Thursday, February 10, 2011

Whose rules = Who rules?

Parents - you should be proud!  Last night at confirmation I asked the students to break up into pairs and write rules associated with a photo they received in an envelope.  Knowing these students, and the nature of middle school students in general, I expected to have lots of silliness with it.  To my surprise, they took the exercise quite seriously and wrote some very good lists.  Most groups came up with 8-10 rules in three minutes.  One group had a picture of a car.  Rules included "wear a seatbelt", "no drinking and driving" and "no one under 16 drives a car."   Another group had a picture of a trophy.  Their rules included "No cheating" and "good sportsmanship" and "be a team player."  The most amazing thing about this exercise was how well they all understood rules as something good.  At their age I think I found most rules to be quite confining, but, for this group of kids, teaching the commandments as GIFT was an easy task.  They have clearly been taught that rules are for their own good.

The only downside to this was that last night's lesson was about Jesus the rule-breaker.  And I never really got the point across.  In the lesson, Jesus heals a bent-over woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13).  The leaders of the synagogue were indignant that Jesus should do this "work" on the Sabbath. Jesus says the rules should free us, not bind us, so he freed the woman from her condition.  And this is where the wheels fell off: the kids didn't think the Sabbath rules should apply to anything. They don't believe in Sabbath.  They don't believe in rest.  They are 14 year old workaholics.  When I asked them how they spend their free time the most relaxing response I got was reading.

This is particularly striking because last Sunday I subbed in an adult class where I ran into a similar lack of concern for Sabbath.  Most people, in both groups, think that Sabbath is no longer applicable to their lives. Yet, it is one of the ten (only TEN) Commandments God gives us for living together peaceably or, as Jerome Berryman puts it, "the ten best ways to live."  My kiddos last night collectively came up with 62 rules around 8 photos.  A couple of them were thrown out (no kicking sand on your sister was deemed too specific) but by and large they could all agree to probably 55 rules without hesitation.  Yet they couldn't agree with God's ten rules.  I suspect the adults would have gone exactly the same way.

I have to confess that I'm really uncomfortable with this. I embrace Jesus and grace ahead of mindless following of rules. I recognize that rules from Leviticus about hand washing don't apply to me. I can vigorously defend the idea that Sabbath looks different today than in the time of Moses or Jesus.  Still, when I can get 100% agreement that good sportsmanship or wearing a seatbelt is more important than Sabbath rest, I am left to wonder what God we are serving.


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