“Meant to be broken”

“Meant to be broken”

Matthew 12:1-8

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As the Olympics are drawing to a close
I have to admit to you
that I haven’t been paying too close attention.
Life has been pretty busy for us
since we returned from vacation
and Grandma Cathy only returned a couple of days ago.

But even if it hadn’t been busy
I am not usually the guy to be glued to the TV watching the games. The only reason I see what I do
is because my wife is usually watching them.

And I have been wondering why that is? I like sports.
I would watch every football game every week if I could.
And then it struck me that I have a lot more invested in football.
I have followed the players.
I know the positions and the strategy.
I know the history of the teams.
But the people competing in the Olympics
are virtual strangers to me by comparison.

And so I don’t pay much attention
and then it happens of course.

Before some big run or a crucial match begins,
the TV announcers run a video package
with background about a particular competitor.
Who they are, where they are from,
the adversity they have faced,
how hard they have trained,
how they perhaps botched their previous shot at Olympic gold,
and then, all of a sudden, I am interested.
Because I know a bit more of the background.
I have a bit of my brain
dedicated to knowledge about the athlete
and I become interested,
not just in the run or match but in the life of that particular person.

That happens when we are reading the bible too.
We just read along.
Our eyes look at the words
and we have a rough idea about what is going on
but we don’t necessarily have all the details
and background about the players.

Today we are reading another confrontation
that Jesus had with the Pharisees.
The disciples have been spotted
plucking the heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath,
and that equates to work, and on the Sabbath that was a big no-no.

In response to the accusation of the Pharisees,
Jesus reminds them about David and his companions
eating the bread of the presence from the tabernacle.

Most of us probably know who David was,
if only from the Sunday School story of David and Goliath
and perhaps, if you had a brave Sunday School teacher,
David and Bathsheba.

And the context of our passage tells us
that David eating the bread of the presence
was unlawful for him to eat,
but this reference packs a whole lot more in
for the people who KNOW the story.
So think of this next bit
like the little three minute life story packages
that pepper the Olympic coverage.

For a long time, Israel was a theocracy.
They didn’t have a king, just God,
who led the people through the high priest and the prophets.

As Israel was settling their land
they began to notice that all of the nations around them had kings, and so, of course, they started to want a king.

God warned them it was a bad idea,
but they persisted,
they begged and pleaded and wore God down,
until God had the prophet Samuel anoint a man named Saul
as king over Israel.

Saul was a good king,
until he wasn’t,
he disobeyed God
and it made God angry
and so God removed his spirit from Saul
and had Samuel anoint a new king.
This is where David comes on the scene.

David was the youngest of his brothers,
still just a little boy when he was anointed as king,
but Saul still held the power in the eyes of the people
and didn’t know that David was God’s new guy.

David then goes and, still as a child,
slays the giant Goliath of Gath,
and is brought into the king’s household.

David doesn’t seek to subvert the king,
but rather he serves the king and plays beautiful music
for the king…

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long before King Saul
figures out what is going on;
he figures out that God isn’t on his side any more,
but God has chosen David to be the next king,
so Saul starts trying to kill David.

Saul’s son Jonathan, who is friends with David,
warns David to be careful and because of that warning
David narrowly missed being impaled by a spear,
thrown by Saul, at David whilst David
was playing his harp for the king.

David runs away,
hoping that this is a temporary misunderstanding.
He colludes with Jonathan
to determine just how serious Saul is about killing David,
and when it is evident that Saul isn’t going to stop,
Jonathan tells David to run and hide.

So David is on the lamb (ha ha)
and is starving
and decides to go and ask the priest in the tabernacle
for something to eat.

Now David’s intention
is for the priest to just give him some regular bread,
but at this point, the priest has nothing to offer him
except the bread of the presence,
bread that has been given as a sacrifice to God
and consecrated for that purpose.
The only ones lawfully able to eat that bread are the priests.

There is a story further back in the Old Testament
about two sons of Aaron, priests of the tabernacle,
who were making an offering to God
but used what we are told is “strange fire” to burn the offering,
and they were destroyed by God on the spot.

So there is every reason to believe
that breaking the law on this point is not going to end well.

But David is starving.
He lies to the priest
saying he is on a mission from the king
that was so urgent he could not even bring provisions along,
and the so the priest gives him the bread.

And David lives.
The people who are with him, who also eat the bread, live.

They break the rules. They do the forbidden thing.
God has every right to melt off their faces off
or strike them with lightning
or consume them with eternal fire… but nothing happens.

It’s almost as if God knows that sometimes,
there are bigger and more important things at stake
than just following the rules.

For the pharisees, and everyone listening,
this is the story they knew. They knew the story of David.
They knew how David broke the rules –
and God still made him king.

And so in defense of his disciples seeming to break the rules,
Jesus references how Israel’s great king, also broke the rules.

And that has to leave us wondering if the saying isn’t actually true
that “rules were meant to be broken.”

Typically when we use that phrase
we are talking about pushing passed
perceived or established limits.

The Wright brothers were breaking the perceived limit
when they flew for the first time at Kitty Hawk.
When we sent rockets into space
and people to the moon
we were breaking the rules, pushing beyond the established limits.
Sometimes, for the world to progress,
for growth to happen, we have to break the rules.

Don’t get me wrong: rules are helpful.
I may chafe at the speed limit sometimes,
but I know that rule is there to keep my family
and everyone else on the road – safe.

And our kids have rules, too:
don’t jump on the couch, don’t draw on the walls,
don’t run into the road
all rules designed to keep them safe,
to help them to learn and to grow.

One of our major rules in our house
is that the kids aren’t supposed to touch the stove.
Not the burners with their fingers
or turning the knobs.
We are adamant about this.
We explain to them that they could get seriously hurt
or burn down the house.

Yet, as they grow,
as they mature and learn to understand
more about how the world works,
and in particular the stove,
we will expect them to not only touch it
but to turn it on and use it to cook something.
They will push beyond the limit of that rule,
they will actually break it, in order to grow.

And sometimes, the rules are wrong.
Sometimes, the rules get in the way of what’s right.
Sometimes, we can completely miss the point,
if we forget what really matters.
Some of our greatest and most memorable heroes broke the rules.

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused
to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.
At the time, it was the law.
One that we look at today as unjust and deplorable.
But it was the law, and she broke it,
and that defiance,
that refusal to obey an unjust law,
eventually lead to that law being abolished.

Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi,
Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther,
John Wesley, the founding fathers of the United States,
all of them broke the law
in order to bring about change in the world,
to right some of the injustice they saw in the world.

Without breaking unjust laws, our society withers.

Now this is not your pastor giving you permission
to blow through stop signs
or fill your grocery cart at the store and not pay.

This is your pastor reminding you
that all of the rules and laws we have,
we have for a reason,
and some of those reasons are unjust,
and those are the ones we need to stand against.

Jesus spent a lot of his time teaching his followers
about the intent of the law.
For a long time the law was just about the law,
there was very little “why” to the rules
as much as there was demand for rigid adherence to the rules.

The Pharisees were worried
about keeping people from working on the Sabbath
because it was the law.
They did not stop to consider
why it was that the Sabbath day was established.

It wasn’t established as a matter of right or wrong,
but as a matter of making sure
that work is not all your life is about,
that you take time for other things, for different things,
for holy things.

The Sabbath was meant to be a gift:
it was God giving us permission to put our work and worries aside, and to enjoy life, to do the things
that renew and restore our souls.

The disciples were not harvesting the whole field of grain.
They were not gathering it all up to sell at the market
or store in their barns.
They were out walking with Jesus
and got hungry and ate what was at hand.

They were engaging in the Sabbath,
spending time with God;
that’s what the Sabbath is really about…
and so that small amount of work on the Sabbath
didn’t matter in the slightest.

Elsewhere Jesus says it this way:
people were not made for the Sabbath
but the Sabbath was made for the people.
The rule was made to give us life, not to take it away.

There is right, and there is wrong.
Rules are necessary
and in many cases establish boundaries
that we desperately need.
The point is that God calls us
to something higher than right and wrong. God calls us to be holy.

And holy is not simply about right and wrong
but about relationship.
Our relationship with God
and our relationship with each other.

When Jesus preached the sermon on the mount
he named a lot of the rules that people were supposed to live by. He would say things like
“You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’
but I tell you if someone slaps you on the cheek
turn to him the other also’”.

Jesus sought to bring the rules
into the context of relationship.

In Matt Rawle’s book, “What makes a hero?”
He tells the story of Julio Diaz,
who was a social worker in New York.

One evening after getting off the subway
a teenager approached him with a knife
and demanded his wallet.

Diaz gave the young man his wallet immediately.
But as his mugger was walking away
he called after him and said
“if you’re going to be out here doing this all night
you better take my coat, its pretty cold out.”
The teenage mugger was shocked
and asked why he would do such a thing.
Diaz told him that he figured
if the young man was willing to risk his freedom
for a few dollars he must have really needed it.
He proceeded to invite the young man to get some dinner with him.

He could have gotten angry and called the police;
he had every right to do so, but he made a holy choice.
He made a choice that quite possibly
could have changed that young man’s life forever.
He chose relationship over vengeance,
and anger, and even right and wrong.

It has never been about the letter of the law with Jesus,
but rather the intent;
the law was intended to bring us closer to God,
and closer to each other,
to teach us about how to live in peace
and in communion with the creator of the universe.

It wasn’t about do’s and don’ts or right and wrong;
it has always been about holy relationships
with God and with our neighbor,
relationships that care more for the wellbeing of the other
over the strict adherence to right and wrong.

When we are more concerned
about holy choices rather than the right and the wrong –
when we care more about relationships than winning –
then things like forgiveness
become easier to give and to receive and to understand.

We will not hold on so tightly
to the things we think we are entitled to
because the rules say so,
but we will seek to love God with all our hearts
and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
That is the summation of the law and the prophets,
that is the fulfillment of the rules,
that is holiness. Amen? Amen.

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