Three Golden Rules
January 11, 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 1.” I’m very excited to begin this series of three sermons with you. I’ve never preached on this topic before, but I am fascinated by it, and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a blessing to you.
Let me begin with a question. By a show of hands, how many of you think you could stand up and recite the general rules of the United Methodist Church? [Laughter – one hand and one hand only goes up…and it belongs to a retired Methodist minister.] Well, that gives me something to teach you and something to share these in three weeks.
Way back in the 1700s, the Methodist Church was being established over in England. Now you have to understand that the Church of England at the time, the Anglican Church, had really alienated a lot of people. People’s faith was not engaged in a dynamic way, especially working people. They stayed away in droves. A gentleman by the name of John Wesley was an Episcopalian priest, a priest in the Church of England. He and his hymn-writing brother Charles decided to help change all that. And so, John started a religious movement, sort of a Bible study that grew into a church, and it was called the Methodist Church. It was very popular. People flocked to the meetings, because the music was soulful and the teaching was down-to-earth. John and Charles touched the world in such a remarkable way that the Methodist Church spread throughout the world. And we are here today.
When John Wesley was setting up the church, he came to realize that it was very important for him to establish some very simple, basic rules for the new adherence to this Methodist faith. He wanted to establish something that was easy to remember but very clear, something that everyone could cling to and live by as they went about in the Methodist way. So today and in the weeks to come I’d like to talk with you about the general rules of the society of the people called Methodists.
The rules may seem very simple on the surface, but don’t let that fool you. They are profound. And I’ve found, personally, that as I’ve been studying them and preparing for these sermons, I have been very deeply touched spiritually by meditating on these rules. That is my hope for you, too, that you would take each one as we talk about them and meditate on them through the week. I guarantee you that by the end of the three weeks you will confidently be able to recite and know the general rules of the Methodist Church.
Let’s talk about the first rule this morning. Here it is: “Do no harm.” That’s it. Do no harm. I’m going to extend it a little bit and add a phrase: “Do no harm. (Have respect.)” That’s the first rule. And that’s what I’m inviting you to take with you into the week. While you pray, when you think about your work day, when you think about how to respond to different situations, think to yourself, “I am a person who does no harm. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. I do no harm. I have respect.”
Let’s look at this in three ways. I do no harm to others; I do no harm to myself; I do no harm to God’s good earth. I want to focus especially on the first two of these today.
I do no harm to others. Wow! If we lived by that principle in our hearts, if everyone lived by that principle, our world would be dynamically transformed. I do no harm. I am the kind of person who does no harm. What does that mean? It means that even if I disagree with someone, I wish them no evil. I wish them no harm.
Someone shared with me the other day a principle from the book, Getting to Yes. I think it went something like this: “Be hard on the problem, soft on the people.” Be tough on the problem, soft with people. That’s who we are. That’s the difference our faith makes in our lives. We are gentle with people. Why? Because that’s the way Jesus was. Jesus Christ did no harm to anyone. Jesus Christ looked at people and saw brilliant children of God. Jesus did not see class or type; he saw people. You know He was criticized for it, but that’s okay. He was Jesus, and He won in the end. I will do no harm, because I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I invite you to keep that thought in your heart.
Where do we need this first rule? Our children need it. Growing up today is tough. Kids face problems and challenges today that I never faced when I was growing up. But both then and now, other kids can be tough. They can be hurtful. And we have to judge how we will respond. Christian children, Christian youth, I invite you to say to yourself, “I do no harm. I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Maybe some of you, adults and youth alike, have heard the phrase “I don’t get mad. I get even.” That is the response of what Jesus called “this world.” That’s not us. That’s not us Christians. No. we do no harm. That is our basic premise. We see other people as the redeemed, blessed, wonderful children of God that God created them to be. Our children need our prayers. They need our support when it comes to this principle of “I do no harm.” Harm can be with fists; harm can be with words; harm can be with influence. Christian young people, Christian youth, I invite you to say in your hearts, “I do no harm.”
When children have a conflict, we always admonish them (don’t we, parents?) to use words, not fists. That’s a principle that applies in kindergarten and throughout life. We are people who have a basic respect for others in our hearts. We are committed to that principle. That’s who we are as Christians. We see each other with deep respect. We do no harm to others, and we bless our children when we teach them that principle.
Where else do we need this principle? We need it in the world! Just look at the headlines on CNN or in your newspaper. Ask yourself, what if everyone involved in these situations practiced the first general rule, I do no harm? What would the world be like? Does your heart break, as mine does, when you read the headlines about Gaza and Israel? When will it end? When will somebody finally say, “Enough! No more bombs! No more rockets!”? Only then will there be peace. Oh, may the spirit of Christ prevail in every heart, those who embrace the sacred name and those who don’t! Do no harm.
My friends, if you embrace this principle, you’re going to find something. You’re going to find a lightening of your heart. You’re going to find an uplifting feeling, because you are freed from the principle of retribution. You are going to find a feeling of release and cleansing within yourself when you realize that there is no need to get back, no need to pay back. There is only a need to forgive, a need to relinquish harm. We need it in our schools; we need it in our world; and we need it with each other.
You know what? If you have this principle in your heart, a lot of fear will go away. If you feel that you have to be in contention, you are giving power to that other force. But if you remind yourself that you live by the principle of ‘do no harm,’ there is a lightness that can come. It’s wonderful.
So, do no harm to others – in school, in the world, in your world. And there’s one more thing I want to talk with you about today, and this might be even harder. Do no harm – to yourself. I invite you to say in your heart, “I do no harm to myself.”
When do you do harm to yourself? You do harm to yourself when your inner critic goes wild, when your inner cynic goes wild, and when you get up in the morning beating yourself up for all the things you left undone and all the things you did and now regret. Let it go. Say “I’m a child of God. I do no harm to others, and I do no harm to myself. I’m going to respect myself the way God respects me.” When you take on that principle, those three little words have remarkable power. And they become our distinguishing hallmark as Christians. They become the outpicturing of our internal faith in Jesus Christ.
You know, they say that couples who have had a wonderful, long marriage begin to think like each other and talk like each other and maybe look like each other. If we practice this principle of ‘do no harm,’ I think we’ll begin to talk like, act like, and maybe even look like Jesus. Won’t that be a wonderful thing?
Friend, I want to close with one more story. There is a marvelous book called The Art of Pastoring, by William C. Martin. I’ve read through this book about six or seven times over the years. William Martin has taken the book The Way, by Lao Tzu, an ancient Asian writer, and interpreted them for Christian living today. He tells this story, and I submit it to you, if you are dealing with difficult people in your life or difficult situations. It goes like this:
“If you resist and fight
every time there is trouble…
you give evil its power.
Merely move aside
as would a martial arts master,
and evil will collapse of its own weight
on the floor beside you.”
I invite you to say with me, one more time, these words:
I do no harm to others. I have respect.
I do no harm to myself. I respect myself.
You are a beloved child of God. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski