Pisgah United Methodist Church
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Do No Harm

July 17, 2011                                                                                  Kingdomtide 5
 
Luke 6: 39-42 , plus Mark 12: 28-34 (Jesus gives the greatest commandment.)
 
Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living[1] (2nd in Series) "Do No Harm"
 
               This morning, I'll bring the 2nd in our series Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. Today we will be looking at the 1st of the 3 simple rules, "Do No Harm." For those of you who were not with us last week to hear the introduction for this series, let me just say that this series is based on the great commandment given by our Lord Jesus Christ and found in Mark 12:28 – 34. The series is also based on the General Rules which are found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline(¶ 103).
 
               In Mark 12:28-34, when asked by the scribes which commandment is the most important of all? Jesus said these words: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The 2nd one is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
 
               It is from these words of our Lord Jesus Christ, that John Wesley and the Methodist movement defined our General Rules for living life as Methodist Christians. Our General Rules have been simplified by the Bishop Ruben Job in his book: Three Simple Rule: A Wesleyan Way of Living, from which this series gets its title. His book's simplification of the rules that are found in our Book of Discipline are these: Rule Number 1: Do No Harm, Rule Number 2: Do Good, Rule Number 3: Stay in Love with God. Today we are focusing on Rule Number 1: Do No Harm.
 
               Out in the flower bed behind the parsonage is a statue of a monk. I can't be sure that it is St. Francis of Assisi since I didn't purchase it, but it sure looks like the ones I have seen of him. That statue sits there day in and day out doing really nothing but reminding me about the man named Francis.
 
               The man who has been canonized as a saint was the son of a wealthy Italian merchant and lived in the 12th century. Like every father I suppose, Francis' father hoped he would one day join the family business. But when Francis grew up instead he decided to become a soldier, and join the crusade. In those days, one had to gather their own armor, and so France had himself a great suit of armor made, and secured the weapons, shields, etc. he needed to be a warrior.
 
               But on the first night out to the battlefield, he had a vision that the Lord was sending him back. Even though he had to suffer the ridicule of the whole town who had decided he was a coward, he laid down his weapons and returned from the war.
 
               From then own France was a man of peace. He became a preacher and taught about humility, poverty, simplicity and prayer...even to the birds, who he thought of a God's special creations. As others went to war in the crusades, Francis went to the Muslim leaders with a message of peace. France founded an order of frairs, men who are called to a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and service to others.
 
               From our UMC Book of Discipline ¶103 we find these words, live... "by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced." Another way of saying these words is, we will live by not hurting anyone or anything. To "do no harm" means that we will guard our words and our actions at all times.
 
               Out beside our fellowship hall is the playground for our kids. Surrounding the play area is a fence to keep our children safe, out of harm's way as they play on the playground. On our front doors and back doors and side doors we have locks, to keep the contents of our church safe. The same goes for our homes, our schools, our automobiles, and our worksites. All of us in one way or another guard the things that are important to us.
 
               So, it should come easy to us that we would also protect others from harm. Now, I know that sounds easy to do. Unfortunately, it's not as easily done as it is said. Do we consciously guard our words and our actions when it comes to protecting the things that are important to us? In addition to the protection we provide against physical harm, theft or abuse, do we protect the feelings, the spirits, the hearts, the souls and the welfare of those around us.
 
               In addition to Jesus' great commandment, the Bible has more to say on the subject of doing no harm, particularly when it comes to the words we use to speak to one another. From Psalms 141:3, we hear these words: "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips." From Proverbs 13:3, "those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips, are ruined." And from Paul's letter to the Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer anyone." Apparently, God intends for us to be loving to one another when we speak to one another.
 
               I'm sure all of us here can remember a time when we spoke too soon, or spoke out of line, and are words hurt someone. Sometimes people have the intent to cut someone down, but sometimes we have no intention of hurting someone with our words, but it happens. The reason: we have failed to guard against doing harm.
 
               As witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ, it is important to always guard how we speak to, react to, treat other people. It's important in all areas of our lives: in our marriages, with our families, in our workplace, and places of business, in our friendships, community relationships, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In all of these places, God wants us to guard against harming someone with our words and our deeds.
 
               By  following Jesus' great commandment, love one another as you love yourself, we would not intentionally or unintentionally use words or do things that are cruel, thoughtless, unkind, hateful, sassy, tactless, hurtful, rude, or ruthless. We would not lie, commit fraud, steal, belittle, frightened, hurt or abuse anyone.
 
               Simple. Sounds easy enough, right? I wish that it was. In fact, doing no harm takes self-discipline. According to Bishop Job, to "do no harm" is a "radical" way to live. In order to do no harm we must make a sincere effort. First of all, we must notice the things we say and do; notice how people react to our words; we must notice the things we become involved in; Second, we have to think before we act and think before we speak. And thirdly, we must pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the harm we might be doing to others.
 
               When we are dealing with others, particularly when there is conflict or disagreement, Christians must consider their words carefully. The Scripture lesson for today reminds us. From Jesus' sermon on the plain, where he was teaching and preaching about judging others. He uses the parable about a blind man, asking the question: can one blind man lead another blind man, without both of them falling into the pit? Jesus tells us that it is nearly impossible to help someone else, until we first help ourselves. That's where self discipline comes in.
 
               Self-discipline means that before we try to judge, control, speak to or criticize, we must first take into consideration our own issues, agendas, and reasons. When we do not guard and control our actions and words we will do harm.
              
               Jesus intends for his disciples to practice self-discipline when it comes to dealing with other people. In explaining the cost of discipleship to his followers in Luke 14:28, Jesus says: Which of you, desiring to build the tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete. Following Jesus, keeping his great commandment, requires the self-discipline of discipleship.
 
               When you and I stand with Jesus, we give up being right in exchange or justice, mercy and love. Sometimes we forget that we have given our life to Jesus, which includes our own ideas, agendas, and ideologies. Our loyalty is to Christ and no one else-- even ourselves. Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means doing no harm.
 
               What difference would it make if we practiced doing no harm when we are involved in conflict? Let's face it, everywhere we run into conflict. But even amid conflict, if we agree to do no harm, the climate of conflict will change-- we will love one another through it-- bad feelings will be avoided.
 
               Think about it. Agreeing to do no harm means that when conflict comes: 1) we couldn't gossip about the situation or the issue (to do so would be harmful). 2) we couldn't speak disparagingly about people involved. 3) we couldn't manipulate the facts. 4) we couldn't diminish the stature, or authority or well-being of those involved.
 
               Agreeing to do no harm is really like laying our weapons down. That's not easy to do, because we might be afraid of the consequences. We might be a afraid of looking weak, like someone who will not stand their ground. But I say, laying our weapons down, is the way of the cross, the way of the Christ, the way of Jesus. (Remember Jesus before Pilate.)
 
               Doing no harm in a world that is constantly in conflict is a witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ in our life. Yes, it is difficult, it takes discipline. But sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit is constantly guiding us, constantly leading us to speak only when it will do no harm. We just got to listen.
 
               If you are a person who constantly seems to be involved in conflict, maybe it's time to turn the mirror on yourself. Maybe it's time to examine your actions, your words, and the way you are relating to others. Be bold, take steps to live the life of a Methodist Christians following rule number 1, do no harm.
 
               Doing no harm also extends to how we treat people we've never spoken to or interacted with, animals and the Earth which we share with each other. Justice is not something that has recently been thought up, packaged, and distributed by liberal organizations in our country and in other places. The Old Testament prophets continually spoke about God's insistence on justice.
 
               The prophet Micah, who lived nearly 750 years before Jesus, during Judah's time of wealth and affluence, implored the people to cease their oppression of the poor. Speaking for the Lord Micah said, "[God] has told you, O people, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your Lord" (Micah 6:8). See? God has been trying to get us to learn these rules for thousands and thousands of years.
 
               Justice, mercy, and kindness do not cost us anything but our willingness to recognize how we might be preventing those things. Is it just not to share? Is it merciful to abandon, abuse, or inhumanely destroy the animals we share this earth with, many of whom become the very food on which we survive? Is it kind to disenfranchise, discount or oppress the weak? (And there are weak ones everywhere we look.)
 
Prayer of St. Francis
 
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.
 
 
               Of the three General Rules, this rule, do no harm, at least for me, seems to be the most difficult to learn to do, and to live by. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone in our strength, or in our power to live by this rule. The Lord Jesus Christ made a way for us to be empowered by the very power of God in our lives. By giving our lives totally to the Lord Jesus Christ and faithfully seeking to do no harm, by God's power we are better able to do so. Thanks be to God.
 
©2011 Judy H. Eurey


[1] This is the title of the book by Reuben P. Job. Abingdon Press: Nashville. 2007.