We love things simple and to the point. Love God. Love others. Go be the church! God str uggled that His people couldn’t follow the faith rules. He tried to make it simple. So, he gave the 10 Commandments (not the 10 suggestions). And the people struggled with the 10 Commandments – and we still do.
John Wesley str uggled with the (United) Methodist’s living out the faith true to God in the world. They kept “adjusting” God’s word to “kinda God’s Word” – and we still do. John Wesley finally lead all the Methodists from then ‘til now (and into the future) with Three General Rules – Three Simple Rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
Methodists were excited, but they struggled with it. They agreed with the three rules, but not the way it was presented. Immediately, Methodists started to rearrange the words into “kinda” Wesley’s order. They stumbled over the fact that Wesley put “do no harm” first. Shouldn’t you just jump to doing good?
John Wesley, in his instructions to all those “desirous of salvation,” explained that the evidence of their sincerity was “First, by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced …” (Book of Discipline 2000, ∂103, p. 73) Even before listing good things to do, Wesley began by listing harmful things to avoid doing. There is a powerful lesson for Christian congregations, leaders and followers of Jesus – as valuable as good works may be, it is even more valuable to avoid those things that might harm others or destroy the foundation of trust of the congregation. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
As the church in the world, we are to “lead by example” – our witness in the world. So, that is why Jesus gave us simple rules to guide us. And, to be certain we followed His example, Jesus “exampled” it to us throughout his ministry. “Do no harm” is first. Without that, most of the people Jesus healed or helped or loved would have been “lost” while His disciples would be
saying “How much we love God!”
People wanted “Do no harm” at the end of the rules. “Start with loving God,” many would say. But Wesley and Jesus knew that the hardest was to first change our behavior – to change our witness to the world even before doing good –“Doing no harm” would be the hardest because it would demand the most from us and require a fundamental change from “my will” to “Thy Will.” It would make us dependent on God’s help with this one! And following God was the hardest thing to do…the whole Bible is about that struggle. Wow, I never thought of it in that way before. “Do no harm” is foundational to our faith.
A few years ago in a congregation, we did a study on “The Three Simple Rules.” It was one of the hardest studies that challenged us to our core…because it brought us from the “kinda” rules into line with God’s simple rules for us. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. In the midst of our own personal desires to get back to normal, our faith requires us to seek the good of all. By practicing good judgment and common sense and out of a concern for the welfare of our neighbor, we must continue to stay the course by being diligent around social distancing and refraining from being in large groups. At the same time, there are ample opportunities to safely engage in mission and outreach in our communities.
I think this coronavirus has offered us an opportunity to see how “do no harm” comes first. One of the best ways to do no harm these days is to practice social distancing, to shelter in place, and to be considerate of others at the grocer y store or out on the street by keeping a distance. Do no harm is the stage we’re still in as a church. I don’t want persons to be disappointed to not see our church as a leader in doing what we can for our community by adhering to recommended, proven practices of social distancing, wearing a mask, and asking those with ANY symptoms to attend virtually. We want to meet together. But what happens when we apply the three simple rules?
A person wrote this message to me just this week: “The medical professionals are recommending limited reopening when there has been a decline in cases for two weeks. Numbers in Iowa are holding steady in the 300-400+/day range, is not even beginning to decline. While I understand the desire to meet, please lead the group by putting forth guidelines. If we as a church value this medical advice, it spreads a message within the community, much as our faith in Christ. If the United Methodist Church is not distributing and reinforcing these guidelines they’re doing a disservice to everyone.” Each day. Each decision we make. Each time it’s hard for us to change our behaviors. Each time it means putting others first and their good. Each time guidelines are given to us. Each time we match up what we do and where we go the metric is the same: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”
Remember this? “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” In the next few weeks we will be deciding what church will look like? Do we meet in the building, how do we sit? Do we wear masks? Do we sing? Do we continue to meet virtually? What is the new normal? We’ve always done it that way before.
What will be the new rule? What will we use to measure that first re-gathering? We might want
to start with this: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.” Go be the church.