You may be familiar with A. J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically. He conducted a year-long experiment to live every single commandment, regulation, and rule found in the Bible. He identified over 700 rules about ethics, relationships, clothing, diet, and more. Simply listing all the rules took 72 pages in his book about the experience, The Year of Living Biblically. The attempt to follow every single Biblical rule and law nearly drove Jacobs — not to mention his family and friends — crazy!
This Sunday in Sanctuary worship, I will begin a three-part series of sermons entitled Three Simple Rules.
Back at the beginning of the Methodist Movement, in 1739, a group of 8 or 10 people approached John Wesley. They asked him to help them grow in their Christian faith and lifestyle. Imagine their response if Wesley had handed them a bound book with 72 pages listing over 700 rules to follow! They (like us) would have been overwhelmed.
Instead, the founder of the Methodist movement chose a different approach. Wesley looked at Scripture, he looked at what he was preaching to the people, and he developed the General Rules of the United Societies. He developed 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 Reuben Job, are:
1) Do no harm
2) Do good of every possible sort
3) Stay in love with God
In this series, we will take one rule on each Sunday and consider what it means for us today. Each Sunday, our scripture reading will be the same — Romans 12:1-2, 9-21. I encourage you to read it every day during these three weeks as part of your devotional and prayer life. There is a lot there!
Depending on how you count them, in these ten verses from the 12th chapter of Romans, there are 14 or 15 directives for Christians from Paul about how we are to live our lives. Yet, we can boil those directives down to those three simple rules, the General Rules for Methodists: Do No Harm. Do Good of Every Possible Sort. Stay in Love with God.
This Sunday, we’ll focus on the first General Rule: Do No Harm. John Wesley gave examples of the kinds of harm that he saw as most generally practiced in his day in the early part of the eighteenth century. If you look at all of John Wesley’s examples, they fall into three categories:
1. Do no harm to yourself.
What if we took this seriously? What if you and I woke up tomorrow morning and began our day by pledging: I will do no harm to myself today. I will not willingly participate in anything that causes harm to me today. How might that change our lives?
2. Do no harm to others.
What if we took this seriously? What if we got up in the morning and said to ourselves: I will do no harm to others today.
When we think of harming someone, we usually think of physical harm. Yet there are other ways that we harm people. We have weapons we use every day to bring people to their knees. Weapons like gossip, manipulation of the facts, speaking disparagingly about others, or speaking down about someone else.
What would it mean to wake up in the morning and say: I will not participate in systems today that cause harm to others? How might it change the things we buy? The work we do? The way we travel? The way we spend our spare time?
What if we got up in the morning and said: I will not treat any other person today in any way as to cause them harm? I will not participate in organizations and systems that are harmful to others today. I will not participate in anything that demeans others today. I will not participate in anything that objectifies or negatively categorizes today. I will not participate in anything that takes others’ freedoms away today. I will not stand by passively while others are treated unjustly today.
What impact might this have on our lives and the lives of others?
3. Do no harm to God’s creation.
What if we got up every morning, and at the very beginning of our day, we said first, I will do no harm today? I will not passively participate in systems that harm others. I will not harm God or God’s creation today. God, let me do no harm today.
In the words of Bishop Job, “to do no harm means that I will be on guard so that all of my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or to any part of God’s creation…. I will determine every day that my life 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 the ways of the world. When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God – a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved – just like myself.”
What one or two things can I do in the coming week, in the interest of doing no harm, and am I willing to commit to doing those things?
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 (The Message)
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.