Sunday, January 27, 2013

“Rules”-Luke 6:1-11

“Rules”-Luke 6:1-11
The Santa Fe children’s museum is such a great place for the girls to run around, explore, and be exposed to other kids sniffling and sneezing germs. So much freedom for them there! But there are some signs around... Some basic rules: “Under 2 only” referring to a well padded areas for crawling and toddling babies. “to play on this structure you must be under this height” - referring to a play structure that is too small for bigger kids. Perfect! If those rules weren’t there the littler kids could be really limited in their play options. Big kids would probably turn the padded play area into a MMA arena (that’s mixed martial arts). The climbing area would be a never ending game of king of the hill. Rules, clarifications, limitations are very necessary for the well functioning of societies and communities. They help us play well with each other. And so we have international, national, state, county, city, and then particular organizational rules and laws --a whole bunch of rules and whole bunch of lawyers! But throughout history, at every level there are times to expose injustices crafted within the expose and reform unjust laws and corrupt systems.

I was thinking about how changes in laws can take place and there are two basic categories of people who help to expose injustices within the laws and corruption within systems: Whistle blowers: these are people who are within a system and with that internal exposure, blow the whistle when those very systems break their own rules. There were the whistleblowers who exposed the crimes of Wall Street with respect to mortgage fraud that led to the eventual collapse of the housing market. Do you know that not one top executive on Wall Street involved in that scandal has been found guilty by our federal government? The power of big money! Another interesting whistleblower case: I recently heard a story Former CIA agent John Kiriakou who was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He publicly confirmed and detailed the Bush administration’s use of illegal torture. Kiriakou said in an interview, “I believe I’m going to prison because I blew the whistle on torture," Kiriakou says. "My oath was to the Constitution. … And to me, torture is unconstitutional." Both Jesus and John the Baptist were whistleblowers--and that is what finally cost them their lives. John, exposing Herod and his illegal marriage--beheaded. And Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple, exposing the unjust practices of penance and purity codes. Crucified. Working for justice, speaking truth to dangerous business The second way injustices may be address is through the work of reformers. Those who work within the very system and laws themselves to expose their injustices. Amazing examples of civil disobedience throughout time: Gandhi broke the laws established by british rule and faced the consequences in order to show the injustices of those laws. Rosa Parks chose to not sit in the back of the bus...which sparked a regional boycott. Jesus carried out Civil disobedience when he refused, as an adult male to stone the woman caught in adultery, and justified his actions: He who is without sin, cast the first stone. Some through procedurally introducing amendments to older laws in order to make them more just. We see this happening at the legislature as amendments and changes are being proposed every day they’re in session. A bill to better control control the sale and tracking of guns as so many are being killed by guns--weapons designed to kill. Jesus sought to amend laws as well: You have heard it said: You have heard that it was said: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Jesus is frequently portrayed in the gospels as one who opposes rules.. challenging the authorities. He was informed of the rules of the land, and in various ways--strategically, impulsively--would seek to bring about changes... changes that conformed to his understanding God’s desire for Justice.. .because he knew that deep down, his duty was to honor God and live by that rule in the world. Keep in mind, he wasn’t an anarchist, He says himself: I have come not to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them...and in so doing, he seeks to expand the people’s understanding of the laws, and even reform certain sacred laws. Our passage this morning serves as another example: Jesus attempts to expand understanding of Sabbath law. Sabbath, the seventh day. A day of rest. A day of rest was so important for the Jewish people... and it remains so to observant Jews to this day. And it is surprising really that Christians, at least in this country, are not more observant of Sabbath..a day of rest, as important as it is in Scripture and for Jesus. Many preachers and who advocate for the ten commandments to be place in Public squares have probably never preached a sermon on the Sabbath, or at least don’t encourage it among their constituents. Jesus was a strict observer of the Sabbath. And never suggested that his followers not observe the Sabbath either. The command of God to not labor is at the heart of the ten commandments. The complete listing of the ten commandments is found once in Exodus; and in that list, the rationale for resting is theological... points back to Genesis → God created in 6 days and rested on the seventh. If God can take a day of rest can’t we? A second list of the ten is found in Deuteronomy. Rest on the Sabbath day..but, this time the rationale is a practical one, rest, you, your slaves, your animals...if we work without adequate rest, we are dishonoring God. For you were once slaves in the land of Egypt. It points to a time of slavery where rest may not have been given, may not have been an option. I think in our day we are closer to a slavery type of environment than they were in Jesus’ day. How else do we explain the reality that we are one over-worked restless society. We are slaves to a subversively powerful economic system which does not permit us to rest..completely. Can you imagine if commerce were to halt for one day? What would happen if, in this of the legislative session, a bill was introduced that required everyone in the state to rest one day a week!? Some of the arguments: how would you enforce it? Who would pay for it? It will take away jobs! That would just be forcing religion on people! Jesus challenged the Sabbath...claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. So Christians don’t need to rest for a day...right? Anyone who tries to enforce rest once a week is legalistic. A pharisee! In case you were wondering: my mind went all over the place with this sermon! But I love the concept of Sabbath. Resting for one day! Subverting an abusive economic system by resting! A wonderful reminder in rest, that ultimately “everything” doesn’t depend on us. Okay, But Jesus does challenge rules to bring about certain reforms and to expand the understanding of the laws. Briefly in two instances. The first instance, the actions of his disciples are challenged. They “plucked grain, rubbed them in their hands, and eaten them on the Sabbath”! “You don’t say. Goodness gracious whatever shall we do? Sound the Alarm. Call Scotland Yard!” It’s important to note that they weren’t being accused of stealing. The law keepers knew the law of Moses allowed eating from a field while traveling (Deut. 23:25). No, they were accused of breaking the Sabbath..which only merited a small penalty...Death! .Exodus 35:2 Jesus better defend his men’s actions! He doesn’t want them killed. IN a brilliant move from the Reformer’s playbook, he doesn’t just come up with some random rationale to convince the law-keepers of anything. He uses that which is sacred and dear to correct that which is sacred and dear. Scriptures; King David. You know the story...Oh so familiar -(that when Mark names the king he uses a different name than the one found in 2 Sam where the story comes from). A story in which David (before he was king) and his men are sent out to do battle and along their journey are hungry..and David knows there is bread in the synagogue. And he convinces the priest to give sacred bread to him for his men?? We’re starving! (1 Sam 21:1-6) The point: Extreme human need, hunger, made a claim prior to that of a sacred observance or ritual. Expand your minds rule keepers! The second instance revolves around an action of Jesus himself. He is teaching in the synagogue. Kind of a funny scene: I like to think the man with the withered hand was planted by the pharisees to bait Jesus. Telling themselves: “Jesus is so compassionate, he can’t not do something about this poor man and his withered hand.” will he heal on the sabbath? Jesus tries to divert his eyes: Lead me not into temptation! And why a man with a withered hand. Wouldn’t it have been cooler if it would have been giving sight to a blind woman? Or raising someone from the dead..that would have been cool. I mean, a withered hand? What’s the big deal? Well, Jesus wants us all to be in right relationship with each other. To restore those who are considered outcast of a society to integrated parts of society. This man with the withered hand was an outcast...considered unclean probably for two reasons: In those times, it was assumed the man’s hand was withered, as a result of sin, his own sin? or that of his parents? The experts weren’t sure, but it had to have been somebody’s sin, a cause and effect - so he was not clean. Not here, but elsewhere, Jesus refutes this notion outright. Second, one can surmise, whichever hand was withered--it left him one hand for eating, which was the same hand used for keeping himself clean... catch my drift... you need two functional hands in order keep those activities separate from one another. No hand sanitizer... Major defilement. Major social interaction impairment. So there’s do or not to do? “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it? In the face of seeing something wrong, about which you can do something in the present moment...Inactivity is not an option Not to do or not to do: but what will I do? It’s never the wrong day to help someone in need. I don’t think that Jesus reinforces any notion that rules are meant to be broken. Jesus was a strong adherent to Jewish law. I do think that when it comes to laws and rules, that Jesus -- as Lord of the sabbath, gives his followers, his church, the freedom and hopefully the wisdom of discernment to navigate current systems and policies in order to see which rules are helpful, and which are potentially or actually harmful. And for those which are harmful and unjust, Jesus provides a precedent to work together to reform those rules in our church and in our society. As presbyterians we are part of the Reformed Church. One of our mottos is: ‘Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda:” Church reformed and always reforming. I want to close by highlighting two portions of two creeds within the Reformed church that speak of the leading of the Holy Spirit to be reformers. In the Confession of 1967 we confess: The members of the church are emissaries of peace and seek the good of all in cooperation with powers and authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they have to fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their strength is in their confidence that God’s purpose rather than human schemes will finally prevail. And finally, in the Brief Statement of Faith from 1983: In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage: to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. May we live into this calling, the work of Jesus himself, this very day---or at least, after a day of rest! Let’s us continue the struggle, for that is our work to do. 

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