Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cleaning up our act

A reflection on Mark 7 v 1-23

Ive been thinking a lot recently about how we do things together as church - both locally and nationally and reflecting particularly on what it must be like for new folk to come here to worship, be they from other similar worshipping congregations or from no particular church background.
What I've been very aware of is the things we do almost unconsciously simply because they are a part of our tradition or because that's just the way we have always done them.
Like communion.
Today, as we come to celebrate this sacrament of communion together, we celebrate a memorial of love and grace - a reminder of the love that God has for us, of how that love was demonstrated in Jesus' death and of how that love is still ours today, free for the taking.
Communion - A memorial Jesus set up in very poignant but simple surroundings, over a meal with friends the night before his death.
A memorial that we have shrouded in solemnity and ritual.
A ritual that, though we might never be entirely comfortable, we are nonetheless familiar with.
But how must our celebration of this sacrament look to those who haven't grown used to all those, let's face it, strange things we do?
A memorial that, though it started off quite simply has become so formal and complex that we worry if we will get it just right - or, will we drop the bread or spill the wine or do something else equally heinous?
I cannot imagine that there was much ceremony around when Jesus instituted this memorial with his disciples over supper.
Indeed I imagine that, although they may well have been affected by a somber attitude - they didn't know what was to come, but Jesus had a pretty good idea - So although things might have been pretty sober, I'm sure they weren't particularly ordered.
Of course to celebrate the sacrament together as a fellowship here with so many more people than gathered round the table with Jesus, it helps to have some order, but we could relax more as we share.
We could even smile as we serve each other.
What matters is that everyone feels welcome here at this table, that everyone feels able to share, that everyone knows that this is for them, that Gods grace touches us all here.
That is what matters in communion the touch of Gods grace.
We have shrouded the love and the grace that Jesus wanted us to celebrate , we have shrouded that love and grace in ritual and formality and tradition.

The  challenge for every generation in the church is to sort through the traditions handed on to us and, taking care not to throw out the baby along with the bath water to sift through those traditions, preserving only those that still further the cause of the gospel.
No pressure there then!
Often, the church today, shows itself to be living at a disconnect from the people it serves.
But the church is a body of people, so how is it possible to get so out of touch with each other?
One way the church becomes irrelevant is when it stops listening.
Over the past wee while various branches of the church have issued pronouncements, believing that they can speak for the people.
But that position can only be adopted if the church is also prepared to listen, and to listen carefully so that it captures the real concerns of the people it serves.
Otherwise the church displays only arrogance and a disconnect from community.
Each community has a story to tell, a story that is vital and constantly unfolding as life moves on.
And those stories matter.
Traditions are often pointers to that story.
But the story moves on.
And so must tradition if it is to retain any relevance.
The faith keepers of Jesus day were concerned about hand washing.
Men, who had the luxury of access to all the conveniences required to righteously adhere to an ancient ritual.
Who failed to see that ordinary people had moved on.
Ordinary people who had no less desire to be people of faith but who simply  saw the nonsense in getting so tied up in knots with an ancient practice when faced with much more pressing issues of the day.
The same kinds of issues that face us today.
Huge populations with no access to clean water for basic survival never mind the luxury of using water to purify so that an ancient tradition can be preserved.
Surely today we see and hear Jesus saying to us get real.
When the hungry are fed.
When the naked are clothed.
When the homeless are housed.
When You who follow me, calling yourselves Christian, live out the love that I commanded, then we can look at traditions.
But then there will be no need.
For we will have learned, in loving and serving each other, that none are to be discarded, that none are unclean.
Besides, we will be too busy anyway, to have energy to spend on things that do not matter.
God is not offended by what we consider unclean.
God is offended by our lack of love.
And a church that thinks that she serves God by excluding any of Gods children is a church that has travelled too far on its own path, too far from the will of God.
A church that doesnt deserve to be taken seriously.

Today, in worship, we celebrate an ancient tradition.
The particular mode of celebration matters not a bit.
What matters is that, as we mark here the remembrance of a body broken for us and blood spilled for us, we scratch the surface of the ritual and recognise the grace that underlies it.
We celebrate here because Christ died for us all of us.

Even the symbols we use, bread and wine have become symbols of status.
Symbols that point to our privilege.
As we take for granted these elements of bread and wine in a world where many go hungry, it is even more important that from our place of prosperity we take seriously the demands of the one who gave us these symbols. Christs love and compassion. His acceptance of all.

Our gospel passage, in The Message version of the bible reads:
Were saying the right thing but our hearts not in it.
Were using Jesus for cover for teaching whatever we fancy
Are we guilty of that today?
Now, just like the disciples then, we want to ask: We dont get it Jesus what does this gospel really mean?
I believe, for us today it means:
Its not the things around us that contaminate us.
Its not the dilemmas we face today.
But its how we respond to those dilemmas.
How we respond to those who are different.
Do we act out of love?
Out of compassion?
Or are we more concerned that by being open, accepting, welcoming, we will somehow become less ourselves.

As Gods people today we are called, not to hold ourselves separate from our contemporaries, not to shun those who we see as different, not to keep ourselves and the traditions we hold dear pure.
We cannot be compromised by our embracing the world of today that is what God calls us to do.
And if we do that from a place of love, with hearts full of compassion, if we practice openness and hospitality, we do not lose but gain through.
We are called to be not so much gatekeepers as inn keepers.
Not keeping folks out but drawing people in.
Welcoming people who may not be used to our rituals, whose hands may not be as clean as wed like but who, along with us, God calls beloved children.


Rev Nancy Fitz said...

I couldn't agree more. Love the innkeeper vs gatekeeper and the relevance to today.

Terri said...

I do find myself frustrated with the constant "throw the baby out with the bathwater" mentality - happens a lot in my denomination. alas

anyway, powerful sermon. well done.

Dot said...

Amen, sister! So pleased to have Something to Stand On again! :)x Dotx