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The Golden Rule
February 10, 2019, 12:00 AM

Grace and peace to you from the triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We teach it to our early ed students every week in chapel. (show and tell time) In other words, do only those things that if you were on the receiving end you would like to have done to you. If you prefer put yourself in their shoes and ask if this seems fair and right from their perspective before you do it. Another way to say, love your neighbor as yourself. And as if to reinforce this point Jesus says that this is the summation in a few words of two of the three books in what we know as the Old Testament. Seems like it ought to be really easy and yet we continue to wrestle with it, we continue to find that it is a relevant word and so we continue to preach it. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Another similar mandate in this text is from the beginning of the section where it reminds us to be careful of the standard by which we judge others because God chooses to use that as the standard by which God will judge us. We often look to the bible to find the standards with which to judge or to back our position and justify us when we wish to enter a harsh judgment upon the other and yet maybe we need to back up just a moment and ask if we would like to be judged using the same standard we are currently putting upon the other person. Remember as well the value to you of God's grace.

Reinforcing the point Jesus tells them to take care of the errors of their own ways before they get busy trying to correct the other person. You might protest but they are doing all of these things that are wrong and Jesus simply asks if you are managing to do everything right. And the reality for most of us is that there are things about our life and our living that could be improved and we are reminded to spend our time getting ourselves right instead of spending our time helping others to see the wrong they have done. I feel that one of the profound things in what Jesus says here is that it leaves us to almost never judge the other person and from the human perspective that is truly a novel concept. Between not wanting to be judged and not judging unless we have our own house in order we might find that there is very little judging of the other to be done.

What else do we have in this little gem of a passage for today. ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.' It would seem as if this passage is simply telling us to be persistent in asking for those things that we want and certainly there is an element in here of suggesting that persistence will get you all that you heart desires. And what a lovely thought that we can have anything that we want if we just pray hard enough and long enough. This is the basis for an entire camp of Christians today, who preach what I like to call the Health and Wealth Gospel, which in short states that God wants you to have perfect health and tremendous wealth. The caveat is of course that you must have perfect faith and pray without ceasing and thus when these things do not come true which no doubt if you look around they won't always, then either you did not have enough faith or you did not pray long enough.

I think that all you need to do is to look around and see the unanswered prayers of very faithful people to know that this is bollocks. We all know people of tremendous faith who continue to pray for something that we think is perfectly reasonable and have prayed for a long time and yet have failed to receive it. There was a movie in the early 2000's called Bruce Almighty and in it the main character is given God's job and at one point takes the prayers of all people and says yes to all. The chaos that ensues is incredible, everyone who plays wins the lottery and thus bankrupts the system overnight, people are praying for things they do not understand fully and thus get what is actually bad for them, and the story goes on and on.  If we look at the health side of the equation, asking what would it hurt for everyone to get well, that was taken on by a series called Torchwood in their season called Miracle Day. No one died in this season and it was awful, again the knock on effects were catastrophic. So, if God answering all our prayers in the affirmative is not the point then what might be the point.

I read one author, a professor of theology, who suggested that it was intended to get us to pray more and more consistently, which had the side effect of helping us to develop a relationship with God and this relationship would then let us move from praying for our hearts desire to praying what was on God's heart. In other words sometimes prayer is about shifting our desires even more than it is about getting God to do what we think is right. Certainly, there are prayers from this congregation that I have seen which were righteous prayers, not selfish but selfless and would seem to have done nothing but good, which were not answered in the way we wanted and thus it makes more sense that this is about moving our heart than it is about moving God's heart.

I don't want to suggest for even a moment that we should not pray or that prayers are never answered. But time spent with God will change us for the better. I am certain that part of Christa's recovery was the cloud of witnesses that were praying for her. I have seen again and again where it is obvious that what occurs must be the answer to prayer and yet not all righteous prayers are answered in the affirmative. Why bother then except that it moves our heart toward God's heart, which will lead us to prayers that God will answer.

I guess there are two themes today. The first being the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you or if it seems simpler, love your neighbor as yourself. The second, prayer is as much about changing us as it is about changing God or getting God to do what we want. I highly suggest spending lots of time in prayer and meditation and realize that it is partly about moving your heart and that might make doing to others easier.