Unwritten Rules

Unwritten Rules

Holy Trinity Sunday John B. Valentine
Acts 2:37-47 June 12, 2022


Have any of you ... perchance ... tuned in to the hullabaloo that’s going on with Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler and the rest of Major League Baseball???

I know ... I know ... the Warriors are in the NBA Finals ... and THAT ... it would seem ... has captured most of our bandwidth at the moment ...

But there’s this really intriguing bit of conflict that’s afoot betwixt Giants manger Gabe Kapler and the rest of Major League Baseball.

You see ... baseball .... like any sport ... has rules.

• Rules that the umpires use to adjudicate games on the field.

• Rules that groundskeepers use to ensure that there fields are compliant with league standards.

• Rules that define what players can and cannot wear on the field of play.

• Rules that the League Office uses to ensure equity among the teams.

In fact ... you can find the official rulebook of Major League Baseball at mlb.com ... and I would have printed them all out this morning to show you ... but doing so would have amounted to a colossal waste of paper!

But ... in addition to thosee 191 pages of formal published rules ... there’s apparently a whole set of unwritten rules that govern Major League Baseball.

Rules that have developed over time so as to identify things that you just shouldn’t do ... and things you’re expected to do ... for the sake of good sportsmanship.

So ... for instance ...

• There’s an unwritten rule that says you should never ever bunt to break up a no-hitter.

• There’s an unwritten rules that says you should never just stand at the plate and admire a home run that you just hit.

• There’s an unwritten rule that says you shouldn’t steal bases if your team is ahead by a significant amount.

• And an unwritten rule that says a pitcher should not indicate displeasure if one of his fielders commits an error.

And ... it would appear ... Giants manager Gabe Kapler has a beef with baseball’s unwritten rules ... and has gone out of the way to violate some of baseball’s unwritten rules ... and in so doing has incurred the wrath of a number of opposing teams ... and a number of announcers ... and a number of baseball’s so-called ‘purists’.

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But reading about Kapler’s continued violations of baseball’s unwritten rules got me to wondering about unwritten rules in the church.

• There’s unwritten rules at a denominational level certainly.

In fact ... that was a big part of the whole hullabaloo in the ELCA last weekend.

There’s an unwritten rule that says that ... if the Presiding Bishop of our denomination asks one of the regional bishops to resign ... they comply with that request ... and do it quietly and quickly.

But our regional bishop took exception to that unwritten rule ... and decided that they knew better ... and turned our forty-eight-hour synod assembly into a three-day-long suffer-fest ... and anyone and everyone accusing and/or defending this, that and the other party.

Which in turn led to the Presiding Bishop and the Synod Council demanding the resignation of the now ex-bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.

• But it’s not just at a denominational level that the church has unwritten rules ... we do here at Holy Shepherd as well!

Some of them apply to you:

Thou shalt laugh at the preacher's corny jokes.

Thou shalt not covet nor sit in thy neighbor’s pew.

Thou shalt volunteer to provide goodies for Coffee Fellowship at least once a year.

Some of them apply to your pastors:

Thou shalt keep the worship service to less than an hour-and-five-minutes.

Thou shalt not schedule worship after 10:30am during the summer ... on account of the fact that our sanctuary is un-air-conditioned.

Some of them apply to members of our Church Council and office staff ....

Like the one that says the pastors are not EVER to know about anything related to individuals’ confidential giving records.

• In fact ... there’s a pastor back in Virginia who suggests that EVERY congregation has six unwritten rules.

People attending this church shall:

• look like us ....
• dress like us ....
• talk like us ....
• vote like us ....
• sin like us ... and
• believe like us.

And that if you can’t follow these rules .... you should probably find another church.


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Anyhow ... the reason I bring up the subject of unwritten rules is that this morning’s lesson seems to be shot full of them.

I mean ... the story in this morning’s lesson takes place on and right after the Day of Pentecost ... at a time when there were absolutely NO written rules governing the behavior of the church.

The events recounted in this lesson take place before any of the gospels were written down ... before Paul wrote any of his letters ... before Paul even became a Christian in fact.

But today’s text hints at the fact that ... even then ... way back at the beginning of the church ... there were some unwritten rules as it were ...... some principle assumptions that governed their life together as the church.

What did that text say???

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

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Anything jump out at you there?

I think that the first ‘unwritten rule’ that I hear that in that text has to do with being ‘devoted’.

In the days of the earliest church ... these disciples were “all in” ... totally committed ... fully engaged.

It’s not like Jesus didn’t talk about being “all in” during the course of his teaching ministry ...

One fellow told Jesus that he would follow him ... but that first he had to go to a funeral.

To which Jesus replied “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”.

But in the first days of the church there was no conversation about or exhortation to being fully committed .... they just were.

Now granted ... being “fully committed” doesn’t look the same for everyone ...

Folks are at different stages in their faith journeys ...

Folks are at different stages of their life journeys ...

None of us are the same ... and ... as your pastors ... Pastor Pam and I would NEVER tell you exactly what you have to do ...

But we should probably be ‘checking our temperatures’ more often than we do.

You see ... there was a Danish theologian by the name of Søren Kierkegaard who pretty well hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.

“Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?”

“Devotion” ... commitment ... discipleship ... following Jesus ... means being “all in”.

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Secondly ... I hear echoes of the word “study” rattling around in this text.

How they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.“

And I can’t help but think that “studying” is another of those ‘unwritten rules’.

I mean ... If you want to become a naturalized American citizen ... you’ve got to take a test.

• You’ve got to study the shape of American government ...
• You’ve got to study American history ...
• You’ve got to study the principles of American democracy ...
• You’ve got to study the Constitution!

In fact ... it’s a tough enough test that I’m not thinking any of us would actually want to take it!

We ask people who aspire to become citizens to study and appropriate these things because they are core values of this nation that we share.

And we make lots of snarky comments about how people on the other side of the political aisle would be well-served to study up on American history ... do we not????

But if we have that expectation of people who would like to be citizens of this nation ... why do we ask any less of ourselves when it comes to citizenship in the Kingdom of God???

“Devoting OURSELVES to the Apostles’ teaching” is every bit as vital to the continued health of the people of God as devoting ourselves to better understand our nation and its history is for the continued health of our nation!

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And finally ... I hear in this morning’s text a clear commitment to “sharing”.

• They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread ...
• They had all things in common ...
• They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute as any had need ... and
• They ate their food together with glad and generous hearts.

Now I NOW that you folks ... many of you ... LIKE your Coffee Fellowship time ...

In fact ... one of the things that we discovered during the course of the pandemic was how much of our community-connectedness has been based on food over the years ....

From Coffee Fellowship ... to Progressive Dinners ... to Crab-Feeds and Barbeques and Marty-Parties and the like.

And NOT having the opportunity to do those sorts of things made us realize how vital they were and are to the fabric that is our community.

The fancy theological word for all that sort of stuff is Koinonia ...

And it doesn’t just meant sharing Holy Communion together ...

It means sharing bread together ... and soup together ... and coffee and hot dogs and potato salad and maybe even a beer or a glass of wine together.

It means spending time together ... with one another ... and strengthening the connections which we share ... and being there for and with one another in times of need.

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There you have it ... folks. At least SOME of the unwritten rules of the People of God.

• Being all in ... being fully DEVOTED.
• Being people who study what it means to be part of God’s people.
• And being people who share ... share with one another ... because that’s the way we build our connectedness.

Now ... just to be clear ... those are NOT to ONLY unwritten rules ...

But they are far better than the ones that that pastor back in Virginia threw out.

And you KNOW what happens when the unwritten rules are broken.

It’s not pretty.

• Benches clear.
• Dugouts empty.
• Punches get thrown and bats fly.

All because some silly unwritten rule is broken.

Better for us to live by the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law ...

And to learn from those earliest of Christians about how best to be the people of God.

“Unwritten Rules” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine at the celebration of Holy Trinity Sunday — June 12, 2022.  The text upon which the sermon was/is based is Acts 2:37-47.  To access a copy of the weekly worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220612