Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
When I was 17 years old, living on Newton Ave in Jamestown, NY, on many Saturdays I would “borrow” my parents’ Ford Taurus and “head to the mall” for the day. In reality, on those Saturdays I stole my parents’ car and drove to Buffalo, NY to visit my girlfriend.
On one unfortunate Saturday, my folks figured it all out. Since this was before I had a cell phone, the news that my folks had discovered my crime broke through the father of my girlfriend who said, “Scott, your dad is on the phone.”
I nearly died.
After the slowest walk to the telephone I had ever made, I grabbed the receiver and, in as cheerful a voice as I could, uttered, “Hey, Dad!”And then I heard a voice that sounded like the devil, Morgan Freeman and Darth Vader talking all at once: Get. Home. Now.
I ran to my parents’ car, peeled out of the driveway and drove over 90mph the whole way back to Jamestown. When I got to Gerry I realized that I had been driving so fast, I might be able to argue that I wasn’t in Buffalo after all (never mind the fact that I had just answered the landline on Cottonwood Dr. in Williamsville). And it was at that moment that I noticed lights and sirens in my rearview mirror.
I was driving 94 mph in a 45 mph zone. Moreover, it was after dusk and I had a junior driver’s license that prohibited driving at night alone.
For the second time that day, I nearly died.
I wept as the officer wrote the ticket. He was gracious. He wrote it for 70-something and not 94 mph. I drove exactly 35 mph the rest of the way home and walked into my house expecting what little life was left in me to be consumed by the wrath of my father. I know now that when my dad saw me enter the house he knew how broken and embarrassed I was. He saw the ticket in my hand, my tear-stained cheeks, and shame-slumped shoulders. Instead of yelling, he simply said, “You’re an idiot; I’m glad you’re home.”
My parents decided to leave my punishment in the hands of my guilty conscience and the legal system. My “grounding” would come in the form of a monetary fine, traffic school, and potentially a revoked license. In the end, I got off easy. The ticket was reduced (as they often are); I went to traffic school, kept my license and life carried on.
But I was changed. I was awakened to my brokenness, sin, and, in my father’s words, my idiocy. And I was also awakened to the power and gift of grace, the tremendous life-giving power of mercy, and the wondrous treasure that is unconditional love.
The Gospel has a lesson for today. Jesus and his disciples break the law. While walking in a field on the Sabbath, his disciples pluck grain — a definite no-no. When they enter a synagogue — still, on the Sabbath — Jesus heals a man with a withered hand… again, a no-no. This rule breaking was too much for the privileged Pharisees whose lifestyles were protected by a strict adherence to the law at all times. They were threatened by Jesus’ rule-breaking and frightened by the possibility of grace.
And so they try to call Jesus out. “Your disciples are breaking the law! They can’t do that on the Sabbath! (Mark 2:24)” Only to have Jesus remind them of a bigger truth: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath (Mk. 3:27).” In other words: some rules are meant to be broken.
There are times when we have to break the law. There are moments when rules might need to be bent, if not broken. There are occasions for grace. To be clear — I’m not suggesting you steal cars or drive recklessly. But I do believe that that story I shared illustrates how we can break the law.
See, that cop who pulled me over broke the law. He should have written a ticket for 94mph and noted that I had a junior driver’s license. But he didn’t. My dad broke the law. He should have punished me straightaway. I deserved to be yelled at, scolded and reprimanded. But he didn’t. The judge I stood before broke the law. She gave me a parking ticket (now, there’s a pretty significant difference between 94 mph and being parked), but she didn’t. In each instance these people abandoned the letter of the law and leaned into grace. Their love and mercy transformed my life in ways that no punishment could have.
St. Paul writes, “The letter of the law kills; the gospel gives life (II Corinthians 3:6).”
We all have laws and rules – written and unwritten – that govern our lives. Thou shalt not miss soccer practice. Thou shalt forgive but don’t forget. Thou shalt not trust certain people. Thou shalt not love those guys. Thou shalt hold onto grudges. Thou shalt not give money to the poor, lest they spend it frivolously. Etc. What I put to you today is that some of those rules need to be broken. Some of those “supposed to’s” “have to’s” and “musts” might need to be abandoned to allow room for grace to transform your life and the lives of those around you.
Our Lord Jesus broke all the rules. He loved people he wasn’t supposed to. He healed when it wasn’t deemed appropriate. He ate and drank with sinners. He washed the feet of his subjects. He spent time with outsiders and shared grace and mercy with people who didn’t deserve it.
May we who follow Jesus have the courage to break the rules too. And in doing so may we also awaken people to the power and gift of grace, the tremendous life-giving power of mercy, and the wondrous treasure that is unconditional love.