Even if you know little about the United Methodist Church, you may have heard the following quote, which is attributed to John Wesley:
“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.”
You might have seen this on the back of the T-shirts worn by workers at the Lonsdale booth at the fair. You might have heard it quoted by political candidates.
You might have encountered it in many other places and circumstances. It is a powerful slogan for Methodists everywhere.
As an ELCA pastor serving Methodist churches, this seems to be an admirable thing. Methodist teachings about the importance of “social holiness”, living out one’s faith in the community, seeking good for all, is quite different from the Lutheran concern to avoid “works righteous” and be wary of mixing the two kingdoms, one heavenly and the other earthly.
Lutherans who are passionate about seeking social good can run into all sorts of obstacles in their church.
Methodists might run into those who disagree with them about the issues and the approach, but no one would ever say the church has no business engaging in efforts to improve life in this world.
The beliefs embodied by this quote are also found in the “Three General Rules” of Methodism, the topic of last week’s confirmation lesson. Formulated as teachings for new Christians, they are basic rules that can be embraced by a much wider group. They are:
1) Do No Harm
2) Do Good
3) Attend upon the ordinances of God.
The first two rules don’t need much explaining, although when it comes to actual life situations we may need to do some serious thinking about how to follow them.
And you certainly don’t have to believe in Jesus to think they are important.
The third is a much more “church-y” rule. The ordinances of God are the gifts God has given us to nurture our faith and support us in doing the first two. The “ordinances of God” are actions taken by people of faith: going to church, receiving communion, reading the Bible, praying, loving and serving others. The confirmation materials say: “Another way to think about this is to live like you are in love with God, or like God is your closest friend. As we learn more about God’s character, we become more and more attuned to injustice in the world. We become transformed by our relationship with God, which feeds everything we do in our lives”.
Whether or not church is a part of your life and routine, I invite you to reflect on what nourishes your spirit and supports you in doing good and avoiding harm.
What connects you to a reality larger than yourself? What connects you to others, especially those you disagree with or find disagreeable? What gives you strength when life’s obstacles seem unsurmountable; when life’s challenges are overwhelming? Where do you find community with people outside your circle of family and friends?
Do you have enough of those things in your life or are you looking for more?
Jesus said “Seek and ye shall find. Ask and it shall be given. Knock and the door may be opened.” May you find that which supports you in doing good and avoiding harm wherever it may be found.