Sermon 30 August 2015: “Are Traditions Serving Us Well?”

So I have a couple of questions for you this morning: You know how Pentecostals and Baptists will shout “Amen!” during sermons?  Well, what is a “Lutheran Amen?” Answer: “Hmmm….” And, How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?  Change?  You can’t change that lightbulb!  My granddaddy paid for and put that lightbulb in with his own two hands 50 years ago!

Tradition….we Lutherans love our traditions.  Jokes, potlucks, Rally Day, bakesales….and stewardship campaigns.  Well, maybe not that one.  But as Lutherans we also have other traditions that are important to us: liturgical worship, the preached Word, our Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, and our theological heritage.  Yes, we Lutherans love our traditions, because they’re meaningful to us.  But the question Jesus is posing to us this morning is “What does it mean when those traditions of our aren’t serving us so well?”  We may follow them, hold them dear, but do those traditions bring us into a fuller understanding of who God is, help us see God in our midst, and nurture our faith journey?

We have a favorite tradition in this country…..freedom.  Our civil rights.  The freedom of speech, the right to assemble peacefully, to bear arms, even the freedom of religion within our own traditions.  We have the individual, god-given right to do and say what we want, right?  Events going on this past week suggest it’s true:

  • As freshmen checked in on campus last weekend, a fraternity at Old Dominion University hung bed sheets signs that read: “You can drop your daughters off here, we’ll show them a good time.  And you can drop your moms off too.”
  • If you’ve been paying attention to the presidential candidacy news, you probably are aware of Donald Trump, who says and does pretty much whatever he wants, whether it’s true or not.  But regardless how ridiculous people think he is or that people will lose interest over time, he is rising in popularity every week.
  • And this past week, out near Roanoke, a man – who is black and gay, but more importantly living with a whole host of other problems – decides in his own mind that somehow, it’s his right to retaliate, and shoots a 24-year old reporter and her cameraman while they were conducting a live interview on the news.

And what I think this is tradition gone wrong….not so much that the tradition of civil liberty is wrong, but that we’ve twisted it into something where we can say and do what we want without any regard for anyone but ourselves.  Sure, we might dismiss things like this as “boys will be boys or it’s just college students being dumb.”  Or we avoid the horrible tragedy of yet another act of public violence.  Or no one holds a man accountable for comments that stir up and create what is becoming the angry mob that is America.  And Jesus is very clear: “it’s not the tradition itself, but what resides in your hearts that defiles…..and because of that, you twist the tradition into something vile, you keep doing over and over, you hold so dear and sacred, and it’s not serving you very well at all.”

When we look at the list Jesus gives at the end of our reading today, we probably look at it and say, “well, we’re not guilty of any of these….theft? Murder?  Greed?  Fornication? At worst I can probably say I’ve been a bit prideful this week, or done something foolish and petty, but for the most part, I’m a pretty good person.”  But I wonder, perhaps that list isn’t all inclusive.  Perhaps there are other things not on the list that are just as harmful, and we’ve turned them into traditions that aren’t serving us so well as individual Christians, and as the church.

I’ve mentioned before to you that my mom was an alcoholic growing up.  And, most of you know I grew up in a small rural farm in Minnesota.  There’s a couple of truths when it comes to such things where I grew up.  One, everyone knew about it.  Word gets around, and every neighbor, family member, and just about everyone in the church knew about my mom’s problem and that it was likely affecting our family.  Two, there’s a long-standing tradition that well, you stay out of people’s personal business.  Whether it’s out of preserving someone’s dignity, or because it made you uncomfortable, you simply kept your distance from such things.  But I wonder if that tradition really served my mom and my dad well….I wonder what would have happened if someone had come up to my dad and asked how things were going, and if there was anything they could do for him?  I wonder if someone in the community – or the community itself – had intervened with my mom, and offered to get her the help she needed.  I wonder what would have happened….but people remained complicit, remained silent in light of the suffering and addiction my family was going through.

The thing is, my little church and community isn’t the only church to hold onto the tradition of complicity and silence.  And I wonder, is this tradition of complicity and silence in the church and as individuals really serving us all that well today?

The thing is, complicity and silence really isn’t a Christian tradition or a tradition of the church.  Christian tradition has much deeper roots, You see, God decided to no longer be complicit to our brokenness and sin. God decided to no longer remain silent to the cries of pain, suffering, addiction, and loss of God’s people.  God sent Christ….entering into our brokenness and sin, bearing the burden of it with us, a demonstration of God’s divine love that changes our hearts, changes us.

That good news serves as a reminder that God is no longer complicit and silent in our lives, and as we are called to follow in the way of Christ, the way of the cross…..let us observe the tradition of entering into the suffering and brokenness, bearing one another’s burdens, and sharing Christ’s love with those we’re called to serve.  Amen.

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