Jesus faced the religious zealots of his day. In the Gospel this morning he faced those who were so focused on the law they missed the point of the law. Sitting here today it almost seems dumb and yet, as I talked last week about fundamentalism, that seems like the very definition of it. Jesus was being set up to heal on a Sabbath. He was being set up to be condemned for restoring someone’s life through healing. He and his disciples were being condemned for not following the law the way the Pharisees thought the law should be followed. But what had happened to the law was human. God’s law was not about restricting God’s work of love and healing. God’s law was about a relationship with God. It was about honoring God. And in the midst of trying to live out the law the Pharisees had made God’s law about themselves.
“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
Well that bothered me. You see, I want to be a good Christian. I want to follow the rules. I want to do what good Christians want to do. I want to learn about the Bible. I want to be kind to others and do Bible studies and read and say enough prayers to be a good Christian. But if those are really my hopes for my faith then I probably will get them and no more. If I do what good Christians do, I probably would be able to say “Lord, Lord”, but I would have no relationship with God - then what is the purpose?
In the church we have many rules. I have National and Diocesan constitutions and canons which I must follow. We have Parish bylaws. In liturgy there are directions and rubrics which I am required to follow. Though I have never experienced it, Bishops can give clergy Godly admonitions. It basically is a command. I can be prosecuted just like anyone else if I break the law. I can be charged criminally and civilly, but I also can be charged by the church. And yet the laws are there for me. The laws I have to follow are there to give me direction, and within those laws I have freedom. But the moment the laws become what is important then I lose my relationship with God. The moment the laws become the means to the end, then I know God is lost.
Alicia and I have been married for 32 years. There are laws in our marriage. There is a covenant with God and each other in our marriage but those rules and expectations only give us the boundaries. They do not represent the relationship that comes; the trust that comes in relationship. What I know in the relationships I share are not about laws. They are built on norms. They are built around trust. There are not enough laws to build and sustain a relationship. That is what Jesus faced in this Gospel. He faced those who would use the law to stop God moving. The law had become God for those who would condemn Jesus as he healed.
I want to be a good Christian. I want to learn and do. I want all the trappings of faith, but do I really want God to change me? Do I really want my life to be different because I know God and God knows me? Do I really want people I know to be changed because of my relationship with God? In our world, too often religion and faith are not connected. Too often it is easy to learn everything about religion and not have a relationship with God.
We have everything that we need here. You can study God’s word. You can come and hear God’s word. You can worship God in this place. Your priest is here all dressed up in fine robes and there is beautiful music and a gorgeous building. But if this is where your faith resides, then your house is built on sand. If you come here on Sundays and think you have done what you need to do to be a good Christian; if you think you have followed all the rules, then you have missed it. You see, all this, all that we are, the Eucharist we share, the music, this building, the programs offered are meant to point to one thing. All of this is meant to aim you at a relationship with God that changes who you are and propels you into the world to proclaim the risen Lord to those who do not know him. All of this is meant to enable you to act out your faith.