Posted by: dacalu | 2 May 2011

Breaking the Rules


St. Augustine’s, Tempe

Easter 2A


Acts 2:14a,22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31


“Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them”

I don’t know about you, but I find this line somewhat humorous.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead,

death is conquered and the whole order of creation as we know it has been overturned,

and the writer feels it necessary to point out

that Jesus was able to get into the room, even though the doors were locked.

As though being raised from the dead was not enough,

we need the cherry on top.

We need to know that Jesus can walk through walls.


Seriously, though, it says something about John,

and it says something about us,

that in light of the resurrection,

we can still be impressed by someone

walking into a locked room.

We find ourselves surrounded by rules.

Big rules like the law of gravity and the speed of light.

Little rules like “don’t wash whites and coloreds at the same time.”

And everything in between.

I’m guessing that those are rules you never paired together before.

Am I right?

I put them together for a very important reason.

Our lives seem to be defined by the rules.

Some are so big that we never question them,

while others are so small that we get annoyed.

How many of you have gotten frustrated that you had to do two loads of laundry?

Or perhaps had to wait for a light to change?

Little rules.  Silly rules.

Still, we usually obey them even though we don’t absolutely have to.

How many of you have been frustrated over the speed of light?

Anyone work with Bose-Einstein condensates?

Quantum physicists?


Perhaps we forget how much of a shock the resurrection was;

How much of a scandal.

You’ve heard the saying

Only two things are certain:

death and taxes.

April 15th was not that long ago, I know.

I think we forget that Jesus was truly human and as a human

Jesus overcame death.

Let me say it again.

Jesus overcame death.

I’m a scientist by training,

so I want to lay this one out in completely unambiguous terms.

Cell theory, the closest we come to a fundamental theory in biology,

says that living things only come from living things.

Dead things don’t come back.

The second law of thermodynamics, pretty essential physics,

says that life takes energy and three days into death,

there simply isn’t enough energy around to resuscitate someone.

Dead is dead.

Jesus overcame death.

And Christians that maintain that this isn’t central to the story

are somewhat missing the point.

The rules do not define us.

Neither the rules of science,

nor the laws of the United States,

nor common custom.

God defines us.

We being in the image and likeness of God

really do set the standard for the universe.

Some of the commentaries on the Bible suggest that

this whole question of Jesus walking through walls

was meant to be proof of the resurrection,

but I’m not buying it.

Jesus was crucified,

which, in addition to being horribly painful,

is a very public way to die.

I don’t think the disciples, or the reader,

needs further proof that something incredible has happened.

On the other hand, the walking through walls gives us perspective.

It’s a little, manageable infringement on reality as we know it.

It allows us to catch our breath and realize what sort of person Jesus is.

In the resurrection,

God breaks one of the most fundamental rules of nature as we know it.

And this is good news;

good news that you can share.

We, Christians, know that the rules are not the final arbiters in the universe.

We know that more is possible,

that our life on earth need not be bound by death and decay.

And, if we are not bound by death and decay,

how much less are be bound by the laws of the state and common custom.

Jesus forgave sins, and

when the people could not believe him

he cured sickness,

asking them which was easier?

Jesus walked on water, and stood up to the Romans.

Jesus worked on the Sabbath.

The law was made for us, and not us for the law.

It applies wonderfully enough,

not just to the religious laws, but to the very laws of the universe.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a scientist and I like physical laws.

I’m also a bit of a patriot and sometimes a reactionary.

I like laws and customs.

I don’t want you to go away thinking that

Christianity is about defying gravity

or worse yet about denying evolution or the scientific method.

Laws can be immensely useful, to know and to follow.

Nonetheless, we must remember that we are greater than the laws.

There will come a time—

there always comes a time—

when the law is not enough.

There is a law of consequences:  whether or not we like it, evil begets evil,

hate begets hate, killing begets killing,

but Christians have the power of forgiveness.

This Jesus who walks through walls,

he tells us “Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;

if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”

That is good news.

There are laws of the state, and yes of the church.

I commend them to you, and…

And I tell you that there will be times when they must be broken.

People like Rosa Parks and Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

people like the bishops who first ordained women to the priesthood

in the Episcopal Church.

There is a time to break the rules.

The Good News is that they can be broken.

“38For I am convinced that neither death,

nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is our faith,

that nothing stands between us and God,

not even death.

This is what allows us to stand up to earthly powers.

This is what allows us to go into places where hate rules

and bring peace.

This is what allows us to face death without fear.

All of those little rules that constrain your life,

look at them and ask if they are useful.

Ask if they help you in your love of God and of your neighbor.

And remember,

if the answer is no, you can stand up to them.

They are our rules,

we are not their people.

When someone asks you about our faith,

you can tell them this.

We committed the most horrendous of offences,

we killed the son of God, the living God,

and God forgave us.

God rescued us from the consequences of evil and hate,

and gave us the power to forgive as well.

Jesus faced the biggest, baddest, most fundamental rule of them all—death—

and overcame it

and we are no longer bound to the rules of the world.

No matter where you go, or what becomes of you,

God is as close to you as your own breath,

and that same God has given you power

to stand up to any law, be it natural or human.

There will be consequences, of course,

but that fundamental relationship,

that love of God is with you always (even to the end of the age.)

Now act like it.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.


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