The Do Gooder
(Romans 12: 9-18)
One of the favorite aspects of my job as a criminal defense attorney in Tyler, Texas, was jail visits. You see, most of my clients were in jail so the only way I could talk to them about their case was to see them at the county jail. Seeing them during normal business hours was very difficult due to the fact that the number of visitation rooms was small and that was when most of the attorneys wanted to visit their clients. I would make my visits after work from between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and on Sunday afternoons after church. My visits went longer than most attorney-client visits and some claim it was because I had a captive audience that had nowhere else to go. I think the key to my success as a court-appointed defense attorney was that I took the time to get to know my clients. Sure, we’d talk about their case and defenses, if any, but I would also ask them about themselves, their families and things they liked to do that weren’t against the law. I would even share things about myself in an effort to make a personal connection. At the end of every visit I would ask them if there was anything else I could do for them. This statement was often met with a look of surprise. Most of the times they would say no and that they were fine. But, many times, they would ask me to call their mother, grandmother or other very close family member and tell them they were okay and not to worry. They seemed to really appreciate that gesture and their loved ones always appreciated it when I would call them and let them know everything was okay and not to worry. You see, I wanted them to trust me, trust me with their future, and to believe that I cared about their well-being. I wanted them to know that I was there to do them some good in a very difficult situation. As an unintended consequence, I’d get phone calls from the families of other defendants locked up in the county jail wanting to know if they could hire me. They would tell me that their child, in most cases, was in the same tank with one of my clients and word in the jail was that I was an attorney who really took a genuine interest in his clients. Doing good didn’t cost me a thing and, quite frankly, in this instance seemed to be the right thing to do.
On March 28, 1739, John Wesley wrote the following in his journal, “There is scarce any possible way of doing good for which here is not daily occasion…Here are poor families to be relieved; Here are children to be educated: Here are workhouses, wherein both young and old gladly receive the word of exhortation: Here are prisons, and therein a complication of all human wants.”
I recently finished reading a book entitled: 40 Days with Wesley written by former United Methodist bishop Rueben Job who, in his chapter on Do Good, reflected that “the words of Jesus and Wesley suggest that doing good is a universal command. That is, doing good is not limited to those like me or those who like me. Doing good is directed at everyone, even those who do not fit my category of “worthy” to receive any good that I or others can direct their way. This command is also universal in that no one is exempt from it.”
This is what the Apostle Paul is telling us in his letter to the church in Rome. He is telling us that love should be shown without pretending. Our love is real and sincere, not phony, a love that goes beyond pretense and politeness. Hate evil, he says, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. This kind of sincere love requires concentration and effort. It means helping others to become better people. It demands our time, money and personal involvement. Paul goes on to instruct that we are to be the best at showing honor to each other. This gets to the core of our beliefs because, as Christians, we honor people because they have been created in God’s image, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and because they have a unique contribution to make to Christ’s church. To me, that seems like a pretty tall order. I mean, it’s easy to love and honor people you know and respect like your family and friends but to ask me to love and honor people who are not as holy as me is asking a lot. But then there’s that Jesus thing about loving your neighbor as yourself and the example he set on numerous occasions when he talked with prostitutes, befriended a woman with a questionable background, dined with tax collectors and, as his last act before he died, pardoned a thief. Paul says, Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! He tells us to be happy in our hope, stand our ground when we’re in trouble, and to devote ourselves to prayer. The power of positive thinking. Paul tells us to contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. He says to bless the people who harass you, bless and don’t curse them. He instructs us to be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, Paul says, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Again, following the example of Jesus who didn’t look down on anyone or try to come off as better than anyone. He associated with people who had no standing in society and, although he did know everything, he didn”t come off as condescending or demeaning. Paul admonishes us not to pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. Payback is not the Christian way. And finally, Paul tells us, if possible, to the best of our ability, live at peace with all people.
Bishop Job goes on to say in his reflections that doing good, like doing no harm, is a proactive way of living. We don’t need to wait to be asked to do some good deed or provide some needed help. We don’t have to wait until it gets so bad that the circumstances cry out for aid to relieve suffering or correct some horrible injustice. We can make that conscious decision that our way of living will come down on the side of doing good to all in every circumstance and in every way we can. We, as a church, can choose a way of living that nourishes goodness and strengthens community. This way of living will require us, as a church, to continually assess where we are as a church and how we interact with the world around us. We need to commit ourselves to seeking good for everyone in God’s world and guard against that which would seek to move us outside of the circle of goodness that flows from God to us and through us to the world. Bishop Job concludes that every act and every word must pass through the love and will of God and there be measured to discover if its purpose does indeed bring good and goodness to all it touches.
As Christians committed to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we must continually look for people who need our love, and to constantly look for ways we and our fellow believers can love our community for Jesus Christ. We need to be “do gooders” for Christ.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, move us into the world to take the kind of loving action towards others that exemplifies what it means to live in your love and grace. Make us attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who presents opportunities to us every day to serve you and do your will. Remind us that the good we are to do is to be directed at everyone, even those who do not fit into our categories of worthy. Create in us a willingness to live a life where we do good without having to be asked and where we seek ways to relieve the suffering of others and participate in the correcting of injustices upon the weak and helpless. Move us as a church to serve your people in a way that nourishes goodness and strengthens our community. Hear our prayer as we commit ourselves to seeking good for everyone as exemplified in the life of your son, our brother, Jesus Christ. In the name of all that is good and holy, we pray, amen.