Tag Archives: tradition

Tradition, and instructions.

You wouldn’t dream of making up instructions, and pretending they came from God? Of course you wouldn’t.  There are warnings in scripture about neither adding, or taking away, what is there as instruction (for example Deuteronomy 4:2, another of this Sunday’s readings).  But be careful!  Culture filters our hearing, and is easily confused with God’s teaching.  How good are we at separating our habits, and the generally accepted ideas among the people we know, from the actual instructions from God we find in the Bible?

That is a key question for Christian living, and the answer needs constant checking with scripture, and dialogue with Christians especially those from other cultures. That is really what comes up in the gospel reading, Mark 7:1-23 (or selected verses from that). Jesus, born a Jew, living under Jewish (Old Testament) Law, questions not the law but the tradition around it. The Pharisees had traditions about washing hands and utensils – but its “tradition”, not Law (that is, the instructions in the Old Testament about God’s way for his people), and Jesus won’t confuse them. Evan a good habit can be broken for reason. Criticised for that attitude, he notes how Tradition is used to break the Law as if it were more important than Law – (you may miss out the verses about “Corban”. which explain a “dodge” to avoid supporting a family member (as the Old Testament requires) by declaring the money dedicated to religious service – a “tradition”)  The detail may be a bit remote – but the principle is vital.

Tradition is never as important as God’s instructions. Sometimes the questions our lives, and the lives of our congregations, face do not have clear answers in scripture. (Should I retrain for a new career, marry a certain person, – you know the sort of thing). Tradition may suggest answers, but be clear that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t enough for a final decision. What you have to do is to keep reading scripture and asking: What does this mean? What should we do? What needs to change, and how?

It won’t all come clear at once (you wouldn’t like it if it did!) but this is the way of Christian disciples – they follow Jesus, make mistakes and accept forgiveness, learn a bit and go on listening and trying. Tradition – yes, it can be a guide, but it needs to be questioned, and held against the standard regularly.

Rest?

This is the time in the year when we move from Sunday readings going through the great themes of Christian faith (Creation at Harvest, the preparation of Advent before the birth of Jesus at Christmas, then how he was made known through Epiphany, the cost in Lent, his death and resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, ending with a week to think about God – phew!) to spending time on the implications.  Today’s reading (Mark 2:23 – 3:6) tells us of two arguments about the Sabbath.

In twenty first century western culture, we have rather given up on a shared day of rest.  Not only do we need people to keep the hospitals open and the lights on, we assume we can go shopping, or for a meal.  The cost, often paid by the poor who have to take jobs which prevent them spending time with their families, is seldom considered.  But lack of rest affects many, who are constantly busy, often tired, and stressed.  Perhaps Christians need to reflect on the Sabbath principle.

The commandment to free the seventh day from work is found in the ten commandments.  Exodus 20 (verse 8ff) relates it to the creation – saying in effect that the need to stand back and rest is part of how we are made.  Deuteronomy 5 (verse 15), repeating the command, takes it to the release from slavery in Egypt.  Either way, the observance of a seventh day of rest became a distinctive characteristic of Jewish people.

Unfortunately, the principle was overlaid – perhaps even strangled! – with human traditions.  Jesus disciples are criticised, not for doing a day’s work, but for quenching their hunger with a handful of grain. (The “work” is rubbing the ears to release the grain).  Jesus kind healing is similarly seen as breaking the tradition.  It will become a key issue in the conflict which will see him killed.

That leaves us to try and understand how our lives should provide for rest, worship, and practicality – for ourselves and others.  The command to keep one day free at all costs in not repeated in the New Testament, though there are instructions not to neglect gathering for worship (which requires the congregation to share free time!). I hope there will be a doctor, policeman, or other emergency service available when needed – but should I be choosing to shop on a Sunday, travel on a Sunday, or make others work that day when it isn’t necessary?  Jesus was hard on unthinking tradition, but never complained about the principle of having – and allowing others – sabbath rest and worship.

Still Learning

Last week’s gospel (Matthew 9:35-10:8) told of Jesus ministry of teaching and healing extended as all 12 of his disciples became apostles – the learners were “sent” to act in Jesus name. I reflected that this was not what we might have expected, but it nevertheless is what is expected of us.  This week the Old Testament lesson (from the “related” sequence) is Jeremiah 20:7-13, and might warn us that prophets and others faithful to God can have a hard time.

Reading Matthew 10:24-39, we learn more of what discipleship means, for the twelve and for us. 10:24 is important: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”.  Matthew quotes that apparently to warn the Christians of his church that they are likely to be abused and persecuted, as Jesus was. But he may also have been aware of the dangers to be faced as disciples got used to being Christians, and no longer found their mission such an adventure.

Historically, Anglicans have relied on Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  Scripture is of vital importance as God’s main way of communicating with us, (our services are full of the Bible in different forms). Tradition helps us to understand and apply it – you may not immediately remember why we don’t publicly stone people to death for certain offences described in the Old Testament, but tradition might help you pause long enough to remember that some parts of the Old are changed by the New Testament. Reason is something we believe God gave us, to be used alongside his other gifts.

But “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”. We remain learners, and need to be aware of some of the ways of getting it wrong!

  • Scripture can be read out of context, or interpreted without setting it alongside the rest of the Bible. “There is no God” -the words are found in scripture, but the full quote of Psalm 14:1 reads “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.””
  • Tradition shows us how Christians lived in the past, but (even assuming they got it right) does not always meet a new situation. When society changes, the same answer may be the wrong answer.
  • Reason is a great help – if we remember that we are always blind to our own weaknesses. I can think of a million excuses and reasons why my favourite sins are OK for me, – and all the excuses are rubbish.

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”. As the twelve disciples went out that first time, there probably wasn’t much temptation to “improve” on Jesus teaching, or healing technique. As time went on, that temptation grew.

  • It grew because of the temptation to think of ourselves as clever, and not dependant on a Master
  • it grew, because we like to avoid facing up to being wrong
  • it grew, because life was easier for Christians if they didn’t admit to their faith in some difficult situations

For us, the temptation to re-write Christian faith in a version that suits us is enormous, and it’s wrong. – to be a disciple is to accept, learn from and follow the teaching of Jesus. I don’t mean that we can just sign up to some fundamentalist interpretation. We still have to do the work: interpreting scripture, reviewing the tradition, thinking hard. It’s just that we know that fallen humanity – everybody in this imperfect and bent world – doesn’t think quite straight. The bend is most visible when we are letting ourselves off the hook!

To be a twenty-first century disciple of Jesus is wonderful, most important – and involves some hard work.

 

Glory!

In John 17:1-11, Jesus begins a prayer that will continue through the chapter.  Some find it odd that he, Son of God, should pray – but we understand the three persons of the Trinity to be in close, indeed perfect, communication.

He knows the time of glory – the time of sacrifice – has come, and prays that his disciples may receive eternal life.  Too often we have limited that to some after death experience, but it is meant to be a new quality of life, beginning now and continuing beyond death.  We shall have to discover what it means, as the first disciples did.  It is not the effortless and trouble free existence we might imagine, but does indeed bring a new quality of love (purpose, hope, service, – we could find many words) to what may still be a difficult situation or hard slog.

Jesus is clear that his followers are those God gave him.  For us, it is a mystery how God both gives us freedom of response and yet knows who will be his people.  Yet this group have discovered that Jesus spoke God’s words, and value them accordingly.  He prays for them, rather than for humanity, that they may be protected and united.  Protection we find it easy to understand – there are many threats.  Unity takes more thought.  Why is it so important?  Perhaps it helps to look at the history of Church division, the often personal (or personality) differences which have handicapped fellowship and service.

It is good to have a tradition, to belong to a group of fellow believers.  It helps us find a starting point, a way of doing things.  But let’s resolve to be Christians first, and above all other loyalties and badges.  United with all who follow Jesus and long for his life to be fully realised in them, we shall grow in love and service beyond narrow boundaries.