Three Golden Rules
January 18, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Jesus, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
And then the lawyer answered, saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.”
And Jesus said to him, “Thou hast answered rightly; this do, and you shall live.”
But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked at the injured man and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where that man was and saw him and had compassion on him, went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, the Samaritan took out two pence, and gave them to the host and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’ Which now of these three, thinkest thou,” said Jesus, “was a good neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”
And the lawyer said, “He that showed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus, “Go and do thou likewise.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic today is “Three Golden Rules, Part 2.” Now, last week I asked the question of our congregation at both services, who could stand up and recite for me the three general rules of the United Methodist Church? And it was almost unanimous – people were too modest to volunteer. Reverend Dave knew the answers, for sure, but I guarantee you that by the end of these three weeks you will all be able, with confidence, to recite before anyone the three rules of the United Methodist Church, as stated by John Wesley, our founder.
We studied the first rule last week. It’s just three words long. Do you remember it? “Do no harm.” And the postscript we added is “Have respect.” It’s interesting; the medical people among us would recognize “Do no harm” as part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take as they enter the practice of medicine.
Keep in mind that John Wesley, who lived in the 1700s and who started the new church movement, the Methodist Church, had all kinds of folks gathering. They were enthusiastic about their faith. That’s what had alienated them from the established church of their time. The established hierarchy of the time had a word for John and Charles. Do you know the pejorative label they gave to John and Charles? They called them “Enthusiasts.”
And their followers were enthusiastic about their faith. They loved the Lord. But I imagine that posed a problem for John Wesley. They had all kinds of folks there, and the Bible is a complicated book and long. So the genius of what John did was that he took all these concepts and said, “Here are the basic three rules you have to follow if you want to be a Christian, especially if you want to be a Methodist Christian.” So if anybody ever asks you, “What’s different about being Methodist?” you can answer, “Well, we have three general rules.” It’s not that other Christians don’t practice these rules – oh yes, they do. But we have them in this code that is very easy to remember and very helpful.
So, the first general rule is indeed “Do no harm.” We are the people who get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to make a couple of decisions today, and the first one is that I’m not going to do any harm. I’m going to do my best to be a respectful person – of others, of myself, and of God’s earth.” That’s the first rule: Do no harm.
The second rule is this: Do good. That’s it. Easy to remember, isn’t it? Do good. We are the people who pledge in our hearts that our lives will be oriented to doing good. God is calling each and every one of us to do good in different ways. Isn’t it great that we each have a job to do in the Kingdom? Each and every one of us has something unique to do that is good. It is our job to get up in the morning and say, “I am a person who does no harm and I am a person who does good things.”
I think that’s terrific, and I think that’s tremendously affirming. Aren’t we tempted in a lot of directions every day? When we get up in the morning and throughout the day, we’re tempted to follow the advice of our inner cynic or our inner critic. We’re tempted to get even. We’re tempted to withhold the good. But no, that’s not who we are! We’re people who do no harm, and we’re people who go about doing good.
We do good because that’s what we do; that’s who we are; that’s the Savior we follow. “Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all.” So that’s what we do. We do good because that’s who we are and it’s what we’re about.
How do we do good? We do good in our deeds, in our words, and in our prayers. We do good to people who are thankful for what we do; we do good to people who are not thankful for what we do; and we’re even inclined to do good to those who are not like us or who don’t like us, because doing good is what we’re about and who we are. You see, the second rule is about a posture of the heart – “I’m going to go out today and do all the good I can and bless all the people I can” – that’s what we’re called to do, to do good.
I have a singing group called the Starlite Chorale. Many of you know about that. We’re determined to do two things. We’re determined to sing well, and we’re determined to go out and do good. We sing for different audiences. And one of the things we do is sing for folks in nursing homes and senior residences. That’s a different kind of audience. Sometimes the folks are too weak to put their hands together. Sometimes it’s a hassle to get out there on a snowy night, to put on our outfits and load up the cars with the sound equipment, set everything up and do the concert. But it’s always rewarding. It’s always good to be a blessing.
We were at a concert once, and the director of the nursing home pulled us together after the show and said, “Look, I want to tell you something. In my Hebrew tradition,” said the lady, “we have term – mitzvah – that means blessing, a good thing. And you folks have done a mitzvah for the folks here. Look how happy you’ve made them. Thank you very much.” It was very rewarding, and it’s good to do good things for people who say thank you, because that’s who we want to be.
We also need to be people postured to do good things for people who don’t say thank you. For instance, you’re riding in your car and there’s a long line of traffic and somebody is trying to get into the line. So you do good; you stop the car and let the person pull into your lane. Sometimes the person will wave and mouth ‘thank you’, and that’s a good feeling. You know you’ve done good. But sometimes you’ll signal someone into your lane, and that person will step on the gas, zoom-zoom-zoom, and away the person drives, as if to say, ‘it’s my privilege.’ There’s no thank-you wave. But the power of your goodness is not lost. God knows that you’ve given a blessing. God knows that you’ve been a blessing, whether the person you blessed says thank you or not.
And finally, we need to give blessing to those who are not grateful to us. For instance, maybe you’re driving along on Route 206, a wooded area, and you see people stopped by the side of the road. Clearly, their car is stuck and they’re walking around looking helpless. You’re inclined to help, either to stop or maybe just call 9-1-1. You get closer to the car, and then you realize that it’s someone who hurt you. Wouldn’t you just know that the person in the disabled car is the one person that did you harm? Well, now what do you do?
There’s a part of us that is tempted to smile and say it’s poetic justice. But you’re not going to do that. You look at that person and remember all the wrong he or she did to you. And as you get closer, you see that right next to that person is a deep puddle of muddy water…but you say to yourself, “No, my first rule is ‘do no harm.’” A part of us is tempted to just keep on going. But we’re not like that. We’re going to pick up the phone, call 9-1-1, and say, “There’s a disabled car, officer, on Route 206 northbound, and they look like they’re in some trouble. Please send somebody.” That’s what we’ll do. We’ll make the call and bless them, because we are people who do good.
You know, being Christians, being committed to Jesus Christ, being members of the United Methodist Church, is a bit like being in a monastic order. We don’t wear hoods, and we don’t live in a monastery, but we’re part of an order. We choose to live life a certain way, to say yes to some things and no to others. And these rules are part of what we live by. We do no harm, and we do good.
(After the service today, I’ve asked Reverend Dave to help me out. If you’d like to talk about this some more, about these rules and how they strike you and how they apply to your life, Rev. Dave is going to be in the classroom at the very end of the hall. I invite you to join him for a discussion, and I’ll come down and visit after I get through shaking folks’ hands. It will be interesting to see how these rules apply to you and what you think of them in your daily life.)
We need to do good – it’s the posture of our heart – to those who say thank you, to those who don’t say thank you, and to those who are different from us. Let me close with this – in the Gospel reading about the Good Samaritan, Jesus was telling us about doing good, wasn’t He? He was telling us about doing good even to those who are not like us. Did you see how He set up the story? The man who was foolish enough to go by himself from Jerusalem to Jericho was beaten; he had his tunic taken from him; his face was bloody; and he was left as though dead. You couldn’t tell which tribe he was from because he didn’t have a tunic. You couldn’t tell if he was one of the gang because his face was pretty messed up. And you couldn’t tell where he came from from his speech, because he was unconscious. But the Samaritan did good just because that’s the way God made him. That’s the way he decided to be. And that’s the way Jesus blesses.
And so, let’s go forth into the week thinking about those ideas. Next week, come on back and we’ll talk about the third and final general rule. I’ll tell you this – if the first one is like a tree and the second one is like a rose, the third one is like sunshine and rain. So come back for it, won’t you? God loves you, and I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski