold and put it in the casket with me.”  And so he got his wife to promise that to him with all her heart.  When he was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in the front row and her friend was sitting next to her.  When they finished the service, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait just one minute!”  She had a box with her; she came over with the box and put it in the casket.  Then the undertakers locked the casket down, and they rolled it away.

Her friend said, “Now, I know you weren’t foolish enough to put all that money and gold in there with your husband.”  The loyal wife replied, “Listen, I’m a Christian. I can’t go back on my word.  I promised him that I was going to put that money in that casket with him.”  “You mean to tell me that you put all that money in the casket with him!!!!!?”  “I sure did” said the wife.  “I got it all together, put it into my account and wrote him a check.  If he can cash it, he can spend it.”

No doubt, gold is highly desirable, valuable and beautiful. The Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in U.S. History. People risked their lives for gold.  The Golden Rule, however, is more valuable than all of the gold in the world. When it is all over, we can’t take the gold with us, but the Golden Rule will last for eternity.  A version of the Golden Rule can be found in every major religion. Some examples:

Hinduism:  Do not do anything that causes pain to another.

Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.

Judaism:  What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.

Jainism:  One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.

Bahai:  One should not wish for others what a person does not wish for themselves.

Christianity:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A version of the Golden Rule can be found in every major religion. The Golden Rule embodies compassion. The centrality of compassion is found in every religion.  

Unfortunately, it is not always evident that compassion is so central to the religious life.  In speaking of my own religious tradition of Christianity, I too often find Christian religious leaders arguing over obscure doctrine and uttering words of hurt and judgement and abuse. Often following the Iron Rule rather than the Golden Rule.  The Iron Rule says that “might makes right”.  The Iron Rule has little regard for those who are considered vulnerable in society.

For example, how many of you have heard of the recent Nashville Statement that was just created?  A couple of weeks ago, over 150 Conservative Christian leaders released a joint manifesto on sexuality and marriage entitled the Nashville Statement.  The document was ratified was ratified in Nashville, which is where it got its name. The statement is steeped in dusty churchy language regarding marriage, gender identity, and sexual orientation. “God ordained marriage only between a man and a woman…blah, blah, blah, blah.”  

We have heard this many times before.  Generally, I just roll my eyes and think, “Here we go again…”  But this time I was particularly disturbed.  In a time of unprecedented humanitarian disaster, in a time when the most vulnerable among us are at risk, these Christian leaders chose not to condemn White Supremacy and racism with the emergence of neo Nazis. They chose not to offer their support for Muslim Americans or immigrants or refugees (though we are in the greatest refugee crisis since WWII).  They chose not to stand in solidarity with the millions who may lose health care (though Jesus is known as the Great Physician and I would argue, the first universal health care worker).  They chose not to use their influence to rescue people under water in Houston.  (It was during Hurricane Harvey that the Nashville Statement was released.)  No, they chose this moment in history to launch an unprovoked attack on an easy target.  That is what I call the Iron Rule – keeping an already marginalized group even more marginalized. Jesus, who followed the Golden Rule through and through (especially in regard to the marginalized), never condemned or criticized anyone for their gender identity or sexual orientation in the totality of his life and ministry (Pavlovitz, J., “The Nashville Statement :A Plain Language Translation”,  August 30, 2017). No wonder people say, “Jesus save me from your followers.”

I am so grateful, however, for one church that released what they titled A “Nazareth Statement” in response to the “Nashville Statement.”

Following Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazareth Statement offers 10 affirmations of faith.  I would like to share 5 of those with you.

  • We believe all human beings are created in the image of God, just exactly as we are (according to Genesis 1 -2).  Each of us is reverently and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).  Therefore, we celebrate the unique sexual expression of each human being.  Jesus said nothing about sexuality; we say LGBTQ people are just-as-they-are, by design, and beloved by their Creator.
  • We believe the glory of God’s creation includes our beautiful racial/ethnic and cultural differences.  Therefore, we abhor racism and we stand fully against white supremacy.  We know more completely understand the nature of God when we study God’s image in the faces of beautiful people who are from Spanish speaking nations, from the African Diaspora, from Asian heritages, from the Pacific Islands, from Native American origins, and from Europe.
  • We believe the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof.  Therefore, we must care for the earth as though we are partners with God, because we are.  Climate change is real, and it is a spiritual discipline to use our resources – water, fuels, plants and animals—with tender care.  We must reverse the damage we have done to our planet.
  • We are called to love the stranger, because we were all once strangers in a strange land.  Therefore, we stand against Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Xenophobia.
  • We believe that Jesus spoke volumes about money. We believe that all of God’s children everywhere should have food on the table, a warm and safe place to live, and affordable health care.

The Nazareth Statement also includes support for gender equality, DACA, restorative justice, and liberation for all who suffer.  (Lewis, J., “In Response to the Anti-LGBTQ ‘Nashville Statement,’ A ‘Nazareth Statement’, New York Daily News, 08/30/2017)  The Nazareth Statement embodies The Golden Rule. Simply put,  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In the spirit of the Golden Rule and in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, the United Church of Christ recently launched the mission initiative entitled, “Three Great Loves”.  John Dorhauer launched this mission initiative at the UCC General Synod in June.  Dorhauer says, “What is Three Great Loves?  It is a call to the love of neighbor, the love of children, and to the love of creation.  During the next biennium (the General Synod meets every 2 years), we want to discover what an entire denomination committed to Three Great Loves can do to change the world.”  The UCC chose specifically the vulnerable among us in which to focus our love.  Love of neighbor, love of children, and love of creation.  Dorhauer continues, “Our hope is to be able to document 50 percent congregational participation by Synod 2019; to collect 3,000 stories from across the denomination about how we are building a Just World for All through love of neighbor, love of children, and love of creation.”

This fall we will focus on what does love of neighbor look like?  We were blessed last week with Jody Hoelle sharing her personal story of love for a homeless neighbor.   Racial Justice Team this fall will be exploring what it means to welcome the immigrant.  And we are seeking to minister to flood victims.  Together, we, as Redlands United Church of Christ, have given over $6000 in hurricane relief and will be putting together a team to send to help with the rebuilding efforts.  There are many opportunities to intentionally demonstrate love of neighbor this year.  In the fall of 2018 we will focus on love of children – fitting as we complete our building project at about that time. The building project is inspired by our children and youth.  In the fall of 2019 we will focus on love of creation as creation will continue to need humans to tenderly care for her.

This is what it means to follow the Golden Rule.  It is called golden because through the three great loves we have the ability to change the world. Let it be so.

Amen.