From Pastor Peter Hutchinson  Date: Apr 24, 2016 8:10:55 AM   Throw out the Rules

Based on Acts 11: 1-18; 
My wife likes to often say that I’m not a good rule follower.
When we go someplace,…I’ll cut across the grass; she keeps on the sidewalks and pavements.
At the museum,…I’ll go around the roped off areas to get to where we’re headed;….she follows the proper route.
My mother used to tell that she’d take me for a walk when I was little, and instead of using the sidewalk I’d walk in the middle of the street.
This failure to follow rules is only amusing in such petty things.
Rules can be a good idea for more important things,…. like ‘Please read the directions before you begin to assemble or use this product’.
Or, like when we come to a traffic light and remember that the rule says we should stop when it’s red.
Rules are often there to protect us from harm or to help us in life.

When it comes to religion and religious practices,….rules can have an important purpose and use.
If you think of the 10 Commandments as the rule book and laws of God;…they are not just there to limit our freedoms.
It’s good and healthy for us to;….love God,….to not lie or steal,… or commit adultery,….or covet thy neighbor’s goods, etc.
Those rules, like many that our parents imposed on us (like don’t play in the street)…..are given for our own well being.
Adhering to such religious rules not only keep us safer, but they help our relationship with God and with others.
Unfortunately,….we are unable to follow many rules, including those we call the Ten Commandments.
That’s called having sinned,…but Jesus died so that those sins can be forgiven when we have broken those rules.

Jesus said that he did not come to change one jot or diddle of the law of God.
But, while he didn’t want to change or challenge the rules of God’s Commandments,… he did often challenge religious rules.
When Jesus got called out for not observing rules about the sabbath he said,… the sabbath was made for us, not the other way around.
Human beings can get carried away with rules and rule-making.
We end up creating so many rules that they become overly cumbersome or actually take on a life of their own.
People hate the IRS, not because we won’t pay taxes, but because they have so many rules you need an expert to understand them.
The thing about rules, especially religious rules, is….does the rule accomplish its overriding purpose, or not.

Today we heard about how the apostle, Peter, runs into trouble about his failure to follow rules as he represents Jesus Christ to others.
Peter has returned to Jerusalem at the headquarters of the Jesus movement and reports back to those holding the fort there.
Peter has some explaining to do because he has violated numerous rules of his religion.
For one thing, he had been eating food that was always prohibited in the practices of Judaism.
Another broken rule that Peter had to answer for was that of, not only cavorting with, but also eating with the Gentiles.
This was prohibited according to his religion too.
And, lastly, Peter had the nerve to invite and welcome these Gentiles into the promise of salvation.
Only circumcised Gentiles could be accepted into Judaism, but Peter didn’t care about enforcing that rule.
Peter says that he had a vision from God that told him to go ahead and eat those things which had been forbidden.
And when Peter says he received inspiration from God to go and bring in the Gentiles;…. those who would have opposed him, were silenced.

The thing about rules within religion is that they are very much like rules that we have in other areas of our lives.
The many rules beyond the Ten Commandments that Peter had to deal with were like what some of our parents rules were. 
They’re all given with the idea of being beneficial to us, but its what they are trying to bring forth that matters most,…not the rule itself.

When Jesus came along and challenged the religious rules of his day, he tried to have people put them in perspective.
He said the Commandments boil down to a main goal and purpose.
That they help move us towards love of God and love of neighbor.
If you think about the 10 Commandments, you can pretty much see them as categorized into those two ideals.
In the Gospel lesson we read this morning, Jesus simplified living a religious life by saying it ends up being reflected in one thing - LOVE.

So here is where the catch with rules comes in.
If the rules contradict a willingness to love people regardless of where they come from,…then it contradicts God’s law of love.
If the rules hinder bringing people into a right and loving relationship with God… then they are to be tossed out.
If rules start to become an end in themselves, instead of a means towards the end of loving God/neighbor,….then they are wrong.
When we begin to love the rule itself, more than its loving intent,…. then the rule has taken on a life of its own.
The main rule of Jesus is to love God and neighbor, therefore… all other rules of religion need to point and direct us to that.

Now Christian churches today still have rules; some more than others.
People like to make rules and laws (that’s why,…or because,…we have so many lawyers around).
Churches will make rules for their own good order and organization and for the supposed good of the people they care for.
But throughout the centuries,…Christians of conscience have challenged or debunked some of those rules.
Not just for the sake of being rebels,…but because the rules did not support, or even encumbered, people’s ability to be loved or love.
The Lutheran Church exists because a German monk defied the rules.
But before he, and others have done that, they asked one key criteria-
Does this rule point us to love of God in Christ and does it move us into to better love our neighbor?’

You know, we too,…in our own hearts,… can make up lots of rules like the IRS does or even like churches do.
We create them for the same reasons - to preserve order in our lives and because we think they will help us be safe.
We create rules about how we view other churches or religions.
Rules about which things, or people, deserve forgiveness.
Rules about who we’ll associate with or want to be seen with.
Rules about whether we’ll consider people’s ideas different from ours.
If our rules interfere with being able to love those different from us,…
If they hinder our ability to love people we think don’t deserve it,…
If they get in the way of our chance to better connect with God,…
Then throw those rules out!
Throw them out if they make us consider more what other people think than what God thinks.
Throw them out if they mean to lower others to make us feel lifted up.
Throw them out if they put safety, and order, and comfort, ahead of sacrifice,  and acceptance,  and love.

Peter cared more about what Jesus said and what God thought than what the rules said or what others thought about him.
And when that is the motivation,…the rules be damned.
The first and foremost rule for us to follow, religious or otherwise, is the one that Jesus gives - LOVE of GOD and NEIGHBOR.
The risen Jesus said that because, regardless of the law, he promised us resurrection too!
And he could say that because God’s rule is to always love us.

Amen.