The Rules: Do Good

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

Reading: 1 Peter 3:8-17

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 a broken place that leaves one wanting and alone; but, stay calm.  There’s hope.  Just follow the rules!

The rules are really quite simple: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.  They were written some 275 years ago by a middle-aged Anglican priest by the name of John Wesley.  These rules—the distilled principles of the Christian faith—became a cornerstone of the Methodist movement; and, although most Methodists today don’t realize it, these rules continue to be a binding set of practices that every Methodist is called to follow.

Therefore, “It is expected of all who continue in these societies 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..”[1] We discussed this first rule last week.  It’s easy to hurt.  Don’t!

This week, we move on to the second rule:

It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all [persons]:

To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.

To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”

By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.

By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.

By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake.[2]

While the first rule calls for restraint, the second demands action.  The first calls for passivity, while the second insists upon activity.  It’s not good enough to just do nothing.  We must commit ourselves to doing good.

Don’t do nothing.

Given the first rule, it’s pretty easy for us to feel good about ourselves.  We turn on the news and see reports of Ray Rice, the Baltimore Raven’s star running back, punching his then fiance—knocking her out in a hotel elevator—and we sit back and say, I don’t do that.  We see reports of violence perpetuated by hate and say, that’s aweful, I’ll stay clear of that country, town or neighborhood.  We see reports of parents who abuse their children and say, Lord have mercy.

It is pretty easy for us to look at the brokenness of the world—the inequality, the hate, the violence, the fear, the disappointment and discouragement—and disengage from it.  Many of us can sit back in relative comfort and thank God that we have nothing to do with “that”—the hatred, the violence, the misunderstanding, the violence, the arrogance and pride (etc.).  We bear witness to the brokenness of the world and say, well, I don’t…

I don’t steal. I don’t kill.  I don’t commit adultery.  I don’t lie.  I don’t curse.  I don’t beat my wife or my children.  I don’t “return evil for evil.”  I don’t lie about the presence of spiders nor do I shout fire in a crowded room.   I don’t talk badly about people behind their back.  I don’t gossip.  I don’t strap bombs to my chest and blow people up.  I don’t always say what I’m thinking.  I don’t park in the fire lane.  I don’t, as an able bodied person, park in handicapped parking.  I don’t watch “R” rated movies.  I don’t listen to music with explicit lyrics.  I don’t drive above the speed limit.  I don’t have sex before marriage.  I don’t disrespect parents, teachers, and especially my pastors.  I don’t use or abuse drugs.  I don’t drink in excess.  I don’t stay up late: I gotta get up early and pray.  I don’t forget to say ‘please and thank you.’  I don’t waste my food: there’s starving kids in China.  I don’t judge people except for those I don’t know.  I don’t put my hand in the tip jar.  I don’t “bite the hand that feeds me.”  I don’t play video games until all my homework is done.  I do not take the last Oreo cookie without asking if someone else wants it first.  I don’t play with fire.  I don’t text and drive.  I don’t run in church.  I don’t come to church without being in my “Sunday best.”    I don’t miss church.  I don’t .  I don’t do this and I don’t do that, I just don’t.  We “don’t do” a lot.  And, the sad thing is we Christians are known more for what we don’t do than what we do do (the little kid in me chuckles: do do).

The Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, is often attributed with saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”[3]  Friends, we cannot be satisfied with what we do not do, that’s why the second rule is so important.  We cannot become comfortable with what we’re not doing when the world continues to crumble around us.  Don’t do nothing.

Do good.

As Christians we are, all too often, known by what we don’t do (or what we don’t want others to do) when, in fact, it’s what we do that’s most important.  We must be, writes the apostle James, “doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.”[4]  We must be known not for not doing and more for what we do.  And, what we’re called to do is good.  What that means will vary by context; but…

There is scarce any possible way of doing good, for which here [or wherever you might be] is not daily occasion…  Here are poor families to be relieved: Here are children to be educated: Here are workhouses, wherein both young and old gladly receive the word of exhortation: Here are the prisons, and therein a complication of all human wants.[5]

The world is a broken place.  There are endless opportunities to do good—to aid in the restoration, reconciliation and salvation of the world.  So don’t neglect to do good.  “Doing good’ is always God’s will, even if it results in suffering [on the part of the doer], as Christ himself demonstrates.  [Christ’s] obedient suffering offers us relationship with God, conquers sin and evil, and achieves ultimate victory that no threatening power, of this world or any other can withstand.” Therefore, don’t do nothing.  Do good in the name of and for the sake of Christ.

And may the world know we’re more than what we don’t do.  May the world come to know us and the Good News of Jesus Christ by the good we do.  In the falsely attributed words of Wesley may you

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”[6]

Admittedly, this rule when coupled with the first will go a long way in making the world a better place; but, these two rules alone cannot finish the job.  The weight of the first two rules—do no harm and do good—can become a terrible burden—an impossible task—unless we adhere to the third rule: stay in love with God.  The third rule—stay in love with God—gives us the wisdom, courage and strength to enact the first two.  We’ll talk more about that in our final week, next week.

Let’s pray.

Gracious God,

We all too often are known by what we don’t do.  May we be more inclined to do than not that we might be known for that which we do: and may it all be good for Christ’s sake and the sake of the world you so love and came to save.  Amen.

[1] “The General Rules of the Methodist Church” UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/general-rules-of-the-methodist-church> Accessed September 18, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The only thing necessary…” BrainyQuote.com <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/edmundburk377528.html> Accessed September 20, 2014.

[4] James 1:22, Common English Bible.

[5] “Journal from August 12, 1738, to November 1, 1739,” in The Works of John Wesley, vol. 1, p181.

[6] “Wesley Didn’t Say It: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can…” by Kevin Watson (April 29, 2013) at VitalPiety.com < http://vitalpiety.com/2013/04/29/wesley-didnt-say-it-do-all-the-good-you-can-by-all-the-means-you-can/> Accessed September 20, 2014.

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