Sunday, March 15, 2009
Do No Harm
The third in a series of sermons based on the book Three Simple Rules, By Rueben Job.
To do no Harm. Doctors use an ethical guideline that has been in existence, in various forms since the 4th Century BCE. 2500 years ago, a Greek teacher by the name of Hippocrates told his students that they were to do no harm to their patients. Sometimes that means doing things to them as an attempt to heal, because to leave them alone would be doing harm. It also specifically means that they will take care to pay attention to the specific needs of a patient, and to never give a medicine or undertake a procedure that will inhibit their well-being.
Wesley thought of this a little bit differently, and referred to the phrase "Do no Harm" as a guide for interpersonal relationships. When Wesley said "To do no harm", he meant never to speak ill of someone, to cause someone else any sort of pain, either physical or the pain of words. He took as his model for this, as in all things, the model of Jesus Christ, who, while he did speak against people, and he did cause anguish among the powers and principalities of his day, did not maintain unjust practices. Part of doing no harm, if we are to speak in a way that Christ models for us, is to make right the ways we have gone wrong, to restore relationships back to the model of Christ, a way that shows the love and wisdom of God.
This is a journey. This is not something that we can simply state, "I have done this", and it is done. No. We have fallen so far from God's original design for our lives, the image of God is so deeply buried within us, that the way back is long and winding. All that we can simply state is that "I have decided to follow the path of Christ".
Paul tells us in this little bit of Galatians, as he tells us in much of the surrounding portions of Galatians, that much of what we can do to model Christ, to be the face of God in this world, is in how we act with each other. And it is more than being nice to people. It is to submit to those whom we have hurt. It is to have a constant attitude that those who are around us, even children, have something to say, and we listen. It is to acknowledge the Christ within them as close to all the time and everywhere as we can. Yes, we will fail, we will come up short, but remember, the journey is long and winding.
I have just spent the last three days in Nashville, receiving training and support for one of the things I do in the wider church. I am the chairperson of the committee on Religion and Race. I have been working in this field since I was in Texas, and have been trained in the way of what it means to be an anti-racist.
For me, to do this work is definitely a long and winding road. There is so much that needs to be learned, and SO much that needs to be unlearned, so that I can truly do no harm, because I was born into a system that causes great harm. I did not create this system, none of us alive today did, but nonetheless, I benefit from this system in a way that causes harm to others. Unlearning this is a long and painful journey, and to call myself an anti-racist is to live in hope that someday that statement will actually come true. Many people are working along different paths of this journey--some are working on the anti-racist journey, some are working on the journey of becoming more sensitive to their impact on the earth, some are seeking to stop harming themselves through submission to addictions.
Paul gives us a good model of how to truly learn to do no harm in our world. In Galatians 5, verse 13 he says that we are called to freedom. This freedom is the freedom of living in Christ. What that means is that in Christ, there is a way to live and love perfectly. The way to do this is by seeking to resemble him as closely as possible--to Imitate Christ. Paul says the way to do this is to submit to one another, instead of becoming Lords over one another.
Bishop Job writes in Three Simple Rules that to take the first step of this long and winding road is "to agree with a theology and practice too rigorous for our timid and tame commitment." To truly follow Christ's lead into learning how to do no harm is to "demand" of us "a radical trust in God's presence power wisdom and guidance and a radical obedience to God's leadership."
It is to take what so many of us cherish, self-determination and independence, and sacrifice it on the altar. It is to put ourselves as slaves to one another, even those who might take advantage of that and hurt us.
But it is in that submission, and in their submission to us, where the true love of God is born. And it was modeled by Christ, because he submitted to God, and he submitted to the Sanhedrin, and he submitted to the Roman soldiers, and he submitted to the cross. Most likely, our submission to the way of Christ will not require death of us. But it is nonetheless worthy of careful consideration, because it requires that we set aside all else other than Christ. All else. It requires that we set aside our politics. It requires that we set aside our prejudices. It requires that we set aside our assumptions about what being a Christian is, and filtering even that which is said to be Christian through the words of Jesus and the intention of God.
We are to truly give up ALL of our possessions, even the ways we look at the world.
Bishop Job writes: ". . .to follow the way of Jesus is a bold move and requires honest, careful, and prayerful consideration."
We realize that "it may lead us where we do not wish to go." Are we ready to give it up? There is such a thing as being a cultural Christian. It works for many, many people. These are the folks who listen to all the right radio stations, memorize all the right scripture passages, buy all the right fair trade things at the grocery store. But they still keep Christ at arms' length. I ask you, as well as always asking myself--How much am I willing to give up in order to truly follow Christ? How much of myself can I give up in order to truly do no harm? Am I ready for that long and winding road? Are you? Are we?