In Defense Of Traditions

Happy Labor Day everyone!  I hope you all had a nice long weekend.  It was our last 9AM worship of the summer.  Next week is Rally Day – worship starts at 10, the choir will be back, it’s the first Sunday of Church School.  It’s usually a little bit hectic, but I always love the buzz that is in the air after a quiet(ish) summer.

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  It was the last sermon in our series, Why I Come To Church.  This week’s topic was “tradition” – because it was the first Sunday of the month and we were serving communion, I actually pulled out all of the old silver as a nod to our theme.

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Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 4, 2016
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Tradition

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

In Defense Of Traditions

Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.[1]

Tradition.

I will spare you the Tevye impersonation this morning, but, for the record, know that I am using every ounce of willpower in my body to refrain from breaking out in a chorus of Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof.

Actually, my love of showtunes aside, I think Tevye might have been onto something here. He leads into this well-known opening number by saying this to the audience:

How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition![2]

Balance – now there is a funny concept; and not funny in a “haha” kind of way, either. I think sometimes talking about balance is funny, kind of in an exasperated and sarcastic “Lord, have mercy, I am a hot mess, will I EVER find some semblance of balance in my life?” kind of way.

But isn’t that one of the reasons that we come to church? Don’t we come to worship, at least in part, to participate in something – in traditions, even – that will hopefully help us find balance in our week and in our lives?

Traditions are funny things. We often reject them because they seem meaningless or weird, they make us uncomfortable or they simply are not important to us. Sometimes it is because we are outsiders looking in at other people’s traditions. Sometimes it is because a tradition has become so rote that it has lost its meaning for us. Sometimes it is because we like to think rationally, literally and tangibly and traditions do not always work like that.

But I encourage you not to completely discount traditions. In fact, there is a growing movement of Christians who are trying to reclaim old traditions; who seek to participate in something that they might not understand, but that is still sacred and holy to them; who want to feel God’s power and presence through the safety and security of an ancient tradition.

To be honest, I consider myself part of this movement. It is the reason that I wear vestments and a clerical collar; why I invite everyone to lay hands on something or someone if we are blessing them; why we sing as we center ourselves for prayer; and why I insist, every year, that our annual Christmas Bazaar is as much a part of the spiritual life of our church as it is the community life. I believe that traditions are vital to who we are, both as Christians and as a church family. I believe that traditions create strong connections in our lives, connecting us with our past, with one another and with God.

In this morning’s scripture, Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul addresses the church in a stern tone, wanting to impress upon them just how high the stakes are in how they choose to exist as a church and as a community.

Granted, like in many of Paul’s letters, he is talking about the second coming of Christ, something we do not focus on as much in our own context. But the conclusion he draws is still relevant to us; Paul says that the traditions they, the Thessalonians, have been entrusted with are sacred, that they need to “hold fast” to them.[3] God chose them[4], Paul writes, and is now calling them[5] now to proclaim the Good News. Paul encourages the Thessalonians now to use the traditions they have been taught to share God’s glory with a new generation.

The stakes are just as high for us today. We are living in an increasingly secular world. Balance is hard to find, because there is simply too much going on. Politics are divisive. Hatred and violence are real evils. Families and communities suffer unspeakable tragedies. People struggle in real and heartbreaking ways. Often we do not know where to turn when our worlds are shaken.

But just like the Thessalonians, we have been given the grace, not only of our faith, but also of the traditions that it rests upon; tools that can help us forge ahead, strengthen our faith and continue to write the Christian story.

Paul makes it clear that the authority of the traditions he is teaching does not come from him; it comes from God. Paul blesses the church in God’s name, reminding the Thessalonians that it is through God’s grace that they will obtain comfort, hope and strength.

This sermon is something of a defense of traditions, because I believe the same is true for us, today, every time we participate in some sort of tradition. I believe that when we partake in sacred and ancient traditions that we are being blessed in God’s name and granted comfort, hope and strength. The challenge, of course, is to find ways to sometimes adapt these traditions so they are still meaningful, relevant and accessible to us (and this is a whole different sermon for another day), but the foundation has been set.

It is because of tradition that we are where we are today. The traditions that Paul and the apostles passed on to churches like this church in Thessalonica moved through 2,000 years of Christian history and now have been entrusted to our generation. They are a gift. They are a privilege. They are our responsibility.

Traditions mean something; they mean something to us, as Christians, and they mean something to us, as a church community. They are our lighthouse in a storm; always there, always accessible, always shining light into darkness. They see us through good times and bad times. They have the ability to speak to us, especially in those moments when words are inadequate. They give us a tangible sign of God’s presence in a crazy world and create a safe space for us when we are craving a spiritual connection.

Today I encourage you to allow yourself to get swept up in the mystery of the traditions, both of our faith, but also of our church and of your families. Be vulnerable. Create room in your life for God to come in and work. Be intentional about finding time to participate in the traditions that we have been given. And may we know, that in finding this time, we will be ready for God to work some unimaginable grace in our lives.

And, who knows? Maybe we will find some balance after all.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

*** 

[1] 2 Thessalonians 2:15, NRSV
[2] If you get my reference here, my apologies if the song Tradition is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. If you do not get the reference, then you need to go find a local production of Fiddler On The Roof because you are missing out on a key piece of my childhood.
[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:15
[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:14

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