Three Simple Rules: #2 Do Good
“Three Simple Rules: Do Good”
June 18, 2023
Luke 6:27-38; Galatians 6:9-10
Third Sunday after Pentecost
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
I’m going to preach now and believe me when I say this is not a privilege, as a woman, I take for granted. But it is a calling, and one I am thankful my church supports.
There’s a thing church people like to say and you might know it and if you don’t know it maybe you’ll learn something new.
If I were to say this: “God is good.” You might say… “All the time.” And if I were to reply, “All the time,” you would say, “God is good.”
This is good place for us to start today. Because when we say “God is good” and if we believe deep down inside that God is good, then something else comes out of that belief.
We are in week number two of a short series on John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement was a practical thinker. He didn’t spend a lot of time turning deep theological concepts over in his head, he spent most of his time communicating ways for living better lives. Lives that more closely immolated Jesus and helped make the world a better place. This is why simple was better than complicated for the early Methodists. If it was simply laid out, there was less to get confused about.
In a world that can be overly complicated in the 21st century, I think simplicity still speaks to us. Garrett and I were reminiscing about his father this weekend. A great man. And one of the things I always admired about my father-in-law was his ability to take things that everyone else over-complicated and make them simple again. For example, one time Garrett was working through how to carry kayaks in the back of the truck. He was trying to think through how the kayaks would be tied down in enough places that they would be secure. But it was hard. You know, kayaks are smooth, not a lot of corners to catch a rope, oddly shaped and the rope would probably keep slipping. Then Rusty, my father-in-law, came along and in his classically nonchalant, yet profoundly wise way of speaking he said: “Ya know, why don’t you just throw it in the back of the truck. They won’t go anywhere. It’ll be fine.” Maybe you’ve had someone in your life like this, too. When we’re trying to complicate things, they look at it differently and just find the simple solution. And you know what, those kayaks were fine. They didn’t need ropes. They were heavy and the truck was big enough to hold them just fine. The simple plan worked.
Incidentally that was not the case for the time they tried to move the piano….
With the exception of moving pianos, I would still say 99% of the time, doing things the simplest way is works out pretty well.
That’s why I’m really attracted to a playbook for being a Jesus-follower that isn’t overly complicated. I don’t need 600+ rules for ordering my life, I need a plan that I can remember day in and day out.
Do no harm.
Stay in Love with God.
It’s simple, not always easy, but I’ll probably never forget.
Last week we talked about Do No Harm. We talked about how tempting it can be to let our “rightness” about one thing or another become our religion. And how being so certain that we are right will almost always cause some kind of harm done to those who stand on the other side. Doing no harm is about letting go of our need to be in control and to be right, and acknowledging that our first instincts are not always our best instincts.
So, but here’s the thing about Doing No Harm. You could live on an island the rest of your life, humble and observant of the life around you, living lightly on the land, holding onto control loosely and working hard to do no harm to any other living thing. And that would be wonderful and peaceful. But would it be Christ-like?
No, not quite. Doing no harm is just a first step. The humility it demanded to do no harm creates space in our life. But what will we put back into this space? This is why we need a second rule. Do Good.
Wesley went on to elaborate: “By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power, as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all…”
A handy paraphrase of Wesley’s wording, is this phrase we read in our call to worship:
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.”
Remember when we said that God is good? If that is something we truly believe then when we want to be Christ-like that means also stepping outside of our neutrality and doing good ourselves. Doing good is doing what God has already done for us. It is the act of sharing what we know to be true about God with the rest of the world.
Now, no question it’s simple, but is too simple? It’s one thing to preach about it and nod our heads in church, yes, good rule, John Wesley. Very good rule. But it’s another thing entirely to take this simple rule and put it into practice. Our brains that are so good at over-complicating get to work as soon as we walk out those doors into the real world.
Here's a common problem we have: Do Good? Sounds nice, but will I get anything in return? None of us are probably willing to admit we’ve thought that before, but I guarantee we have. If I do this good thing, who will notice? If I do this good thing, what will be the benefit to me in the long-run? If I do this good thing, God will surely bless me. If this wasn’t a common excuse for doing good, Jesus wouldn’t have preached about it in such detail. Doing good isn’t some kind of cosmic karma trick. We don’t love only the people who will love us back. We don’t do nice things so that we can get credit. Jesus told us to love with no expectation of return. Love the people who will never love you back. Give more to someone who has demanded already too much. Lend, expecting nothing in return. Do the nice thing when no one is looking. This project called being a Christian isn’t actually about you alone. This is about God’s goodness overflowing through you so that the world might be transformed bit, by bit, into something better.
We like to over-complicate things. Calculating the cost/benefit ratio like this is a good way to complicate Doing Good, but it’s not the only way to complicate it. We also make it complicated when Doing Good becomes a chore.
You see, doing good is tiring and when something is tiring, we find ways to shortcut, put-off and delay doing the thing we know we should do. For example, you might remember in our last series that focused on God’s Creation and our responsibility for caring for it, one practical way of being better stewards we talked about was to start recycling soft plastics… things like plastic bags. Now in the midst of that series, I had quite a routine going. Every soft plastic bag that came through my house was washed and dried after it was used, didn’t matter if it had carried frozen peas or mulch for the garden, by God, it was going to be cleaned and recycled. Yet, as the weeks have gone on and days have gotten busy, the temptation to let this habit slip has won out. When I’m tired at the end of the day I think, What difference will one little plastic bag make in the trash? And then each day those bags pile up in the trash. And before you know it, I’ve settled into new habits.
Weariness complicates good intentions.
A recent study was done between 2019 and 2022, a gap that included a global pandemic and led to a lot of change and adaptation and subsequently weariness on everyone’s part. This study measured empathy levels. And it showed that during this wearying period, empathy levels in this country dropped by nearly 15%. Weariness takes a toll.
So then when Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right,” this hits home. Doing good requires an endurance that is impossible to sustain on our own. This is why we don’t practice being Christians on a solitary island. We need a family of faith to encourage us and keep us going… to hold us accountable when we become complacent; to speak the truth in love to us when we are not living out our values. John Wesley famously said, there is “no holiness, but social holiness.” We need each other to be good in the way God intended.
So, don’t make Doing Good all about you and don’t try to Do Good alone. But there’s one more way we over-complicate Doing Good that I want to talk about today and it is, I think, the most challenging to overcome. Cynicism. What difference will it make? If I do this good thing now, someone else is just going to cancel it out with their 50 bad things. So why even bother?
Tomorrow we’re observing our newest Federal holiday, Juneteenth. Juneteenth celebrates the announcement of freedom that African-Americans in Texas experienced after the news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached them and unbound the chains of their bondage. In light of the atrocities of our heritage around slavery and racial justice, setting apart a day for national observance of this landmark moment can sometimes seem…not enough. What good does making another holiday do in the face of a still very large problem of racial inequity in this country? Why even bother? And yet this is such a good example of how doing good can become complicated. Our ability to make change in an unjust world often gets stalled because we feel like the next step isn’t big enough. And so we want to move forward, but we can’t. We complicate the process of taking any step at all.
This is the good news, though. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A step is a step. And just as Deb Wollaber says, in one of my all-time favorite Deb Wollaber quotes: “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”
When we observe Juneteenth we are giving respect and dignity to a day that is held sacred by those who were unbound from a cruel oppression. Is that not worth taking a day of national remembrance? It’s not the end of our work for justice, but it’s part of the beginning. Don’t let apathy and cynicism paralyze you. Large change almost always begins with small steps. When we give national respect to that which has been forgotten by our nation for too long, that is a good, important step. Set time apart tomorrow to observe this holiday, don’t treat it as just another day. And then continue to pray about how we can take the next steps in racial reconciliation.
Doing Good doesn’t have to be perfect or complicated. It’s not about cost-benefit ratios or karma tricks. It’s not about being super-human and carrying the world on our backs until we are weary. It’s about choosing good whenever we have a choice. Even if it’s a small choice. It’s about leaning on our community for support and encouragement when we start to feel stuck. It’s about making a difference in someone else’s life when we stand to benefit nothing at all.
Will you pray with me?