Have you ever gone into a department store to return a product that was damaged, or that didn’t work properly the first time you used it? You go up to the return counter, a bit upset because you had to make a special trip into town to get this resolved. Needless to say you’re defenses are up. It doesn’t matter that you are past the return date allowance. It’s just not right. And so, you go up to the poor little high school girl at the counter, and start explaining your frustration. Wide-eyed, she looks at you, and when you are finished, she says, “I’m sorry, sir, store policy says we can’t take it after 30 days.” And you say, “But I didn’t need to use it until now. It’s a lemon! It doesn’t work!”
Heartlessly, she replies, “I’m sorry, sir, store rules say we can’t take it after 30 days. I didn’t make the rules. I just work here. I’m the hired hand. I’m powerless to change anything. But if you like, I’ll get the store manager.” And she runs out of there, never to be seen again.
The store manager comes out, listens attentively to you repeat the same story, and then says, “No problem. I’ll be glad to take care of that for you.” And your defensiveness evaporates like your breath evaporates in sub-freezing air.
The hard part about being a hired hand is that you can’t bypass the rules. You don’t have the power or authority. And then you have to watch as the store manager steps over the rules to help the customer. There’s some frustration in not having the power to do the right thing.
Is that how you feel? In the Old Testament, there are lots of rules (613 store policies). Here you are, the little clerk behind the counter, feeling like you have to promote and enforce all those rules. It’s frustrating when an irate person comes in and says, “This isn’t working for me. I need you to change the rule for me.”
You know that if anyone sees you being lenient to this person, then everybody will take advantage and want the rules changed for them, too. And you can’t have that kind of disorder. Everything would be mayhem without the rules to give us order and structure.
But then we turn to the New Testament and we see Jesus sidestepping some of the Old Testament rules for people.
Sorry, the argument but he’s the Son of God doesn’t give him anymore power to do the right thing than it gives you.
Everyone was made in the image of God (hence a son or daughter of God), and everyone has the authority to do the right thing.
Jesus let his disciples harvest some grain on the Sabbath so they could eat and nourish their bodies. That’s officially against store policy. The disciples weren’t starving. They were simply hungry.
Jesus stepped over the Sabbath rule and healed a man’s withered hand. The man’s condition wasn’t life-threatening. The healing could have waited until the Sabbath was over.
Jesus assumed the power to step over the rule that said a woman caught in adultery should be stoned. Jesus didn’t even reprimand her. He said, “I don’t condemn you. Just don’t do it anymore” – as in “you’re hurting yourself more than anyone else, God included.”
Jesus reminded the Pharisees, who were hired hands, that they didn’t follow all the rules. In Mark 7, Jesus said to them, “God’s will is that you honor your parents, and that children who curse their parents be put to death.” He quoted store policy to them. Then he said, “Yet, you law-abiders find ways to get around the rules you don’t want to follow.” They were finding ways of not supporting their parents in their old age. And why weren’t they putting children to death who cursed their parents?
Those who put their trust in the Law, who make their God a God of rules, make the rules more important than the people for whom the rules were given to serve. Jesus said, “The hired hands don’t care about the people.” They care more about the rules.
If you care about people you don’t need rules to guide you to know how to love.
Martin Luther, in one of his sermons, reminded us that the law was given to serve love, not to be served. He said, “Love is the only law for Christians.”
The point of being in this business of religion is not to enforce the rules. The point of being in this business is to love God, your neighbor, your enemy, and each other as you love yourself.
You are not powerless. You are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament says love is the fulfillment of the law. You have the power to love, and in doing so, you will fulfill the law.
Our new store policy is simplified in 1 John: “And this is His commandment, that we should trust in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”
You are not a hired hand. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the right thing. With Jesus guiding you, the Spirit gives you the authority to step over the rules when they do not serve love. So when the original rules do not serve the welfare of people, then you, as His followers, have the authority, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus’ example of love instead of the policy manual.
John 10:11-18; 1 John 3:16-23