Monday, October 5, 2009


Given at Trinity, Sonoma, Sunday, October 4. Abridged for blog purposes.

This is Andy. He is the smartest dog I know. One of the ways he demonstrates this is that he doesn't necessarily follow commands; instead, he will assess what it is you actually want him to do (or stop doing) and do that.

For example, suppose the gate is accidentally left open and he starts out. You shout, "Andy, come," and he doesn't come; he just sits. Because it's not that you want him to come to you; you just don't want him to leave the yard. That's the kind of thing he does all the time.

In the gospel for today, it would be very easy to get caught up in the specifics about whether divorce is good, bad, or indifferent. But the point for Jesus, and the larger point for us, is that we tend to simply apply the law without understanding the reason why we were given the law. Without that understanding, we have the tendency to twist the law for our own purposes.

One of my favorite ways we do this is the "I'm not touching you" school of following the law--the one when your parents in the front seat tell you to stop touching your brother, so you hold your finger one inch away and say, "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you," which of course misses the whole point of the command.

I think this is one of the ways in which the liberal church is most Pharisee-like. A couple of years ago, the Diocese of California had a resolution at its convention "to approve the trial use of these forms as resources in the Diocese of California for formalizing the blessing of same-gender unions." Now, I'm all for blessing same-gender unions. But the thing that troubled me was that this happened just after the House of Bishops pledged "as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions." The word on the diocesan convention floor was that we weren't authorizing any rites; we were proposing them for trial use--I'm not touching you! I would have been so much happier about it if we hadn't kept insisting we were keeping to the letter of the law when it's quite obvious to everyone that we were evading the underlying premise of the law that we disagreed with.

The Internet Monk tells a beautiful story from his Baptist tradition of when the law was ignored. His church was split on whether or not to baptize a severely autistic young man, with iMonk being against it. The senior pastor went ahead and baptized the boy. Here's the key quote:

I was, I believe, both right and wrong.

Our church constitution was, as Baptist churches see these matters, correct. Bryan was not able to make a profession/confession of faith in the terms in which our church defined those things.

But the Gospel is a greater thing than a church constitution, and if you don’t know those occasions when one needs to give way to the other, there is no point in having a church constitution at all.

For me, the point, paradoxically enough, is that the rules are here to serve us, not to rule us. The whole point I think Jesus is trying to make is, does this law help us love God and our neighbor? I don't think this is about throwing out all the rules, but understanding them at a much more fundamental level, the way Andy understands that "Come" means "Don't go out in the street."

The laws are not meant to be worshiped; God is to be worshiped. The rules are not meant to rule us. And so when we look at the laws that order our churches and our family and our nation, we need to look at them deeply, in their context, at their intent, with the knowledge that obedience to the law is not always obedience to the Gospel, and with the understanding of which is most important.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Amen, Sister! Trinity, Sonoma, btw, is where I was baptized! And a happy natal day to you (early)!!