John 21:15-17 – 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
This is the third and last in this sermon series called “Three Simple Rules That Will Change Your World.” These three simple, but challenging rules come from the three rules that John Wesley constructed for the Methodist Societies in England in the 1700s. They are: 1) Do No Harm, 2) Do Good, 3) Attending Upon the Ordinances of God. Right now you are thinking, “What did she say? Attending to the Ordinances of God? What is that? The bulletin says that the third rule is Love God. Huh?” Be patient. This is not a bait and switch. It’s all good.
Would you pray with me? Lord, your love for us never ends. And all you really want from us is our love for you. 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.
Before we look at what John Wesley meant with “Attending Upon the Ordinances of God,” we should review. In the past two weeks we learned that Jesus summarized 613 Jewish rules into two: Love God and love neighbor. When Anglican priest, John Wesley, believed that his mission was to revive the Anglican Church, he created groups called Societies. For Wesley, putting our faith into practice in our daily lives was key to this revival. He defined these groups as “a company of [people] having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.” They “worked out their salvation” by meeting regularly and reporting to each other how they were or were not able to love God and love neighbor. However, Wesley thought that these two rules needed further definition. How do we love our neighbor? How do we love God? Then he further defined loving neighbor into Do No Harm and Do Good. He even further defined how to do these by listing ways to Do No Harm and to Do Good.
So how do we love God? For Wesley it was about practicing what brings us closer to God, thus “By Attending to the Ordinances of God.” When we hear the word, “ordinance,” we think of laws or orders. The term, “ordinance,” comes from an old French word which means “to put in order.” If we take this definition, then “By Attending to the Ordinances of God,” means that we are to order our lives so that first, we love God, and second, we do all we can to maintain our relationship with God. I thought it is easier just to say, “Love God,” for this sermon series than to state, “By Attending to the Ordinances of God.” Either way, how does one love God? Well, by attending to the ordinances of God!
This is the list of ways to attend to the ordinances of God that John Wesley laid out for the Societies. 1) The public worship of God. If you are here in this room or listening at home, you are fulfilling this one! 2) The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded. This means God is still speaking to us when we read the Bible and/or when we hear someone explain the scriptures to us, like in a Bible study or through a sermon. 3) The Supper of the Lord. When we receive the simple elements of the Cup and Bread we are receiving an outward means of an inward grace of God. With these simple elements, we are spiritually fed. 4) Family and private prayer. Prayer is our telecommunication with God. We can talk to God in the silence of our hearts or out loud with others. Praying with our families or with others has a tendency to bond us together as we share our hearts’ desire not only with God but with each other. 5) Searching the Scriptures. I have questioned why Wesley separated this out from the “Ministry of the Word.” The Word ministers to us when we search the Scriptures. But perhaps, Wesley saw the Scriptures as a source for answers to life’s questions. Studying the scriptures is digging deeper into the Word then just having it read and explained. When we study the Scriptures we are learning more about God’s heart and that strengthens our relationship with God. 6) Fasting or abstinence. Fasting from food is an ancient method to connect with God. Fasting can be a humbling experience in which we realize how much we depend on God’s creation to sustain us. Fasting can free up time to spend with God. Think about how much time we spend each day preparing, eating, and cleaning up after a meal. Could we try to spend the amount of time it takes for one meal instead with God every now and then? Fasting from food can even open our spirits to connect with the holiness of God. Abstinence or abstaining from an activity that distracts us from our relationship with God can be helpful in maintaining our love for God. Each one of us has some activity that we know we spend too much time doing. What if just once a week, we spent that amount of time praying and/or reading the Bible or reading another Christian book that lifted our spirits?
What spiritual practices do you use to maintain your relationship with God?
Perhaps, you practice some or all that Wesley listed. Or perhaps, you practice others such as, taking a walk to connect with God in creation. Or sitting quietly, meditating, and listening for God’s voice. Or having daily devotions where one reads devotional material, reads scripture that connects with that devotional, and prays. Or meeting with other fellow Christians to encourage one another. Or perhaps creating something like a painting, or sewing, or carpentry. God connects with us in different ways.
When I first learned of these three rules, I couldn’t understand why John Wesley ordered them as he did. I would argue that his third rule, “Keeping the Ordinances of God,” should be the first rule. When we maintain our relationship with God our cup overflows so that we are more aware of when we might be harming another and more aware of when we can do good in the world. In my opinion, maintaining a close relationship with God is primary to the development of our faith and putting our faith into daily practice or living our faith. One of my favorite songs is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” And that love comes from being in relationship with God in Christ and powered by the Holy Spirit. However, I think Wesley might argue that he put the “Do No Harm” rule first, because harming others out of hate, revenge, and/or retaliation seems to come naturally to us. Wesley might have thought first that we needed to curb these desires to do harm and then find ways to counter them by doing good.
No matter which one of these rules we put first, we do know that when we do not maintain our relationship with God, we will slip up. We will harm others, and not do good. Do you know what the top two things are that can damage a relationship or even kill a relationship? 1) Not paying attention to the other; 2) Being Too Busy. We have experienced both of these in our human relationships. A friend or a spouse who didn’t listen or care to listen to us when we needed to share something important. Or we become too busy for each other. If either or both of these two things happen, the relationship begins to break down. What happens when we stop paying attention to God or become too busy for God? Our side of the relationship breaks down. We may even think God doesn’t care about us. or maybe even think that God has forgotten us. If we think this is happening, we need to examine what we are doing in our relationship with God. God never moves away from a relationship. However, we are the ones who move away from it!
Jesus never moved away from God nor was too busy for God. He needed to break away from the crowds and go off to spend time alone with his Heavenly Father. Jesus knew that to be able to remain faithful to his mission, he needed to maintain his relationship and love for God. Not only did Jesus find his strength, guidance, and power by staying close to God, but he, also, received the joy of companionship and communion with his Abba, Father, even in the midst of being rejected.
Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, In the Name of Jesus, that “the world did not pay attention to [Jesus]. He was crucified and put away. HIs message of love was rejected by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control. But there he was appearing with wounds in his glorified body to a few friends who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. This rejected, unknown, wounded Jesus simply asked, ‘Do you love me, do you really love me?’ He whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God had only one question to ask, ‘Do you love me?’”
Jesus asked Peter this question three times. And three times, Peter answered in the affirmative. Loving God was foundational to a faithful life then as it is now. From this divine love flows goodness and love to the world. Holy living is not possible without remaining close to God in prayer, in worship, reading and studying the Bible, and receiving the Lord’s Supper, and doing good by providing for the needs of others or as Jesus commanded Peter, “Feed my lambs,” and “Tend my sheep.”
The rules are simple, “Do No Harm,” “Do Good,” and “Love God,” but they are not simple to keep. We need to practice these daily until we can perfect them. And the question from Jesus continues for each of us today, “My daughter, my son, do you love me?” If we, like Peter, answer in the affirmative, then we will be tasked with this directive, “Then feed and care for my sheep.”
Would you pray with me?
Shepherd of our Souls, come and make your home in our hearts today. Dwell within us and save us from our foolish ways. Guide us to do no harm, to do good, and to love you with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Help us to be an answer to another’s prayer so that we may be one of your signs of hope in the world you love. Amen.