Sermons 2003-2004

Tradition or Traditionalism?
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

"Tradition or Traditionalism?"
Proper 17B 2003 (August 31) Adapted from Selected Sermons for that day by the Very Reverend Charles Hoffacker at link below

The conversation we heard about in the Gospel that was just read with its references to religious hand washing and dish washing may seem, well, a little remote from our concerns here on this Labor Day weekend in the year 2003. But let's hear the story in a different way: how it might happen in our time. The Very Revd Charles Hoffacker tells this story in Selected Sermons for today:

One day, in a small Southern city, a group of God-fearing, Bible-believing people came up to Jesus to ask him something. "We've noticed, they said, "that when your disciples go to high school football games, they don't take part when a lot of us spontaneously say the Lord's Prayer. They don't even mumble it. What gives?"

Jesus replied, "It's attitudes like that that make me think I should have copyrighted that prayer. You just don't get it! First of all, if you plan to do something than it's not spontaneous. That's an abuse of language. But that's not the only abuse that's going on. I know you can pray anywhere: in church, at home, in your car, even at a football game. Believe me, I know. You should hear some of those prayers from the coaches and players!"

"But I suspect that some of you like to boom forth the prayer I gave you, not so much because you want to talk to the Father, but because you want to look good in your own eyes. That's what I was getting at when I gave some of the Pharisees a hard time for praying on street corners. It wasn't the location. Street corner, football field, cathedral -- it's all the same. The problem is with your attitude."

"Also, I didn't give you the Lord's Prayer for you to shout it at some public event and maybe just think you're better than the people of other religions or those of no religion who feel shut out of a public school football game because you want to show that there are a lot of Christians in attendance."

"Careful! You're skating on thin ice! It may just be that some of those people of other religions and of no religion will end up leading the parade into the kingdom of God, together with the prostitutes and tax collectors I talked about two thousand years ago, with folks like you bringing up the rear, if you make it at all. Grace works in mighty strange ways. And anyway the problem is not no prayer in the schools; the problem is no prayer at home."

Maybe that's what Jesus would say if today's Gospel took place now rather than back then. Certainly the question underlying the story is as alive as ever. Like the Jews in the time of Jesus, Christians today are a people with a rich traditions of spiritual practice. When it comes to this tradition, how can we keep from "majoring in the minors?" How can we keep the main thing the main thing?

How can we keep our eyes on Jesus and our minds on mission? How can we live the good news of Jesus so that it remains good news for us and for people around us, whether or not they are Christians? How can devotion remain beautiful theology rather than turning into ugly and exclusivist ideology? How indeed?

Jesus criticized a portion of his own community for paying God lip service, exalting human precepts, abandoning divine commandments. Like a beam of laser light, he cut through to the real issue: their hearts are far from God.

Rather than practicing a spirituality that changed them through grace, this segment tried to impose an ideology that made other people conform to their hard-and-fast principles. Their concern was not heaven's purposes, but their own power and control. Such misuse of religion remains forever a possibility. And so we must consider the true purpose of Christian devotion. Hoffacker notes one possibility of a faithful answer to this question.

The entire apparatus of Christian devotion -- the Lord's Prayer and the Great Litany, rosaries and revivals, Prayer Book and Hymnal, icons and incense, Bible study and Sunday school, silent retreats and Cursillo reunions, Gospel music and Gregorian chant, public liturgy and private prayer, sacraments and sermons, holy water and holy rolling, giving thanks at a birth and praying at a death -- the entire apparatus of Christian devotion, in its diversity and complexity, serves one great, overarching purpose that scripture and tradition explain in their frequent references to the heart, the core of the human person.

Christian devotion is meant to help gain and maintain a new heart, a heart of warmth and not a heart of ice, a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone, a heart fill with joy and not anger, a heart that is alive not dead, a heart that is compassionate not selfish, a heart that is large, not small, a heart that is hospitable not judgmental. Christian devotion in its myriad forms is all about softening the heart, preventing it from becoming hard, keeping it tender. It's about, in a spiritual sense, having a healthy heart. Its about drawing from the wellsprings of our love of God to go out and love our neighbor with our work and words.

It is of such a heart that St. Isaac the Syrian speaks in a passage that has become popular in our time, thirteen centuries after he wrote it:

When someone with such a heart as this thinks of the creatures and looks at them, his eyes are filled with tears because of the overwhelming compassion that presses on his heart. The heart of such a one grows tender, and he cannot endure to hear of or to look upon any injury, even the smallest suffering, inflicted upon anything in creation. Therefore this person never ceases to pray with tears even for the dumb animals, even for the enemies of truth and for all who do harm to it, asking that they may be guarded and receive God's mercy. And for the reptiles also he prays with a great compassion, which rises up endlessly in his heart after the example of God.

The heart of which St. Isaac speaks is compassionate, hospitable, vast, able to welcome even cold-blooded animals, even enemies of truth. The purpose of Christian devotion is to invite God to create and maintain such a heart in each one of us. Therefore, when we assess, as we must, the use of some element of Christian tradition in a particular circumstance, the question to ask is: Does this practice, in this circumstance, contribute to a living, healthy, compassionate heart, or does it not?

This central question takes precedence over other questions we may prefer to answer, such as: Is this practice ancient? Is it contemporary? Do I like it? Will it increase church attendance? Does it make me feel in control? No, the real question has to do with whether or not hearts are made and kept compassionate.

Here is an insight from the great Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan that may prove helpful. Pelikan distinguishes between tradition and traditionalism in this way: Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead.

Weve all heard the old chestnut about How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? My favorite answer is four: One to hold the ladder, one to change the bulb, and two to go on about how much they were going to miss the old bulb.

When I first became an Episcopalian, my Presbyterian and former Baptist mother said to me, "Well, you know, the only way Episcopalians think they can go to Hell is if they use the wrong fork at dinner."

A personal experience here about tradition and traditionalism: About nine years ago, for a baptism, I moved the baptismal font from the under the lectern into the middle of the aisle where it is now. It looked good there and seemed to reflect the emphasis on baptism that the church was regaining. Nothing was said about the change but by the healing service on Wednesday morning, it was back under the lectern. I changed it back for Sunday. For about a year this was the most mobile heavy marble baptismal font in all of Christendom. But after a year I walked in for the healing service one Wednesday morning and it was still in the middle of the aisle where it has generally remained except for funerals when we move it to bring in the coffin.

Like some of the contemporaries of Jesus, we are mired in traditionalism when our spiritual inheritance is not used to open our hearts to becoming more compassionate. This is the dead faith of the living. But when we use that wonderful spiritual inheritance left to us by preceding generations for its true purpose, then tradition lives and flows and opens us to greater life. Our hearts become larger; more compassionate. This is the living faith of the dead, or, rather, the living faith of those who have died and now live forever because their hearts have come to resemble the heart of God.

Jesus taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. And he sent the Holy Spirit to pour into our hearts his greatest gift, love, the heart of the Summary of the Law and prophets, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before him.
Isaac the Syrian quoted in Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1979), p.157.]

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