Some people who are close to me know that when I was younger I was a part of a much more conservative expression of Christianity. I was a stickler for the rules, probably in part because I was trying so hard to earn favor with God since I felt ashamed of being queer. Even as I came out and my faith grew and shifted, a good deal of the “legalism” I held on to still lingered with me for years.
The rules are the rules, and “good people” don’t break the rules.
The older I’ve gotten though and the more I have seen of the world I’ve learned that that isn’t always the case- sometimes we just have to do what is right, even if it breaks the rules. When I was first out of College, I had the chance to hear John Lewis Speak in Atlanta. I was serving in Americorps at the time and he was speaking to a coalition of homeless service providers, inspiring us to challenge the system that sometimes put our clients at risk or considered them discardable. He reminded us that when things are unjust, “sometimes you have to get in the way.” This was the first time of many that I heard him say this over the years- we have to get in the way.
Sometimes, doing what’s right might mean breaking the rules, causing some holy trouble, or just getting in the way of those who seek to do injustice.
In our scripture, the prophet Jeremiah is calling us to center our morality not in legalistic observances of the law, but rather with the law written on our hearts. The passage is about the restoration of Israel and the end of the exile. In the new Israel, knowledge of God will be available within our inmost being- written on our hearts. This time around, God encourages them to rely upon their inward knowledge of God- their sense of compassion and love, their sense of justice and fairness -rather than the institutional or legalist interpretation of law.
As much as I wanted it to be- going through life wasn’t always black and white. I couldn’t just try to follow the rules and get by, because in doing so I might not be standing with those who need it.
Sometimes we have to take a moment and listen to the inner voice of God’s spirit in us as she calls us to act, to love, and to work for change.