Matthew 5:43-45 – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Acts 10:38 – 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Colossians 3:12-14 – 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
3 John 11 – 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
This sermon series called Three Simple Rules is based on the three rules John Wesley outlined for the Societies which were accountability groups that he began in England in the 1700s. In these groups, those who followed Jesus took their mission seriously and strived to live these three rules. This was the “method” of Christianity in which we get our name, “Methodists.” John Wesley believed that by striving to live a holy life, one was “working out one’s salvation.” The rules for these societies are based on the two rules that Jesus summarized from the 641 rules of the Hebrew faith. We know these two rules as: Love God and love neighbor. Wesley broke down “love your neighbor” into two rules: “Do No Harm” and “Do Good.” Last week we talked about “Do No Harm.” Today we are focusing on “Do Good.” Next week we will look at how we can maintain our love for God, Wesley’s third rule.
Would you pray with me? Lord, as committed followers we want to love our neighbors by doing good, but this simple rule is really hard to do. We want to do good things, be compassionate and kind, yet we allow other things to get in the way. Continue to help us die to self. Open us to see your bigger picture and how you have gifted us to do good. As we hear your word proclaimed, open our eyes to see what it is you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what it is you want us to hear; and open our hearts and minds to receive the word you have for each of us and all of us this day. Amen.
This cup belongs to my neighbor. When her children were growing up, she would tell them to Be Good and Do Good. Her children have not forgotten these words. And gifted her with this mug. Be Good and Do Good. Wise words to live by. These are words Jesus could have said. His Sermon on the Mount spells out how we are to Be Good and Do Good. If we could live by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount there would be peace on earth. God’s kingdom would be doing very well on earth as it is in heaven. But the points that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount are extremely challenging! In the passage from the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel according to Matthew that was read, did you notice what we are to do?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Immediately, we think, “What? Love my enemies? Are you crazy, Jesus?”
Years ago before I had heard the call to the ministry, I was complaining to one of the saints of God about a person that I absolutely hated. I mean hated with a capital HATED! This saint listened very patiently to my ranting. When I was finished, she said to me, “Sue, I want you to do something for me. Would you?” “Of course,” I said, “I’ll do anything for you.” And I would have. I adored this woman of God. She said, “I want you to pray for this person every day for two weeks. Then come back to me and share with me about your prayer time.” At first I was angry. I can’t pray for this horrible person! I don’t want to pray for this terrible person! I guess she could see the disgust in my eyes as I considered her request. This saint of God made me promise to pray for this person I hated, that I saw as my enemy. Because I respected this godly woman, I did pray for my enemy every day. When the two weeks were up, I went back to this saint. She asked me how my prayer time went. I told her that I was beginning to see this person in a different light. And I began to speak about this person in an entirely different tone. She said to me, “This person hasn’t changed. She is the same person. You are the one that God changed through your prayers.” Through prayer, I went from having a heart that was filled with hate and anger, to being humbled and seeing this person as a child of God. Eventually the person I hated became one of my best friends.
What would the world be like if we prayed for our enemies? What would September 12 and the days following have looked like if we as a nation or the world would have prayed for our enemies who killed so many on 9/11? What would the world have become post 9/11 if we would have taken these words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seriously? I think if anyone would have suggested that, the world may have turned on them. Some of you may be angry at me for even raising the idea now, twenty-one years later! Revenge and retaliation are our natural responses when we are harmed. The last thing we want to do is to pray for our enemies. Jesus knew that and knew that hate breeds more hate, and more hate. Prayer changes the heart of the one praying. Prayer changes hate for our neighbor to love for our neighbor. Then we can able to do good things for our former enemies. Our country did this following WWII in Germany and in Japan. We assisted our former enemies to rebuild after their countries were ravaged by war. Today Germany and Japan are some of our strongest allies. Was this easy? No, and there were probably people that thought we shouldn’t be helping our former enemies.
Loving our neighbor by practicing “do no harm” and “do good” is unbelievably challenging. “To do good” takes dying to self, setting aside our ego, and striving to see the other from their perspective. Jesus showed us how to do exactly this. What would our world look like today if Jesus would have decided that his purpose was not to go to the cross, but to take on the Roman army in Jerusalem? Instead, Jesus set aside his human self and his ego to see God’s bigger picture. Jesus even offered forgiveness to his torturers and executioners! Now that is really doing good! Probably most of us wouldn’t be able to do what Jesus did if we found ourselves in a similar situation!
“Jesus went about doing good,” Peter told the Roman centurion and his family in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter doesn’t describe how Jesus did good, but we know that Jesus welcomed the outcasts and the marginalized of the communities which included the sick, the women,and the children. Jesus welcomed his enemies, Pharisees and the Romans. Jesus welcomed both his own people, the Jews, and the enemies of the Jews, the Samaritans. Jesus healed anyone from these communities who was in need of healing. Yes, Jesus went about doing good, and according to Peter, because God was with him.
And God is with us, too, when we are challenged and think we are not able to do good. God will provide what we need. Also, God will give us the strength and courage to face the fear of rejection when an act of kindness or mercy is offered. Not everyone receives well. Some may just simply refuse an act of kindness. God also will give us the strength we need to face the fear of being ridiculed by our peers for doing a good deed for “one of the least” in our community. I know I’ve heard, “Why would you want to go there and help them? Why are you spending your time and money on them? They’ll just waste it.” And this leads me to another fear of doing good: the fear that our gift will be misused or abused. I’ve heard people say, “I won’t give money to a homeless person because they will just spend it on drugs and alcohol.” We are called to do good. What those who receive our gift of goodness do with it or react to it is not within our control. We are being faithful to Jesus’ command of loving our neighbor. Consider this. If we do not offer an act of kindness, an act of a good deed, we may never know how this act might brighten someone’s day, or be the moment that turns a life around.
Yes, to do no harm and to do good is challenging. It was even for John Wesley. He would frequently examine his own life against these three rules. However, he wrote in his journal during one of these time of self-examination that when he followed the rules, “he [saw] it [as] the life of God in the soul; the image of God freshly stamped on the heart, an entire renewal of the mind in every temper and thought after the likeness of [God] who created it.” In other words, when we keep these rules, we are the ones who are changed. The image of God is freshly stamped on our hearts. This is a benefit of doing good.
Have you ever taken time to reflect on the day? To review where you could have done good? Did you turn away from a situation where a kind act might have made a difference? Did you deny Jesus by doing something good? Then pray for God to give you the courage and strength for tomorrow to identify where and how you can do good. Also, have you ever taken the time to reflect on where you did good? Where did you make a difference? Where what you did may have brought peace to a tense situation?
If you were going to make a list of how to do good in our part of the world, what would we put on that list? How does this church do .good? (Open it up for the congregation.)
Remember last week, I shared a list of what Wesley made for the Societies to uphold as they strived to do no harm. Wesley also made a list for the Societies on how they could do good. It doesn’t have as many items on this list and they are not as specific. Maybe it is harder to describe how to do good. Here they are:
-By being every kind merciful after their power, and doing good of every possible sort.
-By giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting the sick or in prison. (This is straight out of Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats where Jesus said, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.”
-Especially those who are in the household of faith, helping each other. (As people of faith we are to look out for one another and help each other. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people of faith help me from taking me to cancer treatments, to cleaning my house and bringing meals when I was sick, to caring for my children when they were small so I could have some time to myself. I don’t know how I would have gotten through some of the crises in my life without people of faith doing many acts of kindness for our family.)
-By not speaking falsely, but by encouraging. (This begins like a Do No Harm item, but ends up being a Do Good one. In other words, do not be the one who spreads rumors and false information that will do harm, but instead encourage the one who may be in a difficult situation.)
-All possible diligence and frugality. (If we do our due diligence, if we do what needs to be done, we are doing something good. For John Wesley frugality meant being frugal with your resources, living simply so there are more resources to be able to do good for those in need.
-Running with patience the race which is set before them, (Hebrews 12:1) denying themselves, and by taking up their cross daily (Luke 9:23). Running the race to me means being faithful in all we do. Denying self and taking up our cross to me means setting yourself aside and striving to see the world the way God sees the world. Then act of spreading God’s love, goodness, and kindness.
I want to close with this John Wesley quote:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
- Rev. Dr. Sue Shorb-Sterling