Today we continue in a sermon series called Three Simple Rules. These are not rules that I made up. These are rules that John Wesley the founder of Methodism put together for the earliest followers of the Methodist Church back in the 1700’s. The reason that John Wesley outlined the three rules is because one of the greatest challenges of being a faithful follower of Jesus in the world is living into the ideals of the two great Commandments that Jesus outlined for us. You remember what they were:
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Wesley boiled things down into three bullet points, three rules based on these two great commandments.
Do you remember what Rule #1 was? “Do no harm.” And last week we talked about how difficult that is in today’s world. Because even sometime when you think you’re doing good you may not being doing good. And so we talked about how we need God more than ever to recognize that when we try to do no harm we sometimes end up harming others. And one of the reasons is because we have hurt in our own lives. And we talked last week how we have to invite God in to heal those hurts in our own life before we can truly be there for others. And how it is that our God offers healing even in the midst of some of the most broken places in our lives.
Today we are going to talk about Rule #2, Do good.
This last week I was I met up with this gentleman, sort of a chance meeting, and he found out I was a pastor and we were talking. And he said he had been to a lot of different churches in the area over the course of many years. And he said, “You know I finally just got fed up with up with it.”
“Fed up with what?” And he said, “Well I served on boards and committees at some of these churches , (Boards of elders and such), and then I would go out into my business and I would see some of these people and some of the ways they would treat others and ways they would do business and they would cheat and lie.” And he said, “I just couldn’t take it anymore. Now I don’t even go to church.”
And so I said a couple of things. “First I said, “Well you know I tell people don’t judge God by His followers. Because we all mess up sometimes.”
Then I asked him a question. “Um, did you ever go to our church?” He said, “Actually no.” I said, “Whew!” But I said, “You know part of the challenge is figuring out how do you take this stuff we talk about, this faith and how do you embed it in your heart so you carry it with you, knowing that you’re going to get it wrong sometimes, that’s part of life. You’re not going to get it all right. But how do you take it out into the world and live it so that as best as possible you’re loving God and loving your neighbor and taking those things with you.
And that’s really what this sermon series is about and what these three rules are about.
So let’s just kind of jump right in. The first rule was do no harm. But Wesley had a longer phrase for the second rule actually. He had a phrase that he would teach all of the early followers of Methodism.
And actually if you go to almost any Methodist school in the US you’ll probably see this phrase prominently displayed somewhere on campus. Let’s say it together:
“Do all the good you can; by all the means you can; in all the ways you can; in all the places you can; at all the times you can; to all the people you can; as long as ever you can.”
And this would be a phrase that he would want people to just embed in their heart and take with them in their hearts and to recognize that when you go out in the world, especially if people know that you are one of these Christians they’re going to be watching you.
St. Francis of Assisi said it best. He said, “You’re the only gospel that some people will ever read.” And so it is that Wesley said, “Take this faith with you into the world.”
So what I want to focus on is what does this mean for us today. And one of the things it means for us is that it is supposed to make a difference in your families, in your workplaces. And that really is the intent of these three rules.
As we begin looking at this idea of doing good and living out the three simple rules I thought it would be good for us to have a vision of what John Wesley hoped for in terms of how the people called Methodists would live out their faith.
And so John Wesley had a way of talking about this. People ask me sometimes, “What makes Methodism unique? Here’s one of the things that makes Methodism unique. On the screen I’d like to show you a diagram that really the vision John Wesley had which gives us a model for the Christian life.
What you see here is that one of the hallmarks of Methodism is grace. You will see that grace is the foundational cornerstone. Grace is the beginning of the Christian life. Grace is the unmerited, powerful love of God. We don’t do anything to earn it. We don’t deserve it. It is given to us as a free gift. We are born into this place where God loves us. And John Wesley would talk about grace that pervades everything. And there’s a grace that goes before us; God’s love that goes before us. He called this prevenient grace. It means “ever present” or “the grace that goes before.” Wesley would say that God is loving us even if we don’t believe that God exists. This prevenient grace surrounds us from the moment we are born and we can’t escape it as God is constantly trying to reveal who he is to the children that he created to love.
Wesley would point us to Ephesians 2:8-10 where Paul says these words.
“8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done…” (In other words when we’re going to talk about doing good today, it’s not, do those good things to get something from God.) “So none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
So here’s how it works. You were made by God to be loved by God. This grace is there for you as a gift and when you do good it’s because you’re responding out of that amazing gift that’s been given to you.
This prevenient grace is the grace that goes before. It is God’s way of loving us or “wooing” us towards the heart of God.
But then Wesley says that there’s a movement that happens that we become a part of this. He called it an awakening. It’s also called justifying grace. You might call it the “Ah ha moment.” Where you open the gift and you go, “Ah ha!” and you realize that God loves me. And you realize that you can’t do anything to deserve it or earn it, it’s just there and you go, “Wow!” And it’s meant to just kind of wash over you.
Wesley would point to Romans 3:21-24 when he talks about justifying grace.
“21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. “24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
And so here’s the deal. The cross and the work of Christ on the cross is meant to wash over us. We’re meant to walk in the room and we see the cross up here and you recognize the gift that it is to you and it makes you go, “Wow! That’s how much God loves me.”
And when we do we recognize that our broken places don’t have the final say and don’t define who we are. We say “yes” to God through Jesus Christ and we begin this process of transformation. This awakening can happen at any point in our lives if we are open to God’s voice calling us to experience his love. When this awakening happens we are compelled to go out and make a difference in the world. Faith and good works go hand-in-hand as a follower of Jesus. It’s not that one comes before the other but that we are created to do good works and by grace through faith we are then truly transformed to go out and do the good we were created to do.
The really cool part of the Christian life is that we don’t just experience this moment once but we can experience it over and over again in two different ways. And Wesley would say there are means of grace, there’s a way to tangibly experience this. He talked about it terms of the sacraments; baptism and Holy Communion. We call these two things sacraments because Jesus participated in them. He got baptized and He broke the bread and shared the cup. And so we say those are sacraments. And they are means of grace. They are the way we physically, tangibly experience grace.
Let me give a couple of ways this works. Some years ago I baptized a young man who had been struggling for years with addictions. Before I had him kneel and put the water on his head he looked at me and said, “Will this work pastor Randy?”
He knelt at the altar and after I dipped my hands in the font and released two hands full of water, he stood to his feet and with water running off his head and down his face, he grabbed me and hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I feel free for the first time.”
That’s grace. Literally God’s Spirit breaking into that moment, breaking into his heart and life and saying, “You are free! Because of the cross. Because of what I’ve done. You are free! This is a free gift. Just take it. Live into it.”
Communion is the same way. You’ve heard me say this: in the Methodist church communion is open to everyone. It’s an open table. That means you don’t have to be a member here or anywhere else because this is a free gift from God. You could have walked into the sanctuary and not been a Christian and somehow you felt the Holy Spirit move in your heart. And you thought, “You know I need that. I need that gift of grace. And you can walk up here and we have the elements here and you’re meant to taste the bread and drink the cup and go, “Wow! I needed that.” It’s God’s grace breaking through in that moment as we remember that sacrifice of Christ.
Not long after I started as the pastor here, a couple of months actually. There was this young man who was coming pretty regularly. And on communion week he wouldn’t come. And I saw him out in the community like I often do here in Sterling. And I said, “Hey, it’s good to see you.” And he said, “Hey, I need to apologize.” And I said, “Well fine. I don’t think you did anything to me.” And he said, “Well I don’t come on communion Sunday, because, well my life’s a mess. I don’t think I deserve it.” And I said, “Are you kidding me? That’s why we need it.” I said, “That meal’s for you when you’re a mess.” Quite honestly if you feel like you have your life together that’s when communion can be hollow and empty. It’s when your life is a mess and a wreck that you come forward and you kneel and you take the bread and you take the cup and you feel literally grace breaking into that moment. And you’re like, “Wow! God loves me in spite of all this? Because of all this? In all of this?” Yes, that’s grace! That’s God’s grace breaking into that moment; the means of grace.
But there’s another way that Wesley talked about experiencing means of grace; not just by being in worship and communion and baptism, but he also said acts of mercy. You can experience grace in that moment. In other words when you’re doing good and serving others God’s grace breaks into that moment.
Notice that Jesus got down and He washed the disciple’s feet before communion happens. There are many moments when Jesus gets up and He serves others because he said, “This is how you experience grace when you’re serving others.” That’s why we do the things we do in our missions and outreach programs here in the community and around the world. And you go out and you serve and as you go I cannot tell you the number of notes and emails and people who have said to me, “Thank you for coming. I felt God’s presence when these people were spreading mulch in my yard.” God’s grace breaks through in that moment. And you don’t even know it. I heard a great way to describe this. One person called it “guerilla grace.” It just sneaks up on you when you’re doing it.
You see God’s grace is so much bigger than what we can imagine. And this is how it works and when you realize you’re blessed to be a blessing you do some amazing, wonderful, crazy good things. You do more good than you can even imagine.
Let’s look again at our diagram regarding Grace. You will notice that the next line in the diagram is sanctification. Sanctifying grace is the grace that surrounds us as we grow in faith, recognizing that life is filled with ups and downs.
And the reality if Wesley draws the line it’s not a straight line. It looks like this (Wavy). Because when you say “Yes” to Jesus it’s not like everything gets better, right? Life goes like this. There’s still hardships. There’s still struggles. There’s still pain. Sanctifying grace is the grace that surrounds us as we grow in faith, recognizing that life is filled with ups and downs.
And so in that diagram what Wesley would say is that we are all on our way to perfection. And you know how God perfects you? God perfects you when you’re driving on route 7 and somebody passes you and cuts you off. What do you want to do? Be honest. See here’s how sanctification works. When somebody cuts you off on Rt. 7 instead of honking their horn (which is usually what I do) and we stop and we say, “Gosh they’re in a hurry. I hope they’re ok” And we pray for them.
Sanctification is what happens when people write on your Facebook wall something that you don’t like and instead of just typing out a quick sarcastic response you stop and pray for the hurts that must be a part of that person’s life to write what they wrote. Sanctification is what happens in marriage or other relationships when we say things we wish we hadn’t said or do things we wish we hadn’t done and we learn new words that express grace and forgiveness instead of anger and bitterness.
The image I want you to think about is a rock tumbler. Remember rock tumblers? I had one when I was a kid. There’s a barrel where you load the rocks and you put them in there with a little bit of water. And you throw some grit in there also and you turn on the motor and its starts turning. And you leave it running for about 3 or 4 days and then you open it up and you take out the rocks and they are these beautiful polished rocks.
Well what polishes the rocks is the grit. And what Wesley would say is that the grit of life, the things that happen in life, are the things that help make us more and more like Christ. He would say that we are all on our way to perfection. And it’s in the middle of the broken places when we turn those things over to God and when we give them to God and say, “God, here. I can’t handle this anymore. Take this.” That’s when God can do His best work.
Wesley would point us to John’s gospel where Jesus is just getting ready to leave the disciples and He’s about to go be crucified literally and be arrested and He says this in chapter 13.
34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
(Back to diagram)
Sanctification happens our whole life, each and every day for each one of us. John Wesley would say that each of us are being sanctified and as we live out this new commandment to love each other we become the presence of Jesus Christ in the world as we become the followers of Jesus, and that becomes a gift to the world which helps bring about the Kingdom of God.
Wesley would say that we are all on our way to perfection, being made holy and like Christ when we allow God to use us. Christian perfection is about bringing the Kingdom of God into the here and now by living out the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. When we are willing to give grace upon grace to each other we are on our way to perfection. When we give beyond what we thought we could we are approaching Christian perfection.
Many of you have been my mentors in this. I’ve seen some of you give and give and give and it’s amazing what can happen when you do that. I see you blessing others and it touches me deeply. I see many of you sacrificing and giving up vacation time and your financial resources to bring about the Kingdom of God and it is the coolest part of my job when I get to walk alongside and see you on your way to perfection.
As we seek to do all the good we can as a response to God’s grace there are several questions we should be asking ourselves along the way. Let me throw them out there for you today.
And the first is about motive. As we think about doing good, what’s your motive? Because I’ll be the first to say that sometimes my motive is not all in the right place. I mean sometimes we just kind of want people to notice us or even God to notice us and see that we’re doing good. But you see what Wesley would say is that God has already saved you. God has already done the work. All you do now is live into it. You do good things not to earn it, not to get everybody to look at you. You do those things because of what God has done for you and you live into that and it’s amazing what can happen.
But if we’re honest we all have what I would call a Superman complex. That’s why superhero movies are so big, right? We all want to be Ironman or Superman or Captain America, right? Is it just me? Here I am to save the day! Is this why we do good things?
Sometimes my super competitive side comes in and I find myself doing good things to climb the ladder of success and to see myself as important and worthwhile. Am I trying to make a good impression? Am I trying to get someone to tell me, “Thank you”? Is it about ego or is it about power or control? Are these why I am doing good deeds?
Part of our task is to look at our motive for doing good works. What I find is that when I am asking all of those questions and doing good for the wrong reasons it is because I have become disconnected from God, the source of that grace which compels me to serve and to follow. When I come to God in prayer it becomes much easier to remember that it’s about God and not about me. Doing good should be about our response to God and God’s love for us, nothing more nothing less. When we do it in that way we find ourselves blessing others and we live out the truth that we are blessed to be a blessing.
One of the things that helped me in these moments where I begin having the wrong motives is to remember all the times that people have poured grace into my life when I didn’t deserve it. When I remember this I am inspired and filled to go out and be the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. We can find new energy to go out and do this good work when we stay connected to the source.
By the way, the focus of next week’s sermon will be the third rule which is what helps us live out the other two and that is to stay in love with God.
And that’s really the challenge in all of this to stay in love with God, because that’s what God wants more than anything else. Do you realize that more than anything else God wants your heart? And when He has your heart, He has your hands and your feet, and all the other stuff falls into place because you start living differently.
I want to end with just one more remembrance of John Wesley. John Wesley lived to be 89 years old. Do you know what he was doing the day before he died? The day before he died, he lived in a little flat and he was outside of his flat down the street where he walked every day and he was serving soup and bread to people on the streets who had nothing. And after he finished serving soup and bread he walked home, he laid his head on his pillow he breathed his last and he went on to perfection.
My prayer as your pastor is that you will discover that grace that would fill your life and lead you onto perfection.
Perhaps as you came to worship today you’re struggling you feel lost for some reason; something’s broken in your life. Maybe you feel like you’re in a place of wandering. Maybe you’re just in the midst of a dark time in your life and you’re not sure exactly where you’re headed.
For all of us there’s place that’s created for us to do good as often as we can. There’s a place where Christ truly meets us. So I’m going to just invite you to take a deep breath right now. Would you take a deep breath and just go, “whoo.” And then just breathe in the Spirit of God. And pray whatever part of this prayer that you need to pray.
Gracious God I come to you knowing that I am in need of your love and your grace. Forgive me for those days that I don’t thank you or that I don’t walk closely with you. Awaken within me a connection to You so I might feel Your love and Your grace in my life. Strengthen my faith that I would have the courage to do good work, the good things You have called me to do. Help me to reach out and to be the presence of Your Son Jesus Christ in the world. Help me to be part of Your plan of salvation for this world. We pray these things in the name of Christ who leads us to holiness. Amen.