Anne Currie
25th August 2013
The Spirit Overrules the Rules

I have got to be one of the world’s champions at putting things off… give me something to do and I will find a million other things to do before I get around to doing this one task. You name it; forms to fill in, appointments to be made, essays to write, and sermons to prepare… I can put them off. In the end they do all get done, but there’s inevitably a last minute scramble to do so.

Every so often I make huge efforts… to do lists in Outlook, and in my diary. Post it notes all over the shop, but alas… to no avail. It’s hard to change and there are so many things that seem get in my way.

One look at my kitchen table is testament to this. There’s my laptop, window on the world. Books… religious and novels, The Church Times even. Here’s my Phone, and various other bits and bobs in varying stages of completion. And that’s just my end of the table… the other end is a repository for all my daughters handbags and other paraphernalia as she comes home from work, and then my son dumps his keys and security pass there too!

And when my Mum comes to visit, she takes one look at the table and says… “well you’d never know that you were supposed to eat off it would you!”

It’s all so easy sometimes to get diverted from what it is that you are supposed to be doing.

I think Luke’s Synagogue leader in our gospel reading has become distracted…

… by all the busyness of religion.

… making sure that worship is carried out in accordance with the exact rules

… the administration,

… are all the people keeping the food laws in the right way and are they praying when they should?

In amongst all this… it seems that he’s become sidetracked from the people themselves.

The people of God whose spiritual lives he has care for.

He’s ended up in a place where the rules are more important than the spirit.

This, I think is the root of his remark to Jesus on the healing of the crippled woman. “There are six days on which work ought to be done, come and be cured on those days not the Sabbath!” And then he looks around to check that everyone is agreeing with him.

It would be a bit like someone coming into St. Matthew’s church and asking for the healing ministry of prayer, only to be told to come back on the second Sunday in the month when we do that sort of thing!

But as we know Jesus is not one to stand by and let the law get in the way of God’s purpose working itself out.

“You hypocrites! Haven’t each of you untied an animal today?”

And no one could answer him… not one person said “O I never touch animals on the Sabbath!” Including the Leader of the Synagogue, because they all had probably done that very thing, that morning.

To really understand his point, we have to take ourselves out of our modern ways of thinking about living space. In first century Israel… as with our own country at that time… the majority of dwellings were very simple, unless you happened to be very rich.

You and your family lived at one end of the house and the animals lived at the other. The animals were kept inside at night and turned out by day. In this way the animals could be protected from the weather, thieves and predators too. During the winter… they would provide an extra source of warmth.

There may or may not have been a partition between you, it might just be that the floor for the animals was on a lower level, where there was a manger… and you would tie up your animals to this overnight to stop them from wandering around all over the house! I guess not many people would want to share their sleeping roll with the family goat or ox!

It would be unthinkable to leave animals in the house during the day, so just about everyone in that meeting room would have untied an animal from the manger that morning and led it outside, and Jesus knew this full well.

If it was alright to untie an animal on the Sabbath who had been tethered for a few hours overnight, how much more important would it be to untie a woman who had been bound for eighteen years?

The Spirit overrules the rules. And there is no Sabbath rest from the kindness of God. For God’s work is not in the same category as our own ‘work’. God’s work cannot be bound by human restraints. The modern world has tendency to try to box up faith… untie it bring it out and dust it off on a Sunday morning, then put it away again until the next Sunday. Not to be spoken of during the week. We’ve all heard the politicians who argue that faith is a private matter and has no place in public life
So does that mean that Jesus is saying that the Sabbath is irrelevant? By no means. The Sabbath was and is important… a time to put aside to be with God not to rest from God.

A time put aside for God… we have a Wednesday morning service here at St. Matthews. and there are some people who come along to that service, but not to the Sunday one. Are they keeping a Sabbath? Yes they are. And how about people who have to work on a Sunday, or have children who play sport, but attend services when they can. Are they still good Christians? Yes, of course they are… The fact of our main services being held on a Sunday does not imply the rule that, if you don’t come on a Sunday, or only attend church when you can, that you cannot be a member of the St. Matthew’s family.

The spirit overrules the rules!

We can all think of things that were at one time thought to be hard and fast rules within the church…I can remember as a child, you must always wear your Sunday best to church, dresses for women and suits and ties for the men? We’ve undone that one.

At one time women couldn’t be ministers or priests, that’s gone, but we’re still trying to unravel woman can’t be Bishops at the moment. And it wasn’t so many years ago that divorced people couldn’t hold office or be remarried in church, and so on. We are as a church gradually freeing ourselves of these bonds, that are, in the main part of our own making.

For many of these rules come from our own interpretations of the bible and quietly over time they became more important than living out the compassion of Christ. We look back and we think… how can that be?

In the Old Testament, God unties the Son of Abraham (remember Abraham had tied up Isaac and placed him on the altar in preparation to sacrifice him, and was set free by the ram God placed in the thicket), here Jesus saves the daughter of Abraham, tied up by her illness.

Jesus comes to set us free from our bondage. Free from guilt and free from sin. What we have to do is repent, change our thinking and act accordingly. Jesus also means freedom from our interpretation and customs as to what we think Christianity should look like.

The spirit overrules the rules.

When I eventually clear away all the distractions from the top of my dining table… and we do occasionally get to have a meal around it. I don’t insist that we all dress for dinner and follow a set of rules for conversation… remember the old saying never discuss politics, sex or religion at dinner? For me it’s a time of sharing and fellowship, and remembering that we are a family, or maybe a group of friends… and that’s the spirit of it.

This morning we’re here today to celebrate the Eucharist together… to share God’s blessing in words and bread and wine. To share in the spirit of Christ’s love, grace and justice.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3.17

LUKE 13:10-17