Do Unto Others as You Want Them to Do to You

Sermon notes from September 29, 1991″And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31)

Even sinners, atheists, non-believers, the greedy, perverts, etc, might behave decently toward others like themselves. You don’t have to be an Orthodox Christian to do this. You don’t become an Orthodox Christian to do this. You can behave this way even if you never come to Church.

We are the disciples of the Master, Jesus. He not only taught us to go far beyond the decency of the world, He demonstrated by His way of life how we are to live. Jesus not only loved his disciples, He loved and forgave those who crucified Him, He loved and forgave the thief on the cross, He loved and forgave Peter who denied Him, and Judas who betrayed Him. God is truly good even to the ungrateful and to the wicked.

Bottom line is mercy – being merciful.

Being merciful is part of God’s wisdom as versus the wisdom of the world, which empasizes competition, getting ahead, looking out for yourself.

Mercy is a readiness to do good and to forgive. Mercy is not just a one time act, it is a way of life.

Mercy means help, love, consideration of the other’s need

Because God loves us, we are to be merciful.

Let us look at some writing of the early church fathers about this way of life which encompasses mercy. The early Christians formed INTENTIONAL Christian communities – communities which were wholly devoted to the Christian way of life.

Abba Anthony said, “A man’s life or death comes from his neighbor; if we benefit our brother, we benefit ourselves, but if we offend him, we sin against God.”

Jesus taught us a way of life, it involves loving one another, washing each other’s feet, doing to others as you would have them do to you, being merciful to others, the Good Samaritan, bearing the burdens of others, the exchange of the kiss of peace in Liturgy. Look around you, your salvation is in your neighbor and how you treat them. For this is the basis on which God is going to Judge you.

There is a story from the desert fathers of an old monk, who worked hard by weaving baskets. A young monk asks to become his disciple and throughout his life steals from the old monk. So the old man is forced to work harder. He knows who the thief is. In humility, in mercy, because of self-sacrifice and the Cross, he says nothing to the monk. The old monk is on his death bed and the community assembles around him as death approaches. The old man calls for the young monk. The monk comes forward fearing he will be exposed and the community which also knows of the young man’s misdeeds awaits his just criticism. Instead, the dying monk kisses the hand of his thieving young disciple and says, “you will be my salvation.”
“What?” we might ask. Why would the thief be the saintly and patient old man’s salvation? Isn’t it going to be the other way around – the saint will save the sinner?
The story’s moral though is that the old man treated the young monk the way the elder wanted to be treated and judged by God – with patience, with love, in mercy.  He did to another what he hoped would be done to him: he showed him mercy.

A last story from the desert fathers:
Young monk, asks: “If a brother asks me to do something for him purely out of love, and I am really inconvenienced by it, should I do it?”
The Elder answers, ” If you can do it without getting angry or demanding repayment, do it. God will accept it as a sacrifice from you. But if you are going to be angry, bear a grudge, or demand a favor in return, don’t do it. There is no advantage to you in that. If you decide to do it, take heed, your soul, your eternal life is on the line.

The fathers were eminently practical. The Christian way is hard, but it is not impossible. Do everything in love, with mercy, treating others with respect, as you would want them to treat you.

The Blessedness of Being Freed from Suffering

One of the most difficult things for believers to defend or to explain is the justice or the goodness of God when we deal with the suffering of our fellow humans.  For indeed it is not fair or merciful that people get struck down with crippling diseases and injuries, nor that innocent children suffer and die.   And despite our many words offered to comfort the suffering and ourselves, we often are dumb when it comes to justifying the pain of this world.

Not that many haven’t tried.  One need only think of Job‘s friends who endeavored to justify God in the face of Job’s unjust suffering (see The Book of Job), only to find themselves condemned by God.

Or, the disciples of Jesus assuming that someone has to have sinned for a man to suffer sickness and blindness (John 9).  They were trying to justify God and explain the world in which they lived.  Jesus said it has nothing to do with justice, but it does have something to do with the works of God being made known through the man’s blindness.

In the Iranian movie, THE COLOR OF PARADISE,   the blind child Mohammad is painfully aware that no one really wants him.  And he cries that even God doesn’t love him, for if He had, He would not have created him blind. The blind carpenter in whose care he has been left reminds Mohammad of a powerful truth.  Being blind is no sign that God doesn’t love you, for God after all is invisible.  There is no particular advantage to having eyesight when it comes to seeing God or being seen by Him.  The blind carpenter even makes the point that the God who is invisible especially loves the blind because they are closer to Him. 

Those who can see, might in fact become blinded to the truth about God because of their eyesight, and relying on the physical to discover the truth about God who is spiritual, invisible, indescribable and ineffable.  Judas didn’t like what he saw in and about Christ.  Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was pleasing to the eyes, and in taking the fruit her opens were opened, blinding her to God.

We do believe that the deaf, the blind, the dumb, the lame, the paralyzed, the mentally retarded, all can experience salvation – and so we baptize and commune them all.  Physical and mental handicaps are no obstacles to union with God. 

Additionally, all the sick and the suffering and the handicapped do and will experience the healing power and love of Christ in a way the rest of us never will.   Only the paralyzed will know what it is to have Christ say, “get up and walk” and then to be able to do something they could not do before.  Only they will know that liberating power of healing which releases them from their bonds and is also but a foretaste of the power which releases us from sin and resurrects us from the dead. 

All those who have suffering debilitating handicaps will be blessed to experience Christ in a way that many of us never will.    They will be given a freedom that the rest of us will never understand.  They will experience a gift from Christ that the rest of us can only wonder what it would be like to experience.  They will know His intimate love in a way that we cannot.  And we will be the ones who are jealous of them, as Father Abraham told the rich man, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:19-31). 

None of this however makes suffering any more just or tolerable.  None of this will ever turn this fallen world into paradise or heaven.  But in thinking about the joyful blessing the handicapped will experience when they are completely relieved of and freed from their suffering, we also are given a powerful sense of what it will be like to be freed from our own sickness, sighing and sin.  Those in need of God’s mercy, suffering the pain of sickness and handicaps, are indeed witnesses, martyrs, for the Kingdom which is to come. 

We can share in the joy which they will experience, by treating them as Christ’s brothers and sisters, and doing for them what we would do for our Lord given the chance (Matthew 25:31-46).

Times change, Tastes change too

A little more tongue in cheek political sarcasm.

One thing  is clear about this year’s presidential campaign – the presidential and vice presidential candidates from both major political parties are running against the incumbent president.  Democrats Obama and Biden have made change the theme of their campaign, and Republicans  McCain and Palin claim their maverick status makes them the agents of change.  All are running against the policies of President Bush, whose policies they both claim to want to change.  The voters are left to decide which of the candidates will best change America, but all the candidates are clear that they don’t want to continue the policies of the current administration.  And if the polls on Bush’s lack of popularity are any proof, the overwhelming majority of Americans want change too. 

This is making President Bush look very prescient when on February 29, 2000, in Cleveland, OH, he declared, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.”  

He has indeed after 8 years as president united the diverse political factions in America  to a degree even he probably never imagined – albeit, he united them against him, but he did prove his point that he is a uniter. 

What is most interesting about all the candidates running on a platform for change is that most policy analysts are saying the Bush white house has in the past few years reversed many of its early policy decisions and has embraced change itself.  Bush embraced change at about the same time that the 2008 presidential campaign began several years ago, and now his successor-want-to-bees by claiming to favor change in policies are actually and strangely on board with the policies of change and the changing policies of the current administration.    In American politics the more things change the more they remain the same, especially since all politicians seem to run campaigns favoring change, even the encumbants. 

The man on the street is probably most worried about the change or the lack thereof in his own pocket.

The Universal Gospel: For All Mankind

St. Paul‘s conversion brought about in him a true change of mind and attitude toward many things.  One which he struggles balancing in his epistles is the notion of the election of Israel  and the universal message of the Gospel.  As a Pharisee St. Paul had no doubt in Israel’s election by God.  But his encounter with the risen Christ and subsequent conversion experience led him to believe God’s plan of salvation incorporated the Gentiles and ended the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile which was so clear in Judaism.  Israel was to be a light to the nations, but it was to be a light which brought the nations to belief in God.  God’s election was ultimately not to be the cause of eternal and irreconcilable separation between Jew and Gentile, but was supposed to be Israel’s call to bring all the nations of the world to God.  This proved to be a difficult concept for the early Christians who initially debated how this could happen and whether in fact Gentiles had to become Torah keeping Jews in order to be Christian.  In Acts 15 the apostles gathered in Council reject keeping Torah as a requirement for the Gentiles.  St. Paul takes that idea to its logical conclusion – then neither is it required for Jews to keep Torah in order to do God’s will.  Fr. St. Paul his conversion revealed to him that all along, before the Torah and even when the law was given, God really wanted people to keep faith with Him.  The Torah was simply to aid that possibility.  Unfortunately the Jews had fallen into the trap of keeping Torah without keeping faith (Romans 9:31-33).

As an example of St. Paul’s embracing universal salvation for all of humankind, take a look at Ephesians 1:9-10, which I will quote from several different English translations/bibles:

“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (RSV).

” having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-in Him” (NKJV).

” he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment-to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (TNIV)

“He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ,  to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ” (REV).

God’s mystery revealed – His plan of salvation – was that all things in the universe were to be united in Christ.  This the Torah never could do for it had in fact become the very thing separating not only Jew from Gentile but also Pharisaic Jew from the less diligent Jew.

Orthodox Christianity also needs to remind itself about the universal nature of God’s salvation and not fall into the trap of sectarian Judaism thinking that keeping Torah/tradition is God’s design to separate humanity again.   We are to be a light to the world, to bring all to salvation.  That is the very mission of the church.

Think about a few lines from our Divine Liturgy:

For peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord. (Great Litany)

Your own of Your own, we offer unto You on behalf of all and for all (behalf of all things and for all things)

We also offer to You this spiritual worship for the whole world, for the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and for those living in purity and holiness.

Remember also, Lord, those whom each of us calls to mind and all Your people.

 And all mankind!

In the Liturgy we pray for all the world and for all mankind and for everything in the universe.  Like the Jews we can be tempted to think salvation is for us alone, but with the Apostles, we need to remember the universal message of the Gospel.  Christ’s descent into Hades was for the salvation of the world, for all mankind.  That is the universal proclamation of Pascha:  “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”