Do All the Good You Can

January 19, 2023

Do All the Good You Can  #BeUMC     

Jan 15 2023

Rev. Laura Healy

I wasn’t here last Sunday. I was on my way home from the Women’s Retreat but when I pulled up in the driveway Frank and Max (my husband and my son) came running out of the house to tell me about the sermon I had missed and your extraordinary reaction to it. If you were not here, please find your way to the recording and listen to Rev. Mark Doty’s very good word. If you need the link, please let me know and I will get it to you. I am so proud to serve this wonderful congregation. You make me proud to be a United Methodist.

As part of our #BeUMC series examining what it means to be a United Methodist, I am preaching today on the 2nd of John Wesley’s three simple rules, “Do Good.” That should be easy enough right, just do good… but doing what is good is not always simple and it is not always obvious. How do we do good? Today’s scripture has some very specific suggestions and I would like to read them again. Listen to Paul’s instructions on how to be a community of God’s people, how to be the church:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer…   If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul has given us a game plan for creating or re-creating God’s kingdom right here, right now.

Paul is pointing us toward a better way to live in this world, a better way to be in this world. And let’s be clear, doing good is not the way a lot of people go about their lives, it is not even how we, if we are being honest, live our own lives all of the time. Our society is not set up to make doing good the easy thing to do.

When Paul tells us “let love be genuine” he is talking about agape love, self-sacrificial love, a love that is committed to serving others, to putting others needs first. Agape love calls us to love even when someone may not love us back, to love someone whether or not we think they deserve our affection, to commit ourselves, in advance, to loving no matter what.

I have a friend who often reminds me, it is better to be loving than to be right. Agape love is like that.

As God’s people, as United Methodists we are called to this big love. According to John Wesley, loving one another is our never-ending Christian obligation.

And it is through that obligation, through our genuine love for each other that we experience God. Focusing on genuine love and affection creates a path that nourishes and strengthens the Christian community.

To practice agape love, to love genuinely in community, is doing what is right and pleasing to God – calling us into that love is how God works in our lives and in our hearts.

How many of you remember this song? The lyrics are a take on a John Wesley quote and they go like this:

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.

How often do we stop and wonder if you are living up to what these words ask of us?

We often say love is how we feel about someone or something. I love my family. I love tacos. But I have always believed and I think Paul is highlighting here that love is a verb – there is no loving without doing.

Paul says we should let love be genuine. In others words, do not pretend to love someone when in your heart there is bitterness and oh, we can all hold such bitterness in our hearts.

In the invitation of the 4th communion liturgy in our hymnal you will find these words “ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and are in love and charity with your neighbors.”

Once my mother shocked me by sitting out communion. She had suffered a falling out with someone in the church and could not honestly come to the table until she had apologized and tried to repair the relationship, until she was once again “in love and charity” with them.

Holding grudges, gathering up bitterness in our heart separates us from God and from each other. I am reminded of Malachy McCourt’s saying that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

This church, this congregation of the United Methodist Church, should be a place where each of us is surrounded by hearts filled with genuine love, a place where it is okay to be lost, to be sick, to be messy, to be heart-broken, a place where you can carry a truth you don’t know how to bear and in the midst of whatever you are carrying to be met with love. That’s what Paul is reminding us to be, that’s what true love looks like. It is what it looks like to “do good.”

The greatest proof of the truth of the gospel message and of the reality of God’s love is the love we show to each other.

This is big work, friends. It is not easy. Sometimes it might be impossible, but I believe we are supposed to try. God calls each of us, every day, to try.

St. Augustine wrote: You owe your conscience to God: to one another you owe nothing but mutual love.

The kind of love that Paul is talking about may be a lost art, perhaps a lost art we are being called to rediscover and relearn.

May we grow each other in love. May we watch over one another in love. May we gather up all of our love and turn and face our neighbors and the wider world, our arms filled with love. And dear friends, love like this cannot happen only on Sundays. As Alice Walker said, “Anybody can observe the sabbath but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.”