given on Sunday, September 23, 2012
Rule No. 3: Stay in love with God.
based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living
What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you hear the rooster’s crow? Is it that it can’t be time to get up! Or maybe you think something is wrong, the rooster’s crow could be a warning. Does it ever cross your mind that the rooster’s crow is asking a question for God? God asks, “Do you love me?”
Oddly, that question is the one test that God asks of us over and over. We just do not hear it. “Do you love me?” Not only once does he ask it, but he asks it over and over and over. Peter heard it three times. Peter could answer it with words, but actions do not always match our words.
While reading these three simple rules, the order of them seemed backward. Shouldn’t the last, the third rule, be the first: Stay in love with God. In fact, I think it seems more logical to completely reverse the three rules: 1. Stay in love with God. 2. Do good. 3. Do no harm.
This third rule even lead me to ask our district superintendent about its wording and inclusion in the three rules. The answer was the typical Jesus-style answer: How else do we hear God? How do we do the other two rules?
To stay in love with God seems so simple, but by now I know that simple wording certainly does not mean simple practices. Bishop Job even begins the explanation with the word “ordinance.” With a background exposure to a military academy, the word ordinance triggers images of weapons. Ordinance certainly was not a word I expected in a theological discussion. But, the Bishop begins rule number three with that word:
Ordinance is a strange word to our ears. But to John Wesley, it was a word that described the practices that kept the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing. (p.53)
Another words, there must be ‘weapons’ to use for keeping us following God. The Bishop continues to clarify that:
. . . He names public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible study, and fasting as essential to a faithful life. . . . these practices can become a life-giving source of strength and guidance for us. . . . these disciplines [are] central to any life in faithfulness to God in Christ. (ibid)
Let’s go back to the rooster’s crow. Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning. Peter refused to believe it. Yet sitting with the crowd outside the palace, three times he was asked if he knew Jesus. Three times he answered no. Imagine what he felt when the rooster crowed! He knew he had denied Jesus three times right there that night. (John 18:25-27)
Rule no. 3: Stay in love with God. Peter loved God, yet even he denied knowing Jesus. If Peter can slip and deny Jesus at that very critical point in the story, why shouldn’t we be concerned with our ability to stay in love with God?
Maybe we are doing no harm and we are doing good, are we still in love with God? How can we be sure that we stay in love with God? Even after all these years as Christian, why should we be concerned about staying in love with God?
Maybe we are doing just fine, but we also know that the world around us continues to change and usually we are not too happy about it. We complain, but we do not seem to have a solution. We are comfortable in our daily routines and our typical weekly schedule. Is not that enough to show that we are still in love with God? The question possibly could be worded a bit differently, too: Are my personal practices enough to maintain my love for God in the 21st century culture?
Here is Bishop Job’s checklist, which comes straight from John Wesley:
- public worship of God,
- the Lord’s Supper,
- private and family prayer,
- searching the Scriptures, Bible study,
- and fasting.
Stop and review those practices—or ordinances—to keep us in a solid relationship with God. Are we able to affirm that we are participating in those six practices? Maybe we practice part of them, maybe three or four; but are our practices strong enough to convince God and others we are still in love with God.
The third rule needs to be the first as it leads to the other two rules as automatic results from this third rule. Bishop Job provides the reasoning:
 It is in these practices that we learn to hear and respond to God’s direction.
 It is in these practices that we learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
 It is in these practices that we learn of God’s love for us.
 It is where our love for God is nurtured and sustained. (p.55)
The argument that rule no. 3 should be rule no. 1 is becoming more solid—at least in my mind. If maintaining these practices keep us in a strong relationship with God, following his direction to do no harm and to do good will follow.
These ‘ordinances’ are not new. These practices or methods or disciplines are designed to keep us in love with God, but they also result in doing no harm and in doing good even in the 21st century. Jesus and his Apostles were using these practices. Wesley used them. And today we use them. The methods to stay in love with God have not changed. The cultures around us continue to change, but maintaining these practices is essential.
Granted the cultural changes lead us to modify or to adapt the practices in many cases, but the practices do arm us against the onslaught of a 21st century culture that seems to turn fire at us every moment of our earthly lives—even in those quiet sleeping moments at night.
The very constitutional amendments designed to preserve our religious freedoms here in the United States are challenged and adapted to social standards that are no longer the primary Christian ones that established the Constitution. Yet there can be no excuse for not maintaining the practices of our faith. For example, one individual tested prayer in our schools. The Supreme Court ruled that we may not force someone to pray out loud at schools or other public functions. But no one can legislate our silent prayers whether in school, in our homes, or on our jobs.
- We continue to meet weekly for public worship.
- We have no excuse to avoid reading the Bible in search of answers or simply for continual study.
- We include communion in our worship.
- We can choose to fast in a manner that works for us, too.
The truth is that we honestly need to review our practices. Are we using these practices, often referred to as Wesley’s Works of Piety? Again, Bishop Job points out that rule no. 3 leads to Wesley’s Works of Mercy that covers rules no. 1 & 2.
Holy living will not be discovered, achieved, continued, and sustained without staying in love with God. And while staying in love with God involves, prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s Supper [ i.e. works of piety], it also involves feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and providing for the needs of others . . . [those] are the signs of love that we exchange with God. And they are signs of the love that the world can understand.
Sadly, we live in a world that challenges us to maintain our works of piety. Bishop Job quotes the theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.” With that statement, when we fail to maintain our Christian principles or to follow our practices, we have to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”
And like Peter, when the rooster began crowing on that fateful morning, we have to turn to God and ask for forgiveness. Remember, God forgives us “70 times 7” or forever. Peter denied his love of God, and there are times we do, too. We may not use words, but we use actions. Fortunately, as Bishop Job adds,
“The failures of the past are to be forgotten and the new possibilities are to be embraced. . . . Each of us has our own litany of failures to recite, but the good news is that we can start again. . . . [our answer to ‘Do you love me?’ is] When we respond in the affirmative, the response from God is always the same, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” (p.59-60)
The three simple rules are all wrapped up in on: “Stay in love with God.” By following the disciplines laid out by Wesley as the works of piety–prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s supper—then we answer with the works of mercy—actions that heal the pain, injustice, and inequality of our world. We do no harm and we do good as means or ways to stay in love with God. To end, Bishop Job writes:
“It’s a way of living that can guard your life from doing evil and enable you to do good. A way of living that provides a way to stay in love with God in this world and the next. A way of living that promises a way to claim and enjoy your full inheritance as children of God. (p.61-62)
I believe that staying in love with God leads to the quality of life that I dream of living. The end result, too, is continued life even after death. Peter heard that rooster crow, but even after denying his relationship with Jesus, he was forgiven and continued to spread the Word. God loves us, we love him. Let us share the news, too, so others may know that love and the world can be transformed.
And to close, using the words of Bishop Job, let us pray:
Teach us today
to do no harm,
to do good,
and assist us
so that we may
stay in a loving relationship
with you and our neighbor.
Help us today
to be an answer
to another’s prayer
so that we may be one
of your signs
in the world you love. –Amen