If You Wanna Keep the Faith (or get it) – "Do No Harm"

Don’t you wish? Don’t you wish it were as easy as one, two, three? Don’t you just wish living the Christian life were as easy as that?! Well, there’s good news today. ‘Turns out, it is JUST that easy. ‘Problem is: it’s that hard, too.. Bishop Rueben Job calls this the “Three Simple Rules.” He’s quoting John Wesley, founder of Methodism, who called these the General Rules for the Christian life. #1 Do no harm. #2. Do good. #3. Stay in love with God through Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t you know we here at Nichols-Bethel choose to add one? Come to the Table. We put that at the start. It’s our way of saying we begin our discipleship adventure (our walk with Jesus) by experiencing him. ‘Knowing him, not just about him. We find him most readily in the bread and the cup. Oh, last week we heard from our work campers. All about: doing good! So today, today we need to arrive at the place where brothers John and Rueben begin. DO NO HARM. Dear Christian friends, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, I’m here to say this today. DO NO HARM. None. Not any. Not even one thing. Nada. Nunca. None. Zilch. Zip. Zappo. NO HARM.
This ain’t complicated. But it s u r e is radical. It’s taking seriously, livin’ all the way, what Jesus comes to say, “Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Hmm. The Sermon on the Mt., Chap. 5, Matthew, begins with all those blessings for us, the meek, the righteously hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers and the rest. YIPPIE!!! But the chapter… if not the sermon… ends here. “Be perfect.”) Do no harm. Paul says it like this. (See the top of your bulletin) “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” And again (Gal. 5), “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” John’s 3rd letter (The Message) puts the case like this, “Don’t [even] go along with evil. Model the good. The person who does good does God’s work. The person who does evil [puts the lie] to God, ‘doesn’t know the first thing about God.” Such a life is not complicated. But isn’t easy either. Let’s take a look.
Our world appears a literal-“hell” of a mess. It challenges our faith on every side. To keep the faith, or get it, requires drawing nearer to Jesus. It requires keeping up our guard against the ways of the world. And the world has a constant, sometimes subtle, often brutal way of doing harm. Not Jesus. Not us, if we choose to follow him. Practice this simple rule, no harm, and there will be a guard on your tongue, your heart and your hand. Bishop Job describes this as “a safe place to stand”. Call it: The Shelter Christ. It spares us and others saying the wrong/harmful thing in the wrong/heated moment. You have no need of worldly revenge, the expected “one up”, the clever retort, the overwhelming/winning argument or piercing goad. Imagine this: your kid comes in with that so-so report card. What’s the first word out of your mouth? Your boss has asked that one-more-thing, gotten on that one-last-nerve. How do you respond? You’re in the church meeting when somebody says, “It’s God’s will.” And all you’re thinkin’ is, “God forbid.” Your mouth opens, but mercifully you just take a breath. Now what? You’re watching the candidate debates. Your spouse, maybe your kids are there. One dude/dudess says something that makes your blood boil. What will you model of Christ should you open your mouth, talk back to the screen? No harm. Embrace Christ, trust Christ, know God is the Maker of your adversary and your loved-one-who-disappoints alike, and the climate is changed. You and I are changed. Unlike the world, we have no need to tear down or tear up that other soul. You and I are changed. We don’t have to seize the moment, right the wrong by ourselves, or bend the future to our will. But we need to exercise that one little moment right at the start. The one where we hold fast to the discipline, following the example of Christ, to do no harm.

Ok, so we have a sort of guardian angel of a rule. A discipline, a caution for the sake of Jesus Christ. Anything else? Oh my, yes. Take Jesus at his word, “Perfect.” Take Paul for gospel, “mind on things above.” Journey with John, “Don’t even go along with evil.” Write these on our heart and you and I come to see in a new way. WE CAN’T SETTLE FOR JUST DOING RIGHT. WE HAVE TO STEP UP TO NOT DOING WRONG. I think it’s hard enough to do good. Christ shows and tells us to look for the subtle, unspoken, unimagined harm… then avoid/reject/rebuke it. Wow!

We Marylanders will have a special opportunity to put the “do no harm” dictum to the test in a few weeks. As journeyers with Jesus our outlook is unique. In my 10 years here I’ve carefully avoided political stuff. TODAY’S NO EXCEPTION. No candidate stuff here! But there’s a moral matter to decide in November. A form of legalized gambling 2 administrations and both parties have sought. “Slots” has become the shorthand for it all. Now we get to have our say. We’re urged, constitutionally to project & protect such gambling for the sake of three common goods. To avoid deficit spending, promote education, enhance our economy. All good. And we have no need to insult, doubt or suspect those who believe in this course for these causes. (Though we’d be naïve not to note there are profits here.) So what’s the problem? Along with perceived good comes predictable harm. And not just to a few. And our faith instructs, “Do no harm.” I’m compelled to agree with our bishop. “This is a spiritual battle. Slots will prey on those who are most vulnerable.” These 4 extensively researched, carefully documented facts drive me to this view. a) Slots and casino gambling drain a community. They cost taxpayers $1.90 for every $1 collected in revenue. b) Gambling is a regressive tax paid primarily by the poor and at-risk. Children and families are hurt. c) Burglary, robbery, bad checks, and other crimes increase dramatically when casinos and slots come to town, virtually without exception. d) These highly glamorized, heavily advertised forms of gambling are particularly addictive. Bankruptcies, divorce, suicide and domestic violence increase wherever such gambling preys on a community. In behalf of others this is an unacceptable, practical harm. But as your pastor, two other things distress me more… and these are all about us as people of faith. First, both Leviticus and our Lord teach us to love others as ourselves. E.g. Lev. 19:14 directs, “You shall not revile the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind.” Applied to gambling, the teaching echoes Jesus’ prayer. If God be bidden to “lead us not into temptation,” surely we are not to do this to each other. But the greatest issue lies here. To accept that bad things may happen to others, by their own choices, weaknesses and desperations fails to take seriously John 3:16 (our 1 utterly shared memory verse), We fail to treat every sister or brother who falls prey to gambling as someone Christ loved and valued enough to die for! How can we abuse any such person or soul, or allow others to so? To generate a promised $1.3 B from this decision will turn 900,000 new souls for whom Christ died… from eternal winners… into perpetual losers. Of these, 18,000 a year will become permanently addicted. Jesus’ followers will have a special opportunity, indeed, to put the “do no harm” dictum to the test in just a few weeks. It is a matter worthy of our prayers. For each. For all.

To do no harm, dearest friends, is to discipline our souls and our lives from our tongues to our toes. It is to open our ears, our eyes and our hearts to each other and to Christ. We all know the game we played as kids. Mama hollered from the kitchen, “Kenneth Michael, quit pullin’ the dog’s tail. I can hear him yelpin’ all the way out here!” And I know just what that 5 year old hollered back. You too. “I’m just holdin’ mama, Sport’s doin’ all the pulllin’.” Well, that didn’t cut it with mama. And it won’t with Christ, or with the God and Father of us all.

DO NO HARM. It will require of us a deeper trust. God in Christ is in charge of our lives. And our nieghbors’ too. We may be required to give up some favored position or possession… in order to walk more closely with Jesus. We will surely have to watch our tongues, as well as our feet. We live in a complex world. Many dangers are real. Many threats are true. Many decisions to turn the other cheek are filled with hard questions, “Will my doing in the way of Jesus increase or decrease the vile and violent way of the world? Will it be seen as spiritual strength or common weakness?” Will I be put aside, or lifted up for what I do?” The answers may not always be evident, or easy. But nothing in our times is so different from that early time when souls first came to and followed Christ. nothing so different as to cancel the truth or the promise. In the lives of the faithful, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. To keep the faith (or get it) it’s as easy and as hard as this. Come to the table. Experience Christ. Cling to him. Trust him. DO NO HARM. NONE! Do all the good you can, where and whenever you can. And stay in love with God!

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