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A Rule Breaking God
August 21, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Luke 13:10-17 Hebrews 12:18-29
Several years ago, Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football franchise, appeared in a commercial for the Can Am Spyder, three wheeled motorcycle. Because most football fans know that there is a standard rule in the contracts of NFL players that prohibits them from riding motorcycles, Brees, in the commercial, appears to be telling his agent that he has “found a loophole,” presumably because the Spyder has three wheels instead of two. Unfortunately for him, his remark was only an act of marketing, because the NFL’s lawyers are better than that. What appeared to be Drew Brees riding a Can Am Spyder in the commercial, is actually a stunt double.
Similarly, the NFL also has a rule that contracted players may not appear in beer commercials. But recently, Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, found a way around that rule. Mahomes appears in a commercial for Coors Light, but the commercial isn’t about beer, it’s for a flashlight that is shaped like a can of Coors Light. The Coors company created a flashlight product that was sold, but is now sold out, and all the money was donated to charity.
Rules are funny things. Sometimes we obey the written rules of the organizations that we work for, or participate in, other times we obey unwritten rules that everyone knows, but are not written down, sometimes we deliberately break rules that are stupid, and sometimes the people around us insist that we follow rules that aren’t even rules. What do I mean by that? I’ll explain in more detail shortly, but first, let’s look at the story of the prophet Jeremiah’s call from God found in Jeremiah 1:4-10.
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born, I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
God calls Jeremiah to carry his words to the people, the leaders, the power brokers, and even the king of Israel. But calling Jeremiah to carry the words of God breaks all kinds of unwritten societal rules because although Jeremiah was born to a priestly family, he wasn’t a person of wealth, or power, or nobility, or influence. In fact, Jeremiah wasn’t even a person of age, wisdom, or experience, because tradition and the language used to describe him holds that Jeremiah was as young as 12 years old and probably not older than twenty, he was only barely a legally recognized adult. Jeremiah himself says that he is too young, that he is only a child, and he insists that he is unqualified because he doesn’t even know how to speak well.
But God doesn’t accept any of Jeremiah’s excuses.
And God doesn’t follow any of the culture’s rules that say Jeremiah can’t, or shouldn’t, be his messenger.
You might have noticed that the difference between Drew Brees and Jeremiah is that while Mr. Brees was trying to find a way around well established, written, and contractual rules, the people of Israel had been busy writing rules about God that God never made. God never said that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, call a nobody to be his prophet. God never said that you had to be at least 35 years old to be president, as our constitution does. But although there are plenty of examples, other than Jeremiah, that God didn’t follow the rules that people like to make up about him, Israel and its leaders continue to make up rules about God, and about how to follow God, that God never made. And, in Luke 13:10-17, we see Jesus run afoul of these same kinds of rules and rules-makers.
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
For eighteen years the woman in the story had suffered from a crippling illness that was caused by a spirit. She was bent and could not straighten herself in any way. But when she met Jesus, he showed her mercy, healed her of her infirmity, and she walked out of the synagogue praising God, filled with joy, and upright for the first time in almost two decades. But the rule makers, and the dedicated rule enforcers, declared that mercy, joy, thanksgiving, and glory to God were irrelevant and had to take second place to the rule that healing was defined, by them, as work and that work was prohibited on the sabbath.
Jesus… doesn’t care. Rather than being repentant about breaking the rules of the synagogue leaders, Jesus attacks them for their hypocrisy. They are willing to do the work of watering their animals on the sabbath, they are willing to do the work of letting their animals out of their barn stalls on the sabbath, but they condemn the rescue of a woman who has suffered for 18 years because that work is somehow different than their work. The people who heard Jesus attack the synagogue leaders were delighted because they knew that sometimes the rules didn’t make any sense. They knew that sometimes the rules didn’t match up with what they had learned about Israel’s loving God, and they were thrilled that they had finally met a teacher that made sense.
And any of us who have read the stories of the gospels know that Jesus was regularly accused by church leaders of breaking this rule, or that rule, or some other rule. But Jesus never broke God’s rules. Jesus was more than willing to break human rules that went too far, that overreached, that said things that God never said, and that put God in a box. And that has been a battle that has been fought in the church in the Old Testament, in the stories of Jesus, and is still being fought today as we discern which of our church rules are rooted in God’s rules, and which rules have been made by well-meaning church people but do not reflect the heart, character, or will of God.
In a letter to a church of Jewish converts, the writer of Hebrews 12:18-29, reminds the people to remember what God is really like, to remember his character, his love, mercy, joy and to remember what our future life in his kingdom will be like. He says:
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
The writer of Hebrews says that God does not appear to us as the terrifying God that was seen by Moses, but instead as a God of joy, peace, and love whose kingdom is full of wonder, joy, and perfection. And, although God is the judge of all humanity, because Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, and because of his sacrifice and shed blood, we are already counted among the righteous and will one day be made perfect. At the same time, we are warned not to turn away from Jesus Christ because he is the one who rescues us, and it is he who will shake both heaven and earth when he returns in judgement. We must give thanks, and worship God because he is bringing a kingdom that cannot be upset, that cannot be overthrown, that cannot be disturbed, attacked, disrupted, and thrown into chaos, and that does not suffer from inflation, deflation, or divisive politics.
God didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should follow when he called Jeremiah to be his messenger. Jesus didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should during his ministry because, although Jesus followed God’s rules, the leaders of his church, and human beings in general, kept trying to put God in a box and make rules about God that God never wanted. We’re still doing that because sometimes it’s hard to discern exactly what God wants and what scripture means. We’re doing the best we can, but we know that we’re not always going to get it right. The good news is that God doesn’t judge us the way that humans judge one another. God doesn’t follow the rules that humans think that he should follow. Because we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, God doesn’t condemn us because we involuntarily, accidentally, unknowingly, or unconsciously break his laws. Instead, God paid our penalty with his own blood so that we could be made perfect and live with him in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Our God is a rule breaking God.
And that’s a good thing…
… for us.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.