Hold Fast to the Traditions 11-10-13

November 10, 2013

Hold Fast to the Traditions: Initiative for the Future

When I was in high school they did a talent show every other year and a musical every other year. I played Mayor Shinn in the Music Man one year and everybody laughed at the great lines. I decided to do an act in the talent show the next year. I found a small one person play called “What Use are Flowers” by Lorraine Hansberry excerpted from her longer play “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
It was a challenging part, probably beyond my talents, to play an old man, but people were gracious enough not to tell me so. The idea was that this old man was a hermit who had survived a nuclear holocaust. He met some children who had also survived and had to teach them the important knowledge from the world he had rejected.
He tries to teach them about beauty. They asked him what use are flowers. He tries to teach them about music by singing “Greensleeves.”
I thought of that play in relation to today’s passage where the writer says “Hold fast to the traditions you have received from us.” If you were in the situation of that old man, what traditions would you teach to the children in your care? What would be most important for you to pass on to a generation that didn’t know anything?

John Wesley taught that there are four ways that we know God – through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  This is called Wesley’s quadrilateral. We know God by reading scripture directly, the tradition of the church and what the church teaches, by our own thinking about who God is, and by our personal spiritual experience of God’s presence in our lives.
Tradition then, is one of the four legs to the chair which Wesley said helps us understand who God is.  Tradition is what we pass on to our children from what we have been taught, those kernels of truth that we think are most important from those before us.
Even when I was in high school, I think that little play, “What Use are Flowers” was poignant to me because people were rejecting so much of the traditions around them – this would have been 1969 after all. At that point tradition was kind of a bad word for me.  I wanted change. It looked to me as though people who appreciated tradition didn’t want me to think for myself, just to obey the rules no matter how destructive they were.
But over the years, I’ve come to be skeptical of my delight in all things new. Obviously I still don’t believe in obeying the rules just to obey the rules. As I get older though I find myself asking, What is it that provides continuity and stability in a society where people seem to be rejecting so much, where so many things are falling apart?

In the church we have ways of discerning what traditions God wants us to carry forward. The first way is by the other legs of the quadrilateral – we pay attention to what God is saying in scripture, what we discern God saying through our reason, and what we discern God saying through our spiritual experience. All of those are important. Many people insist today that scripture is primary of the four because it has the clearest message for our tradition.
Another way that we discern the traditions God wants us to carry forward is through our sacraments – the very presence of God in the bread and cup of Holy Communion and the way that God speaks to us through baptism.  When we baptize our children and when we become members of the church we make at least three vows: We promise to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.”
Secondly, we promise to “accept the freedom and power God gives [you] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. And third, We “confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.”

I believe the church has not always been consistent with our baptismal promises in the ways we have treated people of color and gay and lesbian people. We can’t follow all the traditions if we are going to correct these injustices. We find our way by trusting in God’s grace, knowing God’s love for all people as expressed by the kiss of the baptismal waters, that promise God makes to each one of us that we are loved as we are as a child of God.
We find our way by remembering our baptism and teaching the vows of baptism, giving ourselves to God and trusting in God’s promise to us, God’s forgiving grace that allows us to come back over and over again to get it right, to treat people well, to trust in God in Christ, to accept God’s freedom and power to resist oppression, to put our whole trust in God’s grace.

462   Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus