Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Golden Rule

We like rules. We like to know what's expected in a complicated and messy life. Unfortunately, rules have a tendency to multiply exponentially: sometimes because they aren't always fair without caveats, and sometimes because we want all sorts of exceptions and loopholes. The rules themselves become complicated and messy, as those of us who do our own taxes know all too well!

Messy rules are not new. Just think how God gave His chosen people ten rules on stone tablets, and then He had to add a whole bunch more rules because applying those ten to real-world situations got complicated. What about how the Israelites needed to treat slaves? Cut their hair? Punish adulterers? Boil their meat? Divide their year?

Over time, rules multiplied, and keeping track of them all became a burden, not a blessing.

There are two signs of broken human systems...when the rules are never followed and when they are followed rigidly to the letter. Chaos arises from the first and cruelty from the second. We need the structure that rules give us as a culture and nation, but we also need to deploy checks and balances on that structure so that its rules don't become oppressive.

Recently, I realized just how hurt my son has been by the rules imposed by the Ohio State Board of Education. New rules, new curriculum, new testing.... Jack and other children with disabilities are getting lost in the chaos of it all. So many rules that apply fairly to typical students just don't work for children who have special needs, and the end result is that disabled students don't have a pathway to graduation in the state of Ohio right now.

When the rules become more important than people, bad things happen to the least of us.

Throughout Jesus' ministry, he faced a Jewish leadership mired in rules and neglectful of the least of the people. The Pharisees were using the rules to keep people out, to privilege a few, to protect their power, to keep themselves pure. They'd forgotten why the rules existed in the first bless God's people in healthy, life-giving ways. After Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost and filled the disciples with power...not of the law but of the Spirit.

Being led by the Spirit doesn't mean there are no rules to follow; it means that the rules are not imposed from outside of us but arise from the Spirit dwelling in us, a Spirit of love and compassion.

Think about that for a minute. It's a big idea, and it leads us to question how we know when we are being led by the Spirit and when our own will or our cultural values are leading us. Discernment is so much harder since God stopped appearing to us in burning bushes or a giant cloud! Fortunately, Jesus, God-made-flesh, gave us a guideline to follow:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As a guide to behavior, this Golden Rule seem pretty straightforward. Would you want to be treated badly because of the color of your skin? Your religious affiliation? Your economic status? Your sexual orientation? Your tattoos? Your clothes?

So why do we treat others badly for these reasons?

Those prejudices have led and are still leading to violence and injustice in our own country and all over the world. And in religious practice today, too many Christians are guarding the temple doors like the Pharisees instead of inviting sinners in to participate in God's mercy and forgiveness.

In this season following Pentecost, let's reflect on ways we can make the rules we live by--from the laws of the land to the laws of our faith, family, and work--more Spirit-filled, more just, more reflective of God's kingdom of boundless love, mercy, compassion, and grace. Let us daily remind ourselves of the Golden Rule, and let the Spirit lead us accordingly.

For Reflection:
What unjust laws are you enforcing in your private life of work, family, friends, and church? Have you excluded someone or judged someone unfairly? Have you been on the receiving end of unjust rules that hurt you, made you pull away from God, or made you behave unjustly in return? How can you be a part of God's love in the world this week?

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