The Golden Rule
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Good morning! This week I am excited to be starting a new sermon series. Over the last two months I have preached about America’s National Parks, and together we looked for the ways that God speaks to us through nature and through the stories of each park. We looked for the ways we can grow in our faith from lessons we learned at each place we visited together virtually. Each of the 8 sermons gave us a way of connecting scripture with nature, and God with what is happening all around us.
Today, we start the “Our New Normal” sermon series, and we will be doing the same thing! As we talk about the pandemic and the ways our lives have changed over the last 6 months, we will also be looking at the ways that God is speaking to us today through these strange times. We will be asking ourselves, what lessons can we learn about our faith through what is going on around us right now? I think we can learn a lot, and I am excited to go on this journey with you.
I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest changes in my daily life over the past 6 months has been wearing a mask. Before this year, the only masks I ever wore were around Halloween or maybe if I was in a play. I certainly never wore masks out in public as a way of protecting myself and others from an illness, and I don’t remember ever being in a position where I saw other people wearing masks all around me on the street or in grocery stores.
Pre-Corona, when I used to leave my house, I would always do a mental inventory of things I would need throughout my day—do I have my phone? My keys? My wallet? NOW I have had to add my mask to that list! When I remember to do my mental inventory it works well, but this is still so new that I forget quite a bit…after the last time I forgot my mask at home I stashed masks not only in a basket by my front door, but also in my purse and in my car. I have masks hanging out all over the place.
Wearing a mask is probably going to continue to be a big part of our lives for months at least, maybe longer. We have learned that it is our responsibility if we are going out in public to wear a mask. My mask protects the people around me from my potential germs more than it protects me, and I rely on others wearing their masks for my protection! Wearing a mask is an act of humility, a decision to care for others around us more than our own comfort.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. When Kelsee and I were traveling here from Kansas back in May we stopped for gas. While we were filling our cars, two people at the pump across from us started loudly talking about how idiotic it was to wear a mask and how they would never wear one. Unfortunately, there are people all over the country who are refusing to wear masks because they find them to be uncomfortable or they don’t believe that they make a big enough difference.
Some have even connected wearing a mask to their political beliefs and their sense of individual freedom, saying that it’s their right to choose not to wear a mask even if it would help protect others around them.
All of this reminds me of the parable of the long spoons. Have you ever heard it? It was first told by Rabbi Haim from Lituania, and since then versions of it have popped up in other faith traditions all over the world. I love Rabbi Haim’s version the best. It goes something like this:
“Legend has it that Rabbi Haim was granted permission to visit both heaven and hell. With an angel for his guide, the Rabbi is first ushered through the gates of Hell, which, he is surprised to find, are made of finely wrought gold. The gates are exquisitely lovely, as is the lush green landscape that lies beyond them. He looks at his angelic guide in disbelief. “It’s all so beautiful,” he says. “The sight of the meadows and mountains … the sounds of the birds singing in the trees … the scent of thousands of flowers … ” And then the tantalizing aroma of a gourmet meal catches his attention.
Entering a large dining hall, he sees row after row of tables laden with platters of sumptuous food; yet the people seated around the tables are pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. Coming closer, he sees that each man is holding a long spoon, but that both his arms are splinted with wooden slats so that he cannot bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth.
The angel then took the rabbi to Heaven, where he encountered the same beauty he had witnessed in Hell. Entering the dining hall there, he saw the same scene, except in contrast to Hell, the people seated at the tables who had their arms splintered with wooden slates were sitting contentedly, cheerfully talking with each other, as they enjoyed their sumptuous meal.
As the rabbi came closer, he was amazed to watch how each person at a table would feed the person sitting across from him. The recipient of this kindness would express gratitude and then return the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.
The rabbi urged his angel to bring him back to Hell so he could share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. Racing into the dining hall, he shouted to the first starving man he saw, “You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.”
“‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ the man said angrily. ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!” It was then that the rabbi understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The only difference is in the way that people treat each other.”
I just think that is a great story, and an even greater reminder that as Christians we should be focusing on what we can do for others rather than on our own selfish desires. Which brings me to the scripture I chose for this morning. Most of us know it as The Golden Rule—Do to others as you would have them do to you. This is such an important lesson that it is found in almost all of the world’s religions or ethical traditions. We must treat others the way that we would like to be treated, to think of others when we are making decisions.
When it comes to wearing masks, this reciprocal action is the only way to truly minimize the risk of spreading COVID. For most of us, once we get used to it, it is pretty easy. Sure, they get hot. They fog up our glasses. They make our noses itch. But all of that is worth it if it keeps people safe, isn’t it?
I think one of the greatest examples of The Golden Rule that I’ve seen in recent months comes from those I know who have lived through trauma that affects their ability to wear a mask. For some, wearing a mask is a PTSD trigger. It can make some people vividly remember abuse or a traumatic event that they have been through, or cause them to have physical reactions like panic attacks and shortness of breath.
Despite this, every person I know who is going through this is wearing a mask when they go out in public. They are trying to find masks that are easier to wear or solutions to help them manage their anxiety or PTSD response. They are making it a priority to keep themselves and everyone they come in contact with safe, even if it is incredibly difficult for them to do. This is an act of love, of sacrifice, and of living our lives the way that Jesus taught us to.
This morning I want to leave you with a quote from Rev. Lydia Posselt, which I keep going back to for encouragement and for a reminder of how important it is to live our lives according to the Golden Rule. She said:
“Let’s live in such a way that – when our kids, grand-kids, nieces/ nephews, that kid down the street doing a history project, asks us about 2020 – we don’t have to lie, or even stretch the truth a bit. May we live in such a way that we can look them in the eye, and say with confidence:
‘I tried to the best of my ability to protect my neighbor from dying, I allowed myself to be inconvenienced in order to benefit the common good, I fought injustice when I saw it, and I did a lot of listening and learning. I could have done more, but at least I did that.’ Then, you’ll take out your mask you saved for just this moment, and tell them that it went with you to marches and to the grocery store and even to church. They will look at you with awe, and maybe just a little bit of relief.”