Follow the Rules.

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 7, 2014.

Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-15

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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The world is broken.

The continued conflict between Russia and the Ukraine; the brutal slaughter of Christians and other civilians by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); the civil war in Syria; the war in the holy land between Israel and Palestine; the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa; the ever increasing prevalence of –isms and phobias (racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, homophobia, heterophobia, xenophobia, etc.) which seek to divide people based on fear; the ever increasing polarization of Americans based upon political affiliation, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion; the continued rise of un- and underemployment which is leading to a growing rate of poverty in the United States; the growing gap between rich and poor; our penchant for pursing peace through violence and domination; the continued abuse of limited natural resources which is leading to a loss of biodiversity; war, sickness, disease, anger, senseless and all too often deliberate violence, willful ignorance, hatred, shattered relationships, unrealized dreams, disappointment, heartache and division: brokenness.

Look around.  The world in which we live is busted, cracked, fractured, and shattered.

I’m not talking about the “world” in terms of nature (although creation, too, bears the marks of sin’s blemish and decay). I’m talking about the “world” comprised of the people, structures, and systems that make up society– the moral patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that result in things like unfair business practices, racism, extreme poverty, dishonest government, dirty politics, family breakdown, cheating, stealing, oppression of the weak, and so many other distressors and defilers.[1]

The world in which we live is not fully what God intended.  The world seems to be caving in.  Or, better stated: the world seems to be consuming itself.  And, frankly, if you have a heart and care at all, it can be a bit overwhelming (which is why I don’t particularly like to read or watch the news).  It’s depressing.

We live in a world that is not fully what God intended.

The current state of life on this planet…has a lot of brokenness. You’re right to be dissatisfied with it. But it’s not enough for [us] merely to recognize that the world isn’t what it ought to be and that people are suffering in ways they shouldn’t have to suffer. Our sorrow and indignation must lead us into action that subverts the brokenness that is real and present right now. We [must] work to make this world more as God would intend it to be– with justice, peace, and more.[2]

Yes, the world is broken, but there’s no need to panic.

Stay calm.

There’s hope for this broken world.  The love of God found in Jesus Christ has come to bring life and wholeness to the fragments of our lives.  Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, New Revised Standard Version).  In him, we see the truth, the consequences of our brokenness and the beautiful potential that grace reveals in each of us.  In Jesus, we find the way that leads to life—wholeness of heart and life.

There’s hope for this broken world; and, that hope lies in those who are brave enough to see the truth and walk in Christ’s way toward life.

Jesus was telling stories to the people and debating with the religious know-it-alls one day when one of the religious scholars approached.

He…asked [Jesus], “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one isIsrael, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”[3]

The Way, says Jesus, the most important thing you need to glean from faith is that relationships matter.  In fact, the most important, saving things you can do is grow in your love for God and others.  The whole point of faith hangs on these two principles: love God and love others.  Follow this way and you will surely be saved.  Follow the way of Christ and you will find an abundant life now that leads into eternity.[4]

The world is a broken place.  Don’t worry.  Stay calm.  There’s hope.  All you have to do is…

Follow the rules.

In 1739, eight or ten people approached a priest convinced of the world’s brokenness.  They wanted to know the path that would lead to wholeness of heart and life.  The priest, John Wesley, formed the people into groups and set before them three simple rules that would help them abandon the brokenness of the world and grow in their love of God and neighbor.  The rules were really quite simple.

Do no harm.
Do good.
Stay in love with God.

These rules were not meant to be used as a tool for wholly living the life Christ desired for his followers.  These rules are meant to provide a simple guideline for building relationships with God and people in a world that so often does harm, fails to do good, and ignores the divine presence that’s all around us.

The world is broken, it is divided and self-consuming.

13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.[5]

Follow the rules: do no harm; do good; and, stay in love with God.  Over the course of the next three weeks, we’ll discuss each of the rules, how they apply, and how they can—if we’ll follow them—transform our lives that we all might live for Christ sake and the sake of the world God so loves and came to save.

 

[1] “A Marathon Bombing, the Broken World, and Our Maranatha Hope” by Ed Stetzer at ChristianityToday.com <http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/april/marathon-bombing-broken-world-and-our-maranatha-hope.html#more>  Accessed September 5, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark 12:28b-31, Common English Bible.

[4] c.f. John 10:10.

[5] 1 Peter 1:13-15,New Revised Standard Version.