Posts Tagged ‘Rules’

One Day At A Time 6-3-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 2:23-3:6, I explore Jesus actions/intentions on the Sabbath. They reveal the desire of God that every individual experience a life of fullness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit with an individual who holds the distinction of being our oldest living member here at Underwood…Elsie Ehrens who just reached the milestone of 100 a couple of weeks ago.

Now as we were visiting, Elsie gave me a gift…a small decorative pillow with a simple phrase…One Day At A Time. (pause) This phrase points at a connection that Elsie and I have shared since shortly after I became the pastor here 5 years ago. At that point, Elsie was still able to get to worship pretty regularly, and as we got to know one another we found a phrase that we exchanged in the receiving line following worship. One more day…an idea that builds off that other phrase “one day at a time,” because Elsie knew at her age, even 5 years back, that every day was a gift, and all we can do is live out the one that we’ve been given.

Now thinking about this makes me consider the different connections I’ve established with different people…those little traditions that form over time. Maybe it’s a joke…or a shared story, or a routine…we all have them…those little things that simply become the norm…the excepted way that things happen…but perhaps none are more fitting today than that phrase that Elsie clings to. One day at a time.

I can’t help but think that it reveals a sense of longevity when we consider the sentiment behind it…and this is quite fitting as we think about the grand scope of time.  Now, I mentioned that we’re at the 5 year mark since I joined our community here at Underwood…and sometimes 5 years feels like a long time.

But in reality, that’s a pretty short period, especially if we consider the 91 year history of our congregation…or if we go one step farther and think about the 500 year history of Lutherans dating back to the start of the Reformation…or to go clear back to the beginning of the church itself at the death and resurrection of Jesus almost 2000 years ago…or even one step beyond that as we remember that Christianity itself is an off shoot of Judaism and has connections all the way back to the Exodus from Egypt roughly 3300 years ago.

Just think of the multitude of traditions, of rituals, or connections or rules, or regulations that have come about throughout this vast history, throughout countless cultures and groups, of churches and denominations…certain ways that things are done or not done…guidelines for what’s acceptable or not…for what’s right and wrong.

Now these different traditions or rules have taken on many forms over the centuries…and perhaps none more deeply than the 10 Commandments, a gift handed down by God to the Israelites so early on in their cultural history…a listing of ways to live in harmony with God and with one another….dating all the way back to Moses and the story of God delivering the people out of slavery in Egypt….Commandments which include honoring the Sabbath day…and keeping it holy…and you know what, the idea of the Sabbath actually goes back even farther …in fact its present right there in the story of creation as we hear that God rested from the work on the 7th day and made it holy…Genesis 1.  We could argue that resting on the Sabbath might just be the first ritual that we are given in the scriptures.

And throughout all that history…just think of the various ways that have developed to help direct individuals or communities or cultures on how to do that…ways that, quite likely, are not intended to be a “how-to” list…or a regulation…but in fact could considered a gift.

I can’t help but think that’s what the establishment of the Commandment about the Sabbath was really all about when God handed it down to Moses for the people. Keep in mind that they had just endured 400 years of slavery…they were a culture that began their very existence in bondage…as slaves…as people who had no choice but to labor day in and day out…and now as God has freed them…we see that God is demonstrating that domination and bondage and slavery is not okay…and God gives the gift of the Sabbath so that they might be reminded of what they’ve been freed from…the Sabbath, while dating back to the beginning…was certainly something new for this culture who had not known the freedom to rest within their own lifetimes.

This gift…this invitation into something new…That’s an idea that we continue to find throughout the course of the scriptures. Story after story…event after event…character after character and culture after culture…God continues to invite them into something new…

And we must remember that these new realities that God extends…they can be, and often were, utterly mind-blowing for the individuals or communities that experienced them in the moment. We have the benefit of hindsight as we look back through history…as we see those things which for us today are the norm…but in the moment they were utterly new.

And sometimes…sometimes, these new realities, these new invitations that God extended, would butt up against the traditions or the expectations…it would butt up against what was expected or thought to be the right way of doing things…and this is precisely what we find Jesus butting up against in these two short stories from today’s gospel. Moments when either he or those he is responsible for go against the “rules” of how to observe the Sabbath.

Now this in itself is open to debate…both in present day Judaism, and even back in the 1st century when this happened.  Are the disciples “working” when they grab the heads of grain as they walk past…essentially just grabbing a snack as they go?  Or is Jesus performing “work” when his power results in healing the man with the withered hand?

I think we would say no today…and some would argue that the various rules and regulations in the Jewish law at the time would have even allowed these things to happen…so what’s really going on here? Especially in the case of Jesus healing the man in the synagogue?

Is he breaking tradition? Is he breaking the law…are his actions and views contrary to what God intended with the commandment to honor the Sabbath? (pause) Is Jesus threatening the establishment, the powers that be…those who seemingly have the authority as he does something contrary to what has been established as “the right way?”

It would seem that this could be the case, especially as we think about the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees…Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath…to save life or to kill? This is the question that Jesus poses. (pause) Now the Pharisees have no answer to this question…but Jesus has a reaction…and as we hear, he looks around at them with anger…grieved at their hardness of heart.

Now admittedly, that little snippet really catches my attention…that Jesus looks with anger at those present who seem to take issue with this healing…the ones who take offense with Jesus freeing this man from the deformity that hinders his existence. Jesus is…mad.

That’s not something we hear about very often is it? Jesus being angry…in fact I can only think of 2 instances…one is the cleansing of the temple when he chases out the money changers and the livestock…and the other is oddball little instance when he curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season…and interestingly enough, in those other stories, we never actually hear Jesus described as being “angry.” Believe it or not…the only other time that this word shows up in the original language of the gospels is when John the Baptist warns the people to flee from the wrath…the anger…of God.

Think about that…Jesus’ reaction to the old idea that nothing must be done on the Sabbath, even to the detriment of the person, this merits the same reaction that we hear in terms of John’s very fire-and-brimestone address. John calls them to repent…to turn away from flawed path and back to the good that God has intended…and it would seem that Jesus desires the very same thing.

Now remember. John’s story is another example of God’s invitation into something new…away from that which has been “established.” And here Jesus is revealing something similar…that we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by “the rules” at the expense of giving a fuller life to another.

We see this as we consider who everyone is focused on in this story…While everyone is focused on Jesus and the apparent “law-breaking” he’s doing…Jesus, God in the flesh…he is focused on granting life to the man.  Of freeing him from that which has left him hindered…that which in some way has robbed him of the freedom of life as intended by God. (pause) Why did God give the gift of the Sabbath in the first place? To remind them that bondage…that limitation…that slavery is not what we are intended for, but that we are intended for a life of fullness and freedom. (pause)

Now I don’t think that Jesus is trying to supersede the importance of the Sabbath…but rather through this action I believe that God is inviting us into a new way of considering it…a new way of viewing it…an invitation that is life-giving instead of a batch of rules that dictate what we can or can’t do.

This is the ongoing work of God in our reality…always inviting us forward…but if today’s lesson teaches us anything, it’s the realization that this invitation is not always easy. That what the Holy Spirit is empowering in our midst might just go against the grain…it might just seem to butt heads with “the way we’ve always done it.” But this is the action of God…always inviting us forward into something new…and I believe that this will continue to be the case until that day when Jesus comes again…but until that day, may we all, as individuals and as a community, seek out the will of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…the Spirit which continues to reveal the love of God for each of us that was made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And may we remember that throughout history…God has continued to invite all of humanity forward as we each live out our lives according to the advice that Elsie has embodied over the course of 100 years.  One day at a time. Amen.


The Rules Are Not Enough 10-4-15

This sermon is based on Mark 10:2-16, as Jesus tackles an uncomfortable topic in divorce. But what catches us more importantly is the notion that rules are never going to define righteousness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

My Sunday morning outfit never really changes much does it? Dress shoes, nice pants, and a suit coat over my clerical shirt. Occasionally I put on my robe and stole, but that doesn’t happen very often anymore…and so for individuals walking through the doors, about the one outward sign that I’m the pastor is my clerical shirt.

More often than not, I wear a black cleric right? About the only time you’ve seen me in anything different is the two occasions during the liturgical year when I wear my red shirt…Reformation Sunday and Pentecost…however…there are a multitude of different colors of clerics available for purchase.

I found that out a few years back as I was nearing my ordination…and I thought that I would attempt to secure a different shirt for each color represented in our liturgical calendar. Green for the season of Pentecost, red as I mentioned a moment ago, black which I obviously managed, dark blue for Advent, white for Christmas and Easter, and purple for Lent. And so I went online to a supplier to attempt to get as many of those as I could find…but they came up a little short on selection…and so I ended up with black, red, light gray, light blue…and purple.

And then about a week or so later…I was sitting down with a fellow pastor, and we ended up talking about this particular order…and when I mentioned purple…he just sort of looked at me funny for a moment before asking me a simple question, “Scott…in the Lutheran church…who wears purple?” (pause)

If you’re unaware, there’s something of an unwritten rule here in the ELCA that only bishops wear purple…as far as I know its not actually recorded anywhere officially…but its one of those things that you just don’t do…and so I panicked and called the supplier right away. Fortunately it was a small one man operation in terms of order processing, and the guy on the phone actually informed me that the purple shirt that I had ordered was actually on backorder…and so he said he would process everything else and cancel that one.

I breathed a sigh of relief…only to have the back ordered purple clerical shirt show up about 2 months later. So I called him back and he made the joke of “well, after talking to you on the phone I figured you would be a bishop by now, so I sent it anyway.” (pause) But as we all know, I am not a bishop…and that “unwritten” rule against wearing purple is not one that I plan on breaking anytime soon.

Now I bring this all up because today’s gospel features pretty heavily on this notion of rules. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a squirmy subject today, as the Pharisees attempt to utilize a long standing rule…one going all the way back to Deuteronomy and Moses…in order to try and trip up Jesus.

And considering the ongoing tendency of the religious leaders to try and use various religious law to discredit him, it would seem that the subject they breech must have been every bit as uncomfortable then as it is now…divorce…and make no mistake…reading this passage in this day and age where over 50% of marriages end in divorce and then hearing Jesus’ words on the subject…its uncomfortable.

I discussed this passage in a few different settings with a few different people this week, and each and every time we agreed…yah…that’s tough…and a couple of the high school boys were blunt enough to make the statement that I wish I could make “Glad I’m not preaching on it.”

But here we are…faced with a situation where individuals try to trap Jesus by using the rules…and in all honesty…I’m drawn more to that fact than I am to Jesus blunt words about divorce and adultery. (pause) And so for the sake of covering our bases today can we simply agree that divorce is bad…and while there are times when it may be the best thing, its never a good thing? I hope so…if you want to hear more, I preached on this about a year and a half ago…hit me up and I’ll send you the sound file for it. (pause)

But in the end…I’m struck a little more firmly by yet another example of individuals trying to play the rule card with Jesus. (pause) How often do we see this sort of thing in the gospels? Over and over again. (pause) We’ve heard “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We’ve heard the disciples arguing about how to be great in the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve heard the question of how many times do I need to forgive my brother? Or why do your followers eat with defiled hands?

Today…the question…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (pause) Over and over again people get caught up with the rules. The checklists…the notion of salvation being granted by what we accomplish or what we successfully avoid….this notion that if I can mark enough checkboxes then I’ll be covered…and if I can avoid a list of bad stuff I won’t lose it. (pause)
Isn’t that telling of our society today though? We have rules about everything…bench marks that we need to achieve…negative things that we need to avoid. (pause)

Look at sporting events…collectively we do such a bad job of following the rules that we have guidelines for the various penalties of breaking them. And if you need a visual example…just watch a football game and look for those yellow flags getting thrown all over the place.

Additionally…we have those unwritten rules in society of how to treat one another…when its okay to speak out about something and when we should just bite our tongue.

Rules rules rules…we have rules everywhere…and I wonder…how’s that working out for everyone? (pause) I’m going to run the risk of sounding political for just a moment here…but rest assured that’s not my intention…here in our country…we have laws about firearms. Some will argue that they are too strict…others that they aren’t strict enough…but regardless of your personal opinion on guns in our country…10 people died last Thursday when yet another nutjob opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Now I know it doesn’t sound very loving for me to call the shooter names…but like all of you, I’m sick of hearing this news every few months…that it happened again…that once again…someone breaks the law…and a bunch of people die. (pause)

People die…because the law…can’t protect them…it can’t save them. (pause) And that right there is the truth of our reality…the reason that Jesus always had something to say whenever he faced the question of how to interpret some law…how much is enough, or what is considered going too far.

The law…the rules…the guidelines are never going to do enough or be enough to save us…because our reality is too flawed…flawed by sin…flawed by that which breaks down our relationships in the first place.

Think about it for a moment…the original law…the 10 Commandments were given to the people of God as a gift in order to show them how they can live in harmony with God and with one another…how they can live in relationship with God and with one another…but as we have seen throughout the course of Old Testament history…and perhaps more specifically through the teachings of Jesus during his ministry, we CANNOT do it…we cannot fulfill the law. No matter how hard we try, its not enough…and the relationships always suffer because of it.

Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks out against divorce in today’s passage…because divorce at its very core is the ending of a relationship…and if our relationships are destroyed by the power of sin in our reality, then I suppose we have to say that divorce is sinful…just as the destruction of any relationship for any reason is the result of sin.

Now once again…I’m not trying to call out divorce right now…I’m really not…rather I’m being realistic…realistic about the fact that our reality…our very existence as it is today is contrary to how we were created in the first place. (pause) Think about the story of creation…we know there are two accounts at the beginning of Genesis and we heard a portion of one in our first lesson…but we see when God decides to create humanity in the first place…God says “Let us create humankind in OUR image.” Let me say that one more time…in OUR image.

We see in Genesis chapter 1…from the beginning God is in relationship…our Triune God…one God-3 parts…confusing as that might be…was in relationship before our reality began…and then we were made in that image…we were made to be in relationship as well…first off relationship with God…and then as we see our first lesson, equal relationship with one another as well. (pause)
We live in a reality, created by God in order to be with one another…and sin breaks that down…period…and there is nothing that we can do about it. There is no magic set of rules…no checklist…no batch of things to avoid that is going to take sin out of our existence…its dug in too deep.

That is why Jesus always seems able to counter the questions of those looking to trip him up with just the right thing to point out to that individual how deep sin runs in their existence…and because it runs so deep…that’s why Jesus came in the first place.

Since we are unable to repair the breach in our relationships caused by the presence of sin…the only being able to do anything about it…did…that is why God entered into our reality…not in order to establish some new set of rules and guidelines that we would turn around and fail at…but in order to bring the kingdom of heaven here.

We can’t get there…so he comes here…and he pays the price of sin…the wages of sin is death…and now through Jesus Christ that debt has been paid…because through Jesus Christ…God takes our messes…our screw-ups…our weaknesses…and God makes them into miracles. (pause)

And so…to wrap this all up today…yes…today Jesus presents us with a hard teaching…one that we’re all uncomfortable with…because there is no good answer to either the question of divorce…nor is there a good answer to the bigger question of “Well Lord…how much is enough?” Because the rules…can never…and will never…be enough…Only God is enough…and praise BE to God…that through the work of Christ, He makes us enough too. Amen.