The Rules: Do No Harm
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 14, 2014.
Reading: Romans 13:8-10
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 broken place full of division and despair; but, stay calm. Follow the rules!
The General Rules were adopted by some of the first groups of Methodists in 1739. These groups wanted to, in their own words, “flee from the wrath to come.” Modernizing their language a bit, we might say, they wanted to flee the brokenness of this world and live the abundant life offered by Christ now and into eternity. The rules were meant to be a practical guide for living a life that would not add to but heal the brokenness of our lives and the world. And, so, wherever this conviction is, wrote Wesley in the original version of the rules:
…wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
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.
Some of these rules—or at least, the daily application of them—may seem a bit arcane, old-fashioned, and out of date; but their trajectory, their intent is as relevant today as it was 275 years ago. The point is this: it’s easy to hurt. Don’t.
It’s easy to hurt.
It is not difficult to return evil for evil. When someone offers a sharp retort, it’s easy to give them a tongue-lashing. When someone or something threatens our safety, it seems quite natural to “degrade and ultimately destroy” it.
Even professed Christians find it easy to hurt. We can give countless examples of Christians who, in the name of their god (and not, in my opinion, the Judeo-Christian God), have spread hate out of ignorance, judgment out of spite, and committed acts of terror in this country and abroad spurring on violence in the name of peace. We are naïve and ignorant to believe that Christians are blameless when it comes to doing harm in this world.
Perhaps, the most recent public example would be the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson, who never leaves home “without my Bible or my woman”, in a comment about the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) stated that we, presumably America (as if, America is truly a Christian nation) should either “convert ‘em or kill ‘em” in the name of Jesus Even those who seek to follow Christ find it easier to hurt than to get to the root of the problem. The proper response to terror isn’t terror. Healing (of individuals and of nations) doesn’t come through hurting (violence or war).
[Lord Alfred] Tennyson wrote that despite any love we may profess of God, despite our claims to revere love as Creation’s final law, we, and nature along with us, are “red in tooth and claw.” After countless generations of ruthless competition for survival, it’s our nature as human beings to carry within us the primal urge to act out in violent ways. We are a violent species—and as a practical matter, violence more often than not “works.” If a turn to violence can get the desired result, why bother with any namby-pamby alternative?
It’s easy to hurt; but, hurting—adding to the brokenness of the world—is not what followers of Jesus Christ are called to do. Walking the road to healing and reconciliation—the road Christ walked—is long, hard, and narrow. Hurting is not an option for those who seek to follow the Christ who taught:
…you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…
It’s easy to hurt; but for those who seek to continue Christ’s ministry of outreaching love, hurting is not an option. “For love,” writes Paul, “Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10a, Common English Bible). The entirety of Scripture, he writes, all the rules and restrictions in the law (and all the directing of the prophets) can be accomplished and fulfilled if we but live in love; and, the first act of love is to do no harm.
Do no harm.
To do no harm [writes Bishop Job] means that [we] will be on guard so that all [our] actions and even [our] silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or to any part of God’s creation. As did John Wesley and those in the early Methodist movement before [us], [we] too [must] determine every day that [our lives] will always be invested in the effort to bring healing instead of hurt; wholeness instead of division; and harmony with the ways of Jesus rather than with the ways of the world. When [we] commit [ourselves] to this way, [we] must see each person as a child of God—a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved—just like [ourselves]. And it is this vision of every other person as the object of God’s love and deep awareness that [we] too live in that loving Presence that can hold [us] accountable to [our] commitment to do no harm.
For those of us who truly want the world to be a better place—a place of justice, equality, and peace—then we must commit to do no harm. It’s the first rule that will, if we’ll follow it, begin to bring healing to our broken lives and the world.
Gracious God, it’s easy to hurt. It’s easy to cause pain. Help us to take the long, arduous, and narrow road that leads to life. Help us to do no harm. Help us to follow the rules for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord and the world he came to save. Amen.
Some interesting articles on current events and “doing no harm” (or our lack of wont to do so) for further wrestling and discussion:
Carl Medearis, “ISIS vs the Way of Jesus” Red Letter Christians (September 11, 2014) <http://www.redletterchristians.org/isis-vs-way-jesus/> Accessed September 11, 2014.
Jim Wallis, “War is Not the Anwer” Sojourners (September 11, 2014) <http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/09/11/war-not-answer> Accessed September 12, 2014.
Michael Brown, “Convert Them or Kill Them’: Is Phil Robertson Like ISIS?” Charisma News (September 4, 2014) <http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/45275-convert-them-or-kill-them-is-phil-robertson-like-isis> Accessed September 14, 2014.
“September 12: Never Forget” Forward Progressives (September 11, 2014) <http://www.forwardprogressives.com/september-12-never-forget/> Accessed September 12, 2014.
 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church: 2012 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing, 2012), 76-77.
 c.f. “Why the Obama Administration Keeps Saying ‘Degrade and Destroy’” by Elizabeth Chuck <http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/why-obama-administration-keeps-saying-degrade-destroy-n201171> Accessed September 13, 2014.
 “Exclusive: Phil Robertson on the rise of radical Islam” < http://video.foxnews.com/v/3764234066001/exclusive-phil-robertson-on-the-rise-of-radical-islam/#sp=show-clips> Accessed September 11, 2014.
 David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 103.
 Matthew 5:39-44, Common English Bible.
 Adapted from Reuben P. Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 31.