I have told this story before, but based on today’s topic…it bears repeating! When we were kids, my brother was 4 years older than me. (And, if my math is right, he’s STILL 4 years older!) He was 15, which would make me 11, and it was the evening of his FIRST boy/girl party. We were hosting it…and my mom would NOT let me attend! Well, this would simply NOT stand! So my buddy and I hatched a scheme designed to turn our displeasure into a constructive outlet…at least constructive for us! My mom had gotten our basement family room all ready, including lots of snacks. One of the snacks she had out was a large bowl of Fritos. Now it dawned on us that…the dog REALLY liked salty snacks! (Getting the picture?) That’s right- we brought Hans, the very large German Shepherd we had at the time, into the basement and…ready?…had him LICK every Frito, one by one, after which…ready again?…we put them BACK IN THE BOWL!! That’s right- the dog licked every stinkin’ Frito after which they went back into the bowl! And after the party…the bowl was empty! Now, you’re wondering if I ever told him about it? Of course I did…about 8 years ago!
Today we continue our current sermon series, 3 Simple Questions, 3 Simple Rules. Based on books by retired United Methodist Bishop Reuben Job, this series is designed to establish a foundation between us and God and then look at tangible ways we can strengthen that foundation. The 1st week we asked “Who is God?” The 2nd week the question was, “Who am I?” Last week we asked, “Who are we together?” Today we transition into the “3 simple rules” part of the series with Rule #1- Do No Harm. Like the Fritos at my brother’s party, it’s ALL too easy to do harm. Doing harm is almost 2nd nature to us marvelously flawed humans. But when we agree that we WON’T harm those we disagree with, then conversation and, ultimately, the discovery of new insights becomes possible.
So the first simple rule is do no harm. It’s not that complicated. Even a child can understand what it means, and it’s applicable to everyone at every stage of life. When practiced, it works wonders and transforms the world around us. Most of us have seen and experienced the struggle to resolve complex and difficult issues. And I’ve experienced that when this first simple rule is actually remembered and followed, it often saves us from saying the wrong word or considering the wrong response.
What does the Bible say about this topic? Lots of things. In the Book of Galatians 5:13-16, Paul addresses how our freedom in God connects to our mandate to do no harm- You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
We sometimes perceive the free will God gives us as the freedom to do whatever we want. But when we use that freedom to indulge ourselves, when we bite and devour each other, then we stand a good chance of destroying everything. But when our words and actions are guarded by this first simple rule, we have time and space to think about the consequences before a word is spoken or an action taken. We all know people locked in conflict, sometimes over deep, profound issues and sometimes over shallow, insignificant issues. But regardless of the reasoning, the conflict is real, the divisions are deep, and the consequences can often be devastating.
When we agree to do no harm, the climate in which the conflict resides is immediately changed. Why? Because if we agree to do no harm, then we can no longer gossip about the conflict. If we agree to do no harm, then we can no longer speak badly about those involved in the conflict. If we agree to do no harm, then we can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. We can no longer diminish those who don’t agree with us. When we agreed to do no harm, we discover that we all stand on common ground, inhabit a common space, share a common faith, feast at a common table, and have an equal measure of God’s love.
In Paul’s 1st New Testament letter to the church at Corinth (3:16-20), he reminds them about their connection to God. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
Did you hear that? We are GOD’S TEMPLE! We all thought the CHURCH was God’s temple, but Paul makes it clear that the Church is not the building, the Church is not the steeple, the Church is not a resting place- the Church is…? The people! And because we are God’s temple, we are sacred. Which means we need to treat others with love and respect…do not harm.
Curtis and Leroy, responding to an ad in the local newspaper, bought a mule for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day. But the next morning the farmer drove up and said, “Sorry, fellows, I have some bad news, the mule died last night.” Curtis and Leroy replied, “Well, then just give us our money back.” The farmer said, “Can’t do that. I spent it already.” They said, “OK then, bring us the dead mule.” The farmer asked, “What in the world you gonna do with a dead mule?” Curtis said, “We’re gonna raffle him off.” The farmer said, “You can’t raffle off a dead mule!” Leroy said, “We sure can! We don’t have to tell anybody he’s dead!” A couple of weeks later, the farmer ran into Curtis and Leroy at the local Piggly Wiggly and asked, “What’d you boys ever do with that dead mule?” They said, “We raffled him off, just like we said we would. We sold 500 tickets at $2 apiece- made a profit of $998.” The farmer said, “Didn’t anybody complain?” Curtis said, “Well, the guy who won got mad…so we gave him his $2 back!” Curtis and Leroy now work for the federal government!
When this first rule isn’t followed, it’s rarely because it’s misunderstood or too simple. More often, it’s not followed because it demands too much self-discipline and a deep faith in God’s power to lead. To agree to follow this first rule is to agree with a practice that is almost too tough for our timid and tame commitment. But when I’m determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you. And I’m able to see you better and hear you more clearly.
So if this step is so simple and so easily understood, then why do so many of us do so much harm? Because, while it may be simple, it’s not easy. It demands trust…radical trust…in God’s presence, power, wisdom and guidance. It also demands radical obedience to God’s leadership. Living out our faith in real time requires our strongest resolve, our greatest faith, our deepest trust and a large measure of God’s grace.
To abandon the ways of the world for the ways of Jesus is a radical step. Some days we fear that it’s where we don’t
really want to go. Are we really ready to give up the power of this world for the power of God’s will? Are we ready to give up our most cherished possession- the certainty that we are right and others are wrong? Can we trust God enough to follow His ways rather than the ways of the world? Is it possible to live in this complex and violent world without doing harm? Are we supposed to turn the other cheek to those who distort the truth? Is it smart to do no harm to those who try and harm US? Can we limit our response to ways that aren’t destructive to others, even when they try to harm us? Is it possible to speak only the truth in love and gentleness when others seem to speak only partial truths in anger and hatred?
It’s a challenging path to walk. But even a casual reading of the Gospel shows it’s the way Jesus wants us to walk- do no harm. His way of teaching, and His life in general, demonstrates so well this first rule. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, we need to pick up on what Jesus taught us- incorporate it into a larger structure for faithful living.
Methodist founder John Wesley said that to continue toward salvation we need to begin by first doing no harm. What would it mean for us to take this first simple rule seriously? First of all, it would mean examining the way we practice our faith. And such an examination would lead to changing the way we carry out the practice of our faith. To do no harm is a proactive response to all that is evil, all that is damaging and destructive to God’s creation…and ultimately destructive to us. To adopt this first simple rule as our own is a giant step toward transforming the world around us.
In the Gospel of Luke (17:1-5) Jesus makes it clear that, while people are GOING to make mistakes, we are headed the wrong direction when we help that happen- when we do harm to others. Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
This passage will definitely get your attention! Jesus says that, if we cause someone to stumble, if we do them harm, “it would better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck”. Ouch! That’s direct and to the point- not at ALL hard to understand. A millstone is a very large stone – imagine something shaped like a quarter that is 10” thick and 15’ across – that a team of work animals would turn over the top of a wide, flat area of bedrock, milling grain in the process. So it was A. big, B. heavy and C. expensive. But Jesus says it would be better to have that big, heavy, expensive stone tied around your neck and then tossed into the sea than it would be to harm someone. And once the disciples heard that, did you notice how the disciples responded? They pleaded for more faith, because they understood how hard Jesus’ mandate would be. Clearly He makes “do no harm” an imperative.
Dave Dravecky broke into Major League baseball in 1982 as a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. The very next year, he pitched in the All Star game, and by 1984, only his 3rd year in the league, he helped his team reach the World Series, ultimately losing to the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1. In the middle of the 1987 season, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants. The next season, 1988, a cancerous tumor was found on his pitching arm and removed. He returned to the Major Leagues the next August, going 8 innings and beating the Cincinnati Reds in his first game back. 5 days later, on August 15, 1989, in the 6th inning of a game against the Montreal Expos, the humerus bone in his pitching arm snapped. A subsequent examination showed that the cancer had returned. On June 18, 1991, his left arm and shoulder were amputated. He has since become an author and motivational speaker. In one of his books, he wrote: “In America, Christians pray for the burden of suffering to be lifted from their backs. In the rest of the world, Christians pray for stronger backs so they can bear the suffering.”
To do no harm takes strength to accomplish. We CAN’T be frozen by fear. We can’t be tempted by greed. We have to strive for unity to prevail. We have to work for the common good. We have to serve each other…AND God.
To do no harm means we’ll be on guard, so that all our actions -even our silence – won’t add injury to other people. It means we’ll decide that every day our lives will be invested in the effort to bring healing instead of hurt, wholeness instead of division, and harmony with the ways of Jesus rather than the ways of the world. When we commit ourselves to this, we have to see each person as a child of God- worthy of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved…just like us.
Deep in the silence of our hearts, we know we want to follow Jesus. We know that following Him is the best…the ONLY way for us to live fully and faithfully. We know that it’s the only way to a peaceful, joyful, fruitful life. Deep in our hearts we know this is the life we want. We want to follow Jesus, even if it means giving up our favorite position or our favorite possession. And so we pray for the grace to be faithful as we say yes to the invitation to faithfulness.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- I’m Happy! Forbes Magazine Told Me So!