Golden Rules a sermon on Matthew 7:1-12
Joe Cailles, pastor, Trinity UMC
February 16, 2020, The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 7:1-12

Judging Others

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Profaning the Holy

‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Ask, Search, Knock

‘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. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The Golden Rule

‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

For Valentines Day supper last Friday, I made a meal which has long been a favorite for Kim and me: Shrimp with zucchini and mushrooms, bow tie pasta, Parmesan cheese, and basil vinaigrette. I first made that for Kim when we were dating so, we have it now for special occasions meals at anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays. It’s a simple dish to make, and I’ve tried some small variations over the years which keeps the dish both fresh with some new elements and familiar and fun for us.
This month we’ve been looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is so very familiar to many, many of us. We considered the Beatitudes. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are these who mourn. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be filled, and they will be comforted, and they will be called children of God.” The beatitudes direct us to be people filled with God’s hope and compassion so that God can use us to be a blessing to each other and to the world around us.
Last week Jesus told us to be salt and light. Salt enhances flavors. Christians united with Christ and united with each other enhance the good flavors of harmony and justice within our communities. God’s light shines through us to dispel the darkness of sin and arrogance and pride.
In today’s passage, Jesus give us 4 rules about how we Christians honor our relationship with God and honor our relationship with one another. With God Jesus tells us, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; don’t throw your pearls before swine,” and Jesus tells us, “Ask and you will be given. Search and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” With one another Jesus tells us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged,” and Jesus says, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.”
That last one is called the Golden Rule, and it’s as familiar as a favorite family meal, but the four taken together: “Don’t throw your pearls before swine,” and “Do not judge,” and “Ask, search, knock” and “Do unto others” taken all together, all make good golden rules plural for all Christians. Their strength lies in all four united together to make us stronger, more faithful Christians.
These four golden rules are fairly familiar to most of us, and the challenge is that their familiarity can dampen their strength. We think we know them and don’t think they have anything more to teach us. Of the four, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs. Don’t throw your pearls before swine” is the probably the least familiar and the least understood. The word “holy” is the key here in what Jesus says. Do not give what is holy to the dogs. Don’t waste pearls of holiness by giving them to the pigs to trample on.
Jesus is saying to us to hold tight to what is sacred and holy and to hold tight and consider precious and valuable what keeps us strong in our Christian faith and keeps God’s love and light prominent in our lives. Our worship each week is sacred and holy. Don’t waste these worship times. Don’t discard Sundays like they’re scraps for the dogs and slop for the pigs. Prayer is sacred and holy. Speaking to God and listening to God, these are sacred and holy. Reading our Bibles, confessing our sins, sharing a church meal together, providing comfort and care for those in need, all of these are for us Christians sacred and holy and to be valued and treasured as divine pearls.
The Christian season of Lent begins soon. That’s our traditional time to assess our Christian discipleship and to reclaim the sacred and holy pearls and practices that keep us close to God’s love and God’s hope for our lives. And what we find is that we have to keep close to God if we have a hope for following the golden rules involving one another. We keep sacred and holy our discipleship and our connection to God so that we can judge not and so that we can do unto others.
Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but ignore the log in your own eye?”  This is one of those familiar phrases of scripture that we think we know what it means already. Don’t judge others. Especially don’t judge others when we’re guilty of the same things or guilty of even bigger, log sized things. Jesus condemns hypocrisy and hypercritical fault-finding, and we absolutely need to take his words to heart, but Jesus goes on to take care of the log in your own eye and then help your neighbors get the specks out of their eyes. That’s an essential part. We can’t do without that. If I left the shrimp out of my shrimp and pasta dish, I mean, you could still eat it, but eh. It’s essential for us not only to withhold hypocrisy but also to act with compassion and care for one another. Jesus is not saying look out only for yourself. Take care of your stuff only. Jesus is not saying, anybody can do anything they want to do. If your neighbors have specks and logs and entire sand dunes and forests in their eyes, live and let live. That’s not the message.
We Christians care about one another and we want the best for all of those around us, and part of our faith is mutual support and identifying our faults and shortcomings and specks and logs in our lives, and then helping each other to see clearly and to follow Christ more closely. That takes mighty help from God to speak truth to each other without judgmental hypocrisy but with love and humility and without judgement and hypocrisy.
I mentor new clergy these day, helping them sharpen their ministry and strengthening their discipleship, and the best way that I have to do that is to share with them my own faults and growth areas in my ministry, so that they can help me get the specks and logs out of my eyes, as I help them get the junk out of their eyes. We help one another to be better clergy and better Christians. I hope we all have people in our lives who can speak truth with love to us. In our families, in our friends, in our churches, we need folks looking out for us. Christ wants all of us who follow him to see with eyes clear and unobstructed the ways of charity and mercy, and the ways of generosity and justice and peace. Those ways are impossible without guidance from Christ and without encouragement from each other.
Hold onto the sacred and holy pearls. Do not judge but do help your neighbor, which leads us to the original Golden Rule. Jesus says, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” Lot’s of cultures and lots of religions have a version of that rule. Jesus would have first read it from the Leviticus in his Bible. “Love your neighbors as yourself.” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s as familiar as Taco Tuesdays.
But taken on its own, separated from the other golden rules, about staying connected to God and to each other, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has a pretty serious flaw. Not everyone wants the same things I want. Not everyone wants to be treated in the way I think they should be treated. I may not want what everyone else wants either.
How often does we hear in politics and in religion and in advertisements, there is only one option, there is only one position to take here. There is only one product to buy. There is only one way to believe about a certain issue. I am traditional in my values therefore I will treat everyone as if they should also have traditional values. I am progressive in my beliefs therefore I will treat everyone as if they should also have my beliefs.
A young child had a fight with the neighbor kid. The father reminded the child of the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The child said, he hit me so he must have wanted me to hit back.
That’s what our lives are like in so many ways today. We’re divided and hitting each other on marriage and guns and immigration and the right role of government because we insist others do as we believe they ought to be doing.
In my shrimp and pasta dish, I recently suggested to Kim adding bacon. I love bacon and am convinced it would be great with the shrimp and pasta. Kim is not intersected. Now do I bacon unto her as I would like bacon done unto me? Not if I want a happy wife and a happy life. The bacon will go on the side. The boys have suggested subbing in chicken and carrots in the dish instead of shrimp and zucchini. That’s not how I would do it, so next time, we can make the dish together next time with their variations.
Perhaps we need to remember a slight variation of the traditional golden rule: “Do unto others how they want done unto them.” Treat others in the way they would prefer to be treated. Let our relationships with others be decided not just what I want but by the best interest of us all. Help me get the speck out of my eye, and I’ll help you with the log in your eye. Let me listen to your needs and hopes and aspirations and you can listen to me about mine. And then following the other golden rules, let us go to God together with humility and love and ask for clarity and seek God’s wisdom.
And that brings us to the last Golden rule: Jesu says, “Ask and it will be given to you. Search and you will find. Everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus is speaking about God and us: “How much will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask?”
I wish that were true for all of us all the time. I wish I could ask and search and knock and God would always and everywhere give me good things.
There are absolutely times when we pray in good faith for healing and for hope and for help and God clearly answers and gives and opens the doors. Thanks be to God. There are times when we pray in bad faith out of vengeance and greed and pride and God does not answer. Thanks be to God. And there are times when in true faith with no judgment or hypocrisy we ask and we search and we knock and we pray for ourselves and for loved ones and we pray for our church and for our communities and for our country and it is not given. We do not find. And the door remains closed and worse, it feels ignored and unanswered.
I don’t believe Jesus has over-promised here. I don’t believe Jesus is misleading us, and I confess I don’t know why our best, sincerest least selfish prayers sometimes go unanswered in this life.
The good news for us is that Ask, Search and knock is surrounded by the other golden rules about the sacred and the care for others. Judge not and keep the sacred holy. Ask, search and knock and do unto others. We will always go to God about what we each need. We will continue to go to God praying and searching and asking for healing and hope and help for ourselves. We can also go to God asking and searching and knocking for more opportunities to help our neighbors. We ask and search and knock for the good things that make life better for the congregation and for the community and for the countries of the world. Ask and search and knock is not just about us and what we need; it’s about asking and searching and knocking on behalf of those around us. And here’s the good news, as we pray for ways to help others, they are praying for ways to help us. While I’m praying for ways to help you. You are praying for ways to help me. That’s awesome. That’s Christian community.
Four golden rules, directing us to love God and to love and care for each other’s. Do not judge but do help. Do unto others as you and they together decide to do. Hold tight to the sacred and the holy. Ask God for more and more ways to do good. These four golden rules, we will follow them to the glory of God and or the good of all.
Thanks be to God.