Faith Matters: I shall not pass this way again

  • The Rev. Jim Ewen, pictured in the Central Congregational Church of New Salem. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Pastor, Central Congregational Church of New Salem
Published: 3/17/2023 3:52:51 PM

One of the first scripture passages that I memorized in Sunday School as a child remains one of my favorite passages of scripture to this day: It was what is commonly referred to as “the Golden Rule.” It is found in the great body of Jesus’ ethical teachings, which we know as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 7: 12 — “Therefore, whatever you wish others to do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

We have distilled it to its more recognizable form: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”

One of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings is his rendering of the Golden Rule, depicting men and women of various faiths, for all religions have their own version of the Golden Rule.

Hillel: “What thou wouldst not wish for thyself, do not unto thy neighbor. This is the whole Law.’”

Socrates: “What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not do to others.”

Confucius: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

Budda: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Most other religions also give this ethical teaching in negative form — “do not do what you do not want done to yourself.” And while this is a lofty ideal, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, as He so often did, “raises the bar” and makes this a totally positive “rule.” It does not consist just in not harming others — we are told to actively pursue “doing good” for others. “I must do no harm to people” is quite different from “I must do my best to help people.” In effect, the Golden Rule makes servants of all of God’s children — for we are to serve others. Jesus concluded this teaching by saying that “this is the Law and the Prophets.” He is saying to us that the whole teaching of the Old Testament is summed up in the Golden Rule.

In the 15th chapter of John, in the Upper Room on the last night He would spend with His disciples, Jesus gave the New Commandment to them (and to us today) “to love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one, than to lay down His life for His friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you: to love one another.”

This positive commandment — the “Do’s” — stands in opposition to the mostly negative commandments of the Old Testament — the “Don’ts.” When asked what is the one great Commandment, Jesus combined the Commandment about loving God with our whole being (heart, mind, soul and strength) with that of loving our neighbor as we would like to be loved. Jesus went on to describe “neighbor” in the broadest possible sense, including those who are different from us.

The following quote, attributed to the 19th-century Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet, perhaps says it best: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Amen.

The Central Congregational Church of New Salem (United Church of Christ) was originally formed as the Orthodox Congregational Church in 1845. The church met in Town Hall until the present meetinghouse was constructed in 1853. In 1934, the church became incorporated and changed its name to the Central Congregational Church of New Salem. Upon the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir, the North Dana Universalist Church gave its pipe organ, pews, pulpit and carpet to the New Salem church. Similarly, the Enfield Congregational Church gave its bell to the church. All but the carpet are still in use today. Worship services are held on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. in person and via Zoom. The congregation has an active prayer and Bible study life, and is involved with local and worldwide mission ministries.


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