Think about how many decisions you have already made this morning. When the alarm went off, you had to decide if you were going to get out of bed or hit the snooze button for an extra 10 minutes of sleep. You had to decide what to eat for breakfast and if you had cereal then you probably had to decide which of the different kinds of cereal on your shelf you wanted because most of us don’t have just one kind of cereal. Do you know how many different types of cereal there are in the new Weis store? 240! Yes, I counted. So at some point you had to decide which ones you would buy to put on your shelf so that today you could decide which one to eat. You then had to decide if you were going to come to church and that decision forced you to make another decision, what were you going to wear. I had to decide which shirt to wear and then which tie would go with the shirt and if I was going to wear a suit. We had to decide what time to leave the house and then once we got here we had to decide if we had enough time to get one more cup of coffee or make one more trip to the bathroom. Once we actually entered the sanctuary we then had to decide where to sit? Actually, that decision may have been made weeks, months or even years ago. How many of you are sitting in the same exact spot that you sat in a year ago, 5 years ago… Decisions, decisions, decisions…
We all have a big decision to make this week, right? We’ve been thinking about it for months, weighing the pros and cons in our mind, figuring out what will be best for us and what will be best for others and what will be best for our financial future. That decision? How much money we will spend at the holiday bazaar on Saturday? That’s what you thought I was talking about, right? Is there some other decision we have to make this week? Right… the election.
For some, the decision on who to vote for is easy, for others it’s hard and understanding all the different issues is a challenge. Where does each candidates stand on foreign policy, domestic policy and financial policy? What will they really do with health care and entitlements like Social Security? What is their plan to grow the economy and shrink the deficit? The issues are complicated and each candidate’s response to the issues is complicated. The truth is, we live in a complicated world. Political, social and economic issues are complex. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had just a few simple rules that could guide us in all the decisions we have to make?
We may not have simple rules that will guide us in political, social and economic decisions, but we do have simple rules that can guide us in faith. God gave us one simple rule in the Old Testament and that was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This rule, known as the shema, was to be recited every day by God’s people and it was to be the one guiding principle that would direct God’s people in every decision that they made. What’s kind of sad is that the people took that one rule and expanded it out into 613 laws. It seems like we always know how to take something simple and make it really complicated. Now when Jesus came he was asked which of the 613 laws were the most important. Jesus’ answer was an attempt to once again make things simple. Jesus gave the people two simple rules to guide our faith, Love God and love your neighbor. But as you can guess, the Christian Church took those 2 rules and once again made them so complicated and complex that they struggled to know what they needed to do in order to be a faithful follower of Jesus.
What do we need to do to faithfully follow Jesus was the question asked by many people who followed the teaching of John Wesley in the 1700’s. As the popularity of Wesley’s preaching grew he organized people into small groups known as class meetings where they asked this question and like Jesus before him, Wesley tried to keep things simple so he gave the people 3 General Rules. If someone really wanted their lives to be changed by the power and grace of God and if they in turn wanted to change the world then they were to follow these 3 rules: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.
Now today, just like it was in the 1700s, our world is a confusing place and change is taking place at a faster pace than ever which means that we need some simple rules that can cut through the complexities of life and keep us walking in the footsteps of Jesus. So we are going to begin a series which will look at these 3 General Rules of the church, and the first one is – do no harm.
To help us understand what this rule means, let’s look at Romans 12:14-19 and 13:8-10. What we see here is a list of things we know are wrong and so we need to make sure we just don’t do them. We don’t murder, steal and covet because we know those things are wrong and hurt people. We don’t lie, cheat or commit adultery because we know those things are wrong and hurt people. We don’t gossip and say unkind things about people, whether in person or on facebook and twitter, because we know these words are wrong and they hurt people, at least we should. I’m afraid that today many people don’t think that their words on facebook and twitter really hurt people, but they do. Did you know that the #1 cause of teen suicide is cyber-bullying? The #1 cause of teens hurting themselves and taking their own lives is people saying harmful, hurtful and untrue things about them on facebook and twitter. It is a huge problem and not just for teens but for adults as well. I am amazed and at times horrified how mean spirited and vicious people can be online when they feel anonymous, but their words have power and their words can be destructive. When we are tempted to say something negative about someone we know or even someone we don’t know, we need to be guided by this one simple rule – do no harm.
Now what we begin to see in Romans is a list of things that we should not do because they cause harm, but Wesley’s rule wasn’t given so that we would make more and more lists of things to do and not do, it was given to guide us in our lives and help make us aware of how our attitudes, words and actions effect others. We need to stop every once in a while and ask ourselves, did any of my words or actions this week cause someone harm? This coming week, when passions and emotions are running high because of the election can I make sure that my attitudes and words and actions don’t cause anyone harm? After all, just because someone might hold strong political views that don’t line up with mine doesn’t make them a bad person and it doesn’t necessarily make them evil. We are all children of God; both democrats, republicans and even independents are precious and valuable in the eyes and heart of God.
And that is the primary reason we are to do no harm, because every person is a child of God who is loved by God. Jesus showed us this constantly throughout his ministry. Look at Matthew 19:13-14. People wanted Jesus to bless their children but the disciples didn’t see children as being important enough to take up Jesus time so they spoke sternly to these parents and told them to take their children away, but Jesus made it clear that everyone was valuable to God so he took the time to bless them. Jesus took the time to value and honor all those in society that others tried to put down. Jesus took the time to heal the lepers and to teach and heal the women and to bless the children and even welcome the Samaritans who were seen as the enemies of the Jews. Welcoming the Samaritans would be like supporters of Obama and Romney coming together for dinner. Over and over Jesus modeled a life of do no harm because to him every life was valuable and every person was a child of God.
So one of the reasons we do no harm is because God values everyone but the only way we will be able to follow this rule is if we place our trust in God. One of the times and places where we often do harm others is when we are trying to defend ourselves or get our own way. When we are hurt or injured it is easy to lash out and hurt others. When we feel like we have been wronged we want to make sure that person is going to pay. During our Life apps series we learned that forgiven people forgive, but the opposite is also true, hurt people hurt people, but as followers of Jesus, doing no harm even in those situations where we have been hurt and injured is the path that we need to follow, that’s what we heard in Romans 12:17-19.
Don’t repay evil for evil, never avenge yourself, as far as it is possible live at peace with others; in other words, let go of your rights, let go of seeking revenge and trust God to bring justice. The only way we can do no harm in a world that tells us to seek revenge and get our own way is if we are willing to trust God.
This is where the simple rule of do no harm becomes difficult and the truth is that during this series we will see that while these rules might be simple, they are not easy. It is not easy to give up our rights and it’s not easy to let go of our desire for revenge when we have been wronged but that is the way of Jesus. Do no harm is the message we are confronted with every time we gather here for worship because that is the way of life we see reflected in the cross. On the cross Jesus gave up his rights. He did not deserve to die and yet he chose that way of the cross knowing it would bring about the healing and redemption of the world. Jesus didn’t seek revenge but allowed God to work through his sacrifice to bring victory and peace to the world and when we do no harm, we have the potential to do the same thing.
When we follow these 3 simple rules, do no harm, do good, stay in love with God, we have the potential to change the world because we are walking in the way of Jesus. Doing no harm, doing good and staying in love with God is also the way of life we affirm and commit ourselves to as we share together in communion, so let us come to the table today to trust God and ask God for the strength to live out these simple and yet difficult rules.
3 Simple Rules ~ Do No Harm.
1. What individual or groups of people do you struggle to see as valuable children of God? Ask God to help you see all people the way He does.
2. Reflect on your attitudes, words and actions of this past week, did any of them intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to someone? Are there certain decisions you make on a regular basis that cause intentional or unintentional harm to others? If so, seek forgiveness and then seek out a new path.
3. Sometimes our need for justice or revenge can harm others. What would it look like for us to trust God to bring justice in these situations?
4. John Wesley gave these 3 General Rules to small groups of people to live out together. What small group of believers can help you live out these rules? If you are not part of a small group – seek one out today.
Suggested Prayer for the week:
Heavenly Father, I want to be the kind of person who will bring goodness into the world. I don’t want to be a person who harms or destroys others but a person who will do the right thing. I want to be your child and a reflection of your love and grace. Fill me with your Spirit, Lord, for I know that if your Spirit dwells in me, I will do no harm. In Jesus’ holy name I pray, Amen.