Three Golden Rules
January 25, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic today is “Three Golden Rules, Part 3.” We’ve been studying the general rules of the United Methodist Church as brought to us by John Wesley. Back in his day the language was a lot more elaborate and flowery, but the principles were exactly the same. As you recall, three weeks ago I asked if you knew what they were. Hardly any of us did. But as I promised, by this week, you’ll know all three.
Three Golden Rules. Do you remember the first one? Do no harm. We Methodists are part of an order, part of a fellowship in Christ that has these three rules. We should review them each morning when we get up.
First, I am a person who does no harm. I do not return dishonor for dishonor; I do not strike back when I am stricken; I try to solve problems in the smallest possible circle. I try my best to be a person who does no harm.
I saw a great example of doing no harm this week. I’ll bet you did, too. America is celebrating – the world is celebrating – the inauguration of our 44th President. Almost two million people were gathered in Washington to witness the event. Two million people! When you watched it on TV, was your breath taken away as mine was? It was amazing.
My friends, do you know how many arrests were made that day? None. No arrests. It’s a statistical anomaly. It is unbelievable that in that situation there would have been no arrests. But there were none! Talk about ‘do no harm’ – praise God! What a beautiful sight!
And let me take a little step to the side. Of course we were all interested in the inaugural speech, but I was particularly interested as well in the invocation and the benediction. I wanted to hear what the ministers did with those. I had very strong feelings about that. I was proud of Rick Warren, weren’t you? When he was announced as the invocation-giver, I wondered about that. But he did a great job. You know why I think that? Because in the context of his prayer, he sought to embrace everyone. He sought to embrace people who were Christians as well as people who were not Christians. I thought he did a wonderful job at that, and I salute him for it.
I also salute the Rev. Lowrey. Did anybody hear the benediction? Wasn’t that great? Aren’t you proud that he is a Methodist? He is a retired Methodist pastor. It was a wonderful moment, and I praise God for it.
So, the first rule is ‘Do no harm.’ And the second rule is ‘Do good.’ That should be the second thing we think about in the morning. How can I go out into the world and do good today? How can I do good for those who will be grateful? How can I do good for those who will not be grateful? And how can I do good even for those who are different from me or with whom I don’t agree? God tells us to do good. That is our second rule.
The third rule we learn today, and it is simply this: ‘Stay in love with God.’ That is the third rule, and that is what Mr. Wesley advises us, as Methodists, to do. Stay in love with God. And Wesley specifically had in mind that we should stay in love with God through what he called the ordinances of the church. That’s an odd term for us, but what it means is the ceremonies, the traditions, the services of the church. And I want to talk about three of those that he held dear – daily prayer, Sunday worship, and Holy Communion.
Now, maybe this is beginning to sound a little familiar to you. We have our five keys of Christian living, right? They are
*pray every day
*worship every week
*read and grow
*give as you are given
*help wherever you can.
You see, that third rule dovetails into our five keys of Christian living. I want to talk about three of them today. I want to talk with you about daily prayer, about Sunday worship, and about Holy Communion, because Wesley deeply loved these. And he was deeply convinced that the way we stay in love with God is to nurture our souls through the blessings of daily prayer, weekly worship, and Holy Communion. Let’s talk about these, shall we?
Daily prayer. I am so fortunate! The longer I live the more I marvel at how fortunate I am. Right now, I am surrounded by talented, wonderful people. I am so blessed to be surrounded by this congregation. I am so blessed to have had the parents that I had, because they really loved God. The household I grew up in was not perfect, but my parents loved God. I’m 57 years old, and I can tell you that today, that love glows in my heart the way it did when I was five.
Prayer. If I got up early enough, I could go down to the kitchen and see my father kneeling in prayer next to his chair at the kitchen table. I’d listen to his “Our Father” and his rosary and his “I believe in God” – it was a long prayer. I was blessed with parents who prayed. I remember my mother sitting with the Bible I still have, reading through it; she read through it several times. She loved God, too.
I remember cold and frosty mornings like this one where we all got into the car. The heat didn’t come up too quickly in the Studebaker back in those days. But we got in the car and crunched over the snow and went to church, all together. My parents took me every Sunday. They were not allowed to receive Holy Communion, by the way. You see, my mother had been divorced, and my father married her thereafter. That excluded both of them from Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.
But you know what? They were never angry. They never objected. They went to church every Sunday. And they showed me that they loved the Lord without reservation. What a gift! And now, all these years later, I celebrate it still.
Pray every day. You may or may not get on your knees. But I invite you to fold your hands or make crosses with your fingers in the morning before you get out of bed. Listen for the Lord talking to you. Listen for the words of the Lord’s love. Listen for Him saying your name and telling you how much He loves you. Listen for Him saying your name and telling you the wonderful things that you do and can do. Listen for His words of love. Be still and patient enough to hear the good things He has to say to you.
And take some time in those moments of prayer to offer your love for Him. Let Him hold you in the embrace of His blessing, and tell Him how much you love Him, too. Oh, stay in love with God!
You are here in church. God bless you! It’s the way you reinforce your faith, and your presence reinforces everybody else’s faith. It’s a good way to stay in love with God.
And you receive Holy Communion. What a blessed thing! John Wesley felt that people should receive communion every day. We receive once a month, but it is a sacred time of connection with the Lord. It is a time when we listen for His words of love for us, and we express our love and connectedness with Him. It is with great joy, each Communion Sunday, that I am able to ask you the question, “Who is welcome at the Lord’s Table?” and I hear you thunder back, “Everyone!” Yes, my friends, everyone is welcome at the Lord’s Table. Everyone is welcome to the means of grace which it supplies.
My prayer for you is that you would stay in love with God. Salvation itself is the process of saying, “Dear God, I have somehow, some way, felt the embrace of Your love, amazing as it is. I may feel as guilty and broken as Peter, but I hear your voice saying, ‘Anthony, do you love me?’ ‘Kathy, do you love me?’ ‘Jane, do you love me?’ ‘Peter, do you love me?’ And I say, ‘Yes, Lord, You know I do.’” That’s what salvation is all about. That’s what accepting the Lord as Savior means. It means saying, “Lord, I recognize the fact that, amazingly enough, You love me, and I love You, too.”
Religion – faith – is a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of love. All that we do, all that we say, and all that we pray is a matter of love between us and God. And from the wellspring of that love springs all the good that we do, all the protection against harm that we do, all the blessings that we bring to the world. All these things spring from that wonderful fountain of love, love of God for us and of us for God.
So, my friends, there you have it, the three rules of the Methodist Church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we went into the world and practiced them each day? What a wonderful place the world would be if everyone did! Let’s fold those rules to our hearts; let’s say them together one more time: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
I’ve written a little song about this, and I’d like to invite you to sing it together. The words, obviously, are adapted from Wesley, but the melody is original.
Do no harm by any word or deed.
Do what’s good wherever there is need.
Stay in love with God, this day and evermore.
Stay in love with God.
Stay in love with God.
It’s the truth: God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski