Monday, December 29, 2014

We're All In This Together -

Sermon given on 12/28/14

We Are All In This Together

In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life.

Compassion is the new fashion –

I love folk, bluegrass, and old-time gospel music. Rhonda Vincent, a bluegrass and gospel musician sings, “There are many people who will say they’re Christians and they live like Christians on the Sabbath day. But come Monday morning till the coming Sunday they will fight their neighbor all along the way. Well you don’t love God if you don’t love your neighbor. If you gossip about him, if you never have mercy, if he gets into trouble and you don’t try to help him, then you don’t love your neighbor and you don’t love God.”

Regardless of one’s race, religion, gender, or proximity, we are all neighbors. This does not mean just the person who lives next door or the person whose office is next to yours, but also anyone you interact with on an ongoing basis. The ASL sign for neighbor is: “Near – Person,” neighbor, or the person in close proximity to you. This means your mail carrier, the cashier at Target, the boy who mows your lawn, or the person sitting next to you on the bus or at the theater, the woman who cleans your business.

One’s neighbor also includes anyone beaten down and left by the roadside – be they homeless, destitute, hungry, or sick – whether that’s physically or emotionally. It can be easy to judge those with obvious weaknesses and speculate about all of the mistakes they have made in their lives which have brought them to this point of weakness. Administering justice, in this sense, is often what we are inclined do.
I suggest that rather than judge others and seek justice, we should show mercy and minister to, or serve, others.


All religions, all cultures have what Christians call the 2nd commandment (1st, Love thy God, and the 2nd is likened unto it): Love thy neighbor as thyself (Matt. 22:39). In more secular terms this is known as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Or – today, the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. Regardless, the Golden Rule is known for its: Simplicity – easy to understand, not as easy to live. Greatness is matched by the difficulty in living it. Universality – what is it that attracts people of all cultures? It speaks to the goodness in all of us, and it inspires us and challenges us to be this type of person every day. Power – ability to summarize a large body of moral teaching, in very few words. (Paul McKenna)

Our greatest blessings and deepest joys can come from helping others, from opening our hearts to others. While it is true we serve those we love, we can also love those we serve.

Some folks still believe that they can cheat, lie, or steal from others without hurting themselves in the process. The problem is that none of us can ever truly get ahead by stepping on others. The fastest way to become successful – by any real measure of success – is to serve others. Even for those of us who understand this principle, perfectly, it’s still a good idea to reflect and recognize this now and then, so self-defeating selfishness doesn’t creep into our lives.

An elderly man watched his wife, of more than 40 years, go blind. She had always liked to look nice, from her hair to her attire to her nails. One day her husband noticed her nails were chipped. He knew if she tipped her head correctly she would see this chipping and be embarrassed. So, he painted her nails. A brother who had a long-standing disagreement with his younger sister, one day noticed tears in her eyes. He put his pride aside, swallowed, and asked her what was wrong. This gesture, this selfless moment, began a renewal of their friendship. A son, upon seeing his aging father for the first time in a year, realized that he was not much younger than his father was, when the son was a “handful.” And in that realization the son saw his father’s strictness for love, and amends were made.

Many of us yearn for experiences like this, for opportunities such as these. Even when we make mistakes we hope others will love us in spite of our shortcomings – in spite of ourselves – even when we don’t deserve it.

The measure of a man is not on the greatness of his soul, but on his reaching out, in love, to those around him.

Poem: Abou Ben Adhem, James Henry Leigh Hunt

(The name derives from Ibrahim ibn Adham, taken from the poem Abou Ben (son or daughter of) Adhem by James Henry Leigh Hunt; 1834, Poet was 50 years old.) Abou Ben Adhem was a Muslim mystic, or Sufi, in Persia who was venerated as a saint after his death (circa AD 777). Writers of English-language religion and history books usually refer to him as Ibrahim ibn (or bin) Adham. Like the famous Roman Catholic ascetic, Saint Francis of Assisi, Ibrahim ibn Adham gave up a life of luxury in exchange for a simple life devoted to his fellow man and to God. Ibrahim's description of the moment of his conversion to a new lifestyle appears in Tabaqat al-Sufiya, a book about Sufism by Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, who died in AD 1021.
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:— 
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Love, the Golden Mean, these are the beginnings, the middles, and the ends of being “more” than just ourselves. Love comforts, counsels, cures, consoles, It leads us through valleys of darkness, and can lead us to the glory and grandeur of a higher life. When one man was asked why he had so many friends, and how he retained and remembered them, answered, “It is because I possess the principle of love.” (Joseph Smith)

We are taught that charity is the pure love of Christ. We are not to judge unrighteously – or sentence someone based on our own preconceived notions of their wrong-doings – who, what, where, how, and why – this is for the courts – both heavenly and earthly, as we see in Psalm 89:14: Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face,” but to show mercy – I’m so sorry; I may not understand how you got where you are, but how can I help? This is where we can follow Christ’s admonition to Come, follow me. Not come follow me as a demand, but Come, a request, with a comma or a pause for us to get close enough that we can then follow Him. 

Jesus taught and then set the example for following Him. His traits included: love, meekness, humility, compassion, longing for righteousness, being prayerful, merciful, and pure in heart. We are told, by example, to forgive everyone, to love our enemies, to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. Not that justice is never shown, but that mercy can often highlighted. God mercifully provided us with a Savior, but He will also judge His people. A Civil Right saying suggests we, “Pursue justice, show mercy.”

When we move through life releasing judgments and looking beyond appearances, we begin to appreciate others in a new way. It doesn’t mean we will suddenly, nor should we, like everyone, but it does mean we can see the goodness. My prayer is that we don’t wait until a crisis, divorce, broken ribs, a car accident, a move, a birth or death, or a sign-up list, to become aware of who our neighbors are and how we can best serve them, mercifully. I believe if we take the phrase, “Come, follow me,” as literal direction. LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said, “One cannot be merciful to others without receiving a harvest of mercy in return.” Remember, if you don’t love your neighbor, then you don’t love God.

Albert Einstein said, “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Affirmation: Today, I release all judgments. I accept that we are all different, yet all divine. I know every time I look into the eyes of another I am seeing God expressing.

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