Summary: The first in a sermon series around John Wesley's "General Rules for the People Called Methodist." An exploration of Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself."
Do any of you have a guilty indulgence? If you’re like me, you probably have more than one. And one of those guilty pleasures for me is Krispy Kreme donuts. In my book, there’s nothing quite so good as a warm, sugar-glazed Krispy Kreme donut. Ken would say that the cake donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts are better, and you might feel the same, but for me, it’s Krispy Kreme all the way. In any case, donuts are pretty good, especially the chocolate glazed ones, right? The only saving grace for me is that, though there is a Krispy Kreme near my home, there is not one on my normal commute because it sure is hard for me to drive by a Krispy Kreme without stopping, especially when the “Hot Now” sign is flashing out front!
Yep, I could buy a dozen “Hot Now” Krispy Kreme donuts and put them away in no time flat, without giving it much thought. But have you ever done something like that; eaten a whole box of Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting? How does it make you feel? At first it’s really good, right? You eat that first donut, and all that sugary goodness just melts in your mouth. That’s probably the case with the second and third donut, too. So by the time you down all twelve of those donuts, you should be feeling great, right? But is that really how it works? What really happens is that you get less and less enjoyment out of every donut. So by the time you get to the end of the box you’re in no way full or satisfied, and in fact, your tummy hurts. And then you start filling guilty because eating all those donuts was a really bad thing to do on all sorts of levels. Before too long, you come to the complete a full realization that something that once seemed so good, was really quite harmful and bad.
Throughout this month, we are going to be studying John Wesley’s “General Rules” for the people called Methodist. Wesley taught that Christians and Methodists should continually show evidence of their desire of salvation in three ways: “By doing no harm, by doing good, and by attending upon the ordinances of God (or staying in love with God as we say in more modern English).” Now these three rules aren’t the whole story about what it means to be a follower of Christ, but they do give us a foothold to help us understand what Christian discipleship is all about. So today, we are going to focus on what it means to “do no harm” as a Christian. Because, as that box of donuts reminds us, even when something seems good, it could very well be doing harm to us, or to others.
One of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God wants us all to experience “the good life,” a life lived in God’s presence and committed to God’s purposes. And one thing John Wesley wants us to be aware of is that anything that we might do that is steering ourselves or others away from experiencing “God’s good life” is actually doing harm. And that's where Paul's letter to the Romans and the passages we heard this morning come into play. This whole passage is about how Christians deal with the wider world, and the right response says Paul is not cursing, but blessing.
What Paul’s writings remind us of is that Christians are to be known as good neighbors, prepared to join in the fun when someone on the street has good news, and to be there to support and weep alongside those who face tragedy. But there’s even more to it than that. We have to stop saying the words that hurt other people. We have to stop the practices that harm people in our own communities and around the world. In fact, Paul says we should actually go out of our way to do wonderful, positive acts of kindness to all people, even those who have wronged us. God has his own way of dealing with the wicked of the world and bringing people to their senses as they deal with the results of their own actions. And when we try to play that role; when we try to exact revenge on those who have wronged us or cast judgment on those who disagree with us, what we are actually doing is causing harm! What we need to know today is that anything we do as Christians that causes harm to ourselves or others is keeping people from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace and love.
Perhaps some of you are aware of the recent news story of the school bus monitor who was viciously bullied by a group of middle school boys. The nearly 15 minute verbal onslaught was captured on video by one of the boys. As Ken and I watched clips of this video recording of the lambasting, we both observed that we remember kids saying those kinds of mean things to one another when we were growing up. But the difference was, we agreed, was that no kid would dare to carry on like that to an adult.