Romans 12:14-19; 13:8-9
3 Simple Rules: #1 – Do No Harm
I want to start this sermon series by going to the good book, The Book of Discipline. If you are unfamiliar with the Book of Discipline it is the book of rules, doctrine, and regulations that the United Methodist Church is run by. Every four years we hold a general conference which is made up of representatives, both lay and clergy, from all over the world. They are the only group of people who can change this book. There is a ton of stuff in this book but what I want to concentrate on today is something called the General Rules. The General Rules were set by John Wesley himself as different classes started forming during the Methodist movement in Britain. These classes were like small groups of people who would come and learn how to become better Christians. How they could hold each other accountable and build each other up as they learned how to live out their faith.
As he looked at the formation of these groups he gave them three rules to follow in order to live out their daily walk with God. Later in 2007 a retired Bishop of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Rueben Job, wrote a small book entitled, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. At a called meeting of our Annual Conference in 2008, our Bishop at the time, Bishop Lawrence McCleskey gave every delegate that year his book. In this book it gives very practical, real, and tangible advice on how we can live out our faith. This is what John Wesley was doing when he gave the classes that popped up everywhere in Europe and eventually America. Today we start with his first rule; Do No Harm.
Let me read to you from paragraph 103 in the 2008 Book of Discipline, (aren’t you excited!).
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Now we may laugh a little at some of this or pass it off as 18th century thinking. Some of the things on this list may have convicted us like “softness and needless self-indulgence.” I know I sucked in my gut a little when I read that. But we have to remember the purpose on why John Wesley suggested these things. In order to understand we have to go to another very Wesleyan word, Sanctification. Sanctification is the word that describes the daily work of living out our faith. It is the grace that allows us to walk the walk. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that is a lifelong process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. The whole goal of living out the Christian faith is to be like Christ (Amen?) John Wesley gave us these three rules in order that we can remember them and then examples of how to live them out. Today we will talk about Do No Harm, the second is Do Good and the last one is stay in love with God.
Now these can sound a little childish. Do no harm sounds way to simple to be applicable to our daily adult lives. Yet to live it out, to really look at the world and people around us and do no harm takes a mature and deep faith to live it out. How would your daily life change if you started every conversation, every email, every Facebook post or Tweet, every interaction with someone else with the thought “will what I do cause harm?”
First though let’s look at how we harm people in our daily lives. When we think of harming someone usually our brains go to physical harm. Many of you may be thinking, ‘this doesn’t apply to me because I am not a violent person.” Yet there are other ways that people are harmed. We have weapons we use every day to bring people to their knees. Weapons like gossip, manipulation of the facts, speaking disparagingly about others, or to speak down about someone else. If you are honest with yourself, how many times have you done one of those this week?
Here in the south there is a great phrase that makes some of this seem right but actually isn’t. There are three words that if said are culturally seen to erase anything negative said about someone else just moments before. I am sure you know those three words. They are “Bless their hearts.” During a conversation someone can say, “Did you hear what happened when Phyllis went to the store. She tore into that lady. She was screaming so loud that people almost called the cops. She has got such a short temper, bless her heart.” That was a mild example and there are much worse. Those three words can be used to set up an incredible insult but seen as being tender and caring because it is started with “Bless his heart.” “Bless her heart, she is so bucktoothed she could eat an apple through a picket fence.” Or “Bless his heart, he is so ugly he should have stayed at home.” No matter how you wrap it up, when we say things like this we are talking bad about someone. We are bringing them harm because we are talking disparagingly about them. Where is Christ in something like that?
Do no harm is something that is responsive. When you boil this first rule down it is truly about how we react. It is how we react to people, to situations, and to life as it comes our ways. Now we all are human and we all are sinful so there are times when harm will just erupts out of us because it can be our nature, but that is not what God wants us. If we are going be more Christlike than how can we change the way we react to people and situations. How can we first think about doing no harm?
The first thing we need to remember is that when we do harm to someone else we are at the heart of it saying that we know the best outcome in this situation. We are going back to original sin and saying that we want to be God. When someone does something wrong against us what is our gut reaction? Do you crave revenge? Do you want to lash out with a verbal tirade and leave that person in a crumble of emotional goo? Yet in the Roman’s text I read today we are warned against such behavior. Verse 17 in Chapter 12 says, “Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.” Paul pushes us to remember the basics of all human law, You must love your neighbor as yourself. When we are harmed and we are ready to react are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?
To react in a way that brings harm makes us the judge and jury of that situation or that person. It moves us into the role of God. We do harm because we lack the faith in God’s grace, God’s justice, and God’s timing. We want revenge and our form of justice because we are people of immediate satisfaction. We cannot wait for anything anymore. So we seek it out in our own way because we truly don’t think God will do it the way we want God to do it. Paul says in today’s scripture, “Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.”
Another reason we react to live in ways that do harm is because we link ourselves to some other ideology or theology that is greater than God. Once again you may be saying, “Jim, you’re crazy, I always put God first.” But there is no greater time to see this come to light then in our current political cycle. As we get ready to elect a President party lines are drawn and people hold up the ideals of what it means to be a Democrat or Republican more than what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
If we let our political affiliation trump our calling to be Christ like then we end up doing harm. What would the world be like if we saw each other like God sees us. We are all made in God’s image. We are all God’s children. We are all loved by God. We are all forgiven by God. How would our daily lives, our political lives, our personal lives be changed if we did no harm by seeing people as God sees us; as image-bearers and sharers of God’s love. It is not easy. The reason people side with politics over God is because to abandon the ways of the world for the ways of Jesus is just simply TOO HARD.
Bishop Job does a great job summing this rule up in his book. He says this, “When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God – a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved – just like myself. And it is this vision of every other person as the object of God’s love and deep awareness that I too live in that loving Presence that can hold me accountable to my commitment to do no harm.”
As we approach the table to day and receive the grace and love of God may we turn around and treat the rest of God’s creation the same way. May we receive eyes, hearts, and hands to react to life the way Christ reacted, with compassion, forgiveness and grace. May we react by first doing no harm.
And All God’s people said…Amen.