Category Archives: Articles

Article: Luther and the Two Kingdoms?

If you are a devotee of Lutheran theology, then you probably have read about Martin Luther’s doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms.” If you are “in the know,” then you already understand there is fierce discussion on whether this is a good doctrine or it needs to die once and for all.

For those of you who have not heard of the doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms” …no, this isn’t a prequel to the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, however it is Martin Luther’s undeveloped thesis about the difference between God’s (spiritual) Kingdom and the earthly kingdom or realm.  To put it a different way, the difference between what is doing inside our hearts and the visible signs of authority in the world like the government and even church structure that keep people “in line”. Both are given by God but both are separate, distinct and needed. See diagram below.

Luther insists that it is vitally important not to confuse or combine the two kingdoms. Through the Gospel (the good news of Jesus love) God rules His “spiritual kingdom” and forgives sins, justifies and sanctifies.

At the same time God does not abolish the “earthly kingdom” with its ability to rule with power, the sword and laws.

Luther points out that any attempt to “rule the world” with the Gospel (the spiritual kingdom) is a “double error”, carrying a “double penalty”. If the world was ruled by the “spiritual kingdom” the Gospel would be destroyed and the gospel would become a new law to take the place of the old (human) law.  As a result, humans would make Christ into another Moses (a prophet bringing laws rather than the Son of God brining freedom from the law.)

To quote Luther, “What would be the result of an attempt to rule the world by the Gospel and the abolition of earthly law and force? It would be loosing savage beasts from their chains. The wicked, under cover of the Christian name would make unjust use of their Gospel freedom.” (On Secular Authority)

Also… “To try to rule a country, or the world, by the Gospel would be like putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the fold and saying to them, ‘Now graze, and live a godly and peaceful life together. The door is open, and there is pasture enough, and no watchdog you need fear.’ The sheep would keep the peace, sure enough, but they would not live long.” (On Secular Authority)

Both kingdoms are needed in this world and they need to remain separate. If the “spiritual kingdom” is commingled with the “earthly kingdom” the message of the gospel will be diminished if not corrupted. If the “earthly kingdom” commingled with the “spiritual kingdom” the same thing would occur. It makes no difference who makes the first move at co-opting the other, the good news of Jesus Christ would be compromised.

Why is this important? Back in 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed the “Johnson Amendment” for the tax code that keeps nonprofit organizations (like churches) from engaging in political activities. This was an uncontroversial amendment at the time and passed without discussion.

Just recently, an executive order was issued that attempts to water down the Johnson Amendment and directs the Department of the Treasury that “churches should not be found guilty of implied endorsements where secular organizations would not be.”

In other words, there is a subtle invitation of the “earthly kingdom” for the “spiritual kingdom” to move closer without impunity. Luther warns against such coziness.

When a Christian church completely identifies with one political party or another, they have lost their way. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs to God alone. Yes, the church should speak up (through the lens of the gospel and God’s expectations for holy living) but should never identify itself with a specific party even if individuals do so.

The Christian Church in America is not oppressed or discriminated against. Churches in China, Pakistan and many other places are.

The National Council of Churches of which the ELCA is a part of recently issued a statement. Here is a portion of that statement:

“Churches should and do speak truth to power. But, churches should not be intervening in political campaigns, endorsing or opposing candidates, or forming political parties. That would be dangerous both for the integrity of houses of worship and our democracy. 

 Despite this new executive order, we urge churches and clergy not to fall prey to the false notion they are victims of discrimination because they receive tax-exempt status in return for staying out of political campaigns. We affirm the role of the churches in proclaiming the power of God through Jesus Christ, preaching with a prophetic voice that both names God as the source of all salvation and holds the state accountable in the service of the common good.”

 Lots to think about, I know. This is a reminder for the church (not individuals) that we should speak up about injustice of all kinds, inequality of all kinds and abuse of power in the name of Jesus Christ but that the church will never be an “arm” of one political party or another.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Article: Instant Gratification

A story is told – by Fredrick Beuchner I believe – called “The Happy Hypocrite.” It is a story about a man who was born with an awful facial deformity. He grew up alone and lonely. When reaching adulthood, he decided to move from his town to begin a new life. On his way he discovered a beautiful mask that fit his making him look handsome. At first the mask was uncomfortable and he was afraid that people would find out who he really was, but he continued to wear the mask everyday.

In his new hometown, he made many friends and fell in love. But one day a wicked woman from his old home came to his town and discovered this man’s true identity. In front of his friends and fiancé, she forced him to remove his mask. When he removed the mask, it revealed a handsome face. His face had conformed to the mask.

Becoming like Christ is analogous to this. Go ahead and put on Christ. At first it may feel unnatural or uncomfortable, and maybe you may think, “who am I trying to fool?” But everyday just keep putting on Christ and everyday you will grow to look more like him.

Of course, this is not a true story, it is a parable about life change. We all love the dramatic stories of a changed life. I have often pondered Martin Luther’s promise to go to seminary if St. Anne saved him from a severe thunderstorm. (Legend states that St. Anne is Jesus’ maternal grandmother.) Or how St. Paul was stricken blind on the road to Damascus and Jesus told him to stop persecuting him (and the Christian family). Shortly after, Paul became a Christian.

However, most spiritual growth happens in baby steps. Yes, occasionally there is a giant leap forward (for some) but most people grow in small incremental ways like the man in the mask. It took time for his face to conform to the mask.

I believe one of the best ways a person can grow spiritually is to be connected to a church (like Bethel). Being in close contact with other Christians and worshipping God will eventually transform you… but it won’t happen overnight. Sometimes the change is so subtle that you won’t even notice it at first.

We all prefer “instant gratification.” We love the promise of instant change that many advertisements promise but the wisdom of the ages states, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”

St. Paul writes about transformation in his letter to the church of Rome. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Essentially, he is saying, change the way you think about things. The best way to do that is to change what is being “inputted” into your brain.  We are barraged with all kinds of messages where ever we go, even at home. Sunday morning is the place to receive a different kind of message. A word of hope, love, kindness and peace. But not just a word… you can experience those things as well. Come and see for yourself.

This Sunday we will continue to explore “The Joy of Bethel” and why we gather as believers. Come and experience community this Sunday, it just may change you.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Article: Joy

Greg Anderson said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” I don’t know who Greg Anderson is, but I totally agree with his statement.

Joy is found in doing- not arriving. This is especially true for the Church. We will never be done until Jesus shows up and tells us we are done. We do not know when that will happen, so we just “keep on keeping on.” That might be frustrating to some, but not if you believe the quote above.

None of us ever ask, “when are we going to stop worshipping on Sundays?” As if to say, “Haven’t we done that enough?” Or, “Haven’t we met our quota for caring for people?” No, we keep doing these things. Not because we are required to, or that there is a threshold we must meet. There isn’t even a finish line where we can say to each other, “Just little more to go and then we will be done.” Nope. This isn’t about the destination, it is in the journey itself that we find joy.

Most of you who are reading this are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church. (I can’t imagine many other people wanting to read my ramblings!) At Bethel, why do we do what we do? Why do we point to our core values of Hospitality, Christ Centered Community (fellowship and worship), Spiritual Growth, Responding to Needs and Generosity (so much)? They are not obligations. We don’t have to do anything. Why even talk about them or do anything for that matter?

I have a one word answer for you: joy.

I want every Christian (whether you are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church or not) to be filled with joy! Joy is one of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Joy is the evidence of God working in our lives. Joy produces holy action which is way better than obligation!

Everything that we value as a church is connected to relationship either with God or one another. The more we invest ourselves in the lives of others and with God, our joy will increase! As your pastor (at least to most of you), I want you to experience a deepening of joy as you connect to God and each other.

At church council last month, we agreed that we want all people to “experience the joy of doing life together.”

I have experienced churches that do not have the “secret sauce” of joy. People fight for control over things like ministries and who is in charge. People fight over money and the lack of everything. That is no way to live.

Not only should we guard the joy that we have but we should share it as well! Life is too short to be grumpy and controlling!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Grace is Messy

Occasionally, I run across an article that is well written and insightful. (Admittedly, I am not the best writer and I am jealous of those who can!)

The article below, despite its title, has no profanity in it. I hope you find it inspirational and moving.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

F-Bombs and Bikinis: What It Really Means to Be a “Christian”
By Preston Sprinkle

Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.

I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.

When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.

It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf’s recent comments about converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It’s worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf’s conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.

I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.

Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’ death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).

Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?

Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collectors were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.

Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were past the point of repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.

Yeah right.

Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.

To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the leader of the American Nazi Party. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.

You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.

Article: Jesus Obituary

If Jesus had an obituary, what would it say? If they put it in the newspaper on Saturday, would they print a retraction on Sunday?

Here is one possibility…

But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? This was not the end. This was just the beginning…

Pr. Ben

Article: Don’t Fast Forward to Easter

Wow, what a week at Bethel! Even if you haven’t been at church this week, there is a lot going on.

We began the week with filling Easter eggs for our annual Easter egg hunt, others made fleece blankets for those in need, some students were in a class to learn more about Holy Communion and we hosted a reception for the visiting committee of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).  All of this happened on Sunday after church!

Yes, our school is currently perusing accreditation from a well-established accrediting organization! Long before the visiting committee arrived our principal assembled a 200 page report for them to read and assess our school. The next time you see Dawn, be sure to thank her for hard work.

We will receive notification of our request for accreditation in June.

As the infomercial spokes people often say, “But wait, there’s more…” We had our annual Scholastic Book Fair for our school, a Lenten supper and worship AND we are re-carpeting the sanctuary (and other finishing touches). Now add to that all the other things we do week in and week out at Bethel and all the preparations for Holy Week.

Oh, that’s right, it is Palm Sunday this weekend! As most of you know we have two completely different services this Sunday. At 8:45am we will worship and sing our favorite traditional hymns like “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” Two hours later at 10:45am we will experience music from Jesus Christ Superstar.  I invite you to come and experience the beauty of our re-furbished sanctuary and one of two wonderful worship options.

So, we have Palm Sunday this Sunday and then a week later we show up and it will be Easter! Not so fast! Sure, a lot of people will be doing just that, but you will be missing out on something that will grow your faith.

This Sunday we will symbolically enter Jerusalem as the preparations for Passover are being made. We will hear how the people honored Jesus as King and a Savior of the people.  Then we will make our way up to the Temple where Jesus will tip over the tables of those taking advantage of those who came to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration by overcharging people for various things.

On Thursday, we will remember the giving of the New Covenant of Holy Communion right after Jesus’ and his disciples celebrated the Old Covenant of Passover.

Then on Friday we will gather to remember the death of Jesus for our sake.

All of this before Easter morning. I encourage you to make the journey with us as we make our way from the road into Jerusalem, to the upper room and then to the hill where Jesus was crucified before we gather at the empty tomb on Easter morning. As Christians, this is the most important week of the year. I guarantee that if you make the journey, Easter will be even more special.

I hope to see you this Sunday and next Thursday, Friday and on Easter morning.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: The Garden… Revisited

At the Wednesday Lenten Service, I talked about being reLENTlessly misguided. When Jesus was the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives between Jerusalem and the town of Bethany he was arrested. The Passover meal had ended and they left Jerusalem for Bethany because they were most likely staying at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ house.

Jesus stopped to pray because he knew what was about to happen… his death. While he was praying and the disciples were napping, Judas shows up with the Temple guard to arrest Jesus.

Depending upon which gospel you read the story varies a bit. In one account, Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. Any way you slice it, Judas betrays Jesus. All the gospel accounts agree on that.  Jesus doesn’t try to run or fight back. He surrenders himself to the guards. Jesus knows where this is headed: The cross. He also knows that by the shedding of his blood (like an Old Testament sacrifice as by prescribed by God), Jesus will be able to forgive the world of its sin.

All of a sudden, Peter (Rocky) grabs a sword and decides to fight to the death to protect Jesus. He lunges at the closest target, a man named Malchus who is the High Priest’s servant.

I get it, Peter loves Jesus. However, it is a little ironic for Peter to resort to violence to protect the guy who said, “love your enemy.” I can just imagine Peter yelling, “I’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt the Prince of Peace.”

What does Jesus say to him? “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26:52 He was reminding Peter that a person reaps what they sow.

What a mess! Judas betrays, Peter resorts to extreme violence and the rest of the disciples run away. Everyone around Jesus drops the ball.

This is more than a moment in history. This is a story about us. We are those disciples. We too, fail in our faith. Sometimes we betray Jesus by our selfishness, other times we resort to being judgmental to protect Jesus and the gospel message. Sometimes we just walk away. This is a snapshot of us.

It is really hard for me to shake at my head at the situation because the sins of the disciples are our sins too.

Where does that leave us? We must decide which path to take after we go our own way.

All the disciples, especially Judas and Peter are full of regret but the path they choose from this point on is vastly different.

Judas turns inward. He isolates himself from others after he realizes that he cannot fix the problem he caused.

  When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 

 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-5

 Judas saw himself as unforgivable, un-redeemable, beyond the grace of God. Judas closed himself off from everyone and his story ended tragically.

Peter and the rest of the disciples did not follow the path of Judas. Like Judas, they were full of regret and shame but they did not isolate themselves from each other. They stuck together even though they had no idea what would happen to Jesus on Easter morning.

Sin can have devastating effects on our psyche if we don’t stick together.

I quoted this verse from Isaiah 1:18-20 on Wednesday…
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.

There is a promise for those who want to be “washed clean” of sin and a promise for those who don’t. We see these two outcomes in the story of Jesus’ disciples. It was clear that Jesus didn’t want Peter to “die by the sword” or be devoured by it.

I choose to be as white as snow and stay connected to you and to Jesus.

That is why I make a spiritual pilgrimage to the cross every year. Let’s go together and be made new.

God bless,

Pr. Ben

Article: Relevant

I attended a meeting a couple of weeks ago. That in itself is not odd, I have meetings every day. However, this meeting consisted of Lutheran pastors. We spent time talking about what is happening in our congregations. As this discussion progressed I discovered that two churches are close to closing and two other churches are a few years away from that same reality if things continue the way they have been.

Don’t ask me who or which churches, I won’t tell you. That is not for me to share without gossiping. This gave me pause because this is close to “home.” This is more than a national trend, this is local.  Then I had a second thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Some believe it is a proverb and others connect that phrase to 1Corinthians 15:10. Either way, it is a recognition that others’ misfortune could be one’s own.

In other words, no church is immune to closing and the smaller churches that have struggled are the “canary in the coal mine.” An allusion to caged canaries that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

What I am about to say has nothing to do with the churches vaguely mentioned above. This is a reflection on the state of the church in general… Are we relevant? Are we engaging people in a meaningful way? I am sure if you are reading this, your answer would be “yes.” After all, you belong to the church and are reading this pastor’s musings. I can’t help but wonder at times, are we a dying breed?

Ultimately, I know the answer to this question. We are not a dying breed because Jesus promised that “the gates of Hades will not overcome” the Church. In other words, the Church will endure but some churches will not. This goes back to relevance and how do we be relevant to the community and not to just to us insiders?

Briefly, I think there are two things we should be thinking about: The Holy Spirit and those around you.

People are drawn to churches where they experience or encounter God. When people encounter God in worship you may not be able to explain it, but you know that God showed up. It is the Holy Spirit of God that touches our heart when we are open to and seeking a connection with God in our worship.

On a Sunday morning, I don’t want to entertain you, I want you to experience the presence of God through the things we do at our time of worship. I don’t want you to be wowed so much as I want you to be in awe that we spent time with God when we worshipped. This has more to do with the conditions of our hearts than it does with the things we do at worship.

However, when people experience God in worship, they know it and they want others to experience that… which leads me to my second point, those around you.

Any more the people in our church is our own personal neighborhood. We might know our actual neighbors or we might not—but we do know the people we worship with. The church is the 21st century version of a neighborhood. We may never connect with our physical neighbors but we do connect with each other at church and there is always room for one more.

When I think the first two core values of Bethel (Hospitality and Christ Centered Community) it just occurred to me that that not only should we invite and welcome people from all walks of life to Bethel, but we also should invite and welcome the Holy Spirit every week into our hearts and into our worship of God. We value Christ Centered Community! Let us intentionally invite God into our worship every week the same way we welcome guests.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Article: How Does Lent Feel?

How does Lent feel so far? Some of you know, it is my favorite season. One of the reasons I like Lent so much is the reflective nature of these forty days. But I also really enjoy the gatherings on Wednesday evenings. Being a life-long Lutheran, I can’t remember a time that my Wednesday evenings during Lent were not spent at church. That’s been my life and I love it.

I also should also say that soup is the only meal I’ve had at a Lenten supper in my entire life. No Lenten BBQ rib nights for me. Soup is simple and it is filling, just like Lent. The journey of Lent is simple and filling.

No, I don’t give up anything for Lent, but I do add something. Time with whoever wants to gather on Wednesday night to be filled physically and spiritually.

It is the embodiment of Jesus’ teaching when he told us to love God and love people. That happens whenever gather as a church, but there is an intimacy when we gather around dinner tables and share our lives before we worship in a simple yet profound way.

When I am in the presence of Christians (and Jesus too), I am the best version of myself. Brothers and sisters in Christ bring out the best in me. The Spirit of God is always strongest when it is surrounded by others with the same Spirit.

I was just thinking about the story of the “Woman at the Well” in John 4. After her brief conversation with Jesus, she goes back into town and tells the people to come with her to meet him because, “He told me everything I have ever done.” John 4:39

I find great comfort in that sentence. Jesus knows me better than I know myself—the good, bad and ugly. Yet, he loves me more than I can possibly imagine. The woman who uttered those words realized that too, even though Jesus revealed her checkered past and present. I can imagine this woman thinking to herself, “This man knows everything about me and he doesn’t judge me.” That is good news!

Maybe that is why I resonate with Lent. As we journey toward the cross, I know that Jesus doesn’t judge me and I get to be reminded of that when I gather with my friends on Wednesdays and on Sundays.

If you haven’t come yet to a Wednesday night soup supper and worship yet, please come. You will be blessed.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

Article: Jesus is Extremely Clear

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”- Jesus (Matthew 22:39)

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” –Jesus (Matthew 7:12)

I know that you know these verses. I also know that some of you are tired of me talking about one them. If you are one of those people, I promise you I will stop talking and writing about these verses as soon as I figure out how to do them. This may be more of a reminder to me than to you.

The first verse comes from “The Great Commandment” in Matthew 22. A teacher of the Law asked Jesus the most important teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbor.”

The second verse comes from the greatest sermon ever preached, “The Sermon on the Mount.” Most Christians refer to this verse as “The Golden Rule.” I was curious as to why it is called “The Golden Rule” and I discovered that the phrase was coined by an Anglican pastor from the 1600s. The name stuck.

One might think that Jesus was originator of the verse but he was not. Variations of this phrase predate Jesus. For example, a parchment from Ancient Egypt states, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” That parchment dates to around 600BC.

Do not let that upset you. Just because Jesus didn’t say it first doesn’t mean Jesus was plagiarizing. He affirms that these words hold spiritual truth. Clearly, God sprinkled this eternal teaching among the nations of the world at different times. Jesus affirms that this teaching reflects the heart of God.

What surprises me is that Jesus tells us (in both verses quoted above) that the entirety of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) can be summed up in these two verses. Jesus does not say that about any of his other teachings. Jesus gives us an early version of “Cliffs Notes!” (I may or may not have used “Cliffs Notes” once in college but never in seminary!)

Jesus tells us to treat people the way we want to be treated. That’s straightforward enough. Yet the prevailing mindset is “do unto others before they do it unto you.” That’s not what he said! Everything that the Law of Moses teaches and the prophets preached point to this reality: be good to each other- but do not let that action be dependent upon the other person. No “quid pro quo” allowed!

Just in case we didn’t understand Jesus’ intention in “The Golden Rule” he comes back to this again when he tells us we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Once again, Jesus says that this is a summary of the Law and the prophets (the Old Testament). When Jesus tells us to “love” we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of love are you talking about Jesus?” (Ask this question out loud right now.) I am glad you asked!

We only have one word for love. The ancient Greek (the New Testament was written in Greek) had four different words for love depending upon the relationship. The love mentioned here is unconditional love. The kind of love that sees beyond the outer surface and overlooks faults, blemishes and shortcomings. This kind of love is all about sacrifice as well as giving and expecting nothing in return.

That doesn’t mean we allow people to use us as a doormat or that we can’t set healthy relational boundaries. It does mean that we should be loving when we need to do such things.

Yes, unconditional love is a hard thing especially when we do not agree with a person or when their attitude and actions are less than admirable. Let us not forget that Jesus does this every day. His unconditional love is what allow us to be the children of God.

God bless,
Pr. Ben