Psalm 105 (Common English Bible)
105 Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!
2 Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!
3 Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
4 Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!
5 Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
6 you who are the offspring of Abraham, his servant,
and the children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
Thoughts on the passage:
John Wesley organized the original Methodists into classes and societies that were meant to gather to strengthen each other in the faith. One of the things they would do would be to gather for accountability for as it was put “It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.” To this end, people were asked to do three things.
“First, by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced … second, by doing good; 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 men … finally, by attending upon all the ordinances of God.”
Bishop Rueben Job reduced these to three simple rules: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. We will be looking at each of these rules to see how they can help us be better disciples of Christ.
While Wesley used the phrase “attending upon all the ordinances of God,” Bishop Job shortened it to simply “stay in love with God.” This modernizing of the language helps us better understand the intent of the third rule. Doing no harm is not enough and even doing good falls short if we forget the most important aspect of all, our relationship with God.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, many of us are probably spending at least a little time thinking about the work it takes to stay in love with someone. Falling in love with someone happens, often without us knowing it, but staying in love is a process that takes time and energy. For us to stay in love we need to be deliberate about our actions. It means setting aside special moments for each other. It means doing things that are meaningful to the other person even if they are not meaningful to us. Ultimately it means maintaining a relationship that goes beyond ourselves to include both us and another.
We cannot take God out on a date, or buy some nice flowers for God, and chocolates are mentioned nowhere in the Bible. What do we do to stay in love with God? “Seek God’s face always” our scripture tells us today. Wesley defines the ordinances as public worship of God, Communion, private and family prayer, reading the Bible, and fasting. Another phrase we use in the church would be spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines are deliberate acts that continue to build on our relationship with God. These regular habits are just like the date nights, gifts, and other small gestures we do to continue the romantic relationships in our lives. If we love God but don’t do these things, what does that love mean? How will that love grow and develop without attention? The list of spiritual disciplines is extensive but never meant to exhaustive. Each of us connects to God in different ways. I find that journaling and walking are both great ways for me to build on my relationship with God. Others are good at meditative prayer or Bible study. The exact form of the spiritual discipline is not what matters; it is how the action helps us stay in love with God.
Look at the verbs in our Psalm for today. Sing, praise, give thanks, pursue, and remember: all of them help us to retrace, recite, and build up the good things that God has done for us. If we neglect those good things it is easy for us to forget what it is that drew us to God in the first place. Our love for God can fade and we can easily forget why it is we need God at all. Constant work on our part is needed to maintain that memory and that love.
Staying in love with God is important to our three simple rules because we cannot do this on our own. As much as we try and do no harm and as hard as we work to do good, by ourselves we are going to fail. The good news is that we are not alone. Staying in love with God is also about remembering and claiming the grace that God offers to each of us. Our good actions are never going to be enough, but with the help of God, more than we can ever imagine is possible.
Over the last three weeks we have been connecting the simple rules to the baptismal vows we make. The third vow is “do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?” When we make this vow we are agreeing to a relationship. We are saying that we are linking our life to God, that we are claiming Christ for ourselves and letting ourselves be claimed by Christ. Just as our vows in a marriage yoke us to one another, this vow yokes us to God.
Our faith is a relationship, a covenant between us and God. We have three simple rules to follow in it. These rules guide our actions and our hearts and keep us aligned with God. In order to be followers of Christ we must be committed to the work it takes, the effort required. When we follow these rules however, the love and the grace of God surround us and these is nothing we cannot do.
Questions to Ponder:
Who is a couple you know that has a wonderful relationship and what do you see them do to maintain?
What things do you do to stay connected in your relationship to God?
What is something new you might want to do to build that relationship even more?
Prayer: God, as we seek to follow you in this new year, give us the courage to ask the challenging questions and the strength to follow these simple rules you have us. Help us to take the time to learn about your will for us, and give us the patience as we struggle to follow it. Remind us always of your grace in our walk of discipleship. AMEN