31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” — Matthew 25:31-46
In 1743 a pamphlet of sorts was publish by John and Charles Wesley called “The Nature, Design and General Rules of Our United Societies.” (http://www.worldcat.org/title/nature-design-and-general-rules-of-the-united-societies-in-london-bristol-kings-wood-and-newcastle-upon-tyne/oclc/83334438&referer=brief_results) In this piece Wesley talks about these societies, these communities of people committed to growing in faith and salvation. It was the hope of Wesley that these persons would recognize the saving grace of Christ and continue to grow in the sanctifying grace God offers to each person. However, within these societies there were certain rules. Rules not placed by Wesley, but Wesley believed were placed by God to aid in their growth and maturing. Therefore in this document Wesley sets forth these general rules that we are talking about in this series.
As he closes out his instructions for these societies he writes,
“These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church)
It was important for Wesley that people follow these rules. If they were not willing to follow them Wesley saw it as a means of disobeying God. So therefore, we 250+ years later form these same communities and are called by Christ to live by these same rules. The first of which we dove into last week as we looked at not causing harm to either God or neighbor. The manner in which we embody love in our lives leads us to not harming one another. It leads us to recognizing one another as part of God’s creation, no matter what another may believe.
However, the second rule calls us to go a step further. It calls us to take what hasn’t been done in the first rule and put it into action as the second. Don’t get me wrong all three of these rules involve very decisive action on our parts, and that is why it is important to build upon the actions of each.
Wesley called these societies “a company of [persons] 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.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church)
Therefore when we talk about doing good it must take the place not only in our society, but in the context of the greater world…much like our concept of not harming others as well.
So if do no harm means we treat our neighbor with love how is that different from doing good?
In doing no harm we are called to, as Wesley states,
“[avoid] evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced…” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church).
Whereas doing good brings us into the fold
“by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all [persons]” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church).
By doing good we begin to do the work that God calls us to do. That is, namely, to feed the hungry, give the thirsty drink, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. Our scripture today enlightens us to this theological understanding of good works. Christ likens this work to doing the work for Christ himself when he says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matt 25:45) This is the good we are called to do.
Being called to do good means making the world a better place. It takes us from the action of condemning evil and injustice to correcting it. It means looking at systemic cycles of poverty, racism, sexism, and all the other -isms and being sources of good for these persons.
Good is helping someone in need, good is giving to others, good is guiding others in transformational changes, and good is most of all following God’s call to action among those our society has deemed “the least of these.”
Jesus notes how God is observing us on the good we do. He says,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matt 25:31-36)
The work we do and the work we don’t do are manners of growing in our relationship with God. It is the manner in which we show we are listening to God’s call in scripture and in our other spiritual disciplines. When we actively listen we hear God’s call not to stay cooped up. Rather, we hear the call to go and serve. To do good, and to give of ourselves in ways that help to benefit the kingdom of God.
(Homework!!!!) I want you to contemplate how it is God is calling you to do good. Is God calling you to lead our church in faithful acts? Maybe lead a mission team to disaster places, maybe help at the local food pantry, homeless shelter, or other aid service, maybe God is calling you to be a voice for the marginalized to help those who have been oppressed regain a level of justice and love God calls us to. Whatever it is I want you to discern how it is God is calling you to do good in this world.
It is when we truly begin doing good that we can see the fruits of our labors in our lives and in the lives of our community. When our faith is lived and not just practiced we become the kingdom Jesus calls us to be a part of.