Sunday’s sermon: Do Unto Others …

Text used – Matthew 7:1-12

  • I want to read a little bit of an article for you this morning. It’s an article that originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of INSIGHT magazine – the publication for the Chicago School of Professional Psychology – and was updated for publication on their website in 2016.
    • Title: “A Virtual Life: How Social Media Changes Our Perceptions”[1] – READ first few paragraphs (up to subheading “The Unreal World”) → Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I use social media all the time, both for myself and for church things.
      • Church side:
        • How we get the word out about events (Trunk or Treat, Christmas Cookie Sale, etc.)
        • Way to keep in touch with members/friends who have moved away or are gone for a season
        • Fun way to interact with one another for various liturgical purposes → e.g.: Lenten Photo Challenge
        • Obviously streaming our service on social media right now!
      • Personal side:
        • Keeping in touch with friends and family members → My aunts and uncles are spread all across the country, so social media is the way they keep up with my kids and my family.
        • Sense of community
    • And yet, despite all those reasons that we use social media, we cannot deny that the expectation … the showmanship … the judgmentalism … the pressure placed on individuals by social media can be toxic.
      • Recent phenomenon that has surface in the last 5 yrs. or so → people seeking plastic surgery to make their “real” face look more like any number of filters you can find in social media apps
        • “Filters,” for those unfamiliar, are appearance-altering digital image effects used on social media
          • Some simply change the coloring of an image (make it black and white, sepia toned, etc.)
          • Some add silly things like puppy ears or Darth Vader’s head to your image
          • Some alter the look of your face just slightly – bigger eyes, softer skin, poutier lips, etc.
        • Phenomenon has become so common it actually has a name: Snapchat Dysmorhpia[2]
    • All of this speaks volumes about the way that social media expectations have taken over our society. As Kenneth Gergen said (referenced in that article we read): “I am linked, therefore I am.” And yet with the social silos – the opinion echochambers – that social media creates, we have also become a society that surrounds ourselves with only the information that agrees with what we believe … that enforces our already-held beliefs (whether they’re based on facts or misrepresentations) … that “prove” to us that whatever we’re shouting about, whatever we’re anxious about, whatever we fear must be right “because I found it on the internet.” Because of our social media silos, we have become more insulated, more segmented, more disconnected than ever before. If ever there was a time when we needed to hear anew Jesus’ words from this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, friends, it is now.
  • Seems like a pretty straightforward list of commands
    • 1: Don’t judge.
    • 7: Ask, and you will receive.
    • Finished off roundly with v. 12 – the Golden Rule: Treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you.
    • But if they’re all such straightforward, “easy” things, why are we still struggling with them more than 2000 yrs. later?
      • Short answer: Because being human is hard. It was hard then. It’s hard now. And while some of the things that make it hard have certainly changed – we don’t have to worry about Roman conquerors crucifying us for stirring up trouble, they didn’t have to worry about the negative effects of social media on an entire population … truly, while some things have changed, there are still some things about being human that were just as hard back then as they are today, and I think the biggest one is the most obvious: it’s hard being human together. → need for community is an inherent part of us
        • Seek out people who are like us in some way – look like us, think like us, interested in same things we’re interested in, etc. → The vast array of extracurricular activities available at any high school or college is the perfect example of this.
          • My alma mater, UWEC (talked about a few weeks ago): campus of 10,000 students has 200+ student organizations → everything from fraternities and sororities to curling club, from mock trial to drone club, from faith-based groups to cultural associations, and more!
          • We seek out people who have things in common with us because as human beings we crave community – we crave that hit of oxytocin released by our brains when we’re with people we enjoy, friends and family.
        • And yet there are truly no crueler things done on this earth than the things that human beings do to one another, are there? Jesus knew that. Jesus knew that being human wasn’t easy.
          • If we follow the theology of John’s gospel – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word, nothing came into being.”[3]then Jesus knew that being human wasn’t easy from the very beginning … before even taking on the mantle of humanity in the incarnation, Jesus knew things were going to be hard. But he came anyway.
          • Even if we just take the years of life that Jesus had already lived before speaking these words during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had lived plenty. He would have seen … would have experienced … would have understood just how hard life could be. But he taught anyway. → tried to teach the people a better way to be humans together
  • So let’s take a deeper look at that seemingly-straightforward list.
    • First portion = about judgment and hypocrisy – Jesus’ famous words about being preoccupied with the splinter in your sibling’s eye while ignoring the log in your own → It’s so easy for us to point out the flaws in other people, isn’t it? We see so clearly the ways they’re messing up … the ways they’re misunderstanding … the ways that they could “so easily” improve. And yet, as the old adage goes, when you’re pointing one finger at someone else, there are always three more fingers pointing back at yourself.
      • Scholar: There can be no right judgment without a considerable about of introspection. … There is something about introspection, about being honest and truth about oneself with oneself, that makes the human heart more pliable and sympathetic in regard to the plight of other people.[4] → It’s so much easier to judge others … but the only people that we can truly improve in this world are ourselves. Jesus both reminds us that we are far from perfect and emphasizes just how important it is to work on ourselves in order to be better for those around us.
    • Second portion = about asking and receiving → This portion of the passage is harder than it appears on the surface because of that age-old haunting question: “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”
      • Wrapped up in struggles with discerning God’s will over our own desires/intentions
      • Wrapped up in struggles with following and obeying God’s will
      • Wrapped up in struggles with the classic battle between good and evil, between what is reality and what we claim is “fair” … struggles all bound up in that glimmering, gossamer thread called hope → Because in actuality, this is not an assurance of the “vending machine” version of God that we wish it could be. Even so, there is a hidden promise in Jesus’ imperative here.
        • Gr. verb tense for all those directives in v. 7 – “ask,” “search,” and “knock” – are indicative future
          • Scholar: meaning that they have not happened yet, and there is no specific indication of the time when they will come to pass. The paradoxical phrase “already and not yet” is apt to describe the fulfillment of God’s work in the world.[5] → So Jesus is promising that when we ask for beneficial things – when we ask for good things from the one who loves us greater and deeper and wider than anyone else has ever can ever or will ever love us – God will hear us and work in us and through us for good.
    • All wrapped up with that final verse – certainly one of if not the most familiar verse in all of Scripture: Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you.[6]
      • Golden Rule = present in some form in various cultures around the world
        • Variation: “Silver Rule” à Do not do to others what you do not want done to you.
      • On the surface, the Golden Rule feels like it’s about us, right? If you strive to “treat other people the way you want to be treated,” you have to at least take the way you want to be treated into consideration, right? But when we think about it, it really isn’t about us at all.
      • Let me tell you a story. When I was in middle school – well, all throughout middle and high school, really – I had the world’s biggest crush on my best friend. Let’s call him Max. Sadly, despite all my pining and all my prayers, Max did not feel the same way about me. He knew how I felt, but he didn’t feel the same. But we were still best friends. One night, we were at a middle school dance along with all the rest of our friends. All middle school dances are a nightmare, right? Well, this was no different. I was crying because the boy I wanted to dance with didn’t want to dance with me. We got to the last song of the night, which of course was a slow song, and Max told all of us to sit down around a table. He said, “We’re going to play poker.” We didn’t have any cards, so this was imaginary poker. He dealt out our “cards,” then went around the table declaring what everyone’s hands were. He got to me last, and, having tumbled to how his game was played, I laid my “hand” down and said, “Four aces.” Max looked and me and said, “Yup. You win. Let’s dance.” And we did. By the time we got through all of that and actually made our way out onto the dance floor, there wasn’t more than a minute or so of the song left, but that didn’t matter. At that point, it wasn’t even about the dance anymore. Not really. It was about being seen – truly seen – by another person. By someone that cared. It was about experiencing compassion … and giving compassion. It was about putting aside all the hard things about being human and instead choosing to be human together in the best possible way. That is what Jesus asks of us. that is who and how we are called to be. Amen.

[1] Sherry Thomason. “A Virtual Life: How Social Media Changes Our Perceptions” from Insight, spring 2013, updated for website 7 Oct. 2016: Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.


[3] Jn 1:1-3.

[4] Mark A. Lomax. “Matthew 7:1-6 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 155.

[5] Leah D. Schade. “Matthew 7:7-11 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 162.

[6] Mt 7:12a.

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