Letter vs. Spirit

Life Notes—August 19, 2010

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done, come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”  Luke 13:13-14 

Recently, my wife asked a member of our family (who will not be named) to put the clothes that were in the washing machine into the dryer.  And the clothes that were in the washing machine were put into the dryer.  Sometime later, she checked the dryer and noticed it full of still-wet clothes.  The other family member had followed the letter of what she asked (“Put the clothes in the dryer”) but not her intention, which included the unspoken assumption of actually turning the dryer on so the clothes would dry. 

In the passage above, Jesus is criticized by a church leader for healing on the Sabbath, in violation of the ‘letter’ of the law.  The law of the Old Testament said they were not to work on the Sabbath; rather, it was to be a day of rest.  A few passages later Jesus calls them ‘hypocrites,’ noting everyone does a number of ‘work’ things on the Sabbath, such as untying their animals and leading them to water.  Common sense dictates it. 

Some of the most divisive issues among and within Christian denominations today have to do with which scriptures we accept literally and which are to be wrestled with, dissected and otherwise pondered in their application.  One issue has to do with working on the Sabbath.  When I was a kid there were no stores open on Sunday, and nearly everyone was off work that day.  Now, Sundays are difficult to distinguish from the other days of the week, in terms of shopping or other activities.  Other controversial issues include women in leadership roles in the church, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, gay marriage and others.  Scripture has a lot to say on topics still relevant today.  Times have changed, but the divisive issues remain.  

Jesus modeled following the spirit of the law, even when it violated the letter of the law.  And we are challenged in similar ways.  The point for today’s Christian may not be whether we follow scripture literally, but how we wrestle with the teachings and apply them to our daily lives, and that we do wrestle with them.  There are plenty of good church choices all along the literal-interpretive spectrum.  There may not be one right or wrong answer; but God reaches out to and love us all, wherever we fall on the spectrum. 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Receiving Grace,” based on Luke 13:10-17.   Mitch will be preaching at the west campus.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30.  And for crying out loud, turn on the dryer… 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome–literally!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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