given on Sunday, September 16, 2012–the third sermon in a 4-sermon series.
Scripture reference: Matthew 25:31-46
“Do good.” These two little words seem so rational, so logical; yet these two words have completely propelled John Wesley’s theology to a worldwide movement of caring Christians for over four centuries. Parents have long used a similar warning to children: “Be good.” Yet, the idea that is ‘rule no. 2’ rather gnaws at me. Why is it the second and not the first rule?
Looking back at rule no. 1: “Do no harm.” I returned to the Book of Discipline: 2008, paragraph 103. Remember the list of what not to do? The list is rather lengthy and incorporates almost every vice one could possibly have:
- taking the name of God in vain;
- profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work. . .or by buying or selling;
- fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother, returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, the using of many words in buying or selling [does that mean false advertising];
- buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty [taxes];
- giving or taking things on usury, i.e., unlawful interest [pawn brokers, pay day loans, etc.];
- uncharitable or unprofitable conversation. . .;
- doing to others aw we would not they should do unto us;
- doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as [and then the next list is listed equal to the above]:
- putting on of gold and costly apparel;
- taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus [Does this mean methods of relaxing such as gambling, pornography, etc.—there is no defining explanation provided];
- singing or reading. . .which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God;
- softness and needless self-indulgence;
- laying up treasure upon earth; and
- borrowing . . . or taking . . . without probability of paying for them.
Such a list leaves very little left to say, doesn’t it? Yet that is a list of what not to do because it causes harm—according on the standards of the 1700’s culture. Does it apply to today’s culture, too?
This is where the switch from rule no. 1 to rule no. 2 seems to make the most sense for today’s society. Many of us can look at that list and confirm that we are not doing harm, yet there are a few entries that I find make me squirm a bit.
For instance, the blue laws long prevented our society from buying on Sunday. The blue laws kept not just a few items from being purchased, but all the stores were closed on Sunday because it truly was deemed the Lord’s Day. Then the blue laws were repealed. Stores began to open, first the grocery stores with all the liquor covered up. Then the other stores began opening for a few hours, and now—now almost every store for every product is open for business as usual seven days a week.
I squirm because I lived through that change in our society. I squirm because I shop on Sundays, too. Am I doing harm? Am I doing good?
Social standards can certainly challenge us in maintaining our own personal standards. John Wesley ignored social standards and drove forward doing good. We can hear his quote echoing in our head when just one phrase is heard: do all the good you can.
Looking at the second rule’s explanation in the Book of Discipline, Wesley’s standards for his culture still can apply to our standards today:
By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:
The general notes continue outlining the various methods of doing good. The words echo the scripture in Matthew 25: . . .by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison. Compare them to the words from Matthew 25:35–
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Wesley went straight to the words of Jesus to explain exactly what doing good is. Then he went to the next phase of doing good. He expanded on meeting the needs of the body to meeting the needs of the souls: . . . instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with [or interaction with]; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free of it.”
Doing good also means teaching about how to do good. Part of our responsibility is to continue teaching about God and the New Covenant. We are to find ways of sharing with others how God’s grace is available for everybody. We are to encourage the spreading of the Word.
I think the troubling phrase is that final clause: trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.” I have struggled to understand that clause. Remember these are words from the 18th century that Wesley wrote himself. Language evolves continually. Reading it over and over again, looking for better understanding, I finally caught it: “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”
Suddenly it made sense to me. Wesley wants us to take self out of the equation. If we do not feel, in our hearts, that a plea for doing something is not in line with what God taught us, then we are simply not to do it.
Doing good sometimes means not doing something, especially if it is not in God’s teachings. If we do not find a doctrine to fit into God’s commandment to love one another, then we are to trample it under our feet. We should speak out against it so others do no harm or are not harmed.
Yet Wesley did not stop. He wanted us to consider different ways to do good and this is a challenge for us in the 21st global, technological, instant society. He proposed that we do good by:
- employing them [the faithful] preferably to others; buying [from the faithful]; and . . . helping each other in business;
- By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
- By running with patience. . . ; denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ . . . for the Lord’s sake.
Doing good takes discipline. Doing good takes a strong set of shoulders to handle all the ridicule and put downs that others may throw at us. Doing good takes practice until it becomes an automatic response, an internalized lifestyle.
Mother Teresa was certainly a living example of rule no. 2: Do good. While sitting at the Cowan Restaurant in Washington, MO, we discovered the words written up on the wall visible to all who entered the door:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”
Consider how many individuals can see those words any one day, any one week, any one month, or even any one year. A few words that demonstrate one’s solid belief system can simply be doing good, instructing others in God’s grace, in the Golden Rule, and in discipleship.
- Doing good never grows old.
- Doing good is easy—especially if not doing harm.
- Doing good is a lifestyle.
- Doing good is mirroring Christ.
- Doing good is even a small, tiny task.
- Doing good is in every hug, every greeting, every morsel we cook for others.
- Doing good is recycling and caring for the land.
- Doing good is hosting others in good, clean fun.
- Doing good is as big as you want to make it or as small as one simple pat on the back.
Last week I shared how our director spoke with our students about how just doing a tiny bit of good somewhere, somehow meant we were doing our part.
In this 21st century society, doing good should be simple. Doing good in our homes, our communities, our counties, our states, and our country is now doing good anywhere around this globe. We do not exist in isolation any more. We exist, shoulder to shoulder, with any one individual anywhere on this globe thanks to our instant communication.
As we depart today, take Jesus’ commission seriously. Practice Wesley’s methods of doing no harm and doing good. We must understand that these two rules are critical in every setting there is. We must consciously practice them in order to transform the world. The exciting thing is we know that we can do anything with God. Paul knew it too: Philippians 4:13—I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (NRSV) No matter how small or how seemingly unimportant one act is, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the potential for transformation is infinite.
Dear Omnipotent, All-knowing God,
You know our every action and thought.
You know each one’s pain and sorrow.
Guide us to do good in any way that we can.
Guide us to see how doing good transforms.
Thank you for your grace, your love, and your forgiveness.
Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to show us the way.
Thank you for filling us up with the Holy Spirit so we can do good.
Thank you for your servant John Wesley who opened hearts, minds,
and hands to do good.
Thank you, too, for Mother Teresa and others in this world today
who simply do. –Amen.