Vital Elements of Worship: Wash Your Hands

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

During my hospital chaplaincy internship I encountered (and sometimes endured) a variety of different experiences. From late night pages to the Emergency Room to early morning chats with Food Service employees, from wandering the halls of the ICU *literally* watching the eyes of Jesus follow me to watching life-flight helicopters transport persons from one hospital to another. I learned so much about humility and humanity. I learned when it was better to speak and better to remain silent. I experienced joy and sorrow and pink eye.

That’s right. Pink eye.

My brother had pink eye several times growing up, but I eluded its havoc until my chaplaincy internship. I remember sitting in urgent care and asking the physician how I contracted pink eye; I consider myself a generally healthy person. “Probably,” he said, “because you touched a door handle at the hospital and then touched your face. The person that touched the handle before you likely had germs on their hands that developed into conjunctivitis for you.

How kind.

By the end of my internship I knew the location of every automatic door in the hospitals. I opened doors with my hips and elbows like a champ! Having come out of “the valley of the shadow of pink eye” I was not taking any chances on a repeat visit.

As I think back on this experience, I am struck by the fact that perhaps I would not have contracted pink eye if someone else had taken the time to wash their hands. Hospitals have hand sanitizers and sinks all over! And yet maybe someone thought they would skip that stop at the sink or dispenser just that once…

And then God – as God usually does – turned this situation on me – and I began to think about all of the times that I “skip a stop” or activity or gesture that would make the path of the person coming behind me easier. It could be picking up a piece of trash so that someone else does not have to see it or do it. It could be stopping to write a quick note or text message to someone that has been on my heart. It could be taking the time to complete a chore that needs to be done that is not necessarily on my plate, but on the plate of someone I love.

If I take time for these small, simple gestures I believe God’s care and generosity shows through my action. And if we each took time – made time – for small, simple gestures so that God’s care and generosity shows through all of us – what a wonderful world it would be.

What might those small, simple actions be for you this week? In his teaching with the Early Methodists John Wesley established Three General Rules to guide the life and practice of faith for the people called Methodist. Wesley invited people to consider how (if) their thoughts, words, and/or deeds upheld the following:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God through prayer, the searching of Holy Scripture, and receiving the sacraments.

I invite you to take time this week to consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds uphold Wesley’s General Rules. How are your decisions leading you to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God? How are you creating space for the necessary and needful stops along the way to make the path easier for persons coming after you?

How many times have you washed your hands today? (*wink*) 

Prayer: “I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee. Consecrate me now to thy service, Lord, by the power of grace divine; let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious, bleeding side.”* Amen.

*”I Am Thine, O Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 419.

 

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Good News to the Poor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 4:14-21

The summer after tenth grade I travelled to a rural area of Tennessee with my youth group to serve on a mission trip. My team’s project was to assess and repair the roof of a mobile home that was caving in on the resident, who was a very kind man and a decorated Veteran that became a paraplegic as a result of his years of service.

After arriving and meeting our resident our team climbed onto the roof to begin removing the worn shingles and felt paper so we could expose the decking. Upon completing our task our surprised group leader, Mr. Nixon, said, “This decking is fine…so something else is causing the problem.” We got off the roof and a few from our team went into the home to identify other potential sources of the roof problem. A few moments later the small group returned with their discovery. The home we were repairing was in fact two single mobile home units that had been joined together to create one larger home with a unified roof; however, the structure did not have a proper load-bearing wall to support the weight of the roof. Someone asked, “What’s wrong with the load-bearing wall?” Mr. Nixon replied, “The wall is not plumb.”

For a wall to be plumb means that it is perfectly vertical. The loadbearing in the center of this house, which connected the two single units into one unit and was intended to support the center seam of the roof, was out of plumb just enough that the weight of the roof was not equally distributed on the rafters or other supporting walls. This was the source and cause of the caving roof. Our team spent the next three days reconstructing that load-bearing wall to stabilize and redistribute the weight of the roof. The final day and a half we re-shingled the roof.

When we said our final goodbyes to our homeowner I remember him looking upon his roof with great pride. Though he was in a wheelchair, he stood so strong and tall as he admired his level and supported roof; everything that was out of plumb was finally in proper alignment.

In our Scripture for this week we read the plumb line of Jesus’ teaching. In quoting the Isaiah scroll Jesus reveals the ways in which he and others that are faithful to God will complete God’s work in the world. We, after the example of Jesus, are called to

  • Bring good news to the poor
  • Proclaim release to the captives
  • Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • Let the oppressed go free, and
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19).

New Testament scholar Carol Lakey Hess says that in this passage “we learn what Jesus came to do” and “insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”* If our service and contributions towards God’s work in the world are measured by, guided by, and in accordance with this Scriptural plumb line, then we do not risk our efforts becoming skewed or out of sync with God’s desires for God’s children and the Kingdom.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, articulated the plumb line for God’s service in the world in three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God.

Do no harm and Do good are wonderfully self-explanatory. Before proceeding with an act – in word or in deed – ask yourself, “Does this cause harm? Does this communicate bad news or good news? Does this reveal God’s kingdom or keep it hidden from view? Does this release someone from a burden or add a new one?” Before proceeding with an act, name the good that the act will do. “This action will give someone hope; this act will provide comfort; this act will promote forgiveness, which will strengthen a relationship.”

Attend upon the ordinances of God is not as self-explanatory. What Wesley prescribes here is to stay connected with God through prayer, praise, Sacraments, and service. When we stay connected with God – individually through personal devotion and communally as the Body of Christ – we are strengthened in our spirits and continually reminded of the plumb line for our service. When we neglect our relationship with God, we are more likely to fall out of alignment, which can cause our relationships with God and others to cave, much like the roof over that home in rural Tennessee.

God is our strong foundation. The plumb line provided in our Scripture passage for this week is what helps us build upon God’s foundation in the Kingdom. We should revisit this plumb line often so that we can celebrate God’s accomplishments and continue refining our service in alignment with God’s will. This is a combination of head, heart, and hand work. Sometimes it is hard work and at other times it is easy. This work is always fulfilling and by applying ourselves to it, we will stand strong and proud, admiring what God has accomplished through us and looking with joy towards whatever task God has next.

Prayer: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we were winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.”** Amen.

*Feasting on the Word Year C Vol I 286.

** “We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal 131.

Unrest: Injustices

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.

*drum roll*

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:

  1. Do no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind
  2. Do good
  3. 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)