Tradition

The scripture for the message this morning was mostly based on Exodus 12:1-14. I also used Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20 as per the revised lectionary that many denominations follow. The title was “Tradition.” We had a decent amount of people in church for our normal. It was a slightly different set and there were two visitors. I am going to get that spread sheet prepared this week so I can start keeping some statistics. I love statistics. Anyway this is what I had prepared. I wasn’t really so good about staying on track, but that is how it works.

I keep bringing up the fact that in some churches, they have traditions that we no longer follow. Like for example, I am guessing that many of the churches around the state and some here in town are doing a back to Sunday School day. They might be installing teachers and celebrating the first day of classes and getting students organized and working with youth or confirmation, and here we are just sitting around a bunch of adults wondering how we can survive without all those children. Traditions! I love traditions, but there have been times when I have also disliked the phrase that seems to creep in on us about a tradition, that “because we have always done it that way.”

Well, it is time for me to quit talking, and we can start doing. I am not exactly happy with the survey paper that you have from your mailboxes, but it is a start. I am going to ask that you take some time to fill it in, and drop it into the box as you leave. In a week or two or for sure by the Church Board meeting, I will have the results for us, and hopefully some comments to share. I am hoping to see some good surprises. Yesterday at the Women’s Event Rev. Dr. David Felton shared some things he learned while on a trip to China with his daughter, some were good some not so much. Hopefully, we find more on the good, but if not we will see what can be done.

In putting together today’s message, I kept hearing a popular Glen Campbell  song in my head. It is the one that starts out, “By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…” It goes on to sing about how she will find a note that he says he has left her. For some odd reason I thought of this song as I was reading the orders that Moses was given about the Passover. Don’t ask me how that particular song popped into my head; it must have something to do with the crazy way that my mind works. I believe that the connection has to do with grammar and the tense of the verbs.

There is something in the order of the verb that either starts in the past and continues to the present or starts in the present and continues into the future or is about the future, but connects to the present that has to do with something called the perfect tense. It is all part of that grammatical business that I was supposed to teach as an English teacher, but I could never understand why it mattered to students in the first place. And of all things it was sort of like certain parts of math that on a multiple choice test, I knew the answer, but I didn’t know why it was the answer or what good it was as the answer, it just was. It seemed to be one of those things that just came to me, yet it never made any sense in why it had to be taught or what its point was other than to know it.

I believe that in some cases our traditions can turn into just that sort of unquestioned almost mindless action. Several years ago when Jessica was in college, Paulina and I went with her to a play on campus. It was Fiddler on the Roof. I was excited to finally see the play as James and I had used the theme song from it in our wedding. As the play went on, we began to see the humor in the line, “tradition.” It was about a wedding, and though I would have to go back and read the script or watch the movie to remember the entire plot, I can still see and hear one of the characters as he would answer the question, “why? with his “Tradition.” It was something that started in the past and was going to continue on into the future, sort of like a perfect tense verb.

The story that we have looked at in the book of Exodus is a tradition in Jewish life. It is perhaps one of the most epic and important of their many laws and traditions. It is a celebration of how God looked on them as a people and delivered them from slavery and gave them autonomy. Passover is a celebration of that deliverance and yet it is an indication of a continuous relationship between this people and their God, and following this tradition each year is an affirmation of obedience to the laws that God has set before them. Sort of a covenant that they will obey God, and God will protect them.

Unlike the easy melody of the Glen Campbell song that I mentioned at t he beginning of this message, the words in Exodus have a real sense of urgency in the orders that the Hebrew people are being given. They have to roast a lamb, either a sheep or a goat and they have to eat it all in one night, no leftovers, and if there are leftovers, they need to burn them. Yet the real urgency is more in how they have to eat it, with their “loins girded their sandals on their feet and their staff in their hand and in a hurry.” There was no lounging around with the shoes off and a relaxed atmosphere for this meal. It was for sure no American Thanksgiving feast attitude on this meal.

No, it was much more like the words that my great-uncle used to use when helping my mother close up her café for the night. When the last person left, and it was late, and they didn’t want anyone else to happen to come in, he would say, Dupfa, Dupfa, schnell, schnell schleezen das dear tzu.”

The Passover meal was eaten in a hurry so that the people could leave immediately after they were finished. They were packed and ready to leave Egypt as soon as the angel of death had visited the Egyptian homes, and killed the first born of all the land. In reality it was a horrible thing that was happening, but it was how they were able to make their escape from the slavery that they were being held in for so many, many years. God did this to save his people.

What a horrible, tragic background to this celebration of Passover. Yes it is being done in haste and for those of you who remember the old classic movie, The 10 Commandments, with Yule Brynner and Charleton Heston which depicts this event, it is also happening in fear that they might be found out and killed by the Egyptians, who are experiencing this tragedy, the deaths of all their first borns.

And for me, the almost too bizarre for me is that we read this story today at the same time that we read the passage in Romans where Paul reiterates the great commandment we are given by Jesus. Paul who was an expert on Jewish law says that all these other commandments are summed up in the words of Jesus, Love your neighbor as yourself. If we love one another, with real love, sincere love, we won’t be able to do those harmful things to each other that are listed with Do Nots in the 10 Commandments.

Oh sure, it is easy to love our neighbors when they are nice to us. When we are sitting in the pews together and singing songs and all of that, but what about when they irritate us, or do any of those other things that are not so nice? The text in Matthew, though written in a fairly specific way for a specific time, the message is clear, work it out, and work it out in a Christian way. With Christian love, we can get through lots of issues and trials. It is as Paul says in verse 10: Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The love that Paul is talking about was a diversion from the traditional laws of his day. The love that Jesus brought to the world and especially to the people he was born to, was different from the law that was given to Moses and the rules and regulations of the Jewish people who started way back in the day of that first Passover meal. That tradition was about all of the things you were NOT to do. You did not eat the lamb boiled or leftover, or relaxed, or without putting some of the blood on your doorpost.

The love that Jesus brought to the Jewish people and to all of us supersedes the rules of the Passover. It is about the love, genuine love that we have for one another just because God loves us and because Jesus died for us. It doesn’t mean that we need to sit in the pew and agree with every single thing that any of us do. We are human, and there are going to be times when at the least we are going to have different opinions about the order of things, and I mean such things such as how services are conducted to the way the tables are set up at times. But those are all things we can work out. There might even be times when we don’t think about what we say, or we do something that upsets someone else. Now I am not thinking of anything specific here, I am speaking from the text, but it is possible that we could have future issues. I for one have to watch the talk first think later problem. And I know how (Traditions!) can sometimes open a can of worms inside a group. Today, I am asking you to look at what it is you do, what it is you see the church doing, and what sort of things you see us open to doing. Put those on paper, and let’s be about the Tradition, new or old of sharing the Love that Jesus Christ has for us all. Amen.

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