given on September 9, 2012
Rule No. 1: Do no harm
based on Rueben P. Job’s
Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living
Bishop Rueben P. Job did not generate a new approach to John Wesley’s methods. Wesley wrote down the ‘three simple rules’ in his essay “General Rules.” There is no change in any wording. The three rules are identical: 1. Do no harm. 2. Do good. 3. Stay in love with Jesus.
Why did the Bishop decide to write his little book? Why has the book created such a whirl of interest? The answer lies in the introductory quote shared last week:
Forgetting the struggles and sacrifices of the past may have lead to a complacency that took community too lightly, individualism too seriously, and neglected our call to faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p.11)
This ‘blueprint’ for living is simply the Wesleyan interpretation of the Greatest Commandment:
Matthew 22:37-39 ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NRSV)
The same commandment is repeated in John 15:17 and again in Romans 13:9.
We know this commandment. We have read it, preached it, listened to it, and live it. Or do we live it? Maybe we are so complacent that we must have it hammered into our conscious once again. The Bishop stated that in the preface:
Now it is up to us to see if we will take it, teach it, and practice it until it becomes our natural way of living—a way of living that will mark our life together and our lives as individual Christians. (p.10)
This is the reason we are reviewing these three simple rules. And the first one, do no harm, is hardly simple.
Yes, the rule does sound simple, but the Bishop’s analysis demonstrates just how complicated the rule really is. He begins with a quote directly from the Book of Discipline which states in the paragraph 103, “Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules”: “. . .By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as . . .” The paragraph continues to outline the evil practices. The list is lengthy and encompasses a great deal of our most unflattering behaviors.
In our scripture, Galatians 5:13-15, Paul equates this rule with giving us Christian freedom. In the NRSV translation the verses are more focused on this idea:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
The translations are similar and the point the same, but the application still is not easy.
How do we practice this rule? We certainly must believe that we are, yet I began realizing how easy it is not to practice this rule. The focus on gossiping seems the clearest example of how easy it is to slip up and fail maintaining this rule.
Think of how many times you are visiting with a friend or a co-worker or even a family member. You start talking about somebody’s behavior in one way or another. The person about whom you are talking has no idea what you are saying. In that one-on-one conversation there is no intent to harm someone, but all too often that private conversation is opened up with another person and the story is retold.
Each retelling has a way of changing. Even the fact that a rumor or an opinion shared is then shared with somebody else risks becoming twisted or colored by another’s emotions. Gossip is so easy to join in, and just as easy to end up harming someone else without them even knowing it.
This week one of the most damaging ways of harming someone became a focus. Students become victims of negative talk. When we begin working with at-risk students, we know that all too often they have been hurt by words to the point that they begin using the same negative talk about themselves. They do not love themselves and that becomes evident when they lash out and do not love others as themselves. They were harmed by talk, they harm themselves by talk, and they harm others by talk.
On Friday, we have “boot camp” some time in the day. Now this is just a term we use for our teaming, not literally a boot camp. Anyway, Friday the challenge was issued—run up the hill directly outside the building. The hill is a steep grade and is about three blocks long. It is not an easy hill to walk up and the kids were asked to run up the hill.
All kinds of kids—short, tall, lanky, lean, not so lean, athletic and not athletic, male and female. Running up that hill would not be for me, but the key is that it takes a team to run up the hill, to encourage, to praise, and to support—maybe even physically. The hill was tough, the experience was self-rewarding, but the lesson was even bigger.
When we came in to process, or discuss, the reason that it is so important that everybody work together to accomplish a goal. The Director elegantly demonstrated the Wesleyan rule, even using that famous quote—do all that you can, for all that you can, in all the ways that you can….
The team, whether you are an athlete or not, needs you. No matter how small you think your contribution, it is needed. The Director emphatically demonstrated that even if it is just this tiny little bit of verbal encouragement that you could provide, you are needed. If you use negative talk, whether against yourself or others, you cause harm—you fail the team in reaching the goal.
Are we failing as Christians? Are we causing harm in such small, almost non-existent negative self-talk that we are causing harm? Are we gossiping? Are we judging one another? Are we promoting ideas that harm someone else? Are we doing harm?
We do not live in isolation. In fact, our homes are no longer our private safe sanctuary away from all the madness of the world. Our homes are now literally connected to homes wrapped in a net all around this globe. The internet, the world-wide internet, has linked us to one another in ways we could not imagine only 25 years ago. We can cause harm or we can do good within this net.
The television program 20/20 demonstrated this on Friday night. The show focused on how people now use the instant media available to record and to share all the life-changing events and transitions we now experience.
To begin they safely shared how cats have been equipped with cameras to learn what they do 24 hours a day whether owners can see them or not. Cats were being cats, and the knowledge that the cameras revealed to the owners was upsetting—hunting for birds, mice, snacks; roaming through the streets and sewers; and even adopting a neighbor as a secret second family.
The negatives and the harmful ways of reaching into one another’s life is a reality of today’s technology, yet there is the good, too. The show went on to share how many different events people are recording and sharing through this global net. There were the engagements, the pregnancy tests, and the acceptance into college; but it was the last story that demonstrated the enormous value of this net.
The loss of a digital 35mm SLR camera in a mountain stream became the tool of doing good. One man’s discovery became another man’s reconnect. One month of devoting time to finding the camera’s owner allowed for one man to heal. Just like the Director tried to emphasize to the students. You may not realize how important your efforts are in this world, but you make a difference. You may become the blessing for someone else just by doing no harm.
We cannot ignore the immense power we possess to harm others. With the 21st century technology, the risk to harm others is infinite. We must do all that we can to keep from harming others even through our own negative self-talk.
Once we are committed to look at this world through God’s eyes and not to do harm, we are given a freedom that opens up this world to us in ways we cannot imagine. The Bishop stated it like this:
When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly. . . .
To adopt this first simple rule as our own is a giant step toward transforming the world in which we live. . . .
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 this personal transformation leads to transformation of the world around us as well. . . . so those who practice this simple rule begin to think, act, and perhaps even look like Jesus. (pp. 23, 30-32
Just one of three simple rules for us, Methodists or not, are needed to transform the world. Wesley wrote them down first in our denomination, but his words were from Jesus. Bishop Job wrote them again so that we see them through our lives today, the 21st Century. Are we capable of taking them and polishing them up so we can shine as Christians today? Or, have we failed to use them and tarnished the Christian images being broadcast around this globe.
Do no harm. Experience the freedom it provides you. And then be ready to move on to the second rule: Do good.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We ask you to guide us this week
as we analyze our own behaviors.
We ask you to show us the ways
in which we harm ourselves and others.
We ask you to lead us in ways
that cause no harm.
Let us find that freedom that comes
with loving one another.
Let us find ways to share that love
even in the smallest of portions
so this world can be transformed