Monday, August 23, 2010

The Rule Breaker

Text: Genesis 29:31—30:24

You don't hear Bible characters discussing the need to build more prisons. That's because the leading heroes are often the very ones who break the rules. Breaking the rules is a recurring theme in the Bible. As we will see this morning, Rachel was in good company when it came to breaking the rules.

Throughout the courting season described in today's scripture reading (Gen. 29:31-30:24), Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Sure, Leah bore Jacob more sons. You might as well say she cooked him more hotdogs. It wouldn't have mattered if Leah bore Jacob 100 sons. Jacob loved Rachel more. Rachel was his first love, the queen of his heart. Rachel is the girl Jacob wanted to marry. We can understand Jacob wanting to marry the woman he loved—even if she was the youngest—and her older sister was not yet married. But that went against the grain in his culture. You see, in 1500 B.C. the oldest daughter got married first. Period. Falling in love was not part of the equation. As is still the case in some cultures today, marriage was all business. The firstborn son inherited the family estate. And the firstborn daughter was the first to get married. That's how you did business back then. But Jacob went against the culture of his time by choosing Rachel over Leah. Jacob chose the younger sister over the older. That's not how you did business back then. Jacob broke the rules. Rachel's story is a story about breaking the rules.

Someone else broke the rules back then, too. Someone else broke the rules of the culture. They broke the rules by choosing the younger son to receive the blessing. That someone is God. The rule was that the oldest son inherited the estate. But God broke that rule. God chose Rachel's husband Jacob instead of his older brother Esau. God chose the younger brother. Later, God chose Rachel's son, Joseph, to rule instead of his older brothers. Yet again God chose the younger brother. God broke the rules! Quick, someone call the Chronicle. Can you see the headlines on the front page of the paper: "God Breaks the Rules: Chooses younger brother." Call the news crew at channel 8. Get it on the radio. Hey! Did you hear? God chose the younger brother. God broke the rules! What? GOD BROKE THE RULES! Did he say God broke the rules?

Of course, it's no big news to us that God broke the rules. We're used to God breaking the rules, at least in the pages of the Good Book. The whole Bible could be summed up in one sentence: "God broke the rules." Do you think I'm off base here? Am I out on a limb? Permit me to cite an example. Look at Jesus. He broke the rules every time he turned around. For example, the Jewish culture in Jesus day said you don't work on the Sabbath. Every business must close. No sneaking around either. Everybody has to stay at home and chill out on the Sabbath day. That's the rule. Don't work on the Sabbath. That's one of the big ten that Moses brought down from Mount Sania—one of the ten commandments of the Hebrew faith: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8)

Then here comes Jesus and his gang of disciples walking across a field picking grain to eat. On the Sabbath! Is he crazy? Jesus is supposed to be a religious leader. Doesn't he know the rules? Doesn't he know the law of Moses?! You don't pick wheat on the Sabbath day. So the religious leaders question Jesus and he cites some obscure Bible passage about David and then says, "Helping people is more important than resting on the Sabbath. Besides, I'm the Lord of the Sabbath, so what's the big deal?" and walks away, eating his sandwich (Mark 2:23-28). You don't work on the Sabbath. That was the rule back then. And here comes Jesus breaking the rule.

In case you were dozing during that one, Jesus broke that rule again. This time he broke it right in the middle of church one Sunday morning—sort of. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue (a Jewish church) on the Sabbath (a Saturday to them, a Sunday to us). Jesus is standing in the pulpit teaching the people on the Sabbath day. In walks a man with a withered hand. What will Jesus do? Do you think he'll break the rules again? He wouldn't heal that man, not on the Sabbath. That's against the rules. Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to heal? To save life or to kill?" Dead silence. No one dared to speak. Jesus got mad. He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." The man stretched out his withered hand and, my goodness—it straightened out—he was healed! Jesus broke the rules again. The religious leaders of the community stormed out the church doors and called the politicians, saying, how can we destroy this man? (Mark 3:1-6) Go ahead, point your finger at Jesus and wiggle it. Shame on him. Jesus broke the rules.

A Hindu Sage was having The Life of Jesus read to him.

When he learned how Jesus was rejected by his people in Nazareth, he exclaimed, "a rabbi whose congregation does not want to drive him out of town isn't a rabbi."

And when he heard how it was the priests who put Jesus to death, he said with a sigh, "It is hard for Satan to mislead the whole world, so he appoints prominent ecclesiastics in different parts of the globe."

The lament of a bishop: "Wherever Jesus went there was a revolution; wherever I go people serve tea!"

When a million people follow you, ask yourself where have you gone wrong.

Sure, Jesus broke the rules. But he came by it honest. It was in his genes. He inherited that trait from his Father. Not Joseph the carpenter. But his heavenly Father. God taught Jesus everything he knew about breaking the rules. Why, God broke the rules on the very day Jesus was born.

Recall that Jesus was born into the Hellenistic culture. Hellenistic culture was a combination of Greek philosophy and Roman political and military rule. Hellenistic culture prized intelligence, beauty, athletic ability, and military strength. "Might makes right" was the Hellenistic idea. Roman kings were great rules, lords over all the people. Into that culture God sent his only Son, the King of Kings, to be born—not in a princely castle—but in a cattle stall. To be born, not in the capital city of Rome, but in the backwater town of Bethlehem. To be born, not to a royal Roman family, but to a peasant Jewish family. To be born, not like a king, but like a slave. God broke every rule of Hellenistic culture when Jesus was born. God made Jesus break the rules the very moment when he came out of Mary's womb. No wonder Jesus grew up to be a rule breaker.

How may we characterize the God of Rachel as described in our text today? The God of Rachel is beyond our control. The God of Rachel is out of our league. The God of Rachel comes to us in a young minority woman drawing water at a well. The God of Rachel comes to us in a struggle between two sisters who are married to the same man. The God of Rachel comes to us as a God who breaks the rules by choosing the younger sister over the older sister, by choosing the younger brother over the older brother. The God of Rachel comes to us not with a credit card, but with a cross. The God of Rachel comes to us on His own terms. And yet, the God of Rachel does come to us. And the God of Rachel invites us to come to Him.

Will we come to the God of Rachel? More to the point, will you come to the God of Rachel? Will you come to the God who breaks every rule by loving you? Will you come to the God who loves you just as you are? Will you come to the God who God invites you to come just you we are ... without one plea ... just as you are ... Will you come?

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Let us pray: God of Rachel, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of the church, you break every rule in the book by loving us. You break every rule in the book by inviting sinners such as us to come to you, just as we are, without one plea. Thank you, Lord, for the invitation you have extended. You ask us to come. With the help of our helper, the Holy Spirit, we will come to you. We will come to Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We will come. Amen.

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Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas on August 22, 2010