Last Sunday I began a series of sermons entitled Three Simple Rules — a name taken from the title of a book by Bishop Rueben Job. Back at the beginning of the Methodist Movement John Wesley developed the General Rules of the United Societies. He set three rules that are short, pithy, and easy to remember. These became known as The General Rules and remain part of our life as a Christian denomination to this day. These three simple rules, put into contemporary language by Bishop Job, are:
Do no harm
Do good of every possible sort
Stay in love with God
Each Sunday we are considering one of the three General Rules — a part of Methodism from the early days to the present. What a difference it would make if we all lived by these rules!
This Sunday we’re considering the second General Rule: Do good of every possible sort.
Over the past few months we have seen terrible images of the multiple crises in our nation and our world — dark images of death and destruction. Those are the ones that seem to get our attention and linger in our minds. But that is not all we have seen. We have also witnessed inspiring images of people living by the second General Rule — people doing good of every possible sort:
An exhausted ICU nurse comforting a patient
A doctor, spent from hours on duty in full protective equipment, placing a comforting hand on the shoulder of a worried mother
Firefighters traveling to California to help fight wildfires
Volunteers helping in the cleanup following a hurricane’s devastation
Protestors peacefully protesting racial injustice
Volunteers packaging and giving out food to families in need
Educators doing their best to ensure our children are educated in spite of all the difficulties of online learning
A child proudly holding up a picture she drew to encourage people on the front lines of fighting the pandemic
Friends, the list is long. Yes, these are devastatingly difficult times, but in the midst of these times, there are images and stories that remind us that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.” They remind us that even death does not have the final word. They remind us that good is not overcome by evil, and that evil is not overcome by evil, but that evil is overcome by good.
I encourage you to read our passage from Romans 12 every day during this series. When we feel discouraged, Romans 12 challenges us with these words: “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”
Words often attributed to John Wesley have become a favorite way of expressing the second General Rule:
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.
Our families, our churches, our schools, our cities, our communities, our nation, and our world need us to do good of every possible sort.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 (Common English Bible)
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.