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  • Writer's pictureNorthminster Church

"The Gold Standard" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

February 12, 2023

Matthew 7:1-14 & 24-29

I.Intro - Golden Rule Experiment


-Economists from the universities of York, St Andrews, and Lancaster

-But do people stick to the teaching of the Golden Rule when there are financial consequences to their actions?

- Researchers invited 300 students in total to the lab

-asked each of them to make a series of decisions regarding splitting a set amount of money between themselves and another anonymous person in the room.

-each person could offer the other person anything from zero to the full amount in whole pounds

-if the other person said “yes” to the offer, both parties received that amount of money in the proposed way.

-But the other person rejected the offer, and neither person got any money.

-When told that the other person would see their offer approx. 93% said yes to the offers made to them.

-the researchers called this “Golden Rule Behaviour”

-When people were told the other person would not see their offer while making the decision to take it, “the percentage of Golden Rule behaviour dropped by nearly 20 per cent.”

-Researchers found that” among all the participants, those who took longer to decide how to split the money are more likely to stray from the Golden Rule.”

-Took enough research classes as a social work student to know that one experiment isn’t enough to determine anything concrete about the proposed thesis: does money affect the universally accepted standard of doing unto others?

-Is interesting to consider as this rule is found in some form in many religions and ethical systems

-positive and negative forms

Transition: Also interesting as commentator Timothy B. Cargall notes The Golden Rule is often disconnected with the New Testament because “it has become for many people nothing more than a statement of the need for basic politeness. It ranks right there with your grandparents’ advice: ‘If you cannot say something nice about someone, then do not say anything at all.”

-Or as my high school Band Director put it: “If you can’t say something nice, wait until you get on the bus.”

II. Two problems with our use of The Golden Rule

-the first: when it is understood only through a cultural or individual lens

-as in, be kind so that you can feel good about yourself

-or be kind so that your particular world is a better place

-can easily become a form of narcissism

-” What I consider good for me becomes the measure of what is good for all.”

-Second problem: when we make The Golden Rule cultural or individual, we don’t read Jesus’ full statement

Reminder: This is our third and final week in the Sermon on the Mount which spans Matthew 5, 6 and 7. So far we’ve covered the Beatitudes, being salt and light, and last week we heard Jesus' words about not worrying and where and how to store the things that truly matter.

-Final chapter of Jesus’ longest sermon is jam-packed.

-We’ll circle back to The Golden Rule in a moment, but first we need to go through some of these other verses

III. Exegesis

-Even if you didn’t grow up in church you’ve heard not to judge others “lest you be judged”

-favorite line of every guilty pastor who gets caught doing something abusive

-we treat this command from Jesus casually in everyday conversation

-but did you know the “you” in verse 3 is plural?

-Better reading:Why do y’all see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in y’alls own eye?”

-Jesus' point being that this judgmental focus tends to be communal and it’s always tempting to pick at other groups or communities, particularly when they have problems, rather than deal with our own.

-Jesus is not saying there’s never a place or reason for judgment. Not a free-for-all. Not that everything is acceptable, and no one is ever in the wrong.

-Rather: Make sure your house, your community, your folks are on the right path before you call someone else out.

-Dr. Robert Williamson: the unspoken hope being that “by the time we deal with our own issues we’re predisposed to be more understanding of others because we know how hard the work is.”

Now, these verses about judgment are tied to verse 6 about holy things but I have to admit

-musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

-one of my favorite movies as a kid, though now I see it for the misogynistic nightmare it is. Music great, dancing great. Treatment of women is terrible.

-verse is quoted from the KJV and it always confused me!

-let me explain: the holy things given to dogs is likely meat from a sacrifice at Temple.

-sometimes there was leftover meat people could take home and eat.

-seen as a blessing.

-dogs not discerning enough to appreciate this

-pearls before swine is similar

-pigs won’t care if they’re walking over something so valuable, if they’re hungry they’re run over anything and maul you in the process

-So, Jesus is telling us not to give things to folks who won’t or can’t appreciate them

-don’t entrust the important or tender parts of yourself to someone who doesn’t care. Who can’t appreciate your trust.

Again: Not don’t ever judge but be discerning.

-Verses 7 through 11 are primarily about prayer and choosing to live a kingdom life, specifically that such a life “doesn’t mean you won’t suffer or struggle, but…means you belong to something bigger than you.”

-Here’s where we come back to The Golden Rule

-not clear in all translations but this is a “therefore” statement in Greek

-Jesus shorthand for “a follow up to what’s come before”

-God has given you good things, and God gives you a community with whom to live life, therefore treat those things and people as you’d like to be treated

-”The way in which God provides for God’s people is through a community that looks out for each other. God works in community.”

IV. The Golden Rule in community

-So, we must continue to read the entirety of words around The Golden Rule which are: “for this is the law and the prophets”

-In other words, what Jesus is emphasizing is “that we recognize what is holy by its value not primarily to us, but to God. If what I desire for myself is founded upon the sacredness and value God places in people” and recognizing the blessings of life, “so they are not abused…then I will have removed my personal desires from being the sole or even the determining standard for my actions.”

-And as we’ve established God works in community, that means that God desires for us to live in community, and therefore The Golden Rule is best understood in a community.

V. Illustration

-Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist - researchers who study “religious/moral attitudes of contemporary American youth…”

-Their study Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers “found that one core belief of young people was that ‘God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

-Coupled with the conviction that “the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

-In reflecting on this research commentator Ross Douthat noted, “when contentment becomes an end unto itself, the way that human contents express themselves can look an awful lot like vanity and decadence.”

-In other words, when we’re good to others only so that we can become better people, when we’re fair to others to make ourselves feel good, when we’re kind because it makes us happy, we’ve made The Golden Rule about us. We’ve made a communal command something it wasn’t supposed to be.

VI. The Good News

-For the Golden Rule to function as Jesus intended rather than being nothing more than good manners we must locate it “in the law and prophets.”

-We must understand that God’s justice is what defines true faith and that this justice can only exist in communities where it “is extended to all by all.”

-We must understand that “the law and prophets” in Matthew is not just associated with justice “but also with the fundamental commands to love God and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22

-the Good News and challenge: The Golden Rule is grounded in love, meaning it’s “an affirmative demand placed upon us.”

-In other words, it’s not about avoiding “doing things that we would find objectionable if directed at us. We have an obligation to act with love towards others ‘in everything.’”

-In understanding The Golden Rule as more than an ethical principle we can hold on to it, dig our hands into it, and ground ourselves in it as “an aid in helping love become concrete…”

-As with all of Jesus’ teachings The Golden Rule “requires more than simple politeness.” -It’s a foundational way to understand justice, it’s a way of building a foundation that’s focused on others, and it’s one of the many ways we can respond to God’s immense love for us.

-Loving God and loving others in response to God’s love for us isn’t just a golden rule, it’s the gold standard.

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