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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Start: Breaking The Rules

Do you ever smack yourself on the forehead and ask, "Why do I do that?"
I do.
More than I'd like to admit.
It works better if you put the emphasis on the second Do.
"Why do I DO that???"
(Ya big dodo.)

That's the problem with people.
One of several.
It's like we pop out pre-programmed – to do certain do-do – even if we don't want to.
It's why hometown visits are so important on The Bachelor.
Is it nature? Is it nurture? A witch cursed your family?
Is it: "Baby, I was born this way?" Maybe Gaga's right.
We is who we is.
Are we prisoners – held hostage by some invisible hand, chained to some unwritten rule: This is the way things have to be – get used to it.

But maybe those rules that make us do things deserve to be questioned.
Maybe even… broken.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church.
Y'all are officially in the Interim Pastor Zone.
This isn't the End Zone. It's not the Red Zone. It's not even the Field Goal Zone.
It's that midfield zone between the zones.

This is time for you to question the rules.
To ask: Why DO we do that? Why do we DO that?
Why DO we do that every year?
Why do we HAVE to do it this way?
Is it, "We did it once, last year, so now it's tradition?"
Why do we do it at all?
Is there a rule?
Is the rule in the Bible?
Why do? We do? What we do?

Today we're looking at some scriptures that raise the question, "Why do we do that?"
That ask, SHOULD we do that in the first place?

Why does changing churchy ways seem to take an act of God?
Well, maybe, because… it does.
Maybe change DOES take an act of God.
Maybe change REQUIRES the creative co-work of The Creator to make us do creative things, to do new things.
It could be that we CAN'T do what we need TO do without God's help.

Sometimes, I believe, just asking the question, "Why do we do that?" IS an act of God, or at least, a step closer to the goal line.
Sometimes just asking Why IS creative work, work that puts us in tune with The Creator, aligns us with the one who gives us the power to DO whatever we DO in the first place.

Let's start with the Blessed Saint Peter.
Is he Simon? Is he Peter?
Is he both?
You ever feel like you're two different people, at war with each other?
Simon-Peter must have.
Bless his heart.
He's a saint. AND he's just a mess.
He keeps doing what he knows not to do.
Why, Peter?

In today's scripture Peter St. Clueless takes his friends to supper.
At his mother in-law's.
He's such a guy.
He doesn't even TRY to call ahead and let his mother in-law know he's bringing TWELVE grown men for supper, one of whom is… JESUS.
It didn't cross Peter's mind that MAYBE this was an inconvenient time to show up with friends AND the most "V" VIP ever, asking, "What's for supper?"

I mean. I don't know YOUR mother in-law, but if most of us tried that, it WOULD be our Last Supper.

Peter, why would you DO that?
But wait, there's a lot more Why-Do's.
And it's not just Peter.

Back when I was a boy, in the 1900's, you didn't go anywhere on Sunday, except church.
There was nowhere TO go.
All the stores were closed because Sunday was the Sabbath.
The day of rest.
Even God took a Sabbath
Long before Chick Fil-A.

Something you might not have noticed is that Peter just happens to show up, after worship, on the SABBATH.
I mean, you weren't even allowed to fold laundry on the Sabbath.
It was the LAW.
Why would Peter even IMAGINE it would be OK to drop in at his mother in-law's – on the SABBATH?
Even if she DID have a freezer full of Sam's Club, you know, in case a party of 12 rang the doorbell?
Why, Peter? Why?

But wait. It gets better.
Not only is it the Sabbath, Peter's mother in-law is SICK.
Why would they DO that?

Now, there are some who say Jesus only healed Peter's mother in-law because he wanted supper.
I don't know.
I wasn't there.
But it seems to me that if Jesus could turn water into wine he could at least turn leftovers into a casserole.

By the way, a good casserole IS a gift from God.
We'll have several for lunch today. You'll see.

The Bible says,
Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

I really don't think the Bible was thinking about men's work vs. women's work.
Or, maybe, like the Barbie Movie, that IS a point and we HAVE to get a little offended in order to get it.

Remember all this is happening on the SABBATH.
From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, you did not do ANY work.
At all.
You didn't cook.
You didn't clean.
You didn't even heal the sick.
And you surely didn't dishonor your mother and your father (and your mother in-law) by making THEM do the work FOR you.

Let that sink in, and think again about all the illegal activity happening here.

After WORSHIP, where you learn what the Bible says about the Sabbath and PROMISE to keep it, 15 minutes later, Peter, and JESUS turn right around… and break the law.
Multiple laws.
They conspire to make Peter's mother in-law an accessory.  
Back in Bible times, this isn't just, "WHY did you DO that?"
It's a full-on, "You CAN'T do that!"

It's different now.
We leave church and go to Sisters' Soul and then to Walmart, making other people work at least as hard as Peter's mother in-law.
And it's not even a misdemeanor.
We don't even think about it.
Why did you do that?
Do what? We ask.

Why do we DO what we do?
Why do WE do what we do?
Why does this CHURCH do what it do?

I used to visit a church in Athens, Tennessee with signs.
Signs everywhere.
Like the one in the men's bathroom that said, "You MUST flush toilet after use."
As if someone who doesn't flush is gonna read signs.
That sign's been there for at least 20 years.
I kid you not.
Somebody, a long time ago, broke the law.
And by God, they're not going to let it happen again.

What are Evergreen's rules?
What are your UNWRITTEN rules?
Do you have signs? Visible signs? Invisible signs?

Even good things, church things, worshipful things, get done without question.
Why? Because we've always done them that way.
They're not mandated, but if you don't do them, or if you do them differently, you WILL find out.
You sinner.
Maybe, they'll call the preacher and tell on you.
Or – if it's a major church crime they'll go to the people REALLY in charge — in the PARKING lot.

ALL churches do that.
It's what people DO.
We don't ask why.
We just do.
Maybe we WERE born that way.

Jesus, doing what he did that Sabbath a long time ago,
breaking the rules,
Jesus may have made some folks smack their foreheads and ask, "Why does he DO that?"
Maybe seeing Jesus do it differently made them ask, "Why don't WE do that?"
Why DO we Do what we Do?
Why can't we do something else?
Could doing something else, doing something different, could it be healing?
Like it was to Peter's mother in-law?
Could doing nothing be OK?
Could letting something go be alright?
Could it be relieving?
Could it be nourishing?
Could it be fulfilling?
Like it was to Jesus – and his disciples.

After supper  – with the sun going down, two final things happen.
The Bible says,

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.

(Whose door? Peter's mother in-law's? It's the only door in the story.)

And he [Jesus] cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…

The Bible doesn't say if Peter's mother in-law fed them all.
But she's a pretty miraculous lady, so, probably.

The good, rule-following Israelites waited.
Waited until after sunset, which for them was the start of the new day.
To their credit, these good law-abiding citizens waited until AFTER the Sabbath, to give Jesus more work.
Good for them. I guess.

And then it says,
In the morning [the day AFTER the Sabbath], while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

See what he does?
Jesus can't catch a break on the OFFICIAL Sabbath day, so what does he do?
He makes his Sabbath PORTABLE.
He takes it to a quiet place, puts the phone on Do Not Disturb, and spends time away from work.
Away from people.
He honors the Sabbath, just not on the Sabbath.
And it was OK.

Maybe you, if you're watching on Facebook – or maybe you know someone who isn't here – who has to work on Sunday morning.
Do them a favor: Pack up a go-plate for them today.
Make the Sabbath portable again.
If they can't come to church, take church to THEM.

That's the first thing.
And then, this happens:
The Bible says,

Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you."
Why aren't you answering your phone??
Have you not seen our texts???

THERE'S an unwritten rule: Work always finds you.
Like when at 10pm the kid says, "I just remembered: Teacher says I need to bring 2 dozen cupcakes tomorrow."
Or… The boss texts you during the finals of America's Got Talent.
There's nothing quite as enjoyable as invading someone else's quiet time.
Why do we DO that?
Is it because OUR needs are more important than GOD?

We ARE important.
CHURCH is important.
But not everything we do – and not everything CHURCHES do is carved in stone.
And even if it is, times have changed and the spirit of what we do is ALWAYS more important than the rules.
Jesus proved it.

We're in the Zone where we're talking a lot about WHY we do WHAT we do at Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA).
Is what we do GOD'S law? Is it OUR law? Is it our mother in-law's law?
That's what we're asking in this season of church life.

Because sometimes.
Breaking the rules is how Jesus heals you,
how Jesus feeds you,
and how EVEN overworked mothers in-law get the honor they deserve.