Thursday, August 27, 2009

Traditions and the Heart (Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23)

Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Traditions are everywhere. This week we honor the Grace Lutheran tradition of Rally Day. Rally Day being the day we celebrate the beginning of a new Sunday School year. We will immediately follow today's worship by gathering all children and adults to play games and sing songs together before sharing in a pot-luck in Grace Hall. It is a tradition we have all come to know and expect.

Many families with school-aged children are making the transition from summer traditions (family vacations, more time with extended family) to school year traditions. (new shoes, earlier bed-times). Some of these traditions we are flexible with. Others we are not. Take grade-level for example.

This past Friday, my son Austen (whom many of you know) informed me that he was a sophomore. Just like that.

You would think that as his mother, I would know what grade he was in. Austen informed me I have been misinformed.

It is true, that as a homeschooling family, we have a little flexibility in what grades our children are in..but we usually know what the order of sequence is and follow it somewhat.

Austen had been held back when he was in traditional kinder-garden. He has spent the past 8 years creating a lifestyle that embraces a handful of both medical and educational difficulties. Through Austen, any idea of traditional learning I ever had, was tossed aside in order to let him be...Austen. And miraculously, in the past few years, Austen has been able to do both physically and academically things that we had once been told would be impossible.

That said, as Austen's mom, I was excited that he would be starting high-school. More appropriately stated, he would be joining the other homeschooled high-schoolers this year on his learning ventures. He would finally be a freshman. I have enjoyed envisioning what these next 4 years might hold for him.

Austen was gentle when he crushed my ideas on what the beginning of this venture would look like. It started innocently enough. We were sitting in a small cafe', drinking soda and eating pie.

Austen casually asks, "So what grade am I in...really?"

"You're a freshman. 9th grade", I respond.

"Hmm." He replies. "I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I'm a sophomore."

He has got to be kidding, I think. That would mean only 3 more years at home..and he can't. He just finished 8th grade!

"You can't be a sophomore. You just finished 8th grade." I break it to him gently. "It doesn't work that way."

Austen looks at me with a patient grin. "Well, what do school kids study in 9th grade? I've studied Ancient World Lit..I've read all the epics from Gilgamesh to Homer's Odyssey. I've studied Ancient World History from the beginning of Egyptian civilization to the Fall of Rome. I've studied Biology and Chemistry. And I've written the entire scripts for my Odyssey teams for the past several years."

It is true. He has done these things. "Yes," I respond."But you are just beginning Algebra."

Austen grins again. "Okay. Than I'm a sophomore who is bad at math. Settled."

And it is. Austen has challenged my pre-conceived notions of tradition yet again. But who am I to hold him back?

In today's gospel, Mark begins with what will soon be Jesus' ongoing conflict with the Pharisees. Jesus speaks of the tradition that fails the test. He points out that there is a kind of tradition that is wrong, that gets in the way of spiritual realities rather than pointing to them. In this particular instance a tradition of hand-washing. Jesus is more concerned with the condition of their(the Pharisees and disciples) hearts than of their hands.

Someone once said, "the heart of Christianity is the heart.

But what does that look like, exactly? This heart?

As many of you know on Friday August 21st the ELCA held our National Assembly. I would like to read for you a quote from Pastor Nadia in Colorado from her Sarcastic Lutheran website...

Among the business at hand was deciding on a full communion agreement with the United Methodists, which passed. And several historic decisions to be made around what this church's stance as on issues of human sexuality. In the end, we approved a social statement as well as policy changes which now allow congregations to bless and hold publicly accountable same sex life long monogamous relationships as well as to call pastors in such relationships to serve as clergy.

The debate on the floor between those at the green microphones who support these steps and those on the red microphones who reject these steps was sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid. Those in support urged the church to be open and loving as Jesus had been. Those opposed urged the church to heed the Bible. Both sides were passionate and faithful and I'm proud to say that throughout the debate the assembly paused every 20 minutes to pray together...

I watched the proceedings with my heart in my throat. I watched people say prayerful things, hurtful things, thoughtful things and idiotic things on both sides of the aisle...

And then a young pastor got up to speak at the green microphone and the first thing he said in a quivering voice was "anyone else frightened to speak? I'm shaking. Please pray for me" and the man standing right next to him at the red microphone reached over and laid his had on him and prayed while his brother of the opposing view, spoke. Then I knew that Jesus was really in-between the red and green microphones.....Not in some sort-of 'Jesus as Switzerland' sort of way, but in the you must lose your life to gain it sort-of way.

So where do we find a pure heart?

We find this pure heart through relationship with Christ...and sometimes that is really hard because we let ourselves get in the way.

...So let us not go to ourselves because as deeply as we hold our beliefs about social inclusion, or social justice, or as deeply as we hold our beliefs about social conservatism or personal morality..we do not have the words of eternal life. We have our beliefs, our convictions, our understandings of scripture..these are not to be taken lightly or walked away from. But they are not the words of eternal life. Jesus, the true Word of God, points us to life..and life abundant.

Let's again look to Christ. To whom else shall we go? He has the words of eternal life and offers all the inexplicable gift of his own self: body, blood and word.

Let us pray that the Lord make us one and have mercy on us all. Let us recognize that he is already doing so. Amen.

No comments: