Last Weeks Sermon


During the first six years I was in ministry, I served on this Presbytery's Worship Committee
and the experience was certainly interesting.
That committee was charged with leading and educating the members of the Presbytery in meaningful and appropriate worship.  Only sometimes it seems that those two terms are in conflict -
We struggled to define what is or is not appropriate for a Presbyterian worship service.
At the same time we struggled to avoid too much rule making, hoping to keep worship open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We tried to balance the high church traditions with newer forms that are familiar and even newer forms that call us into the future.  We tried to walk the line between following the rules and slavish adherence to them.
We tried to communicate God's word in ways that were both reverent and effective
and sometimes we argue like Pharisees.  We know that there is a place for the rules,
without the rules you would have no guidelines.  Chaos may be the beginning of creativity, but
just as often chaos is just chaos.  Without some rules, Presbyterian worship services might vary so much as to be unrecognizable.  One church might decide that formal prayer had no place in the service
another might leave no room for prayer from the heart.
One church might decide that the people need to be silent and let the professionals do all the talking
another might go so far the other direction that the people were all doing all the speaking and praying with no leadership.  All speaking at once or all praying in silence and isolation.
One church might decide to never have communion - it makes the service run so long, you know.
Another might decide the sermon was optional – because you know how preachers can be so long winded.
On the other hand, if the rules become too rigid,
there would never be room to leave the lectionary for the day and preach to the specific needs of the people -
even in the midst of a tragedy like 9/11 or on an occasion of joy like a baptism.
There would never be room for introducing a new hymn or for following down whatever rabbit trail the children's sermon leads us.  Come to think of it, there would never be room for a children's sermon
or for the freshness of a Youth Sunday.  
There would never be room to stop the service and care for a child who comes running from the nursery looking for mother or to laugh together when the minister commits a Freudian slip of the tongue.
There would never be room for . . . the people.
It has been said that it would be easy to lead a congregation in worship if it weren't for the people.
I can tell you how to run a program on my computer, which buttons to press and what to expect
and if you press the right buttons you'll get the same results every time,  but I can't tell anyone how to run a worship service.  People never do exactly what you expect.  People can never be programmed completely glitch-free.
People are always needing something, needing to laugh or cry
or pray for something that wasn't mentioned in the prayer for the day
or hear a word from God that wasn't part of the original sermon manuscript.
People need both rules and freedom, rules to guide them and make them responsible adults
and freedom to stop in awe and wonder and just be . . . like children.
You know, like the children we have to be to enter the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath in a place of worship on the day of worship.
Jesus was doing what the rules said you were supposed to do, teach and study the scriptures,
talk about and to God, preach and pray.  
 In walked a woman.  Well, she didn't walk exactly, she hobbled,
hunched over so far that she could not walk or stand upright, the way God had made human beings to walk.
She had been this way for 18 years.  Eighteen years of being crippled and twisted.
Eighteen years without being able to look anyone in the eye.  Eighteen years without being able to see the sky.
The rules said that this was a day for prayer and teaching.  The rules said that this was a place of worship.
The rules said, put God first on this day and Jesus broke the rules.  He stopped the service.
He interrupted his teaching, maybe in the middle of a sentence, the middle of a thought
and he had compassion on one poor twisted woman.  He refused to let her suffer even one more day
or even another few minutes until the service was over.  He stopped everything and healed her.
In doing so, he violated the letter of the law . . . and kept the spirit.  The rules said, put God first on this day
but . . . it was God who sent this woman to the synagogue and God who sent this man who could heal her.
 By putting them both together in that time and place, God called Jesus to a higher service,
to do something greater than merely talking about God.  To show God's love, hands on, so to speak.

God loves us enough to give us rules to follow.  Because we need them only God can create out of complete chaos.
We would be lost without our rules but God loved us so much, God gave us something even better to follow
God gave us his only son, and said Follow him.
God said:  the Rules are good, and not to be ignored, but given a choice . . . follow him.
And given a choice, Jesus loved the always.   He always loved the people more than the rules
because He knew which mattered more to his Father.
We sometimes sing a hymn based on Psalm 19, in which we say “We love your law, O Lord.”
And we should because it is a gift from God, because it guides and protects us,
because it shows us what to do in a thousand situations, but never, never let us love God’s law more than we love God. 
Never let us worship rules not even the rules God created because we are meant to worship only the Creator. 
And let us never think that rules are more important than they are.   Never let us think any rule is more important
than our neighbor or our enemy.  Let us never think that rules are more important than people.
Let us never think that rules are more important to God than we are .  Instead let us be open to opportunities to go beyond the rules, beyond the law, above and beyond the call of duty.   Let us look for
opportunities to love as God has loved us, opportunities to serve,
opportunities to follow in the path of love that Jesus has walked before us, to serve as he served,
and love as he loved, opportunities to go above and beyond the call of duty, to the call of love.
So, follow the rules, most of the time,
But given a choice, FOLLOW THE SON.