Thursday, April 9, 2020

Foot washing and Wesley’s Three Simple Rules

One of the reasons that I love Holy Week so much is for the many various areas of our faith that we get to reflect on within one week, and the intentionality that I seem to take with this time more than at almost any other time of the year.

So welcome to some of my thoughts and reflections for Holy Week, 2020.

One special Holy Week service was in 2013 when we were into the swing of things in church planting and had decided to focus on Ingrichini UMC to see what we could do to disciple and growth the faith of the members and also help the church to engage with the community. Part of this was traveling to the church (about 1.5 hours away) almost every day of the week doing evangelism, seminars, and special Holy Week services, something still relatively new to that church at that time. The picture is from our Maundy Thursday service where Liz and I washed everyone’s feet as an example of how we can serve our community. I am not sure that we succeeded in our desire to draw the congregation into reflection about how they could do the same. It seemed a little too distracting to have these two missionaries do something so foreign to them as seen by the laughter on their faces. Maybe we should have tried handwashing, more culturally relevant and hey, ahead of its time. Nevertheless it was a blessed week where I think we did succeed in getting the Easter message to the village of Ingrichini, and by us I mean Pastor Jacoba and his church of which we got to be a part of for that week. 

One of the things that I have learned as a missionary is how relevant John Wesley’s General Rules are to service…of any kind.

Rule 1: Do no harm

Rule 2: Do good

Rule 3: Stay in love with God.

I learned during that Thursday service, and in so many other ways, that service to others is not always as straight forward as it would appear, and that is because it is not about us.

The first rule is to do no harm. Which is way easier than it sounds. It is hard sometimes not to jump to rule two and call it a day. However, by starting with a focus on not doing harm it means that we have to step back and think about what we are doing and could it be in any way harmful to someone else. We are required to think before we speak, reflect before we act, engage in conversation and get to know someone well before telling them what we are going to do for them that we simply assume is helpful. We should take a second and make sure that what goes on social media is true, accurate, and will not harm others. This is truly part of our responsibility as Christians.

When I was early, early on in my time in Tanzania I took someone’s advice, who was also not Tanzanian, about how to deal with a staff issue. I won’t go into details, but I hurt someone and consequently their whole family by my actions and decisions. It felt wrong even as I was in the middle of it, but I was following someone else’s directions instead of starting my decision making process by following these three simple rules and finding a less harmful way of getting the same results. It is a time that still haunts me and a decision that I still regret. All because I did not first think to do no harm. We have to make sure, in order to engage in Jesus like service, that we are not going to harm others.

The second rule is to do good. Many people would say that this is the harder one because it requires action instead of just forbearance and maybe they are right. After making sure that we are not doing harm we still have to mobilize. In the middle of COVID-19 there has been much talk about social distancing and staying at home. This is step one…do no harm. But now that some of us have that part down, what are things we can do while at home to do some good? I recently had a relative who shared that since he and his wife don’t need their stimulus check they are planning on donating it to a small business owner who is struggling. Others have been intentionally reaching out to friends and relatives to make sure they are making it in this time of isolation. Another friend has been using his organization in Little Rock to make sure small businesses get the stop gap help they need to survive. Jesus invites us, in the middle of a Holy supper, to serve. We cannot separate our worship of God with our service of others. It is not possible.

The third rule is to stay in love with God. I wish I still had the blog post available, but years ago I wrote about the best advice that Bishop Ntambo of the North Katanga Episcopal area ever gave me. I asked him what I should know as a new missionary and he said, stay in love with the people you are here to serve. It is the love that keeps us connected in times of hurt, pain, frustration, questions, or doubt. I think the same thing could be said about our relationship with God. During a global pandemic there are many questions that are being asked about if this is a punishment or test from God. It has hit so many people in so many places and we are all feeling it. I won’t get into that question right now, but what I will say is that Lent is a good time to be asking this question. Coronavirus hit Nashville the week of Ash Wednesday. The day we remember our mortality. This whole Lenten season has been a season spent questioning our mortality, and consequently questioning God. Yet, this is why it is some important to stay in love with God. During a week when coronavirus seems to be peaking in the US, it is appropriate (though I doubt planned by some divine force) that we are preparing for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This may be a hard time for some to be in love with God. Feelings of isolation and struggle abound. It is a challenge to count blessings when you are laid off or entering a daily struggle against death for those serving in the healthcare industry. Yet, through all of this it is even more important to be in love with the God of life, because what we need more than anything right now is the hope of new life and resurrection. That while Good Friday is fast approaching Sunday is coming.

So today, as we remember the Last Supper and the command that Jesus gave us to go and serve others. Let’s take Wesley’s three rules and see how we can apply them to our lives today. I think we will find them more then relevant during this difficult time.

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