Luke 6: 27-28
1. We started last week with a sermon series based on Bishop Rueben Job’s book, “Three Simple Rules, A Wesleyan Way of Living.” Those three simple rules of living were 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good, and 3. Stay in love with God. Last week, “Do no Harm.” And we started with a cartoon.
a. Luann: “It’s tiring to be this helpful.”
i. Of course we learned that doing no harm was much more than that. That through careless or hurtful words or gossip we often did harm to those we care about the most.
ii. That harm can often not be undone, it can be forgiven, yes; but often the consequences of harm cannot be undone.
iii. That we need to be proactive in not doing harm.
b. This week Luann has a word about doing good. The activist says, “Hey, I have an idea, let’s start an organization of teens dedicated to making the earth a better place.” Not too enthusiastically, “Yeah, fun.” And “Sounds like a blast.” Undaunted, “It would be fun, we could do all kinds of stuff. Clean up litter, paint thinks, drive seniors to the mall. We could call it, The World Improvement Teen Society.” “Twits?” “Wha’d ya’ say about driving to the mall?” That’soften where we find ourselves isn’t it? “Wha’d you say about driving to the mall?”
2. God created us as social creatures. We are beings that need community. We need the help of one another to get through this life. God gave us guidance on how we are to live. They’re not just his rules, but what we need. He tells us “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” We need to need one another. And what about those outside the boundaries of our communities? How do we bring them in? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Our enemies need love too, “do good to those that hate you.”
3. A story: HIS NAME WAS CARL. CARL WAS A QUIET MAN. HE DIDN'T TALK MUCH.HE WOULD ALWAYS GREET YOU WITH A BIG SMILE AND A FIRMHANDSHAKE. EVEN AFTER LIVING IN HIS NEIGHBORHOOD FOR OVER 50YEARS, NO ONE COULD REALLY SAY THEY KNEW HIM VERY WELL.BEFORE HIS RETIREMENT, HE TOOK THE BUS TO WORK EACH MORNING.THE LONE SIGHT OF HIM WALKING DOWN THE STREET OFTEN WORRIED HIS FRIENDS. YOU SEE, HE HAD A SLIGHT LIMP FROM A BULLET WOUND HE HAD RECEIVED IN WORLD WAR II.ALTHOUGH HE HAD SURVIVED WORLD WAR II, HIS FRIENDS WORRIED THAT HE MAY NOT MAKE IT THROUGH THE CHANGING NEIGHBORHOOD WITH ITS EVER-INCREASING RANDOM VIOLENCE, GANGS, AND DRUG ACTIVITY.
ONE DAY CARL SAW A FLYER AT HIS LOCAL CHURCH ASKING FOR VOLUNTEERS TO CARE FOR THE GARDENS OF THE CHURCH. CARL RESPONDED IN HIS CHARACTERISTICALLY UNASSUMING MANNER.WITHOUT FANFARE, HE JUST SIGNED UP. CARL GREW TO LOVE TENDING FOR THE CHURCH GARDENS – CAREFULLY WEEDING, FEEDING AND WATERING. HE WAS WELL INTO HIS 87TH YEAR WHEN THE VERY THING HIS FRIENDS HAD ALWAYS FEARED FINALLY HAPPENED.
HE WAS JUST FINISHING WATERING THE GARDEN FOR THE DAY WHEN THREE GANG MEMBERS APPROACHED HIM. IGNORING THEIR ATTEMPT TO INTIMIDATE HIM, HE SIMPLY ASKED, 'IT’S A HOT DAY, WOULD YOU LIKE A DRINKFROM THE HOSE?'
THE TALLEST AND TOUGHEST-LOOKING OF THE THREE SAID, 'YEAH,SURE,' WITH A MALICIOUS LITTLE SMILE. AS CARL OFFERED THE HOSE TO HIM, THE OTHER TWO GRABBED CARL'S ARM, THROWING HIM DOWN. AS THE HOSE SNAKED CRAZILY OVER THE GROUND, DOUSING EVERYTHING IN ITS WAY, CARL'S ASSAILANTS STOLE HIS RETIREMENT WATCH AND HIS WALLET, AND THEN FLED.
CARL TRIED TO GET HIMSELF UP, BUT HE HAD BEEN THROWN DOWN ON HIS BAD LEG. AS HE LAY THERE TRYING TO GATHER HIMSELF THE PASTOR CAME RUNNING TO HELP HIM. ALTHOUGH THE PASTOR HAD WITNESSED THE ATTACK FROM THE CHURCH OFFICE, THE PASTOR COULDN'T GET THERE FAST ENOUGH TO STOP IT. HELPING CARL TO HISFEET, THE PASTOR KEPT ASKING CARL IF HE WAS OKAY.
CARL JUST PASSED A HAND OVER HIS BROW AND SIGHED, SHAKING HISHEAD. 'JUST SOME PUNK KIDS. I HOPE THEY'LL WISE-UP SOMEDAY.' HISWET CLOTHES CLUNG TO HIS SLIGHT FRAME AS HE BENT TO PICK UP THE HOSE. HE ADJUSTED THE NOZZLE AGAIN AND STARTED TO WATER THE GARDEN. CONFUSED AND A LITTLE CONCERNED, THE PASTOR ASKED,'CARL, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GO HOME & REST.' 'I'VE GOT TO FINISH MY WATERING. IT'S BEEN VERY DRY LATELY,' CAME THE CALM REPLY.SATISFIED THAT CARL REALLY WAS ALL RIGHT, THE PASTOR COULD ONLY MARVEL AT CARL’S RESPONSE THIS ATTACK. A FEW WEEKS LATER THE THREE GANG MEMBERS RETURNED. JUST LIKE BEFORE THEIR THREAT WAS UNCHALLENGED. CARL AGAIN OFFERED THEM A DRINK FROM HIS HOSE.
THIS TIME THEY DIDN'T ROB HIM. THEY WRENCHED THE HOSE FROM HIS HAND AND DRENCHED HIM HEAD TO FOOT IN THE ICY WATER. WHEN THEY HAD FINISHED THEIR HUMILIATION OF HIM, THEY SAUNTERED OFF DOWN THE STREET, THROWING CATCALLS AND CURSES, FALLING OVER ONE ANOTHER LAUGHING AT THE HILARITY OF WHAT THEY HAD JUST DONE.
CARL JUST WATCHED THEM GO. THEN HE TURNED TOWARD THE WARMTH GIVING SUN, PICKED UP HIS HOSE, AND WENT ON WITH HIS WATERING.
AS THE SUMMER QUICKLY FADED INTO FALL, CARL WAS DOING SOME TILLING WHEN HE WAS STARTLED BY THE SUDDEN APPROACH OF SOMEONE BEHIND HIM. HE STUMBLED AND FELL INTO SOME EVERGREEN BRANCHES.AS HE STRUGGLED TO REGAIN HIS FOOTING, HE TURNED TO SEE THE TALL LEADER OF HIS SUMMER TORMENTORS REACHING DOWN FOR HIM. CARL BRACED HIMSELF FOR THE EXPECTED ATTACK. 'DON'T WORRY OLD MAN,I'M NOT GONNA HURT YOU THIS TIME,’ SAID THE TATTOOED, SCRUFFY LOOKING YOUNG MAN.
THE YOUNG MAN SPOKE SOFTLY, STILL OFFERING THE TATTOOED AND SCARRED HAND TO CARL TO HELP HIM UP OUT OF THE BUSHES. AS HE HELPED CARL GET UP, THE YOUNG MAN PULLED A CRUMPLED BAG FROM HIS POCKET AND HANDED IT TO CARL. 'WHAT'S THIS?' CARL ASKED.'IT'S YOUR STUFF,' THE MAN EXPLAINED. 'IT'S YOUR STUFF BACK. EVEN THE MONEY IN YOUR WALLET.' 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND,' CARL SAID. 'WHY WOULD YOU HELP ME NOW?' THE YOUNG MAN SHIFTED HIS FEET,SEEMING EMBARRASSED AND ILL AT EASE. 'I LEARNED SOMETHING FROMYOU,' HE SAID. 'I RAN WITH THAT GANG AND HURT PEOPLE LIKE YOU.WE PICKED YOU BECAUSE YOU WERE OLD AND WE KNEW WE COULD DOIT. BUT EVERY TIME WE CAME AND DID SOMETHING TO YOU, INSTEAD OF YELLING AND FIGHTING BACK, YOU TRIED TO GIVE US A DRINK. YOU DIDN'T HATE US FOR HATING YOU. YOU KEPT SHOWING LOVE AGAINST OUR HATE.'THE YOUNG MAN STOPPED FOR A MOMENT. HE SAID, 'I COULDN'T SLEEP AFTER WE STOLE YOUR STUFF, SO HERE IT IS BACK.' HE PAUSED FOR ANOTHER AWKWARD MOMENT, NOT KNOWING WHAT MORE THERE WAS TO SAY. HALTINGLY HE CONTINUED, 'THAT BAG'S MY WAY OF SAYING THANKS FOR STRAIGHTENING ME OUT, I GUESS.' AND WITH THAT, HE WALKED OFF DOWN THE STREET.
CARL LOOKED DOWN AT THE SACK IN HIS HANDS AND GINGERLY OPENED IT. HE TOOK OUT HIS RETIREMENT WATCH AND PUT IT BACK ON HIS WRIST. OPENING HIS WALLET, HE CHECKED FOR HIS WEDDING PHOTO.HE GAZED FOR A MOMENT AT THE YOUNG BRIDE WHO STILL SMILED BACK AT HIM FROM ALL THOSE YEARS AGO.
CARL DIED ONE COLD DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS THAT WINTER. MANY PEOPLE ATTENDED HIS FUNERAL IN SPITE OF THE WEATHER. IN PARTICULAR THE PASTOR NOTICED A TALL YOUNG MAN THAT HE DIDN'T KNOW SITTING QUIETLY IN A DISTANT CORNER OF THE CHURCH.THE PASTOR SPOKE OF CARL'S GARDEN AS A LESSON IN LIFE. IN A VOICE MADE THICK WITH UN SHED TEARS, THE PASTOR SAID, 'DO YOUR BEST IN THIS LIFE AND MAKE YOUR GARDEN AS BEAUTIFUL AS YOU CAN. WE WILL NEVER FORGET CARL AND HIS GARDEN.'
THE FOLLOWING SPRING ANOTHER FLYER WENT UP. IT READ: 'PERSONNEEDED TO CARE FOR CARL'S GARDEN.' THE FLYER WENT UNNOTICED BYTHE BUSY PARISHIONERS UNTIL ONE DAY WHEN A KNOCK WAS HEARD AT THE PASTOR'S OFFICE DOOR. OPENING THE DOOR, THE PASTOR SAW APAIR OF TATTOOED & SCARRED HANDS HOLDING THE FLYER. 'I BELIEVE THIS IS MY JOB, IF YOU'LL HAVE ME,' THE YOUNG MAN SAID.THE PASTOR RECOGNIZED HIM AS THE SAME YOUNG MAN WHO HAD RETURNED THE STOLEN WATCH AND WALLET TO CARL. THE PASTOR KNEW THAT CARL'S KINDNESS HAD TURNED THIS MAN'S LIFE AROUND.THE PASTOR HANDED THE YOUNG MAN THE KEYS TO THE GARDEN SHED.THE MAN WENT TO WORK AND, OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL YEARS, HE TENDED THE FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES JUST AS CARL HAD DONE. IN THAT TIME, HE WENT TO COLLEGE, GOT MARRIED, AND BECAME A PROMINENT MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY. BUT HE NEVER FORGOT HIS PROMISE TO CARL'S MEMORY AND KEPT THE GARDEN AS BEAUTIFUL AS HE THOUGHT CARL WOULD HAVE KEPT IT.
ONE DAY HE APPROACHED THE PASTOR OF THE CHURCH AND SAID THATHE COULDN'T CARE FOR THE GARDEN ANY LONGER. HE EXPLAINED WITH A SHY AND HAPPY SMILE, 'MY WIFE JUST HAD A BABY BOY LAST NIGHT, AND SHE'S BRINGING HIM HOME ON SATURDAY.' AS THE PASTOR TOOK THE SHED KEYS AND WISHED THE MAN CONGRATULATIONS, THE PASTOR ASKED, “WHAT'S THE BABY'S NAME?' THE YOUNG MAN QUIETLY REPLIED.“THE BABY’S NAME IS CARL.” (From a sermon by Rev. Michelle Wobrack, July 2008)
4. Carl never lived to know the impact that his kindness had on this boy. That’s true of many of us. To do good is transforming in ways we may never know.
5. But the question is, what good should I do? And the corollary is “and how much is enough?” “What are the boundaries to doing good? How far do I have to go? How much do I have to do? What resources am I expected to use?” “How much time do I have to spare?”
6. John Wesley was often asked and we condensed his words in the saying that is in our bulletin weekly: “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.”
a. Wesley knew that there were no limits to what had to be done: feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, teaching the children. No limit to the opportunities.
b. He also knew that if it would be done, it would be the Christian community that would do it.
c. The limitation becomes the one of “you can.” How much can we, how much need we?
1. Rueben Job says we need to be “proactive” in doing no harm and doing good. To help illustrate what “proactive” means to us, I’d like to borrow some ideas from Stephen Covey. In his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he lists the first habit as “Proactive.” Effective people, and I would submit, effective Christians, effective churches are proactive.
2. By that he means instead of reacting to the world around us, we choose how we are to act. The animal world has no intellectual endowments to allow them to choose, they simply react to the stimulus. But for us, between every stimulus and response is the freedom to choose. We choose based on our values, we choose based on our principles. And if we’re Christians, we choose based on our understanding of the will of God. And if we are Christians, we don’t have to do it alone. We are powered by the Holy Spirit to make and act on that choice. Being proactive is a Wesley way of living.
3. My cousin sent me a New York Times article this week that cited a study that said the religious people are more disciplined than non-religious or even just spiritual people. As a non-believer the author was trying to figure out how to fake it. He simply didn’t understand the power of the Holy Spirit to impact our choices and actions.
4. So, since we can choose, since we can choose to do good, what are the boundaries? As I said, Wesley understood that the opportunities are nearly without bound, and the Bible says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”” (Deut 15:11) Wesley understood that there was something we could do every day. But what are the limits?
a. M. Teresa devoted her whole life to doing good.
b. Doing good is a command of Christ.
c. What are the limits?
d. There is no pat answer. “Do all the good you can..” You can is a matter of conscience. It may be a question that is not expected to be answered. For when we answer it, or when we say “I’ve done enough,” maybe we lose the battle of understanding how much is enough.
5. But there are boundaries. The Bible recognizes obligations of
a. Family. A man shall leave his father and mother…
b. Job. Six days you shall labor..
c. Obligations that are intuitive. If doing good does harm to our family, our relationshiops, our means of sustenance, our community, certainly we have gone beyond a boundary.
d. So if a person says to his wife and 10 kids, “God has called me to go do good in Africa, you have to fend for yourselves” clearly that nut has crossed the line.
6. Here’s the deal. We don’t have to live our lives in compartments. We can do good within the framework of all of our activities. We can breakdown our compartments. We can have an attitude of doing good in all our situations. Doing good is an attitude. We can choose to look for opportunities daily in all our situations. We can have an attitude of doing good. That’s how we do all the good we can.
a. We see those people don’t we? Those people who have an attitude of doing good, of kindness. I’ve mentioned my Uncle Keith before. One of the most proactive people I know in reaching out to others. Little things. The family was sitting in an RV park when a stranger pulled his rig in next to us and started to set up. Before I could recognize that something might need to be done, Keith was up helping a stranger, “Let me give you a hand.”
b. An attitude of doing good. And we can start with family. An attitude of kindness, of not doing harm, of doing good just within our families can do a lot to transform this life we’re living into one of joy.
c. And in community. We can do the little things. If we’re able bodied, we can choose to go by the first parking place and leave it for someone behind us.
d. If we see someone we know is struggling while shopping, we may even be able to arrange with the clerk to pay for their groceries anonymously.
e. Certainly, we can pray for others. We can pray too that God will show us the opportunities to do good.
7. Being disciples calls us to step outside of our comfort zone. It has been since the beginning.
a. Abraham was called to go from his country and his kindred to a land that God would show him.
b. Moses was told by God, “Come, I send you to Pharaoh.” Way outside of his comfort zone.
c. Isaiah was called by God, “Whom shall I send?” and responded, “Here I am, send me.”
d. Mary responded to the angel, “Let it be me according to your word.”
e. Peter and Andrew responded to Jesus when he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
f. And Paul, and others throughout the centuries. Our heritage is of those who heard the call and stepped outside of their comfort zone, who were risk-takers for the sake of the Gospel.
8. And we too do good for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
a. Wesley called these acts of mercy. His small group at Oxford that were the very first Methodists fed the poor, clothed the naked, visited those in prison. Later his societies would teach the children of the streets. They would do all the good that they could even when it took risks.
b. We can step into our communities.
i. Foodbanks or shelters or nursing homes need volunteers. We could commit to volunteering onece a month. In the midst of those volunteer opportunities we might find other ways to do good.
ii. Habitat for Humanity in Fayette or Boonville or Columbia always needs volunteers.
iii. Mentoring. Much of doing good is about relationships. I thought about the story of Carl and the difference he made in the young man’s life by his goodness. If we’re not in this life to make a difference in the lives of others, we might seriously ask why we are here.
9. And because we are a part of the worldwide body of Christ, we can step out with the larger community. We can do good around the world. We may need to step out of our comfort zone, we may have to take some risks.
a. We do that by participating in programs like the Festival of Sharing that serves Missouri and the world.
b. There are programs like Crop Walk where we raise money with an afternoon of our time and serve the hungry around the world.
c. Of like the Society of St Andrew that fights hunger by salvaging fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste. There were opportunities nearby to harvest turnips and apples last fall.
d. Stepping beyond that there are Volunteers in Missions, VIM, trips that send workers around the world to do good.
e. And where we can’t go we can make contributions that facilitate others to do good.
1. Here’s the good news. We are recipients of the greatest good ever done for humankind, the one whose ministry was to bring goodnews to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, relief to the oppressed and to let the captives go free. Jesus came to do good. We are his hands and heart and feet. We are called to continue that ministry. To do good.
2. The very best way to start is to have an attitude of doing good, no compartments in our lives. At home, in calls, during shopping, in volunteering. Having an attitude of kindness, of doing good, of being proactive, of choosing to respond to the world by making a positive difference in someone’s life. Amen.