Love your neighbor… and yourself

Sermon for Year A Proper 25
Matthew 22:34-46, NRSV

It would be great if human beings were great at being human,
And if all of humankind were made up of kind women and kind men.
It would be wonderful if common knowledge was knowledge commonly known,
And if the light from being enlightened into every heart was shined.
It would be glorious if neighbors were neighborly,
And indifference was a forgotten word.
It would be awesome if we shared everything
And being greedy was absurd.
It would be spectacular if the golden rule was golden to every man
And the good things that we ever did was everything that we ever can.


My friends, the golden rule, our Gospel Passage for today, is perhaps the Summation of our Christian Scripture, of Jesus’ mission and ministry here on earth.  These words are so crucial to God’s good news that this is the second time Jesus emphasized this so-called golden rule.  During his famous Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:12,  Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”  And then today’s, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a direct quote from the Old Testament, from Leviticus 19:18.  So I would reckon to guess that these are some of the most well-known verses of the Bible.  For the golden rule permeates our culture.

Just in google searching this phrase, I discovered the golden rule of driving, the golden rule of customer service, the golden rule of advertising, the golden rule of algebra, the golden rule of accounting, the golden rule of… well you get my drift.  Then on youtube there were four Tedtalks with “The Golden Rule” in their titles.  This is not counting how many times speakers cited the concept during their presentations.  Then during my husband’s weekly ritual of Friday night college football viewing,  I witnessed a Marriott commercial quoting this golden rule.  It was really quite beautifully worded:

“It would be great if human beings were great at being human,
And if all of humankind were made up of kind women and kind men.
It would be wonderful if common knowledge was knowledge commonly known,
And if the light from being enlightened into every heart was shined…”

Sound familiar?  Yes, the prayer at the beginning of this sermon was actually a poem from a Marriott advertisement—kicking off its new campaign entitled (yep you guessed it):  the “Golden Rule.”

So basically this golden rule is everywhere.  It saturates our society.  We all know it.  I assume we all believe it, and that we all try to follow it.  But even though we all know it, even though we all believe it, even though we all try to follow it, the Golden Rule isn’t that easy.  It isn’t that effortless.  It isn’t that simple.  I myself get really frustrated when I read this Gospel passage.  It is not because I disagree with the theology, but the older I get the more I realize this idealistic treatment of one another is actually really difficult to achieve (even if at first glance it seems so straightforward).

Yet Jesus could have fooled me in how smooth his answer was for such a complicated question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus has somehow laid out in front of us all of sacred Scripture summarized  into a couple of simple statements—the two greatest of the commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

But as much as this passage permeates our culture, I find that there is still so much conflict, still so much injustice, still so much pain caused by fellow human beings.  Neighbors across Lake Tahoe suffering from skyrocketing housing prices and food insecurity.  Neighbors from around our nation failing to converse across the political divide.  Neighbors across our world fleeing from civil war ravaging their countries.  In numerous circumstances such as these, a golden age to stem from such a golden rule seems so unattainable, seems so far-off, seems so elusive no matter who we consider to be our neighbor.

So what hasn’t been sinking in?  Why hasn’t this Scripture saturated our societal soul?  While processing and ingesting these two greatest commandments—the love of God with all of our being and the love of neighbor as ourselves—we forget there are more than two parties in need of our love (not solely love of God and of neighbor).  We entirely forget the third member of the equation in need of love: that seemingly obvious yet anonymous “you” in the verse.  If we can even begin to understand “love your neighbor as yourself,” we first have to understand how to love ourselves.

For if we don’t love ourselves, if we continue to ignore our own brokenness, our own wounds, our own pain, we continue hurting our neighbor as we ourselves have been hurt.  Author Parker Palmer comments on this knowledge of self constantly in his writings.  To quote him: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what to do with our suffering.”  If we ignore the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse we have experienced throughout our lifetimes, it only percolates below the surface of the societal masks we’ve learned to wear so well, until our own suffering lashes out at those around us—our own brokenness breaking the hearts of those we supposedly love.

So if we forget the third member in the equation of the two greatest commandments—if we forget to love ourselves in the process—, then we will never truly grasp what it means to love another, to love our neighbor.

This is not to say that God requires us to be selfish, or narcissistic, or vain individuals.  No, not at all!  This kind of love of self is not self-centeredness but self-acceptance.  And this self-acceptance is something that has yet to sink in within our society (as much as we think we understand that beautiful golden rule).  Instead we live in a world that denigrates ourselves, and then in turn we denigrate our neighbors.  We live in a society where we are not smart enough, or rich enough, or successful enough, or beautiful enough, or fit enough, or young enough, or old enough, and the list just goes on and on and on…. We live in a culture of comparison and competition.  We live in a world that tells us to be someone we are not; someone contrarying to whom God created us to be; someone who will attempt to live up to all of these ridiculous societal expectations and yet will fall drastically short.  So we then learn to (or can’t help but) take out on our neighbor our own deep and underlying disappointment and shame.  Making him or her feel all the pain we ourselves are experiencing.

But thanks be to God, the converse of this situation could also be true.

Friends, we as a people, we gotta be kind to ourselves, be compassionate with ourselves, be accepting of ourselves if we ever expect to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We gotta wrap our heads around the idea that God wants each and every one of us just as we are.  God wants us to live a whole, integrated, undivided life.  God wants to use both our gifts and our limitations to reach out to our neighbors.  God wants to use our truest selves to spread that divine unconditional love to all of God’s children.  We gotta let it sink deep into our souls that this golden rule (that we all know so well) will shine forth from the inside out, encompassing every corner of our globe, when we love, and honor, and cultivate the treasure of the image and likeness of God found within ourselves.

Only then will our deep gladness begin to meet the world’s deep need.  Only then will humankind be made up of kind women and kind men.  Only then can we commence that golden age where every human being will be able to love one another.


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