(Homily delivered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Piney Parish Sunday, February 16, 2014)
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
RULES, RULES, RULES!
There are rules for games.
There are rules for driving.
There is the Golden Rule.
There is the Rule of Law.
There is Robert’s Rules of Order.
The U.S. Congress have committees in both houses that deal in the rules for how they operate.
The U.S.G.A. governs the Rules of Golf. There is an organization that they have to have so men and women can play a game.
Somewhere, there are probably written rules on the proper way to come up with new rules when the old rules are no longer followed or something like that.
RULES, RULES, RULES!!!! Where does it end?
In 9th grade, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown was only a couple of years from retirement when I had her. I figured at the time she was nearly as old as Methuselah.
Mrs. Brown was an incredibly strict teacher. There were rules for everything.
Break your pencil? You had to ask permission to get up and sharpen it. That was after you had to explain why you came to class unprepared by not having a spare writing instrument.
However, Friday was different. Every Friday was Free Day. Let me see if I can do it in Mrs. Brown’s best Old World accent.
“Today is Friday. Today is Free Day. Today is Reading Day, Writing Day, walk about the room without permission day and NO TALKING day.”
As Mrs. Brown recited this litany she would stroll up and down the center aisle of the classroom.
As it happened, in row number 2 of the very center of the classroom, on one side of the aisle was me. My next door neighbor on the other side of the aisle, “Tink” Moeller. Her real name was Lorraine, very few people knew that.
Tink Moeller was an incredible person. First, she was very tall. In 9th grade, I would guess that she was maybe 6 foot 3, perhaps even taller. At 5 foot 7, she was quite a bit taller than me. Her brother played basketball for our high school and measured nearly 7 foot tall.
She had a wonderful personality; outgoing, well-liked and she often had a particular look on her face that I easily recognized. There was this one look that meant we were about to have some fun but we were likely to get in trouble for it. Not bad trouble like it would involve the police or anything, but trouble.
It would be a lie if I told you that Tink and I never shared detention time together.
Anyway, back to Mrs. Brown and Friday Free Day. You see, the Friday Litany never altered. The words were the same.
“Today is Friday. Today is Free Day. Today is Reading Day, Writing Day, walk about the room without permission day and…”
By this time in the litany, Mrs Brown had arrived at Row 2, Center Aisle. She would place one of her frail seasoned hands on the corner of my desk and the other on the corner of Tink’s desk. She would pause with the genius of a seasoned professional orater and she would look at Tink and me and say, “NO TALKING day.”
Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning after being in Chesapeake, Virginia overnight for a business meeting, I got up, checked out of the hotel and got in the car for the next leg of my journey, driving to Morehead City and Atlantic Beach where my work week began on Monday. The sky was overcast in places and foggy in others.
After leaving Chesapeake on Route 17, the landscape is rural. There are flat fields on either side of the road. I remember looking off to the east often to see if I could find the Atlantic Ocean. I never saw ocean. For good reason too. Route 17 runs parallel to the coast about 20 miles inland!
It was a very quiet Sunday morning though and I was enjoying the solitude.
I had not been on the road very long, maybe 30 or 45 minutes. I came around a long, slow curve in the road and there was a sign. It identified a roadside table in ½ a mile. Sure enough, only about 20 or 30 seconds later, there it was. There was parking for probably only 2 cars or a car with a trailer perhaps. There was a picnic table under a tree.
In the fog and gloom, it looked pretty lonely and not inviting at all. But, I chose to think about this table on a beautiful, bright warm and sunny morning. You remember those, right?
I thought about the simplicity of this space and how nice it might be to pull over, sit in the sun and enjoy a cup of coffee from a thermos and a nice chewy bagel or a fresh soft donut.
Can you picture this simple glorious time in your mind? It was a nice vision for me.
Maybe 20 miles later, I spotted another roadside table and was reminded of the vision.
I continued my journey though, with this picture in my mind. In another 20 miles or so, there was a new sign. This time, identifying and Rest Area.
Having had a coffee at the hotel and another cup during the drive, I decided the Rest Area was a good idea.
I came around another curve in the road, spotted the entrance to the park and pulled in. I was struck by the stark difference between the roadside tables and the rest area even though their function is very similar.
There were signs everywhere!
• Cars this way
• Trucks this way
• Pets this way
• No littering
• Picnic tables
• Big barrels with the word Trash on the side in 10” letters
I counted. There were 28 signs one could see and read from the parking space where I parked my car.
Some of these signs made sense. Others, not so much. For instance, as a reasonably intelligent person, if I see picnic tables, I can identify them without the aid of a sign telling me that is what they are.
Common sense tells me not to litter. Especially when there are 10” letters identifying trash receptacles!
There is a whole other homily that could be preached on the illustration of how the roadside table is the simplicity of our faith and how organized religion messes it up in the Rest Area with all the signs telling us what to do and how to do it and anything else is wrong.
On the radio during that same drive through Eastern North Carolina, I heard a preacher tell his listeners and congregation that if you are going to walk with God, there were rules and he read a long list. His list included how God says there should be no television, phones or any other electronics in your bedroom; that they were an abomination!
He spent over 15 minutes of his sermon giving his congregation a long list of rules, One of the rules in his list of rules was that he insisted the congregation get out pen and paper and write down the rules
RULES, RULES, RULES!
Why do I share these stories with you? What possible correlation could they have?
In the Gospel reading today, there are rules.
YOU SHALL NOT MURDER
DON’T BE ANGRY WHEN YOU COME TO GOD’S ALTAR
LUST IS LIKE ADULTERY
CUT OFF YOUR RIGHT HAND IF IT CAUSES YOU TO SIN
NO SWEARING FALSELY
If I were a trained Theologian, I could expound on these with great expertise giving you deep meanings and interpretations. I am not, however, a Theologian.
Like you, I am a simple human taking life’s journey one day at a time. But really…
Do I have to be told to not murder?
I know it is not right to stay angry. I know we are called to forgive each other.
I know that adultery is wrong.
I know these things. It is common sense. Why did Jesus feel like this needed to be taught?
I could even develop an attitude and respond with, “Don’t treat me like a fool for crying out loud! I am your creation. You made me to be smart and to have a brain that can reason and think.”
What if the rules were never defined?
What if every Friday, we walked into Mrs. Brown’s 9th Grade English Class and there was no plan, no communication? What if she had never repeated the same thing over and over again so much so that I remember it, word for word, 42 years later?
What if the Rest Area had no parking lines in the parking lot? No sign on the rest room door?
What if Jesus had never reminded us of these rules of life in the practice of our faith?
What if we never gave them any thought and did what we wanted to anyway? After all, God gave us this free will, the ability to see, hear think and decide.
All these rules.
All these words.
All of these interpretations.
We have a very passionate son. He often goes off on some tangent about an injustice in the world. Often, it involves religious interpretations or religious bodies. This week, it was televangelists and their opulent lifestyle and how they fleece the flock.
He called me to apologize in case he had offended me and then he asked me why injustice makes him so crazy and why does it have to exist? Why can’t people just follow the rules?
I told him this, “Injustice will always exist in the world. It always has and it always will. If it did not, we would have no barometer in which to measure how we live our own lives.”
RULES! RULES! RULES!
I cannot help you to understand all of this except to say that there are rules. We have to have them. Some are necessary and others, who knows?
You want rules to live by? Remember, above everything else, five words. Filter out the opinions and passions of humans. Forget the writings of theologians and historians and those that have the professed answers and remember these five words that I have shared with you before.
Love each other.