Psalm 139:23-24

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!
Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!
24 Look to see if there is any idolatrous way[f] in me,
then lead me on the eternal path!

1 John 1-2:2  Common English Bible (CEB) Announcement about the word of life

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

The message: God is light

This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

Living in the light

2 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Three Simple Rules – Do No Harm

“God is light.”

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

“The darkness stands for the chaos of life without God.  Without God’s light the world is chaos, in which life has neither order nor sense.”  Each of us are invited to live in the light – to live a life of love and peace away from the darkness and chaos.

These three simple rules that we are learning about over the next three weeks can teach us some real ways to practice living in the light of God.

Last week at our Easter service, we heard the story of how the women went to the tomb where Jesus’s body had been laid, and they were totally surprised to discover that it was empty. Do you remember? The women saw the light of two men in gleaming bright clothes who said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised!”  And I challenged you last week to really figure out that Jesus is alive –he’s not in the darkness of the tomb.  And I asked you to think about what the fact that Jesus is alive means in your life.  And to think about whether we are really acting as if Jesus is alive.  Does the resurrection of Christ mean anything in our daily lives?  Does the light of Christ shine on us or are we living in a dark tomb?

And so, we come to this little book that you got last week – Three Simple Rules.  These Three Simple Rules are a great foundation for living out our faith – they spell out a plan for living in the light.  If we were to practice these Three Simple Rules, our lives would be changed for the better, and I believe the world would be transformed, too, because of our living faith.  I want to tell you a little bit about the history of the Three Simple Rules.

In your bulletin you have a piece of paper that says “The General Rules of the United Methodist Church.”  If you look at this document, you can see that the three simple rules in the book come from the General Rules.  And I want to tell you a little bit about John Wesley because he is the founder of Methodism, and he is the one who came up with these general rules which remain a part of our beliefs today.  John Wesley lived in the 1700s in England, and he was a priest in the Church of England, in fact he remained a priest in the church of England until his death, because he never believed that Methodism should be a church at all.  Instead, Methodism was something extra that folks who were Anglicans (members of the Church of England) should participate in to seek out their salvation and for spiritual growth.

Wesley organized small groups where people would gather together to read scripture, pray, and for accountability in living out their faith.  These General Rules spell out the goals of the societies and the classes – which were different kinds of groups that met.  The class was to meet once a week, and the leader would inquire into how their souls prospered, and then the leader would advise, reprove, comfort or exhort each one as needed.  They would take up money for the preachers, the church and the poor.  The leaders would then report to the ministers to inform them of the status of the members of the class.

So the early Methodists met weekly in addition to attending worship and receiving communion in the Church of England.  And you can see that the first general rule is this:

By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced.

So for Wesley doing no harm also meant avoiding evil.  Wesley explains by giving some examples of what it would have meant in his day to avoid evil of every kind.  And although some of the things listed here seem outdated and a little funny, aren’t they also so very relevant three hundred years later.  The whole idea is that we are to examine our own behaviors and our own thoughts for things that might cause harm.  Perhaps that is a good definition of what evil is – something that would cause harm. We are to think about how we might be causing harm to ourselves, other people or even creation.  Right?  And so looking at the list of examples – not keeping a Sabbath time of rest and worship – that’s harmful to ourselves – we aren’t as close to God if we don’t set aside time for Sabbath rest and reflection and our behavior reflects this harm, too.  Drunkenness – that’s harmful to ourselves and others.  Fighting and quarrelling – harmful to ourselves and others.

There are an unlimited number of ways that we can separate ourselves from God and live in the darkness of sin rather than in the light of God.

Now today’s scripture says this beginning with verse 6:

If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

So, what I’m noticing is that the big problem is not necessarily that we sin, because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin when we confess and ask for forgiveness.  But the problem comes when we don’t admit or recognize that our actions are harmful.  The problem comes when we don’t examine our actions, when we don’t confess our sin, when we don’t ask for forgiveness, and when we don’t then try to become more like Christ in the way we live.

One of the qualities of light in general is that it is revealing.  The message of the light of God is the same — God’s light reveals things.  If we want to examine something, we bring it up to the light, don’t we?  I sure do, with my bad eyesight!  And in the light, all the flaws of a thing are obvious. In the light, we can see all the imperfections in any item.  And so it is with us.  The light of God reveals our imperfections.  Against the light of God, no one is worthy.  And sin keeps us away from the light of God.  But we are called to live in the light and do our best to avoid the darkness.  We are called to do no harm and to avoid evil of every kind.

If we aren’t intentional about doing no harm, we are likely to mess it up on a regular basis.  One way to examine your words and deeds is to add it into your prayer time.  If you look in the Three Simple Rules book on page 69, you will see a pattern for daily prayer – it offers some suggestions for prayer in the morning, midday and at night.  One of the scriptures the book uses for the nighttime prayer is Psalm 51.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation.

One practice that can help us to do no harm is to add this dimension into our prayer lives.  And not only can we pray something like Psalm 51 or Psalm 139 but I think it’s very important to mentally go through our days examining our words and actions and analyzing when we caused harm.  I think this practice is life-changing.  Because I promise if you ask God to reveal instances in your day when you caused harm, God will do that!

Even as a young college student John Wesley sought to examine the darkness that was in him and to strive to live in the light.  When he was a student at Oxford in England, Wesley met with a group of his friends to grow in their faith and to bring their faith to life.  They read scripture and discussed theology.  These college students visited people in prison and fed those who were hungry.  And I don’t think college has changed much since 1700 because then like now, this was a pretty unusual thing for college guys to do.  So as you can imagine, Wesley’s peers started making fun of the group calling them Bible Moths or the Holy Club.  And the other piece of paper you have in your bulletin is a list of 22 questions that John Wesley and his Holy Club would ask themselves every day.  These questions were a way that the young men would examine their thoughts, words and deeds.  It was a way that they held themselves up to the light of God so that they could see how they were measuring up in their living.

The Hebrew and Greek words most often used for the English word sin mean “to stray from the path” or to “miss the mark.”  The path is the path that God has set out for us. And so, sin would be straying from God’s path.  Any time we step off the pathway that God wants us on, we are sinful.  Any time, we are not the person God wants us to be, we have stepped off the path; we have missed the mark.  Anytime, we fail to love God or people, we are off the path that God wants for us.  And don’t we quite often find ourselves drawn to do things in our own selfish interests.  We find ourselves doing those things that will bring ourselves or others harm and pain – we are tempted to stray from God’s path.  The apostle Paul said in Romans 7 that sin causes him to do the very thing he hates.

In the book “why” by Adam Hamilton.  And he talks about this tendency toward sin and say this:

It leads to dictators and tyrants abusing their people.  It leads to men and women violating their marriage covenants. It results in people worshiping idols like money, sex and power.  In the end, straying from God’s path leads to pain for us and for those affected by our actions.

But that’s where the light of God comes in, and that where the good news of the resurrection of Christ comes in, and that is when we can use the power of the Holy Spirit.

2 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.

We no longer have to go the temple and sacrifice a lamb for our sins the way we read about in the Old Testament – instead, the blood of Jesus was shed for you – for the forgiveness of your sins and the sins of the whole world.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven when we confess with our whole hearts.  1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.”

It sounds amazingly simple, but actually it is agonizing because here is the thing with confession.  It has to be true and meaningful confession. We have to be honest about ourselves and honest before God.  We have to admit that we have a problem to confess.  We have to admit that we have caused harm and are sinful, and we have to say that we are sorry.  And mean it.  That’s the thing – we have to mean that we are sorry – because if we mean that we are sorry for the thing that we have done, we are going to have to change our ways because we know that we are straying from the path that God wants us on.  And I’m not sure that we always want to be on God’s path.  Because our own path looks so much better – it seems so much easier.

As a kid, my dad liked to tell me, “nothing good is ever easy.”  This first simple rule sounds simple, but it is sure not easy.  But we are not alone in our struggle to “do no harm.”

We were created to live with God and until we do, God will continue to seek us and teach us.  And when we live in the light, when we are so full of the light of God, there will be no sin in us— we will not want to continue sinning against God.  And when this light is shining in us, others can’t help but notice.

Jesus told his disciples, “let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5.  When we are living in the light of God, we are living out the very purposes that God created us for.

Yesterday it was so cold – it was sleeting and spitting snow.  It was dark and cloudy and windy.  And then the clouds cleared away and the light of the sun burst out!  I noticed my whole demeanor was changed with the brightness of the light.  Going from darkness to light is an amazing thing.  Nh I’m praying that in the chaos of life, we will seek the light of God.  It is shining brightly, God is trying to get our attention, through all of the other things in our lives that might take priority – all those things that come before God in our lives – God yearns for the day that God’s light is so bright in us that it bursts out onto all of those around us.

The first simple rule for having a living faith is to do no harm to yourself, to others or to God’s creation.  (BC – Amen.)

  1. 8 confession Let us pray.

Examine our hearts, O God.  Bring to mind ways that we might have caused harm.

Expose things we might not have even been aware of.

Teach us to be honest with ourselves and with you.

Living God we crave to live in the light of your love.  And so make us willing to do the hard work that takes on a daily basis.

We offer our very selves to you this day and confess our sins together.