I was 12 years old- my brother was 16. He was four years older than me. (Which, if I follow the logic, would mean he is STILL 4 years older than me!) My mom had relented and let him host his first boy/girl party. And if that wasn’t shocking enough, she also did something else in conjunction that rocked my world- she bought GOOD snacks!
My mom was dirt poor growing up. They had to scrounge for everything they got. Therefore, you wasted NOTHING! (Which is why, to this day, I freeze chicken bones until I get enough and then I cook them all day and make chicken broth!) So, that translated to the fact that she basically NEVER bought snack foods. They were, apparently, the work of the devil! (She even made this…stuff…that resembled chunky salsa that she said was “homemade catsup”. Well, you can put a dress on a pig…but it is STILL a pig!) So one of my buddies and I were SO excited that we got have GOOD snacks! That is, until my mom informed us that we were NOT invited to the party! “WHAT?! Oh, this will NEVER do!”
She was, however, insistent. And that made us MAD! So, we hatched a plan to get even. And a more nefarious plan the world has never seen! We brought the dog, a very large German Shepherd named Hans, into the house- where he was NOT supposed to be. We took him down into the basement family room, where the party was GOING to be. And then, one by one…we let him lick the salt off the Fritos…before putting them BACK in the bowl! Oh, I could have made SUCH an effective evil genius!
Over the years, as I have told that story, one question always comes up- did you ever tell your brother that story? Well, of COURSE I did. What kind of human being do you think I am? I absolutely told him…about 4 years ago!
Today, we continue our current sermon series- 3 Simple Questions, 3 Simple Rules. As I have shared before, it’s based on two books written by United Methodist Bishop Reuben Job and the series is designed to establish a foundation between us and God and then look at tangible ways to strengthen that foundation.
The 1st week, we asked, “Who is God?” The 2nd week, the question was, “Who am I?” Last week, we asked the 3rd question, “Who are we together?” Today, we transition from the 3 simple questions into the 3 simple rules. And the first rule is the most basic- Do No Harm. Like the Fritos at the party, it is ALL too easy to do harm. In fact, doing harm is almost 2nd nature to us marvelously flawed humans. But when can make a conscious decision that we WON’T harm those with whom we disagree, then the discovery of new insights becomes possible. This 1st simple rule- do no harm- is just not that complicated. It’s so simple, even a child can understand. It’s simple…but it’s hard. And yet, it is applicable to everybody in every stage of life.
And when this simple rule is practiced, it works wonders. It begins to transform the world around us. We all struggle to resolve complex and difficult issues. But when this 1st simple rule is actually remembered and followed, it often saves us from saying and doing the wrong thing.
Galatians 5:13-16 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
We sometimes think of the free will that God gives us as 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. On the other hand, when our words and actions are guarded by that 1st simple rule, then we have the time and the space to think about the consequences before a word is spoken or an action taken. We all know people who seem to be always locked in conflict- sometimes over deep, profound issues and sometimes over shallow, insignificant issues. But regardless of the reasoning, the conflict is all too real, the divisions all too deep and the consequences all too devastating.
But when we agree to do no harm, the climate in which that conflict resides is immediately changed. Why? Because if we agree to do no harm, then we can no longer gossip. If we agree to do no harm, 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 try hard to diminish those who don’t agree with us. When we agreed to do no harm, we begin to discover that we stand on common ground, we inhabit common space, we share a common faith, we dine at a common table and, most importantly, we each have an equal measure of God’s love and grace.
1Corinthians 3:16-20 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he 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.”
Did you hear that? We are GOD’S TEMPLE! All these years, we all thought that the CHURCH was God’s temple. But in this passage, Paul makes it clear that the Church is not a building. The Church is not a steeple. The Church is not a resting place. The Church is…the people! Why? Because WE are God’s temple. And that means that, at some level, we are sacred. And THAT means that we need to treat others with the same love and respect God shows us. Above all else…do no harm.
Leroy, responding to an ad in the local newspaper, agreed to buy a mule from a local farmer for $100. The farmer took the $100 and agreed to deliver the mule the next day. The next morning, when the farmer drove up, he said, “I’m sorry, but I have some bad news. The mule died last night.” Leroy said, “Well, that’s too bad. Just give me my $100 back and we’ll be square.” The farmer said, “Yeah…about that- I can’t give you the money back. I already spent it.” Leroy thought for a moment and then said, “OK, then bring me the dead mule.” The farmer was shocked, “What are you gonna do with a dead mule?” “I’m going to raffle it off.” The farmer scoffed, “You can’t raffle off a dead mule!” But Leroy said, “Sure I can! I don’t have to tell anybody he’s dead!” Couple weeks later, the farmer ran into Leroy at the local Piggly Wiggly, “Whatever happened with that dead mule?” Leroy responded, “I told you- I raffled it off. I sold 500 tickets at $2 apiece.” The farmer was amazed, “Didn’t anybody complain?” Leroy said, “Well, the guy who won was mad, so I gave him his $2 back…and cleared a profit of $998!” Leroy now work for the federal government!
When this 1st rule- do no harm- isn’t followed, it’s rarely because we misunderstood it or it was too simple. More often than not, it’s not followed because it demands too much self-discipline. To agree to follow this 1st rule, we have to also agree with a lifestyle that is nearly too hard for our timid and tame commitment. But when I’m determined to do no harm to you, regardless, I lose my fear of you. And when that happens, I am suddenly able to see you better and hear you more clearly.
So if this 1st rule is so simple and easily understood, why do so many of us do so much harm? Because, while it’s simple, it’s NOT easy. It demands trust- a radical trust in God’s presence and power and wisdom and guidance. It also demands a 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 heaping measure of God’s grace. To fully adopt this 1st simple rule into our lives is like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon- one giant leap.
Luke 17:1-5 Jesus said to His disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Jesus here is direct and to the point…AND He’s not hard to understand. “Better to have a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea.” A millstone was very large. Imagine something made out of stone and shaped like a quarter, only it’s 10” thick and 15’ across! A team of work animals would turn the millstone, which sat on top of a wide, flat area of bedrock. The millstone would grind grain.A millstone was big, heavy and 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 to harm someone. OK- I think I am beginning to get it! And did you notice- once the disciples heard that, they begged for more faith because they were finally beginning to understood how hard Jesus’ mandate was.
Dave Dravecky broke in the Major Leagues in 1982 as a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. The very next year, he appeared in the All Star Game. And in 1984, only his 3rd year in the league, he helped his team make it to 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 discovered on his pitching arm. He had surgery to have it removed and returned to the field the next August. His first outing, he pitched 8 innings and beat the Cincinnati Reds. 5 days later, August 15, 1989, in the 6th inning of a game against the then Montreal Expos, the humerus bone in his pitching arm snapped in two- the cancer had returned. On June 18, 1991, his left arm, his pitching arm, was amputated. He has since become an author and motivational speaker. Dravecky said this, “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 that they can bear the suffering.”
To do no harm takes strength to accomplish and it means you have to always be on guard so that your actions won’t add injury to other people. When we commit ourselves to that approach, we start to see each person as a child of God- worthy of His love, which is unearned, undeserved and unlimited. Deep down in the silence of our hearts, we KNOW that we want to follow JC. And we know that following Him is both the best way and the ONLY way to live fully and faithfully. We know it’s the only way to a peaceful, joyful, fruitful life. Deep down in our hearts, we know the life that we want- to follow Jesus. And so we pray for the grace to be faithful as we say yes to His invitation to do no harm.