02/20/2022 ~ Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Known in Some Traditions as the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 2 ) ~ Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38~ THE VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE IS HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3MldggUlx8.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” — Luke 6:31
When I was at Bangor Seminary the background of an adjunct professor, Dana Sawyer, was interesting. A member of the Penobscot Tribe who grew up near Old Town, he had a Ph.D. in Far Eastern Religion.
Having visited the Far East numerous times he decided to return to Maine and teach. At Bangor he, appropriately, taught World Religions.
He claimed the religion most practiced in America and most practiced world wide was what he labeled as shamanism, perhaps better categorized as folk religion or cultural religion. I could spend an hour unpacking that— don’t worry; I won’t.
The American example he used is Fundamentalism. He said it is a folk religion because Fundamentalism has absolutely no basis in historic Christianity and began to be practiced only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Following the Civil War, tensions developed among Christians in America. Why? Scholarly Biblical criticism, a kind of Scriptural study practiced for at least a millennia, started to be seen by some as encouraging social and cultural change. Just this encouragement toward change was unacceptable to some.
Funded by a Gilded Age oil baron who wanted to resist social change because of his social location, a series of papers known as The Fundamentals was published in Los Angeles between 1910 and 1915. Christianity had never seen anything like organized Fundamentalism before. And it was organized by big money.
In short, Fundamentalism is not ancient. It is a little more than 100 years old and largely an American idea. Further it is not a theological reevaluation of Christianity. It is a social, cultural movement. Its mission is to resist change in society.
I am not saying people who follow Fundamentalism are insincere in their belief. I am saying the movement itself stems from social, cultural origins and is recent. The Christianity I know cannot be labeled as folk religion or cultural religion as it is not based on a recent cultural, social trends and is theological in its basis. (Slight pause.)
My father taught at a Jesuit High School so I sometimes say I have Jesuit training. But I was never in a classroom or taught by Jesuit priests. Rather, they were my friends.
Jesuits came to family parties. I went on trips with them. When I was young they staffed the Summer camp I attended. I played softball and basketball with Jesuits.
Question: Most of the time how do we really learn, learn about life, learn how to behave, learn how life should be lived? We learn from family and from family friends.
Any competent teacher will tell you a lot of learning happens outside the classroom. When Jesuits are your friends you are influenced by their thinking. You learn from it.
Now, every ten years the Jesuit order publishes a list of four priorities, the mission for the order over the next ten years. They recently published a new list.
First, “Show the way to God through discernment and… Spiritual Exercises.” Next, “Walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice.” Third, “Accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.” Last, “Collaborate in the care of the earth, our common home.” (Slight pause.)
We find this being spoken by the Christ in the work known as Luke/Acts in the portion called Luke: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Slight pause)
The quote you just heard is often called The Golden Rule. It is found in many faith traditions, in many social traditions, in many cultures. (Slight pause.)
Now, you may be aware I had what might be called multiple careers before seminary. One piece was a stint of several years working on Wall Street.
Do you know what The Golden Rule on Wall Street is? (Slight pause.) Those who have the gold make the rules. Its corollary is those who have power hoard power. Another corollary: Those who dominate strive to perpetuate dominance.
These are cultural, secular golden rules, not often voiced but very real. The question for us here is simple: are we too often overwhelmed by the culture and thereby, perhaps unknowingly, follow cultural, secular golden rules like these? (Slight pause.)
Occasionally someone will say to me there are liberal interpretations of the Bible. Others will insist there are conservative interpretations. Nether position is accurate.
What I am about to say is neither liberal nor conservative. The challenges to understanding with which Scripture presents us as we explore God’s Word and seek God’s will are multiple. This is a vital one: we need to identify the cultural trappings we find in Scripture which are solely based on the era in which Scripture was written.
That is not easy. After all, the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, contain at least four different documents written over the course of a number centuries then woven together around the Sixth Century Before the Common Era.
But they appear to someone who reads the text only in translation and not in the original language to be one, single, singular, seamless document. If you’re reading in the original language the differences in language from era to era become more evident.
These documents, woven together as one, written in different eras, need to be unpacked to explore the cultural content of the era in which each was written. All that is to say, not only do we need to identify the cultural, social content. As well as we can we need to try to neutralize the cultural, social content of the era as we seek the will of God.
But there is another similar challenge. What does our culture, today, say to us? You see, to identify what our culture today says, to identify its influence on us, maybe an even harder task than looking at the ancient cultures found in the Scriptural text.
Why? We are living in and with our own culture. We are so immersed in our culture it is second nature to us to the point where sometimes we do not even notice it.
And just like we should strive to identify cultural practices in ancient times when we read Scripture and eliminate those, we need to try to identify today’s cultural trends and neutralize those. Having done all that then we should ask some key questions. ‘What is God saying?’ ‘To where does God call us?’ ‘To where does God call the church?’ (Slight pause.)
Let me return to my friends the Jesuits. You probably know Pope Francis is a Jesuit. Just two weeks ago he was interviewed by a primetime Italian talk show.  This is what he said (quote:): “…to be forgiven is a human right.” (Slight pause.)
Do me a favor. Roll that idea around in your brain. To be forgiven is a human right. If there ever was a counter-cultural idea, that’s it! Christianity is not about a past culture. Christianity is not about the current culture. Christianity is about a way of life which walks with God.
Perhaps the idea behind studying Scripture is to strive, as well as we are able, to see the world as God sees the world. How does God see the world? (Slight pause.)
I think just one of the things Jesus taught about how God sees the world is this: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That, my friends, is not just the golden rule. That is a counter-cultural idea since those words are not about human culture. Those words are about God’s culture. Amen.
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I do not know if I have used this quote from Maya Angelou here before but even if I have used it this is a quote worth repeating. (Quote:) ‘I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it, which means that I try to be kind and fair and generous and respectful and courteous to every human being.’”
BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace. God reigns. Therefore, let us go forth in the name of Christ proclaiming the peace of God which surpasses understanding. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the presence of Christ be with us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.