Sunday’s Scripture ~ Zephaniah 3:1-13
This week the attention in our Unrest sermon series focuses on injustices:
- Injustices towards God
- Injustices towards neighbor
As I marinate on injustices and how to resist inflicting them on God and neighbor, I give great thanks that I am Wesleyan and have a wonderful Wesleyan way to guide me (and us!) towards love and care of God and neighbor.
Shall we take a walk down memory lane? It was 1739 and folks approached John Wesley in London seeking guidance, reflection, and direction in their spiritual lives. John agreed to meet with them, to direct them, and as other people heard of this opportunity, they wanted to join as well! The group swelled to a size that John couldn’t continue with one large group and provide the level of guidance they desired. And *boom* small groups in the Methodist tradition were born! John called these smaller groups Methodist Societies.
A Methodist Society is “a company of [people – Wesley wrote men – forgive me JDubb but I’m moving towards inclusivity] having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008, Paragraph 103). Within each Methodist Society – which were organized geographically – were again smaller groups of folk known as classes that met regularly to answer the deep, vulnerable, probing question “how is it with your soul?”
These historical Methodist societies have evolved into what we know today as local United Methodist churches (and other churches in the pan-Methodist tradition). Persons who desired admission into these historical societies needed only “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins” (BOD 2008, Paragraph 103).
That sounds like one of the reasons that persons still seek out community in our local churches today!
But wait…there’s more!
Admission to the society was based on “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins.” But then there were (and are) guidelines for how persons in the society would act towards one another – towards their neighbor – and ultimately towards their God.
The General Rules were given as guidelines for the early Methodist societies – how they would live and be and thrive together in community. Simply stated The General Rules:
- Do no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind
- Do good
- Attend upon all the ordinances of God – participating in public worship, engaging the ministry of read and spoken Word of God, Holy Communion, private and public prayer, study and meditation of Scripture, fasting.
(They are completely outlined in the BOD, paragraph 103. Fun times. Seriously.)
Our neighbors experience injustice at our hands when we do harm, neglect good, and disregard the means of grace through which we encounter God and learn how God wants us to care for others.
One author has recast the third General Rule as “stay in love with God.” But saying “stay in love with God” sounds so cloistered to me. We are meant to be in community, not tucked away in our own little spiritual domains. True, we need that quiet time, to work out our salvation personally, but we equally need the time that we work out our salvation in community – with our neighbors – those known and those we have yet to meet.
We would probably excel at doing no harm if left all by ourselves, but can we really do good if the only good we are doing is for ourselves? I don’t think that is goodness…I think that’s self-centeredness and when we are navel-gazers then we aren’t attending to the greatest commandment – to love God with all that we are and with all that we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Do no harm – do good – attend upon the ordinances of God. The General Rules center us in holy living. Wesley believes holy living leads us towards true happiness – and the unity of holiness and happiness is the mark of the Christian life. I believe we are called to manifest the unity of holiness and happiness in community, and doing so will keep us from inflicting injustices upon God and neighbor.
Reflection: How is it with your soul? How are you living into and living out The General Rules? In what areas do you excel? What areas are growing edges? How can you come alongside others in accountability as together you live and thrive together in community? How can others come alongside you?
Prayer: I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.*
*A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship, 1989, page 607)