This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 28, 2014.
Reading: Psalm 105:1-6
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.
The world is a beautiful creation of God, but the reality is that the world is far from what God intended it to be: the world in which we live is broken. But don’t worry. Stay calm. Follow the rules.
Conceived by John Wesley some 275 years ago, these rules were meant to provide people a Christian model for living (click here to see a facsimile copy of the rules as originally printed in 1743). It’s important to note that faith was not a prerequisite for following the rules; rather, the only requirement necessary was a desire to (and I’m modernizing the language significantly) find peace in this life and the next. The rules were meant to cultivate the Christian life within all people no matter where they might be on their faith journey.
The rules are really quite simple: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. But don’t be fooled by the simplistic elegance of these rules. Taking the rules seriously is not for the faint of heart—they will demand self-sacrifice and restraint, initiative and creativity. It is not easy to follow these simple rules, but doing so will—without a doubt—transform your life and the world around you.
This week we move to the third and final rule.
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies [the rules declare] that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence.
These ordinances, as Wesley describes them in the third rule are those things which Jesus instructed his disciples to do: attend, regularly, corporate worship, listen to the reading of Scripture, have Scripture explained to you and join in the discussion, participate in Holy Communion, pray in private and with your family, read and search the Scriptures on your own, and make a regular practice of abstaining from things you rely upon so that you might draw nearer to God.
It’s here that I would alter the wording used by Bishop Job. While it is surely true that following this third rule will help us stay in love with God; it is better stated that following this third rule helps us grow in God’s love. It doesn’t matter if we’ve discovered God’s love or not, it doesn’t matter if we’re new to faith, old to faith, or questioning faith, following this third rule is meant to be a means through which we can experience God’s love and grace. It’s in following this third rule that we come to know, experience, and are inspired to share the great love of God found in Jesus Christ. It’s in following this third rule that we grow in God’s love for the first time, through a lifetime and into eternity.
It’s in following this third rule that we’re given the wisdom, courage and strength to follow the first two. If we really want to do no harm, if we really want to do good, then we have to better understand what love truly is. Friends…
God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that [God] loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins[the salve that heals our brokenness].
19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
Those who seek to grow in their love of God will seek to grow in their love for neighbor and that begins by doing no harm and doing good.
Therefore, using the words of the Psalmist:
4 Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!
5 Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared…
And follow the example of Christ: Do no harm, do good, grow in love with God—these are the three simple rules—“all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in [God’s] written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice”—that will lead to wholeness and healing. Follow these rules and together, through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, we’ll surely transform the world into the kingdom Christ proclaimed.
Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God; or perhaps better stated, grow in God’s love. These three simple rules will transform our lives and the world. These three simple rules will save surely heal—bring salvation—to the world God so loves and came to save.
The rules seem so simple. They’re easy to say; but, they require all we are to apply. Help us to do no harm, do good, and grow in your love that we might find peace and be agents of it in the world you so love and came to save. Draw us closer to Christ that we might walk and talk with him and know what it truly means to do no harm and to do God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
Some helpful additional articles:
“The General Rules of the Methodist Church” UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/general-rules-of-the-methodist-church> Accessed September 26, 2014.
“What does it mean to stay in love with God?” by Rev. Dr. Andrew Thompson (February 20, 2014) <http://www.andrewthompson.com/2014/02/20/what-does-it-mean-to-stay-in-love-with-god/> Accessed September 26, 2014.
“The Practical Theology of the General Rules” by Rev. Dr. Andrew Thompson (November 18, 2013) <http://www.andrewthompson.com/2013/11/18/the-practical-theology-of-the-general-rules/> Accessed September 26, 2014.
 “The General Rules of the Methodist Church,” UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/general-rules-of-the-methodist-church> Accessed September 27, 2014.
 1 John 4:8d-10, 19-21, Common English Bible.
 Psalm 105:4-5, Common English Bible
 “The General Rules of the Methodist Church” UMC.org.