Message for October 25, 2020- “Simple Rules for Life”
(Based on Matthew 22: 34-46)
One of the Pharisees, a lawyer by trade, asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher,” he said, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answered him, and the crowd that had also gathered to listen to him by saying, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
These familiar words of Jesus serve two important purposes for us as we hear them anew this morning. First, as we place ourselves into the story, we hear Jesus call his followers into relationship, a relationship of love toward the God who first loved us, and who sent us Jesus to save us. This, Jesus tells us is our first and greatest calling or commandment. Then, he shares a second commandment. It flows from the first, as the anticipated result, or outcome of obeying the first commandment. This commandment calls believers to love our neighbors. This is the point at which the Gospel of Luke recounts to readers that the lawyer then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
We recall from Jesus’ response to the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel, known to us as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan,” that our “neighbor” includes everyone, people who are just like us, and also people who are different from us in one way or another. For, just as it was a Samaritan who cared for the man who fell among the thieves, proving himself to be a good neighbor, we are called to consider those of diverse backgrounds and life circumstances our neighbors. As we consider this commandment, we are reminded that it is the second commandment Jesus gave to his followers. That is because it will take our truly living into the first commandment, to love God with all that is within us, in order to fulfill the second commandment to love others. These commandments are both simple and direct so that we understand them; but, really living them, as we will see, is a much more complicated matter.
There came a point in John Wesley’s ministry when he was asked, “What is the mark of a Methodist?” Wesley answered with these words:
“A Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost
given unto him’; one who ‘loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul,
and with all his mind, and with all his strength.’ God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of
his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none
upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart,
and my portion forever!’” (“The Character of a Methodist”-in Works, vol. 8; page 341).
I find it amazing that John Wesley himself described Methodists first and foremost as those who have “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.” It is the love of God that calls us to, in turn, shed love abroad—to share love with others. And, the Holy Spirit works in, with and through believers to help make this love a reality. So, just what is involved in this love that Jesus commanded and John Wesley proclaimed was the mark of a Methodist?
Ruben P. Job is a Wesleyan Scholar who has adopted John Wesley’s way of living, and he is reviving this way into a movement which he believes has the power to change the world. In his book, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, Job outlines three disciplined Wesleyan practices for daily living as a means of inviting this desired change. They are: 1) Do No Harm, 2) Do Good, and 3) Stay in Love with God. These practices are derived from John Wesley’s “General Rules,” for his Methodist Societies. Although these rules seem clear, direct and simple enough to understand, their daily application is far from an easy task. The three rules require a constant consideration of our earthly circumstances, and the consistent application of Christ’s great command for us to love others.
Let us explore the first rule—Do no harm. As Ruben Job states, “If I am to do no harm, I can no longer gossip…manipulate the facts of the conflict…diminish those who do not agree with me, and [I] must honor each [person] as a child of God.” Attempting to apply this principle, as Job has described it, to every circumstance in our daily living will surely create some personal challenges. Yet, it calls us to follow Jesus’ example, and to grow and learn from the experiences we encounter along the path of our faith journey.
Doing good, to Job, as to John Wesley himself, means intentionally doing all the good that is humanly possible. Job writes, “We remember the words of Jesus, ‘…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’” Although the language here is plain enough, the daily practice of this discipline, like doing no harm, is not easy. Doing all the intentional good possible will cost a significant amount of our time, talents and spiritual and physical resources. It is the active daily sacrifice of choosing agapé love, which is often a difficult choice to make. That is why Job includes the practice of the Wesley’s Ordinances as a way of keeping our growing relationship with God, our staying in love with God, an ongoing part of our faith journey. Job names Wesley’s Ordinances as follows, “… public worship of God, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible Study, and fasting.” Regular observance of these disciplined practices provides us with the grace moments that forgive, comfort, revive and reshape us, so that we can go forth to bless others we encounter through our faith journey and ministry. These grace moments keep us in love with God and continually striving to love others as God so deeply and completely loves us.
So Church, in these most difficult and divisive times, are we bold enough to follow “Three Simple Rules,” rules that are easy to comprehend but anything but easy to truly live? At a time when negative rhetoric and self-serving motivations seem to be the order of the day, can we commit to do no harm—either physical, mental, emotional, social/relational, or spiritual harm—no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Are we committed to do all of the good we can for others, even when doing that good means loving our enemies and praying for those who injure us, abuse us, are unjust toward us or just plain dislike and undermine us at every given opportunity? If we can practice these simple rules, we will invite change, desperately needed change, into the midst of our current mess. Change is messy, and we cannot do any of this alone. We need the grace, comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us—to order our steps. Practicing the Wesleyan spiritual disciplines will help to keep us focused on God and grounded on that which is truly important to our faith journey—staying in love with God. With God, all things are possible—even living according to the Simple Rules of Life that both invite and foster change in our world! Amen.
O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.
(“O How I Love Jesus” words Frederick Whitfield, music-19th Century Melody)