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Do Unto Others

Lesson: Luke 6:27-36


“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”[1] You probably recognize this verse. It’s known as the Golden Rule. You may not have known it’s in the Bible, or that it was Jesus who said it.


The Golden Rule might be the most famous thing Jesus ever said, although we know that it’s not original with Jesus. It appears in many ancient cultures and religions – in Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and China. The label “Golden Rule” comes from Confucius, in the sixth century B.C.: “Here certainly is the golden maxim: Do not do to the other that which we do not want them to do to us.” The rule appears in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and in Greek philosophy. It’s as old as the Code of Hammurabi, and it is in the Hebrew Bible.


Most versions, like Confucius’, are expressed negatively: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” Jesus is credited with the innovation of stating it in a positive way. “Do to your neighbor what you want done to you.” It makes a difference. It’s easier and even expected for us to avoid doing something hurtful to another person. Don’t attack someone if you don’t want to be attacked. Don’t cheat someone if you don’t want to be cheated. Don’t lie to someone if you don’t want to be lied to. In each of these examples, doing nothing is how you follow the rule. The emphasis in this approach is basically self-protection. I don’t want something bad to happen to me, so I won’t do something bad to someone else. Which isn’t bad, but “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is more difficult. It requires us to act.


That’s complicated, because just what is it we’re supposed to do to follow the rule? “Do … as you would have others do to you.” Do we assume the other person wants done what we would want done? That may not be the case, right? The way I want to be treated may not be the way someone else wants to be treated. Think of those well-intentioned gifts you’ve received that really missed the mark. The person who gave you that three-foot tall statue of Yoda really loved it. Or think of the time someone tried to fix a problem for you and you didn’t want it fixed that way, or maybe at all. Even more complicated is that sometimes what people would have us do unto them, what some people think they need or think will make them happy, is rooted in brokenness, greed, addiction, or hatred.


Jesus follows his Golden Rule by explaining that we are to love even those who don’t love us, and love even our enemies.[2] Bringing together love for God and love for neighbor was the heart of his teaching. In Jesus’ thinking, the two mandates – to love God with heart, mind, and strength and the neighbor as you love yourself – become one powerful, overarching, moral principal: love of God and love of neighbor; love of God by loving neighbor.


This tells us love is at the root of the Golden Rule. So what if Jesus isn’t so much setting up one more rule we have to figure out how to follow correctly, and get just right? What if each of the verses I read this morning, including the Golden Rule, is not a command or a rule, but a promise? The promise, essentially, that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is? That there is another option, an option grounded in active love – in love that does for others?


My dear friend and mentor Laird Stuart died in December. Laird served as the pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco when I was an associate pastor there. I was asked to preach at his memorial service at Calvary a couple of weeks ago, and while I was preparing for it, I recalled a sermon that Laird preached some twenty years ago. I remembered it partly because my daughters remember it. They were young teens when they heard it. Believe me: When a teenager remembers a sermon, that alone is no small accomplishment. The title of the sermon, “The Planet of Me,” actually became one of our family adages. To this day, if we see someone behaving as though he’s the only person that matters, whether it’s on the road, standing in line, wherever, my kids will say, “That guy is living on the Planet of Me.” Even our son, Pete, who never knew Laird Stuart.


“The Planet of Me” began with a couple of Dr. Seuss-style lines: “Where would you rather be? The Planet of Me, or the Planet of We? Oh, where would you rather be?”[3] The gist of the sermon was that the world is the way it is because too many people are looking out for themselves, giving little or no thought to how their actions impact others. Too many people are living on the Planet of Me. Like the Golden Rule, this could sound simplistic, as in: “Just be nice to each other and the world will be a better place.” But the sermon wasn’t simplistic. It was seriously challenging.


“The Planet of Me,” Laird said, “is very easy. … On the Planet of Me, when you plan your life all you need to consider are your own goals and objectives. …. Not to worry. Go for what you want. It’s the Planet of Me. … On the Planet of Me, you do not have to come to a full stop at a stop sign. A rolling stop will do. After all, you are busy; you are very busy. Roll right through and while you are at it, have another sip of that latte and dial up another number on your cell phone.” The sermon tackled not only rude drivers and commitment-free dating, but deceptive business practices and exploitation. Laird took on not only civility, but justice. He spoke about God’s design for God’s creation, a design that includes commitments, responsibilities, obligations, and relationships; in which fulfillment comes not as a result of what you do for yourself but as a result of what we do for each other. Most cultures and all the great religions teach us that human life can thrive, maybe even survive, only if we recognize that connection – that we are all connected. Our Bible uses the word “covenant.” Again and again in the Old Testament, God explains God’s covenant, “You will be my people, and I will be your God, and part of the deal is that you will follow my commandments.” God’s commandments really can be summarized this way: “Don’t live on the Planet of Me. I, the Lord your God, have called you and claimed you to live another way, on the Planet of We.”


I, the Lord your God, have called you and claimed you to live another way. That is God’s promise: There is another way, the way that offers hope for the survival of the world and humankind. And that is Jesus’ promise, as well: That we can treat others the way we want to be treated. That there is enough, more than enough – love, attention, food, worth, honor, time – to go around. In the Golden Rule and in the rest of the Luke passage we read this morning, Jesus isn’t offering a set of simple rules by which to get by or get ahead in this world; he’s inviting us into this whole other world, this whole other way. A world and a way that are not about measuring and counting and weighing and competing and judging and paying back and hating and all the rest. But instead is about love. Love for those who have loved you. Love for those who haven’t. Love even for those who have hated you. That love gets expressed in all kinds of creative ways, but often it’s through caring – extending care and compassion and help and comfort to those in need – and forgiveness – not paying back but instead releasing one’s claim on another and opening up a future where a relationship of – you guessed it! – love is still possible.[4]


As our associate pastor Diana Bell used to say, it’s all that simple, and it’s all that hard. Because what does living on the Planet of We look like, what does the promise of the Golden Rule mean, how do we love when it comes to climate disruption, racial justice, economic equality, and foreign relations? Back in 2012, Texas Congressman Ron Paul was one of a number of Republicans vying for the nomination for President. At a debate, Paul invoked the Golden Rule for foreign policy. Paul said, “If another country does to us what we do to others, we aren’t going to like it very much. So I would say maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy. We endlessly bomb these other countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?” This drew loud boos from the crowd. Imagine the irony: a mostly Christian audience jeering a Christian candidate for invoking the cardinal teaching of Christ.[5]


Love, defined most simply, is seeking the well-being of another, of every other. Love is not a means to an end, it is an end unto itself, which, in turn, creates morality and justice and all the rest of the things we strive for yet fail to find or manifest absent love.[6] If the Golden Rule is a command – that is, one more thing someone told us we’ll be held accountable for – then we’ll likely continue to live in fear or despair, not knowing how to do it right or do enough, and, while we may behave a little better, at least when someone’s watching, ultimately we will be no different. But if it’s a promise, a promise grounded in the love of our merciful God, then we might just imagine that there is another world, another way available to us at this very moment, and see each other as gifts of God, and experience the transformation Jesus offers.[7]


The invitation from Jesus is always transformation. Theologian William Placher wrote, “A life of love is not easier than following the rules. Its demands have no limits, and it challenges us to imagination, to creative improvisation in thinking how to be most of service . . . secure in the knowledge that God already loves us.”[8] God already loves us, and God promises us, through Jesus, that there is another way.


May it be so for you, and for me. Amen.


© Joanne Whitt 2019 all rights reserved.

[1] Luke 6:31.


[2] Luke 6:32, 35.


[3] The Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart, “The Planet of Me,” delivered on Sunday, July 4, 1999, at Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, California.


[4] David Lose, “Epiphany 7C: Command or Promise?” February 22, 2019, http://www.davidlose.net/2019/02/epiphany-7-c-command-or-promise/.


[5] Jack Kerwick, “Ron Paul, The Golden Rule, and Christianity,” https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/attheintersectionoffaithandculture/2012/01/ron-paul-the-golden-rule-and-christianity.html; Coner Friedersdorf, “Quote of the Day: The Golden Rule in Foreign Policy,” January 17, 2012, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/01/quote-of-the-day-the-golden-rule-in-foreign-policy/251535/.


[6] Lose, ibid.


[7] Lose, ibid.


[8] William Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christian Faith, quoted in John Buchanan, “Hearing and Doing,” April 12, 2011, http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2011/041011.html.

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