Message on Discipleship
Good morning Riverside United Methodist Church community! Wherever or whenever you are reading this, I hope you all are having a wonderful Sunday. Over the past two weeks we have been discussing discipleship. To recap, we began with asking some Why questions: Why discipleship making? Why am I at Riverside United Methodist Church? Why do I want to become a disciple of Christ? For John Wesley, his Why Discipleship is that “We are inwardly renewed by the power of God...producing love to all humankind.” And for the Apostle Paul, his Why is rooted in this encouragement, comfort in love and sympathy, and joy he finds in Christ, which also has a communal orientation (Philippians 2:1-11). In their journey of discipleship they understood themselves as being inwardly transformed by the love of God, while having an intention to live out that love to the rest of the world.
Last week, we unpacked that a maturing disciple is someone who invites others to co-create and experience the kin-dom of God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But a key question is, how does one get there? As disciples and disciple-makers, we have to understand that discipleship is a journey and becoming a maturing disciple may take time. As I said last week, “Fishing for people is a journey.” For me, understanding that discipleship is a journey is important because I am empowered to meet people where they are at and walk with them in their faith journey. As I am walking with other people on the journey, they are also walking with me.
This past week I have been reflecting on the question: How do we as United Methodists share our faith? If we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world we need to be able to communicate our faith. Who knows, you may find yourself having a candid conversation about religion and faith with family members, co-workers, students, teachers, and individuals from different Christian denominations, other religions, or people who don’t identify with any religion. For me, sharing one’s faith begins with building relationships, but there may come a time where you are invited to share your beliefs. Answering questions about your faith may be difficult and uncomfortable for various reasons. For a long time, articulating my faith to others was difficult. However, one thing that has helped me become more comfortable in articulating my faith is becoming mindful of core teachings, or say “basics,” that have been used in many United Methodist circles. Of course, there are many ways to speak about one’s faith and the United Methodist tradition, but I would like to share with you all some of the “basics.” These “basics” can be used as starting points for you to share your faith as you draw on your own experiences and contexts.
John Wesley’s First General Rule: Do No Harm
The early Methodist movement consisted of the United Society, which would be groups of Methodists gathering together every week for instruction and prayer. One of the founders of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, created three General Rules that would help these societies apply their faith to everyday life. These General Rules will be the first of our “basics,” providing us with a starting point of how we may want to share our faith.
John Wesley’s General Rules are the following: (1) Do No Harm, (2) Do Good, and (3) Attend Upon all the ordinances of God. Today, I want to reflect on the first rule: “Do No harm.”
Retired United Methodist Bishop Rueben Job sums up “Do No Harm,” in the following statement:
“To do no harm means that I will be on guard so that all my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God's children or to any part of God's creation. As did John Wesley and those in the early Methodist movement before me, I too will determine every day that my life will always be invested in the effort to bring healing instead of hurt; wholeness instead of division; and harmony with the ways of Jesus rather than with the ways of the world. When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God—a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved—just like myself. And it is this vision of every other person as the object of God's love and deep awareness that I too live in that loving Presence that can hold me accountable to my commitment to do no harm.” (From Rueben P. Job's Three Simple Rules)
I have come to appreciate Bishop Job’s statement because it cautions us against harm that is caused and perpetuated by our own inaction and silence. “Do no harm,” is not a simple statement of what not to do. “Do no harm” is a rule that requires action with our bodies and voices, which may involve advocating for those who are marginalized, amplifying their voices, and walking with them in their liberation and healing. “Do no harm” means speaking out against systemic sin that continually harms communities and individuals. “Do no harm,” requires us to reflect on our own actions and inactions, and what we say and what we don’t say.
For me, I have been reflecting more about my inaction and silence on the harm that is being done all over the world. For example, speaking up about racism is no easy task and for a majority of my life I have been silent about it, bathing in my ignorance and complicity. I am deeply thankful that the Holy Spirit is moving through the United Methodist Church and their call to Dismantle Racism. If we do not continually speak about racism, we may be doing more harm in the future. This reflection has deeply informed the way I articulate my faith. If someone were to ask me about my faith and relationship with the United Methodist Church I may speak about its robust history in the call to “Do No Harm.”
Close Friend: Hey dude, I didn’t know you were a Christian can you tell me a little bit more about your faith?
Henry: Thank you for asking. One of the things that draws me to the United Methodist Church is its call to “Do No Harm.” This call is not just thinking about what not to do, it is also about thinking about what I should do. The world, communities, and individuals need healing and I believe that as a follower of Jesus Christ I am called to partake in that healing, while also undergoing healing myself. My faith moves me to not only reflect on my actions and words, but also my inactions and silence about the harm that is being done all over the world. One harm that the United Methodist Church is trying to dismantle right now is racism.
The brief hypothetical exchange and response above, contains a similar response that I have given to various friends. Starting with the “basic” of the General Rule of “Do no harm,” I am able to briefly share my faith. It is important to note that this isn’t a call to simply memorize a response. What I typed out as my response is something that I truly believe in.
Rooted in Scripture
Another important thing to do is to root this “basic” in scripture. The scriptures are filled with verses and stories about “Do no harm.” One passage that I hold close to me that relates to “Do no harm” is the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Within this story a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus throws a question back at the lawyer, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answers correctly saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer asks a follow up question, “And who is my neighbor.” Jesus answers the lawyer’s question by talking about a parable.
The parable begins with a half beaten man, on a road leading to Jericho. Laying there on the road, a priest walks by, but in seeing the half dead man, the priest crosses to the other side of the street, totally avoiding him. We would think, that a priest just like the lawyer would recollect, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Well you might be thinking, he didn’t know that was his neighbor, he didn’t know what the concept of a neighbor was, thinking of him as solely just a stranger, but in Leviticus 19:33-34 it states that, “33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” That alien within this verse is the stranger, and it perfectly states that we must love the stranger as we love ourselves. The priest would have been fully aware of this text. However, the priest still fails to fulfill it.
The next person that approaches the half beaten man is a Levite. Levites were members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi, more importantly they would assist the priests in the worship of the Jewish temples. So one may think that they too know the call to love the stranger. However, just like the priest, he saw the half-beaten man and walked to the other side of the road.
The final person that approaches the half beaten man is a Samaritan. It is very important to understand the relationship between Samaritans and Jewish folk, where there was tension between the two. In John 8:48 being a Samaritan is even equated to being a demon. It states, “The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The lawyer who is Jewish, was possibly thinking to himself, there is no way that this Samaritan is going to help the half-beaten man. However, in the end, the Samaritan helped the half-beaten man.
This parable captures the multiple layers of “Do No Harm.” One can say that the Priest and the Levite caused further harm to the man because they did nothing and said nothing. But the Samaritan went out of their way to help the man and take action to further prevent harm and usher in healing. Once again, “Do no harm” is not only about our actions and words, but also about our inaction and silence. What other stories and verses in the Bible can you think of that relates to the General Rule of “Do no harm?”
To close, I invite you all to answer the question I posed earlier: Can you tell me a little bit about your faith? Right now, don’t think so hard. Just begin writing the first things that come to your mind. It could be words, or phrases, where later on you can construct them in coherent sentences. The goal of this exercise is to reflect on our faith from our hearts. Take around 5 minutes to answer the question: Can you tell me a little bit about your faith? If you are having some trouble use the General Rule of “Do no harm,” as a starting point.
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that the journey of discipleship will at one point require us to share our faith with others. With deep reflection and even practice, it still may be difficult and we still may feel uncomfortable, but we can begin thinking about where to start. We must remember that in the midst of all of this God is with us, continuously empowering us to transform ourselves and transform the world. And that as a faith community, we are sharing our faith, or say God’s love together.