Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"We are the music of your life"

Message preached February 1, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Order of Worship

            "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31, Matthew 7:12) Thatís what Jesus said. Is this not one of the very first lessons in ethics we learn as children raised in a Christian environment? Are these not, perhaps, some of the first words we memorize from the Bible? The saying makes sense even outside the context of faith and religion. "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

            Itís appropriate that we pick this message up at an early age, for young persons are not immune to violence. Contrary to popular opinion, children donít need to learn how to hurt someone else. It comes with the territory of "me" and "mine." You take my toy, and I will take it back, even if I have to bop you over the head to get it. And if I want something you possess, I donít have a clear set of boundaries yet. Therefore, it makes sense that I reach out and take what I want - again, even if I have to bop you over the head to get it. It takes a while to figure out that there are consequences to my actions.

            Thereís so many things to learn as a child. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" is, indeed, a very good place to start. This piece of wisdom begins the process called "empathy" - the realization that others have feelings just like I do. If I think about how I would like to be treated, how it feels - for instance - when others hurt me, and then wonder what someone else might feel in a similar situation, I start to empathize with them. Along the way, I treat them like I want to be treated.

            Of course, there is a downside to this teaching of Jesus, a reason why it is but the beginning of a process and not its conclusion. When my treatment of another is intimately connected with my own desire, with how "I" would like to be treated, the operative words are still "me" and "mine." Empathy at this level is what we might call "enlightened self-interest." Mind you, thatís not a bad thing. But is it where Jesus calls us to be?

            There are a few problems with letting this one saying of Jesus be our ethical compass. Let me repeat, it is a good motto to live by, but itís not all that Jesus had to say on the subject. One downside of doing to others as we would have them do to us, is that we can all-too-easily project our own feelings onto them. If I feel this way in relation to this action, then you must also feel this way. I thus place onto you my own thoughts and feelings, instead of listening to you, and hearing from your lips what you think and feel.

            Of course, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" does not exclude me from such listening, for if I (myself) want to be truly listened to, then I will seek to truly listen to you when I follow this saying of our Lord. But this is a half-step beyond simple "enlightened self-interest." The call of Jesus is to move beyond "me, myself, and I."

            Another downside of this motto - which, let me repeat, is a teaching we need to hold onto, not toss away - is that we can make how we have been treated in the past as the norm for how we should treat others now. This is a variation on the "weíve always done it this way" rule by which those of us in the church sometimes operate.

            For instance, George over here ("imagine" this person, Iím not referring to anyone you know - though if the shoe fits, wear it) grew up in the church really coming to appreciate the way worship was done when he was younger. The music, for instance, wasnít like the popular stuff he was hearing on the radio at the time. It was old-time gospel songs (or substitute a more classical style, if you wish). The expectation of the elders in his church was that George would come to love this style of worship. This was how he was treated growing up, and his elders loved him and they wanted the best for him, and he had come to see that this was how it should be.

            And then along comes a new batch of young people who want something a bit different when it comes to worship. Electric guitars! Drums! In church? Liturgical Dance! What is that? Not always using the hymnal? Words projected on a screen? Hands clapping? Bodies moving with the rhythm? Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe would roll over in their graves if they saw this! ... "Do to others as you would have them do to you," George thinks in response. If it was good enough for me growing up, then it should be good enough for them. I care about them, as my elders cared about me. I will treat them as I was treated. Thatís the way it should be...

            Mind you, I am not building a case for making any of the above changes in Georgeís church or ours. Itís just that doing to others as we would have them do to us - a marvelous ethical motto by which to live - can very easily become the same as the "weíve always done it this way" rule. As far as I can tell from my studies of the scriptures, Jesus never said, "weíve always done it this way."

            In fact, when it comes to brother Lukeís account of the story of Jesus, right after our Lord said "Do to others as you would have them do to you," he brought up that tricky word "love." I say "tricky" because Jesus had a different Ďtakeí on love, call it a God-centered perspective, not a "me, myself, and I" view. As soon as the golden rule was uttered by Jesus, according to Luke, he then started talking about loving people who might not see things as you see them, loving those who may not love you back. In fact, Jesus went on to say, "love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" (Luke 6:35).

            Man, donít you hate it when Jesus does that. You could say that the story of the Bible is about people not doing to God even as they would have done to themselves. And yet, God goes the second, the third, the fourth (etc.) mile. Remember Jonah? This Old Testament prophet ended up getting very angry at "the Most High; for he (the Lord was) kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" in Ninevah. They were Godís enemies, after all, but something happened along the way which really ticked Jonah off. God loved them anyway. And here Jesus wants us to be "children of the Most High," loving our enemies, doing them good ... expecting nothing in return.

            "Do to others as you would have them do to you" is, in reality, a beginning step along the Jesus way. Further down the road comes another memorable line, which moves us beyond "me, myself, and I." In Johnís gospel we find these words, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (John 13:34). Howís that for an ethical motto? Love one another as Christ has loved us. To be honest, I donít know if I can do that. Especially when people donít do to me as I would like. They donít have to be my sworn enemies, after all, for it to be difficult. Sometimes those closest to you are the hardest ones to love as Christ has loved us. I donít know if I can do it. You?

            Isnít that the point though? "I" canít. But Jesus has shifted things around. Itís not just about "me, myself, and I" any longer. Itís not merely a matter of enlightened self-interest. Itís about becoming "children of the Most High," living out of something greater. The apostle Paul called it "a still more excellent way," a greater gift (1 Corinthians 12:31). Saying that such love is a gift means that itís not about "me, myself, and I." Itís not about us. Itís about the One who gives the gifts, who places this impossible song of love upon our hearts. To love one another as Christ has loved us is to be pulled, sometimes kicking and screaming (remember Jonah), into something much bigger than you and I.

            I love that chapter in Paulís first letter to those contentious, aggravating, ornery, sometimes downright self-centered folks in the Corinthian church. I donít care what translation or paraphrase of it is read, I come away both minimized and enlarged all at the same time. I say "minimized" because it all seems so beyond my power to love like this. Itís an impossible ideal, isnít it? Who can love like that? I wonder how folks not connected to Christ hear those words. We read them at weddings and everyone smiles. Are they still smiling down the road when honeymoons end and real life begins? Thatís when this chapter starts to rub in the wrong way.

            "I canít do this," we scream when we reach our breaking point, when we discover an enemy who sleeps in the same bed. Whoa! Did I just say that? To be honest, though, marriage doesnít really begin until you reach that point, and move beyond it. Am I speaking the truth? Give me an "amen" if I am. Real love, not the counterfeit stuff, is about being minimized and then enlarged. Itís about going further than "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Itís about loving one another as Christ has loved us. Itís about becoming this song of love. To be honest, thatís going further than we often think is possible. But with God, all things are possible.

            In the 1995 film, Mr. Hollandís Opus, a musician by the name of Glenn Holland has a dream of being a composer. The only problem he faces, though, is that composing music is not a money-making proposition. So, he becomes a high school music teacher. There, he puts in his time. He does what he thinks is possible, just enough to get by, but his heart isnít in it. He clings tightly to his dream of composing. He hates the principal who challenges him to do more.

            This movie is about the education of an educator, a person who gradually shifted his life away from himself by putting his heart into his calling and by listening to his students. In the process, he became a good teacher - the favorite, in fact, of that principal he once hated. It wasnít easy. Never is. There were many disappointments along the way, like there always are in life. His dream of composing, after all, never materialized. When, at age 60, Mr. Hollandís position is eliminated due to budget cuts, he wonders if his life is a failure.

            In what some may call a "sappy" ending, his students down through the years then rally to his side. Speaking for them in a special assembly, a former student, now ĎGovernorí Gertrude Lang, says,

            "Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isnít rich and he isnít famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that heís achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life...."

            As I said, like many of you I love the song Paul sings in chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthians. Itís a tough symphony, though. There are days when I see myself as just a noisy gong or a clanging symbol, when all this love "stuff" seems so far beyond me. How about you? But still, the music calls. Along the way, impossible as it seems, God makes us his song of love. We are the melodies and the notes of the Spiritís opus. We are the music of Jesusí life. Amen?

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see 1 Corinthians.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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