Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




“Three Simple Rules”

Sunday, September 26, 2010




Rev. Dean Snyder

Three Simple Rules:
Stay in Love with God

We are focusing this month on John Wesley’s three simple rules. John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement 270 years ago. We are a Methodist church. This is our heritage. This is our DNA.

When Methodist societies started meeting, John Wesley gave us three rules to live by. First, “Do No Harm;” Second, “Do Good.”

The third rule was to “attend upon all of the ordinances of God.” Reuben Job has paraphrased this, “Stay in Love with God.”

I want to start out this morning with an analogy. It is an imperfect analogy. The main way it is imperfect is that I am not God.

But if you can get past the imperfection of the analogy and get the gist of it, you will have gotten pretty much everything I have to say today and you can day dream for the rest of the sermon.

Here’s the analogy.  Jane faithfully tells me several times a day that she loves me. She is very good about this and it greatly helps our relationship.

I do not suppose that every time she tells me she loves me that she is deeply feeling love for me at that particular moment.

Sometimes when she tells me she loves me she may be feeling love for me deeply. Other times she may be feeling it moderately or slightly. Sometimes she may be remembering a time when she felt love for me. Sometimes she may be reminding herself that she loves me. Sometimes she may be trying to convince herself.

Occasionally when she tells me she loves me it sounds as if there may be a question mark at the end of the sentence.

But her telling me she loves me several times a day greatly strengthens and sustains our relationship and I am grateful for her doing it so faithfully.  

Simple rile number three: “Attend upon all of the ordinances of God;” Stay in Love with God.

The examples John Wesley gave of ordinances, or practices, are:

The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord (Holy Communion).
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence.

In his sermon on fasting, John Wesley defined abstinence as “eating just a little; abstaining in part; taking a smaller quantity of food than usual …when we cannot completely fast, because of sickness or weakness of the body.” If you can’t fast, diet.

Go to church; listen to preaching and teaching of the Bible; take communion; pray; study the Bible; and fast. These are John Wesley’s examples of the ordinances, or practices, of God.

First, “Do No Harm;” Second, “Do Good;” Third, “Stay in Love with God.”

So here’s what I take from this:

These ordinances, like worship, communion, and Bible study, are basic simple practices that help us stay in love with God. They are practices or disciplines that strengthen or maintain our relationship with God.

We don’t necessarily go to worship because we are feeling profoundly worshipful or connected to God at that particular time. We may only be feeling moderately or slightly in love with God. Or maybe we are remembering a time when we did feel deeply in love with God.

Or we may be reminding ourselves that we love God. Or we may be trying to convince ourselves we love God. Or we may even be worshipping with a question mark at the end of the sentence.

But getting ourselves out to worship is a way of keeping alive our relationship with God.

The same with Communion, and prayer, and Bible study, and all the rest. They are practices, disciplines, or habits that help to keep our relationship with God alive.

Another way of saying this is that they are practices that remind us that we are more than just meat. To believe that we have a relationship with God is a way of saying that we are more than any simple definition of us.

How do you define yourself? By your vocation? You are more than that. By your assets or income? You are more than that. By your gender? By your sexual orientation or identity? By your race or ethnicity? By your nationality? By your religious affiliation? By your educational status? By your political convictions? By your moral standards? I don’t care what it is, you are more than that and you are more than all of them combined.

If you lost your job tomorrow and never worked again, you would still be an eternal soul loved by God of eternal value. If you violated every moral code you believe in tomorrow, you would still be an eternal soul loved by God of eternal value.

You are a child of God created in God’s image. You are a soul. You are eternal.

To attend the ordinances of God is a way of reminding yourself of this no matter whether or not you feel it at any particular moment of time, or any particular month or year.

Whether we feel it or not is secondary. John Wesley was a critic – big-time – of something he called the doctrine of enthusiasm – which is the idea that you should just do something when you are really feeling it.

The practices that John Wesley listed were examples of practices that he felt would keep us in love with God. It was not a comprehensive list. There may be others.

But  John Wesley’s list is a tried and true list. Worship and Communion and Bible study have worked for Christians for 2,000 years now and, since most of them have antecedents in the Hebrew Scriptures, they have pretty much worked for 4,000 years. Some of the things we do have antecedents in the mysterious process of evolution and are at the very essence of our human psyches.  

There is something else I want us to notice about the way John Wesley talked about ordinances. When I decided to do this little series of talk on John Wesley’s three simple rules, when I looked them up, I realized that I had remembered this third rule wrong. I remembered it as attending upon the ordinances of the church.  

But he called them ordinances of God.

Worship, preaching, Communion…they were not invented by the church. They emerged from deep within our collective unconscious.

I don’t understand communion. I love Communion but I don’t understand it. It is like nothing any church committee I know of would have come up with.

I love baptism. I don’t understand it. It is not an ordinance I would have invented.

If I had edited the Bible, it would have been organized logically; or according to a different kind of logic.

These ordinances are not human conventions; they emerged from deep within our human soul where God dwells. They are the ordinances of God.

The church is only their stewards.

We also need to understand this. The first Methodists were not people the leaders of the church at the time wanted in church. The church in England 270 years ago was an aristocratic institution. It did not want poor people in its pews.

Some time ago, Jane and I visited the oldest Episcopalian Church in the United States. It is in Virginia. The church historian told us that in colonial times, the entire congregation processed into church. The line began with the most affluent person in town and ended with the poorest. People sat in assigned pews according to their affluence. The poorest of poor weren’t welcomed.

John Wesley was teaching people not to let the church’s failing, sin even, get in the way of their access to the ordinances of God. Even if the church doesn’t want you, show up anyway.

The ordinances and means of grace don’t belong to the church. The church is just stewards. Show up anyway. Affirm your own humanity. Affirm your own eternal soul. By showing up you will eventually transform the church, and if your transform the church, you will transform the world.

And that is exactly what happened as a result of the first Methodist movement.

John Wesley “When you fast” see