This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, October 12, 2014. The Scripture reading for the day came from Galatians 5:13-15.
This morning, we are starting a new worship series based on John Wesley’s general rules of faithfully following Jesus. Wesley’s three simple rules are to “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” These rules are simple to say, simple to remember, but hard to live out. I am fully convinced that these three simple rules have the potential to radically transform our lives, our church, our community, and our world.
Today, we’ll explore the first of Wesley’s three simple rules and that is the call to “do no harm.” Doing no harm involves our hearts, our minds, our words, and our actions. Our words and actions are motivated by our hearts and our minds. So, there is a chance that we may need to transform our hearts and our minds in order to do no harm. Often, it is our words that usher in all kinds of harm. Many physical altercations start with words. The passage of Scripture from Galatians 5 we heard this morning reminds us that it is a failure to love our neighbor that leads to doing harm…to biting and devouring one another.
Bishop Rueben Job, in his book “Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living” gives us these words of challenge, “I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm, even while I seek a common good.”
Our hearts and minds may need to be transformed in order for our words and actions to be transformed. Conflicts in our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world often occur because one party has a sense of superiority, a sense of “rightness” over the other…which results in a lack of care and concern for the other…and that results in a great deal of harm.
I don’t know about you, but it’s often my words that cause the greatest deal of harm. James urges us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry.” Easier said than done, right? Last Sunday, I demonstrated that I’m slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. I heard something that was said in jest and I quickly got on my soap box and let ‘er rip! Emily said she saw fire in my eyes. And, it wasn’t necessarily that what I said was wrong, but the manner in which I said it was. We can say the right things in the wrong ways and do harm. We can do the right things for the wrong reasons and do harm.
So, this week, I came across a Psalm and a Proverb that give some helpful hints on how to curb our harsh words. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” Folks, I don’t know about you, but in light of these two verses…I’m in trouble! Of course, I know that I’m not alone. I’m positive I’m not the only one who needs a guard over his mouth!
Our words have a great deal of power. And so, in Colossians 4:6 we are encouraged to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” How many of us can say that our speech is always gracious? My speech often fails to be gracious. I know this will surprise most of you, but I’ve never been accused of being warm and fuzzy!
In fact, just this week someone told me I’m the closest thing to a young curmudgeon they’ve ever met. I was just excited she called me young! However, I am fully aware that my words, that our words have great power…power to do harm or power to do good; power to build up or tear down; power to belittle and abuse or power to encourage and strengthen.
But, it’s not just our words…it’s our actions too. Our words and actions, motivated by our hearts and minds have a great deal of power for good or for harm. Of course, Jesus took it even farther than just our words and actions…he said even our thoughts can get us into trouble. Remember what Jesus said about murder and adultery? The person who has hatred in his heart is just as guilty as the one who commits murder…The one who has lust in his eyes is just as guilty as the one who commits adultery. Doing no harm is not just an issue of what we say or do, it’s an issue of the heart.
So, how do we do harm? With our words…we gossip, we slander, we manipulate facts, we diminish others. With our actions and inactions…some harm others physically. We do harm when we fail to act when we should…when we remain silent when we should speak up. We do harm when we have a lack of adequate care and concern for the least, the last, the lost, and the poor among us. Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us that we should be humble and consider others as better than ourselves, looking out not for our own interests, but the interests of others. We do harm through sins of commission…doing those things we should not be doing. We do harm through sins of omission…not doing those things we should be doing.
We do harm when we hold racist, sexists, classist, or bigoted thoughts towards any group of people. In the Christian church, there is no room for any of the ism’s and phobia’s that are so prevalent in our world today. Just this week, our District Superintendent alerted me about an article in the paper about the Ku Klux Klan being active in our area. He asked if I had seen it…I hadn’t, but I informed him, in all honesty, I wasn’t surprised. “James Moore, the grand dragon of the Loyal White Knights in Virginia, told The Palladium-Item in Richmond in May that ‘we have a pretty active chapter there in Centerville.’” Yes, right here in our small, safe, conservative, Christian community! How can we claim to be faithfully following Christ and harbor racist attitudes? Our Book of Discipline (Paragraph 162A) says that, “Racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself…Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.”
Ultimately, it all boils down to being an issue of the heart. How is your heart today? Does your heart reflect the heart of Jesus? I’m fully convinced that the more our hearts reflect the heart of Jesus – the less harm we will do. When our hearts are “right”, we begin to believe the “right” things. And, when we believe the “right” things, our belief should produce “right” actions.
How do we go about doing no harm? Well, to do no harm requires a “radical trust in Jesus…in God’s power and presence…in God’s wisdom and guidance. And, radical trust has to be accompanied by radical obedience to the way of Jesus.”
Doing no harm means providing safe environments for children in our homes, our church, our community, and our world.
One of the ways our church is attempting to create safe environments for children in our community is through our crossing guard ministry. This week, we started providing crossing guards before and after school. The mornings are usually a bit slower…the afternoons are definitely exciting!
Thursday morning, in the rain, we had around 11 students cross. In the afternoon, it was more like 45! But, it’s not the numbers that matter. It’s keeping the children of our community safe that is most important. So, even if only one kid crosses in the morning and one in the afternoon, we have done a priceless ministry. Listen, people simply aren’t paying attention when they drive. A number of the drivers in our community are more concerned with their cell phones than they are with the stop signs. After helping a couple of students cross this week, I was almost hit by a car rolling through the sign…and I know I was hard to see because I was wearing a bright orange safety vest and holding a big red stop sign…
A mother stopped me to thank me for doing this and mentioned that she feels like her children are safer when they walk to and from school. Our superintendent, Phil Stevenson, shared with me that he received an email from a parent thanking him for providing crossing guards. The parent pointed out that they have observed a number of drivers not paying attention and that they have always felt that intersection is dangerous. He then gave our church credit for providing this service.
This week, I took my normal time for crossing guard duty and filled in some of the holes we have. It gave me the opportunity to interact with some of the students. There is one young boy who pretty much gives me a complete play-by-play of his day and what he plans to do when he gets home. The first day he said, “Hey, there was a lady here earlier today (Marie Elstro). You’ll probably see us a lot. We cross here every day.” Later this week, he gave me a hard time when I asked him which way he was crossing. He said, “You don’t remember? I go over that way and then up that way.” On Wednesday afternoon, an older student approached the crossing and looked like she was pretty unhappy. I asked her how her day was and she said, “Not good.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope tonight is better and tomorrow is awesome.” She looked at me and kind of smiled and said, “Hey, thanks.” And, I tell you what, the majority of the students are extremely polite saying “thanks” each day…even the kids I was warned about being a bit ornery have been really nice. I’ve actually had a lot of fun!
But, we need more help! We need someone for Thursday morning. We need someone Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoon. We have a sign-up sheet up front here so you can’t miss it…and I fully expect it to be full after the service. Now, don’t sign up if you can’t or shouldn’t do it. But, it’s basically 20-30 minutes once a week to keep kids safe…which is the right thing to do! It’s not about putting more people in the pews (that may end up being a bi-product). It’s about keeping our children safe…which is the Jesus thing to do!
One of the things that got me excited to come to Centerville is that you all said you wanted to discover ways to be in fewer meetings and “do more ministry”. This was coupled with a statement that this church is basically a blank canvas, open for anything…that nothing’s sacred…so we’re willing to try some new and different things and let go of some old things. Now, let me be clear, most pastors know that when we hear these things what’s really meant is that, “as long as the new things are things we agree with or that the old things you want us to let go of are things we’re willing to let go of, we’re a blank canvas and nothing is sacred…except for all the things that are sacred.” I didn’t even get out of the building on the evening of my “take-in” before I was told that, “while we said nothing is sacred…there are a couple of things that really are and you might not want to mess with too soon.” Well, here’s just about the easiest thing I can give you to make a positive difference and impact in our community. And, with the formation of the Leadership Team, we’ll be having fewer meetings. We’re giving you what you asked for, now step up to the plate!
It will break my heart if I have to go to other churches to fill up our crossing guard positions. This is our opportunity to have an obvious presence in our biggest mission field in Centerville…our schools. Crossing Guards, Bulldog Buddies…these are ministry opportunities…these are opportunities to do no harm by providing safe environments and positive relationships for the young people in our community. This could be one of our unique ministries, along with our food pantry and preschool, that makes a positive difference in our community!
When Emily taught at Sutton Elementary in Muncie, Glad Tidings church basically adopted the school. At first, they did some simple things…providing donuts and lunches for the teachers to say “thank you” (which will be a next step for us). Then, they began to provide volunteers and launched a Kids Hope Program where church members volunteer an hour a week as a mentor (Bulldog Buddies only asks you to give 30 minutes!). They started small, but then as the relationship grew, so did the ministry. In addition to meals for teachers, volunteering around the school and serving as mentors, the church has been providing tennis shoes, school supplies, backpacks, food assistance, and vision screenings for over 350 students each year. Let me tell you, when it comes to the children on the southeast side of Muncie, Glad Tidings church is making sure they “do no harm”.
We are called to provide care and practical ministry, relief from pain, suffering, hunger, and poverty for the least, the last, the lost, and the poor among us. Our call as those who would do no harm is to become “agents of healing and vessels of compassion.”
To do no harm, we should listen more and be careful with our words. To do no harm, we should make sure our actions line up with our words…that we don’t just talk the talk, but that we walk the walk. To do no harm, we need to take intentional steps to make sure our hearts reflect the heart of God. It’s about finding the appropriate balance of believing and doing the right things!
Jesus could have come into our world and demanded that people bow down and serve him. He could have used his power to forcefully overthrow the oppressive powers of his day. Instead, he chose humble service…he chose the subversive practice of peace, compassion, mercy, sacrifice…
Bishop Rueben Job says that, “To do no harm means that I will be on guard so that all my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or to any part of God’s creation. As did John Wesley and those in the early Methodist movement before me, I too will determine every day that my life will always be invested in the effort to bring healing instead of hurt; wholeness instead of division; and harmony with the ways of Jesus rather than with the ways of the world. When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God – a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved – just like myself. And it is this vision of every other person as the object of God’s love and deep awareness that I too live in that loving Presence that can hold me accountable to my commitment to do no harm.”
Every single person we encounter every single day is a person created in God’s image and deeply loved by Him. So, how could we cause harm through our words and deeds, or lack thereof, to anyone Jesus deeply loves?
May we go from this place and do no harm as we shine the light of Christ, as we grow, give, and go…together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.