St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

More than a Religious Rule

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Golden Rule is not too hard for us. It is not unnatural or even extraordinary. For those who are created in the image of God, baptized into Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit, unmitigated compassion and kindness is normal. Every time we act in any way opposite to love we are acting against our own nature. That is what we call sin.

The Golden Rule has only been called that for a couple of hundred years or so. In truth, it has existed for thousands of years as a word of wisdom in nearly every religious and a good number of philosophical traditions. Aristotle, for example, 2400 hundred years ago thought it was the best way to live. It appears in Judaism (of course), Hinduism, Buddhism, and modern psychology as well. In its wording, it is not overtly religious. It doesn’t mention God at all. Even most unbelievers do not argue with its wisdom.

What makes the Golden Rule particularly Christian is when we hear the Lord’s unique emphasis. We are not only to be kind. We are to be kind as God is kind. We are not only to love. We are to love as Christ loves. That is, we are to love even if it means giving up our lives. This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

And we must note that the Golden Rule is not about reciprocity. If people are unkind to us, we are still to be kind. We move from moment to moment with the goal of practicing this glorious Rule no matter what the consequences.

And we are not to share only with those we consider worthy or whom we may like. Not just those who are like us, who belong to our church, or our social circles. Thomas Merton interprets the teaching of Christ like this, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is love, and this love itself, will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

I Peter 4:8 reads like this, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I believe we are even called to seek out those who are outside our comfort levels so that our hearts expand to include ever more and more of the world. Who is more outside our comfort zones than those we call “enemies?” The heart is elastic. The more we practice, the more our practice grows. (Martin Laird)

Our Lord says, “Love your enemies, do good always, lend always, expecting nothing in return.” We do good simply because it is good to do good. Jesus tells us that this extreme love is our prime directive. If we do this, he says, we shall be identified as “children of God.”

Our spiritual vocation, is to connect with the deep reservoir of godliness that is the very ground of our being. “Go into yourself,” writes the poet Rilke, “and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.”

Wherever we go, whatever we do, whoever we meet we have a mission and a calling to share the love of Christ, to open our hearts and let the beauty of the image of God blanket this world. Doing this fills life with inexhaustible joy.

Look deep beneath selfish desire, beneath fear, beneath the pain of life and dare to live from the graceful center, from the kingdom where the fullness of God dwells. We must learn to touch the truth of who we are and not only to touch it, but to live in it and then, to share it. Dare to live in love for love wipes away the blemishes of our souls as it heals the souls of others.

The Epistle bears another reading, “Brethren, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

As we practice love consciously and persistently our hard and fast preferences wither and are replaced by a growing sense of solidarity with all. As these barriers fall our hearts open. Gradually we become who we really are: expansive, limitless, and godlike. And as we stand together in the celebration of the Eucharist we gradually realize the truth of St. Simeon's words, in the Church Christ stands "as God among gods."

Rumi penned this for us today, "Listen with the ears of tolerance! See through the eyes of compassion! Speak with the language of love!" That sounds to me very much like a wonderful way to practice the Golden Rule. In other words, the Golden Rule must not only be believed, it must be practiced.