Monday, March 02, 2009
Galatians 5: 16-17, 22-26
Among the things that mark the 80’s with most people, Mary Lou Retton’s Gold Medal, Members Only Jackets and cell phones the size of large bananas, there’s one more. New Coke.
Now, Coke has changed is recipe a few times over the years, most notably when they began to make the stuff without the ingredient it’s named after, cocaine. But this particular recipe change was to make it a little bit sweeter, so as to perhaps approach the flavor of Pepsi. This was the opening salvo of what became known as the Cola wars.
I am not sure why the leader in the industry would change their recipe to taste more like a lesser competitor, but the strategy came out about as you’d expect. Pepsi started catching up very quickly. So, Coke was forced to retreat, and quickly came out with a new product, “Coke Classic”. It was the same old recipe as they’d had for a hundred years (minus the cocaine), but it was now marketed as a new product.
I’m not sure exactly when they stopped making New Coke, but I don’t think regular Coke even says “classic” anymore.
There’s a sense in our world that what is new must be improved. In talking about this sermon series, I’m sensitive to the idea that people see this book as the “new thing” the “latest fad”. I sure can understand that. Every few years, there’s a new way of thinking about church, about faith, and they all seem to come with marketing concepts. I get that. But I think this is different.
Sometimes the old stuff is better, and this book that I will be using for my Sunday sermons in Lent, Three Simple Rules, is an attempt to recover the wisdom of over two hundred fifty years of Christian practice. These ideas may not have originated with our founder, John Wesley, who lived in England in the 1700’s, but he was a considerable synthesizer of practical wisdom in the service of becoming closer to Christ.
In 1739, Wesley writes, “eight or ten persons came to me in London, who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption.” He prayed with them, and wanted to know how to “flee from the wrath to come”, which was a Wesleyan way of saying they were scared of where they would end up after they died. He told them to begin meeting with him once a week, and when they got too big, they began meeting in groups of twelve, called “classes”. Remember, these were meetings outside of their Sunday church worship settings, which Wesley still expected people to attend, because of the weekly receipt of communion. Each class had a leader, and it was the leaders’ duty to see each person in his class once a week, and see how their soul stood, and also to receive whatever the person could give toward relief of the poor. The other duty of these leaders was to go back to the minister of the society, inform them who was sick, who was having soul trouble (Wesley called it “walking disorderly), and deposit the gifts for the poor.
What was the measure of how “orderly” people were walking? They took Galatians 5 22-23 as their guide, this list of the fruits of the spirit. How does one grow the fruits? The advice given by Wesley to the people in his societies boiled down to three Rules.
1. Doing no Harm, by avoiding evil of Every kind;
2. by doing Good, by being in every kind, merciful after their power;
3. by attending on all the ordinances of God, which Wesley listed as going to church, listening to the sermon, taking communion, praying by yourself and with your family, reading the Bible, and fasting or abstinence.
If you wanted to earnestly grow in faith, then this was the way you did so as a member of Wesley’s societies. Simply attending church and having no more involvement was certainly an option. There was only one official church in England, and you were a member of the local parish whether you attended or not; but if you were in a Wesleyan Society, you were expected to be a little more active.
This was the model by which Methodism grew in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and after 1760, in America. After the Revolution, the Societies became churches, and off we went into a new type of practice which we still live in today.
When a movement becomes an institution, however, some other things become important, and we are no different, and feeling that the United Methodist church seemed to have lost its fire, a retired Bishop named Rueben Job began to see Wesley’s General rules for our United Societies as a way back to our roots—a way to reconnect to our identity, our original spirit, and ultimately, reconnect to God. We’ve always had them with us; the General Rules appear in every edition of the Discipline of the church, which is our organizing and guiding document.
But because people seem to so often take the Discipline as the set of laws with which to bash each other, passing completely over the General Rules which are what is supposed to guide us, he wrote this small book. He’s updated the language a little bit, and placed those rules more into our modern context, and given us three simple rules:
1. Do no Harm
2. Do Good
3. Stay in Love with God.
During the next four Sundays, the Sundays of Lent leading up to Palm Sunday, I’ll be taking a portion of this book and preaching on it. There will also be a class on these ideas on Monday nights.
Yes this book has recently been published. Yes, on it’s face, I am preaching on the “latest thing”. But by the end of Lent, I hope that you will see that what I am really trying to do is recall for us the basis of our fire as Methodists; what makes us special in the huge marketplace of ideas that is the universal Christian church.
What I hope to do by the end of this is to bring back Classic Coke.
And ultimately, I pray that you will be inspired to find ways to deepen your faith, pray more often, read your Bible more, and become more assured of your salvation, and less worried about “the wrath to come.”
For More information about the book Three Simple Rules, click here.