In my “On Love” post I wrote six weeks ago, I beat up a bit on the Union Gospel preachers, and particularly on most mission-goers’ [and my personal] favorite Jimmy Roughton for being cowardly in preaching on love – that is, neighborly love or agape.
Jimmy Roughton was the UGM preacher yesterday and he got into the love-stuff some in a return to his high form. At his best his sermons have a point and an arc. And, always, Roughton displays amazing passion and showmanship. He is a riveting speaker; he is loud, passionate, with grand gestures; his eyes dart as he makes contact with individuals in his audience. He doesn’t make use of a text; he doesn’t need one – he knows his stuff and what he is going to say and speaks without pauses or stumbles. He begins on the pulpit at the lectern, but as his message unspools he makes his way down to the chapel floor. A part of his charm is that Roughton comically – mockingly – does a good job imitating classes of people: False Christians, atheists and rationalizing substance abusers are prime targets.
Often he has been discretely miked so that he can roam, but yesterday he made do with just being loud.
Much of his sermon yesterday compared Moses with Jesus. Moses was a common man, a murderer, an imperfect servant of God. Jesus, of course, is God. Both Moses and Jesus went to a mountain. Moses was met by God at his mountain, where he was given the stone tablets that proclaimed the Ten Commandments, fast instructions from God on how to behave. Jesus met Satan and temptation on his mountain; Jesus’s challenge was a test of character.
Citing the Book of Hebrews, Roughton told us the Old Testament’s hard rules were notably not successful. Only two of the some two million Jews who fled Egypt made it to the Promised Land. The Jews lacked faith in God. The New Testament idea of changing your character is what God truly seeks, according to Roughton. Changing one’s heart is what is sought. If we become pure of heart [change our character], THAT will empower us to be good Christians and from that our behavior will become good. Being good, love will naturally flow between us and our neighbors.
There are interesting similarities between this and Buddhism. Buddha’s earliest teaching is the Dhammapada: Rules to live by, similar somewhat to the Ten Commandments. Later teachings by the Buddha that Mahayana Buddhists [including Western Buddhists, natch] gravitate toward are unmapable pathways toward having a better heart.