the one about traditions...
September 3, 2018, 12:00 AM

Sermon from September 2, 2018

Text: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, when Erin and I were starting to date, we’d of course – like all couples – talk about our families. Sharing with one another the oddities of our kin. Needless to say – my family is the weird one. But, there was something interesting that I learned about her family that I used to just chuckle at.

Her grandparents were great people. Always willing to give a helping hand. Being models of welcome and hospitality to any and all who ventured to their home. There wasn’t a person that stopped by that didn’t have a meal of some sort. Her grandfather was pretty good at carpentry as well and helped us lay floor and quarter round in our first home.

Grandpa Corley was a great person to ask for advice. How to get things done, how to go about ‘doing’ something. Unless it was steak. Steak in his mind had to be charred, black, and tough. “Correctly” prepared steak in his mind was something that no longer really looked (or tasted) like steak. No wonder, I thought, Erin didn’t ever want to have steak dinners when we began dating (of course, we also didn’t have any money so that didn’t help either).

But, for Erin steak wasn’t a good meal because of the ‘tradition’ set forth by her grandparents because of how it was prepared. That was ‘the way’ to cook steak because that is what her family did growing up. And that way – though always used – wasn’t very good.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Mostly because her brother had really good steak a few times with friends and learned to prepare excellent meals with it for the family. So, now a new tradition has been born!

But, I was reminded of that (very brief) story as I read our gospel lesson this week. The Pharisees questioned Jesus and his followers because they didn’t do things the way they were ‘taught’ throughout their life. They didn’t ritually wash their hands, utensils, and food like the ‘good’ faithful should and did.

For those leaders, the ‘tradition’ was more important than the meal. Where perhaps the ritual washing of hands began as a way to keep people from getting sick, turned into an ornate procedure to show how ‘pure’ one was before eating.

Perhaps Erin’s grandfather had been taught in his family that you could get sick from eating ‘undercooked’ meat – which is true – so, the most correct way to prepare it was char and blacken it through and through. As a fellow man, that seems like a pretty appropriate response from one of us.

Jesus’ response to the incredulous Pharisees is a rather piercing one. He points out that they are hypocrites because they only see what goes into their body as ‘impure and defiled.’ Where they focus more on the ‘act’ of purity and goodness than actually living into and living out a life of goodness and love.

They are more concerned about keeping up appearances than they are about actually living faithfully in God’s love and presence.

And, I think as we look back on that we can think – oh those silly religious leaders from so long ago! How foolish they were! We say that without realizing that at times we fall right into those same predicaments. Where we too might be more concerned about the ‘process’ than we are with the outcome or the purpose.

In my early years of ministry I remember folks a previous place of worship being obsessed with Halloween and the ‘good things’ that come from it, “We get so many visitors! So many people come to the church!” I thought, wow that’s great! I can’t wait to experience this! Turns out, they just backed their cars to the sidewalk and handed out candy to those who just walked by. Every person that walked by the start of the line was considered a ‘visitor’ and was appropriately ‘marked’ on a tally sheet.

So, sure – they had 200+ people walk by, but I didn’t consider them visitors. And it was very difficult to change that mindset. They were so focused on the ‘number’ the ‘tradition’ that was established that they couldn’t see that they really weren’t doing a whole lot besides giving out candy – which isn’t a bad thing at all!

So, we changed some stuff the next year and got people to come inside the church. We still had a trunk or treat, but we also had popcorn, games, prizes, prayer stations, and more! It was a great success.

Except for the few people who had ‘heard’ that it wasn’t as well attended as it was in previous years. Where before we were having 300 people ‘show up’ and that year we had 50.

All they saw was the number, counting the back of people’s heads. Being focused on the ‘tradition’ of having so many people. What they couldn’t see is that instead of someone just walking by and leaving within 5 minutes, people stayed and hung out for 30+ minutes. Smiling, laughing, having fun, getting an opportunity to meet the church family and community, being warmly invited to join us again!

The Pharisees – like many still today – get so locked into their traditions that they cannot at times move past to see where God might actually be present and leading us.

And, I feel that all churches – even Redeemer – can be locked into that mindset. When we become overly focused on the times that things are, or how a certain part of worship is done, or even how we approach opportunities for ministry. Everyone at times becomes stuck behind traditions.

But, even so, traditions themselves aren’t bad. It isn’t bad that the Pharisees washed their hands, and plates, and food. It isn’t bad that Erin’s grandfather wanted to make sure food was fully cooked. It isn’t bad that some members of my former congregation wanted lots of people to do something attached to the church.

Each of those things are not bad. It only became troublesome when the ritual became more important than why someone was doing it.

As followers in the faith, we shouldn’t be so locked into our traditions that we cannot see God’s presence and love within not only our lives, but in the lives of others. We shouldn’t be so focused on what we’ve always done because we might miss out on what new thing God is trying to do.

This past week I read a poem that I thought spoke to this and shed a little light as to what James is saying to us in our second reading. Its author is unknown, but it was shared by a retired professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. The author writes:

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to go and pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God.

But, I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

Our God calls us – our Lord Jesus invites us – the Holy Spirit guides us into a life that is for and with others. We at times do become trapped within our traditions and our history. Not that those things in and of themselves are bad, but God calls us to see past those things in our lives so that we might be fully present with and better able to care for those around us, in our community, and in the life of the world.

Where in your life – where in the life of Redeemer have you been called by God to do something different so that others might be better cared for and loved? How might the Spirit of God be leading us to live more faithfully and fully into this life of love than ever before? Where have we stopped short because ‘we’ve never done it that way before?’

Jesus continually invites us into this life of faith, to be present with those around us, and to bring the gospel of love, forgiveness, and mercy to the world. It may look different than we’ve ever done it before, but God is with us throughout. Amen.

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