Would you risk breaking the rules?

5th June 2024

Anyone who was at St Swithun’s last Sunday will be aware that we had a bit of a topsy turvy time! Due to an administrative mix-up, we ended up bolting a baptism liturgy on to the end of our normal Common Worship, rather than where it should have been at the very beginning of the service. This meant, not only was the service a bit longer than it was meant to be (sorry if anyone’s roast dinner was overcooked!), we also had two prayers of repentance and two creeds. Everyone at church was extremely gracious and simply went with the flow, showing a truly generous St Swithun’s welcome to 6 month old Poppy Browne and her family.

Over coffee afterwards, as I watched everyone chatting, I felt very blessed to have a church family that was able to be so accommodating and relaxed, and able to remember what really matters and not grumble about things being in the wrong order. 

And I was reminded again of this again this week as I’ve come to prepare my sermon for Sunday on the gospel text in Mark 2, which described how Jesus is criticised for healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus’s response to the Pharisees is this: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

The passage is a compelling depiction of what happens when people are so bent on keeping to the letter of the law that they are willing to overlook the sheer joy of a man’s hand being restored, which is to miss the spirit of the law entirely. This is what happens when “the law” stops becoming a life-giving source of joy and instruction and becomes a burden and a life-demeaning source of judgment.

In psychological terms, it’s the difference between making rule-based decisions and values-based decisions. Making rule-based decisions is safe. One can hardly ever be taken to task for obeying the rules. Value-based decision making is risky – it’s not an absence of rules but an acknowledgement that the rules need continually re-evaluating against our principles, and then possibly challenging and improving.

Jesus was constantly doing this throughout the New Testament and people didn’t like it! If you are really honest, how does it make you feel? And are we willing to take a risk with Jesus and adapt ourselves when there is a moral imperative, just like the congregation at St Swithun’s did on Sunday? Let’s keep this in mind in every encounter we have this week, remembering that Jesus always put loving people before everything else!

Love and blessings
Revd Jemima