“Compassion Rules – Love Wins!“
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 23 Feb 2014
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
First Reading: An excerpt from Ethics for the New Millennium
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
“Compassion is one of the principal things that make our lives meaningful. It is the source of all lasting happiness and joy. And it is the foundation of a good heart, the heart of one who acts out of a desire to help others. Through kindness, through affection, through honesty, through truth and justice toward all others we ensure our own benefit. … This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith. In this sense, there is no need for temple or church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or God, or follow some other religion or none at all, as long as we have compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy.”
Second Reading: Matthew 5:38 – 48. (from The Message – by Eugene Peterson)
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
The other morning, Peggy and I were having a conversation that was initiated during the reading of a daily devotional from the United Church of Christ. The particular devotional was about envy and spoke of the command about covetousness, as in, thou shalt not covet the new car your neighbor has, or the new lawn mower, or trip, or whatever. It is really hard sometimes not to long for something you see that another person has. (Especially those southern trips this time of year.)
In the devotional, the author began to talk about that particular commandment and how freeing it could be if, rather than seeing it as a, “thou shalt not,” we could, in fact, see it as a setting-free of our spirits to live comfortably with what we have. Learning to live ‘with’ rather than seeing what we are ‘without’ embraces life from a very positive stance. Such as happens in many other religions. The Buddha began life as the son of a wealthy ruler and divested himself of all material goods and found it freeing. Jesus was born into a poor family and spent his life teaching others the value of having only the gifts of compassion, justice, and love to offer others.
While in this conversation, we began to talk about how all three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) are very focused on the rules of the faith and keeping the followers in line. In fact, each of them, while they have sub-branches and independent orders or individual saints that tend to be highly spiritual in their approach, they all, in their own way, tend all too often to downplay or leave a far more spiritual aspect that could be embraced. In fact the spiritualists, while respected in life and revered later for their writings, are often not part of the mainstream functioning of the institutional church, mosque or synagogue. I think this is because spirituality leaves too much up to the discretion of the individual. Churches, historically, want to control the membership.
However, the church can and ought to be part of a far more deeply spiritual kind of movement. I believe that was what Jesus was attempting to do. I believe Jesus wanted to move the people away from reliance on the “rules” and into a much heavier concentration on how we are the very presence of the sacred for and with one another. “Live out this God-created identity,” said Jesus. “Live generously and graciously as The Sacred and holy has done toward you.”
Today, I would say – be the Christ-Spirit, or the Buddha Spirit, or the presence of the Sacred Essence for one another and for the stranger in your midst in all that you do. Jesus says, “Look, it used to be said an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, but that is not getting us anywhere.”
Today we can attest to the fact that violence begets violence, and where does that take us, but to more and more violence. We can live, free of that thinking, if we see the opportunities we have to rise above those situations.
Martin Copenhaver, the UCC minister who wrote the devotional that I was talking about said this, “Maybe the commandment against covetousness is not so much a demanding restriction as it is broad invitation. When I think about it, the less time I spend longing for the gifts of others, the more time I have available to develop my own gifts. The prohibition against covetousness actually frees me to be more creative in honing my own abilities and more focused on developing my own potential. One of the greatest gifts we bring to others is our authenticity. There is liberating power when we live authentically.”
So how can we, each of us, be more authentically at peace with who we are and what we have? How can we be more satisfied with the gifts each of us possesses? We do that by reaching out and extending ourselves compassionately from deep within. We share with one another from our authentic selves by respecting the persons, the possessions, and the existence of each and every person – no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
What we are doing here and what I long for many more congregations to do, is to be more aware of the ‘spiritual disciplines’ of faith. Leave the rules behind, indeed break the rules when appropriate and concentrate on the disciplines of compassion, justice, and acceptance; in order that we would find peace for ourselves and those we are with.
Marcus J. Borg in The God We Never Knew said, “Some people find the experience and practice of compassion (and I would suggest other spiritual disciplines as well) as spiritual discipline(s) to be a more direct route to the transformation of the heart than prayer. It is not that prayer does not or should not play a role in their lives, but their way to the opening of the heart lies through deeds of compassion. “Just do it” summarizes this path of transformation.”
This is not a way of suggesting that works replace faith in life but I suggest that doing the work, living the teachings, being compassionate individuals actually puts our faith in the teachings of the Sacred and Holy one into practice.
This “God-created” identity, spoken of in the text, is the carefully and sacredly knit together being that we are, with reason and intellect to be used for the care and compassion we know is right. Instead of seeing institutionalized religion as the imposition of rules and doctrine, if we were to look at it as an avenue on which we can discover the freedom to live graciously and for the sake of others, in the moment, we could be free to find the sacred in the darkest of corners. Even in the dark corners of our own minds where we sometimes fear to tread.
The Buddha said, “Like a mother who protects her child, her only child, with her own life, one should cultivate a heart of unlimited love and compassion towards all living beings.”
In that, compassion is the ruler of our lives and when it is – Love does win.
Blessings to you friends,