Sermon: A Single Commandment

June 26, 2022

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

by Eric Anderson

I know I’ve told this story before. And… here it comes again. In the Babylonian Talmud, a compendium of rabbinic teaching assembled over a period of about 300 years and into the 5th century, we find this wisdom of Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who died about a dozen years after Jesus was born.

“There was another incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand. This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade. The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.”

“That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.” It’s also frequently referred to as “the Golden Rule,” and it’s older than Hillel. You’re familiar with, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the positive expression of the Golden Rule. So was Hillel. It’s a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18.

You’ve probably heard it quoted by someone else as well. That would be Jesus, whose own teaching had a lot of similarities to Hillel’s. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus first quoted Deuteronomy’s directive to love God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind, and followed it with the Leviticus command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

And now here in Galatians, you’ve heard it from the Apostle Paul. It’s not clear whether he knew that Jesus had said it. “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,” sounds like an echo of the challenge to Hillel in the story, doesn’t it, to sum up the entire Torah while the listener was standing on one foot? But like Jesus and unlike Hillel, Paul quoted the positive directive to love the neighbor rather than the negative to avoid harming the neighbor.

So. I’ve spun a lot of words to demonstrate that very smart, very pious people believed that the core of faith in God is love of one’s neighbor. One single commandment. Quick to describe. Easy to say. Not confusing to explain. So.

Shouldn’t we be beyond the need to repeat it by now?

Sure, I get that we need to teach it to the next generation. Human kids, just like goat kids, need to be told what love looks like, what it is, and what it isn’t. Love isn’t head butting or kicking or biting. Love is being led to the good grass in the pasture and the clean water in the stream. Goats have a narrower range of options for their behavior than human beings, but the comparisons are clear enough that the shepherd king David used that same imagery in Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside still waters,
he restores my soul.”

And we do teach it to the next generation. My office is next to a preschool classroom, and I listen to teachers explain what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior between people a lot. Share. Don’t hit. Clean up. Celebrate. Play. Don’t cheat. Sing. Love your neighbor as yourself.

These last two weeks the House Committee investigating the insurrection on January 6, 2021, has painted a damning picture of not loving your neighbor. In contrast to the clear directives of Leviticus 19, which include the words, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another,” we’re hearing about false dealing, repeated lying, and all in the service of stealing an election. The irony of that effort using the slogan “Stop the steal,” is chilling. Some of those who maintained their integrity and stood up for truth were harassed.

But the lies and the harassment have not dissuaded everybody – including those who’ve been lied about and harassed – from supporting the liars and the harassers. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified to the pressure put on him by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani to break the law and kept to his oath, told the Associated Press in an interview that he would still support Donald Trump if he were the nominee in the next Presidential contest. As David A. Graham writes in The Atlantic, “Once you’ve decided that your specific policy planks are more important than ensuring that the fundamental system survives, however, the result sooner or later is a government that has no interest in the will of the people. Imagining this doesn’t take much creativity: After the 2020 election, Trump tried to ignore the will of the people and remain in power. He was stopped only by the courage of people such as Rusty Bowers. If even Bowers is willing to back Trump again, despite his eloquent condemnations, the outlook for popular democracy is very bleak.”

What’s driving the agenda? Not truth. Not integrity. Not love of neighbor. I don’t even think it’s policy. I think it’s power.

In case you were wondering, power is not in Paul’s list of fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is. Self-control is. Power? No.

As Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “Freedom does not grant license to do anything we want without concern for the impact of those actions on God, neighbor, or even self. Freedom has limits and constraints; otherwise, freedom becomes a destructive force rather than a liberating one.”

As last week ended, half the citizens of the United States found themselves with less Constitutional protection than the other half. They found themselves valued, not for their work or their thought, but for their ability to bear children. They found that the state would seize control of their bodies without intervention of the federal courts.

If it were up to me, I would like to see abortion end because the need for abortion arises in conditions of human suffering, pain, and deprivation. I am opposed to human suffering, pain, and deprivation. I am in favor of people having appropriate control over their own lives and bodies with minimal state intervention. I support a woman’s right to choose.

So: what to do? It’s been about two thousand years since Paul, Hillel, and Jesus all said the same thing about loving your neighbor. It’s been about 3300 years since Moses who passed those words to the people of Israel. The oldest known version of the Golden Rule, according to Wikipedia, goes back 3600 to 4000 years to Egypt. You’ll find variations on love your neighbor as yourself in Bahai’I, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Yoruba, and so on.

And since the beginning of this year, an estimated 10,000 people have died in the conflict in Myanmar, 1800 in Afghanistan, yearly 5,000 in Yemen, and somewhere between 36,000 and 80,000 in Ukraine.

Four-year-olds know better than that.

We have to go back to school, we human beings, don’t we? We have to go back to that space where somebody saw us acting selfishly and said, “Share.” We have to go back to that space where we hit someone and somebody else said, “Stop.” We have to go back to that space where someone was in distress and somebody said, “Help them.” We have to go back to that space where someone did something for the first time and somebody said, “Celebrate for them!”

That’s the space we have to live in. That’s the space Hillel commended to his student standing on one leg. That’s the space Paul with his lists illustrating the single commandment pointed to. That’s the space Jesus summoned us to.

I know it’s not easy. Those we love do not always love us back. There’s vulnerability in extending love. There’s risk. There’s even danger. And to repeat something I try to remember to repeat, I do not recommend that those who have been injured by someone in the past put themselves in the path of injury again. Moses, Hillel, Jesus, and Paul did not mean anyone to stay in a cycle of abuse.

Moses, Hillel, Jesus, and Paul – and God – meant that the abusers shouldn’t abuse, that the violent shouldn’t harm, that the liars shouldn’t lie, that the greedy shouldn’t take, that the powerful shouldn’t maintain their power at the expense of other people. They meant – God meant – that none of us should do the things that abuse, that harm, that distort truth, that deprive, that overwhelm.

How do we become that four-year-old again, a little uncertain about this doing good thing, but willing to accept guidance and correction – with, perhaps a few tears and maybe a tantrum or two? How do we look at what we do and ask, “Is this really a loving action? Does this affect someone else other than me? Does it do them good or harm? How would I feel if it were done to me? How are they likely to feel if I do it now?”

Just a single commandment. It’s not hard to remember. It’s not hard to understand. And it certainly is hard to live out day to day, week to week, year to year, but – my God, if we could do it. If we could do it: Paradise.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The prepared text will differ from the sermon as delivered. Sometimes – sometimes – that’s intentional.

The image is Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne – Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, TX, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on June 26, 2022

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283