Wicked Ways – September 2, 2012 – Mark 7: 1 – 23

Today, iWorship Center will be holding its last worship service.  It’s nothing they’ve done wrong.  They are faithful people who have been trying to maintain the assembly to worship and serve God.  However, their time as a congregation has come to a close.

It’s a sad day for that congregation.  I can only imagine how they feel about the future of their journey of faith.  In some ways, they have long standing traditions; however, they’ve had significant change in the past year and were just getting used to a new way of doing things. 

The congregation that raised me up in Akron, Ohio has recently gone through something similar.  They decommissioned their building in July.  Over the past 15 years, they have been trying to figure out what worship means to them.  When I joined them, there were 2 simultaneous services.

The first church I joined back in Akron, Ohio was High St. CC.  There were 2 simultaneous services.  One was traditional and one was non-traditional.  The non-traditional service was casual.  There were tables and chairs in the back for the kids.  There were rows of folding tables for the worshippers.  There were no robes.  A worship leader led the people’s prayer.  Communion was served from a table with one Elder.  There was no need for the traditional role of a Deacon because worshippers came forward to take communion by intinction.  The church tried blending the services but both gatherings had traditions they weren’t willing to give up.

That’s one of the great things about this church.  I have heard about how things have been done, but never as a directive of how things will be done.  I have been told how things have been done as a prescriptive of how things can be done.  FCC Bethany is ready to create new traditions…not stuck on how we have done things

In my recent reading about worship and church leadership, the authors have noted that a lot of how we worship and how we do the work of the church began in a different age.  Traditions from a different time, order of worship, board and committee structure, etc….before commercial breaks, cell phones, video games, text messages, computers, billboards, etc.

Everything we do is good.  But, can we do it better?

A church’s intentions are almost never evil.  However, often attachments to old ways can be wicked.  The important work of the church is determining what is important to God.  Doctrine and practices are not necessarily bad.  That’s where we find Jesus, his Disciples and the Pharisees in the Scripture ready for today.

Jesus and his Disciples were eating and the Pharisees noticed that the Disciples had not washed their hands before dinner.  There was a long standing tradition of the Elders of the Jews to wash their hands before eating.  Their hands weren’t clean if they didn’t wash them first and so they and their food were considered unclean or defiled.  To be clear, Jesus does not dismiss the issue of defilement as insignificant. He does not declare the Mosaic law unimportant.[1] 

The tradition of the Elders was tradition passed on from generation to generation and formed by the wisdom of the community.  It did not begin as a commandment of God to the Hebrew people in the wilderness after escaping from Egypt.  Though not a commandment or part of the Law, “the ritual purity practices were an integral part of the Jewish faith and identity.”[2] 

According to David Ewart of Holy Textures, “Jesus is condemning hypocrisy not Judaism, and the all-too-human tendency to make sacred cows out of human customs and traditions.” [3]  “However, when we begin to worship what gives us a sense of order or bow down to doctrine, we cease to be faithful to our Creator.”[4]

The struggle that every generation of the church has faced is discerning how to maintain the core value and transform the practice.  This requires commitment to living “according to the will of God to break tradition in a way that what was good in it can actually be expressed in our current circumstances.” 

Unfortunately, there is more failure than success in the process.  The Church doesn’t get it right every time it embarks on doing something new.  The fathers and mothers of the Church have experienced “how human short-sightedness, pride, foolishness, self-righteousness, and self-justification have dressed themselves as “God’s will.” 

It can be a painful process, but it respects the wisdom of the faith when each generation engages the process of creating tradition.  Ewart says It is good “to take our place in the process of distilling wisdom through trial and error as we too seek to name the “best practices” for loving God (whose love is unchanging) and our neighbors, strangers, and one another (all of whom are constantly changing).”

It can be painful, but it is our responsibility as people of faith to make new traditions.

Communion is a good example.  The Church has been taking communion for 2k years.  It’s an ordinance of Christ to do it in remembrance of Him.  Communion is part of who we are.  We know that some Christians do it annually and we do it weekly.  A significant value of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is do partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly.  We’re not going to stop doing it.  But, we can ask ourselves, is the way we serve communion meaningful and can we do it differently that might reach deeper into the Christian mystery of the grace of the Lord’s Supper?

We need to be willing to consider new models and practices.  We need to be willing to evaluate whether or not what we are doing is meaningful or will it help us become who God is calling us to be.

If you see the potential for growth, let me know.  I’d love to hear your ideas.  Tell me what is meaningful and tell me what you think we should consider doing.  I’d love to talk to you about how we can continue to grow as followers of Christ seeking the presence of God in our worship and work.

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