Love Your Neighbor as Yourself – Part 2

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

and with all your soul, and with all your mind…

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 — Matthew 22.37, 39 —

A Sunday not long ago these words of Jesus from Matthew 22 made an appearance in the Gospel reading.  When faced with the task of preaching on these words, I couldn’t help but think of a story I had heard this fall about a church near Memphis Tennessee.

It all started when the members of Heartsong Church put up a simple sign on their front lawn (pictured here).  While another Christian pastor was making news in Florida because he was threatening to burn the Qur’an, Pastor Steve Stone of Heartsong Church heard “love your neighbor as yourself” and decided to offer a word of welcome to a new mosque that was being built across the street.  Sometimes we call it The Golden Rule, I like to think of it as The Shoe Rule – if you were in your neighbor’s shoes, how would you like it? …or maybe that doesn’t go far enough.  Maybe we should call it The Skin Rule – if you were in your neighbor’s skin, how would you like to be treated?

The story doesn’t end there.  With the holy month of Ramadan approaching, the new mosque was behind schedule and they needed a place for prayer.  The leaders of Memphis Islamic Center approached the leaders of Heartsong Church and asked for a small room in the back where they could offer prayers.  However, members of Heartsong Church decided they couldn’t let them use a small room in the back, instead they told them, “No, you’re going to pray in our main worship space.”

It’s probably not a decision that a lot of churches might make, but it sure does make you think twice about The Golden Rule.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  The story of Heartsong has haunted me ever since I heard an interview with Pastor Steve of Heartsong and Danish Siddiqui, one of the leaders at the Memphis Islamic Center.  It haunts and it challenges because Pastor Steve points directly to The Golden Rule as a reason that Heartsong did what they did.  “I think it was just more that one of the basic tenets of our faith is to love our neighbors… really it was a no-brainer for us…” (from an interview on All Things Considered, 08/21/11).

So this is part 2.  When you type The Golden Rule into Wikipedia you learn that just about every faith tradition (Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism, Sihism, Taoism, Wicca, and lots of others!) has some version of The Golden Rule as a central tenet of its teaching.  Where does that leave us as Christians?  Does the heart of Jesus’ moral teachings have to be unique to be true? 

Besides asking why we are often so concerned with being “unique,” we might also ask if maybe The Golden Rule or The Skin Rule has something to do with the “uniqueness” of the Christian gospel.  The good news on which we as Christians focus has to do with an audacious God who was willing to love us better than we can love ourselves by taking on our skin as humans in order to teach us to love our neighbor and remind us of God’s love.  It seems to me that this is good enough news to share with anyone, using words at times… and at other times just putting a sign on our front lawn and seeing what happens.