Sermon – Augusts 30th 2015
14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)
By Roland Legge
What do you think of tradition? How important is tradition? How do we know when to keep tradition and when to let go of it.
Jesus was trying to answer this very question to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were concerned that Jesus and his followers were not following all the traditions such as washing their hands before a meal. Jesus felt compelled to challenge these Pharisees who were turning human concepts/traditions into holy laws.
You can imagine how the Pharisees felt after Jesus chastising them. I don’t think they were feeling very happy. This didn’t help Jesus popularity.
I don’t think a lot has changed since Jesus day. Today we still get mixed up as to what we consider appropriate tradition/laws to follow. For example, in our churches we all have different ideas as to what is proper worship. Think for a moment as to what you believe worship should include. What songs should we sing? How often should we have the Peace, if not at all? How often should we have communion? How should we offer communion in the pews or up front. How long should church services last? What should the minister wear? Can we challenge some people’s interpretation of the Bible? How free are we to have open conversations about what we believe?
Throughout my career as a minister I often seem to violate some person’s rules. I don’t intend to break these rules, other than I stumble into it not knowing what everyone else believes. I have had people get upset if worship goes a minute over 1 hour. I have had people get upset when communion is served up front. I have had people upset if a child makes a noise in church. I have had people upset when I didn’t move through the communion ritual in the exact way that someone else had decided communion must be done. I have had people upset when I used a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer.
I think Jesus is trying to suggest that there is no one perfect way to honor God. There is no perfect way to worship God. Each of us have our own preferences, but we cannot declare that there is one perfect way to do it.
There is no one perfect way to interpret the Scripture. While the Bible may be inspired by the Spirit it is still written by people. It has been translated into many languages and one can never perfectly translate from one language to another. Always, a nuance of the story is lost. Some of us will have a certain interpretation of a passage in mind, often something we learned in Sunday school long ago. But exploring the Scripture is more like a conversation. It requires each of us to be open to learning anew every time we read the Scripture. If we stop being open to learning we are in effect shutting out the Spirit from our lives.
Too often we are so stuck in own point of view, preventing us from hearing anything the other person is saying. I have been guilty of this. So most of us give up when it becomes a one sided conversation. To continue to spiritually grow we must be open to really listening to what another person is saying. We don’t have to agree, but we need to really listen and be open to the possibility of changing our minds whether that is a small or big change.
Our whole denomination is now being asked to explore what it means to be church for today. It means, changing how we organize our self as the United Church of Canada. We are being asked to let go of the many ways we have organized ourselves as church to re-create a more vibrant church that is better able to share our Gospel story in a very different world. For some of us this will feel like we are breaking the rules, going against tradition! Yet Jesus message to us calls upon us to open our hearts and minds to seeing the world with fresh new eyes so we can bring healing and hope back to God’s Creation.
I know for many of us, including myself, this can be a scary time, because we are being asked to go forward without knowing he we are exactly going to be doing it. We will have the wider church, General Council, regional groupings which may be for us Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Then each congregation will become much more independent. The Spirit is moving us to become more Spirit driven than run by a bureaucracy.
Are you ready for this new freedom? What is Foam Lake United Church going to look like in 10 years? Are you ready to face the reality that most young people are not moved to be part of a church that still runs like it did in the 1950’s? Are you ready to accept that if we continue to operate as usual our church is on a path to death? But are you ready to experiment?
If we are ready to experiment, the potential for a continuing strong faith community is very possible. I could suggest many ideas to you. But to hear them from me is not enough. For them to make a difference they must come from you the congregation. I wonder if we need to go back to house churches like the early Christians did. What do you think?
If we continue to act out of love we cannot go wrong. If we can assume that we all are trying our best to live out our faith. If we can continue to build a strong faith through not being afraid of asking questions of ourselves, God and others we can live as a community that respects both unity and diversity.
Living through the Spirit is what Jesus continues to call us to do. Living out of love that comes out of respect for diversity and a hunger for truth makes us stronger. Trusting that God works through each of us we can encourage and support each other in making meaning out of our lives and finding the courage to live out the great commandments to love self, neighbor and God will bring hope, peace and justice to the whole world.