Rules: times to keep, times to break

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What do you feel passionate about and how as a church can we help you with that? We need to become radical rule breakers where we see injustice and also know when to keep the rules – God’s rules. There is only one rule given to us by God and that is to love God with all our hearts with all our minds and with all our strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Some rules are just made to be broken, and some… well some just need to be kept. But how do you know which ones are ok to break. Obviously we all live by rules, in this country our rules are democratically made and by and large we all agree with them. If we as a country or a community don’t obey the rules we slip into anarchy – something we’re seeing all over the world with rise of extremism, be it religious – ISIS etc. or secular with the rise of the far right all over Europe and this country. But sometimes we have to challenge rules that are unjust or just seem plain wrong, and sometimes we need to stick by them despite what others say and do;

And this is what the leader of the Synagogue is trying to do in our Gospel reading this morning. In the first century Palestine things were tough for the Jews, a minority group living under Roman rule; if they didn’t keep their identity they would be swallowed up into the popular culture of the day and would exist no longer. Who was this young upstart who waltz’s into his synagogue and breaks the rules?

In the Church of England we have rules, they’re called the Canons and as we are the established church these canons are also the law of the land, so if I don’t follow them I am liable to prosecution. As an ordained leader in the church I have had to take a vow in front of the Bishop and the chancellor of Winchester that I will keep the rules. So when is it ok to break them, is it ever ok? Some of them seem a little daft to be honest… for instance Canon F3 of the law states that the chalice used for Holy Communion must be Gold, silver or other suitable metal, that means we cannot use any pottery or wooden items. Seems a little daft, but originally this particular rule was to help stop the spread of infection, a crack in a pottery chalice can harbour germs, so can wood, metal is far less easy for germs to stick to. A quite silly sounding rule that turns out to be quite sensible. There are rules that tell me what to wear, and what liturgy I can use in church and also how I conduct my life outside of work!

If we look at some of the rules in the OT, there are some pretty odd ones there too … let’s have a look at Leviticus; in chapter 3 (17) it clearly states it is against the law to eat fat, to touch an unclean animal, to go to synagogue (ie church) within 33 days of giving birth to a son or 66 days if it’s a girl, having untidy hair, wearing mixed fibres in your clothes and picking up fallen grapes.

All rules that can seem a bit absurd, so when is it right to flounce the rules?

I’ve been thinking about well known people who went against the rules and changed the world; I wonder if you can think of any?

  • I thought of Nelson Mandela; He spent 27 years in jail as he stood up against the prevailing governments policy of apartheid.
  • Mahatma Ghandi; Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km Dandi Salt March in 1930, for which he was imprisoned for a year without trial, and later lead the Quit India Movement, calling for Britain’s withdrawal. He was arrested many times but never gave up. An advocate until the end, Gandhi sadly paid for his beliefs with his life when he was assassinated by a militant nationalist in 1948.
  • Martin Luther King had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, as the face of the Civil-Rights movement in the 1950’s.

King was arrested 5 times, and wrote his second most influential speech whilst in prison in 1963 for protesting against the treatment of the black community in Birmingham, Alabama. Letter From Birmingham Jail, which was written on the margins of a newspaper and smuggled out of the prison, defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. Tragically, in 1968 he was assassinated in his hotel at the age of just 39.

What about people a bit more like us; those who make a difference in their own sphere which is not necessarily world changing, but standing up for what we believe in?

In 1981 the film, Chariots of Fire, won an Oscar – the Academy Award for Best Picture. It tells the true story Eric Liddell – a committed Christian. Eric Liddell was one of the favourites to win the gold medal for the 100 m in the Paris Olympics in 1924. However the quarter finals for the 100m were scheduled to be run on a Sunday. And Liddell made it a principle never to run on Sunday, the Lord’s day. So he pulled out. His coach, and some others including the Prince of Wales, try to convince him to change his mind. But he would not participate in the semi-finals, because they were being held on Sunday. Liddell believed that to run on Sunday violated the 4th Commandment… to keep the Sabbath day holy.

However God honoured Liddell’s stand to make Sunday a special day. Liddell got his gold medal in a totally unexpected way. After turning down the chance to run in the 100m semi-finals, Liddell was surprisingly given a place in the 400m finals. But it was a race that he had never run before. And against all the odd, Liddell won the race, bringing home the gold.

By keeping the rule that all others were ignoring he could show the world that there is something greater, something much more important than the glory of a gold medal, and that is the Glory of Christ. Jesus in the synagogue, although a good Jew himself, decided that the law could be broken, because there was something much more important than the rules, he broke the rules as a witness to the love of God in the freedom of a life fully lived. Jesus came into the world so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10.

It is easy to get bogged down in what we should or shouldn’t be doing as Christians. It’s interesting to ask ourselves; are there situations in our lives where we have just got used to the Status Quo, or bound by the ‘norms of life’ and are becoming content with whatever that status quo may be? Is it perhaps time that we looked at what we do each day or each Sunday and ask ourselves is that still right for us, is right for others who may want to join us? Are we seeing the possibilities to witness to God’s greater capacity that he can give us if we open ourselves to his healing and his love? Has the status quo actually become a hindrance to the growth and possibilities that we have in this parish and this church and in our own lives.

As we come towards the last couple of months of ‘Green’ time, the season of Trinity marked in the church as a season for growth, should we now be looking at where we have allowed the rules, the status quo, the tradition to become too comfortable, to familiar…we may all like it that way, change is always unsettling, but sometimes it’s very necessary, some pruning that allows the new shoots to come forth can be painful, but maybe it’s time, we need to grow or we’ll stagnate, we need to be showing this community that the church can be a beacon of hope in a world were that’s in short supply.

There is so much pain in our world today and where are we as Christians walking alongside in that pain? Are we standing up in this community with a loud voice saying ‘it is wrong not to let unaccompanied children in refugee camps to come and join their families here in England’. That’s definitely a rule that needs breaking in my opinion.

Are we standing up and saying ‘it is wrong to be selling arms to Saudi Arabia who in turn use them against innocents in Yeman for our own political gain and economics’? Are we standing up and saying it is wrong that young people from poorer backgrounds are not going to University, not because they’re not clever enough, but that they can’t afford to’ are we standing up against the stigma of mental health issues, the poverty we see in the city we live next to, there are so many things that we as Christians should be standing up against – these are my particular campaign issues what are yours?

What do you feel passionate about and how as a church can we help you with that? We need to become radical rule breakers where we see injustice and also know when to keep the rules – God’s rules. There is only one rule given to us by God and that is to love God with all our hearts with all our minds and with all our strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Let’s resolve today to keep only that rule and see what a radical difference it makes in the life of our churches,

Amen.

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