This is the message that I presented on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 14 June 1998, at the Jenkins United Methodist Church (Jenkins, KY) and the Whitesburg United Methodist Church (Whitesburg, KY). The Scriptures that I used for this Sunday were Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3. The Epistle reading and the Gospel reading are from the lectionary but I am not entirely certain why I used the reading from Genesis as the Old Testament reading. I think, in retrospect, that I used A Guide to Prayer (Job and Shawchuck) in preparing for this Sunday and misread the lectionary choices for this Sunday.
Also, at the time, the Whitesburg church was my home church and I was filling for the pastor while he was at Annual Conference.
When I start working on a sermon for a given date, the first thing I do is to look in the lectionary for the scripture readings for that particular Sunday. As I read these scriptures, one each from the Old Testament, the Gospel, and the Epistle, I try to think of a title for the sermon which best explains my understanding of the scriptures. That is why this sermon was initially titled “The Price of Our Dues.”
But as things developed during the past week and as I read and studied the scriptures I found that a better title and a better approach was “Traditions”. It seems to me that the new catch phrase for politics in the 1990’s is “traditional family values”. This has an interesting ring to me, at least, when I consider some of the traditions that my family has.
We all have traditions, things that have been part of our lives but for which the basis is long ago forgotten. It is also a part of the family tradition to note my grandfather ran away from home when he was young, lied about his age, and joined the Merchant Marines. After a period of time, he then joined the United States Army using this falsified data.
Now, there are no written records other that a few lines in his diary which can confirm this story. That he was in the Merchant Marine is undoubtedly true, based on what he later wrote. But his real age (for the Army records disagree with what he wrote) and any other items about his family background are lost because my grandfather never had a birth certificate.
That is why we have to be careful about traditions. Sometimes the reasons for them are lost and we only do them because what we have always done. In my family, we traditionally had steak on Saturdays and chicken on Sundays. Don’t ask me why, that was they way it was.
The idea of tradition always played a strong part in Jesus’ ministry. But it was not the upholding of tradition, but rather the reversal of tradition that was the focus.
In the Israelite society of Jesus’ day, the only way to salvation was through adherence to the law. Yet, the reasons for the laws and traditions often times got lost in the maze of time and the result was that the many of the laws were so intrinsic, so complex, and often contradictory as to make adherence impossible or at least impractical. People sought Jesus because they could see that His offer of salvation through the grace of God was a much better and clearer alternative to what tradition had to offer. Jesus also forgave individuals of their sins, something never done before and something never thought possible.
But now people were seeking out Jesus. Remember the women in the crowd who sought only to touch Jesus’ cloak (Mark 5: 25 – 34):
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “?”If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5: 25 – 34)
Also remember the paralytic lowered into the room where Jesus was by his friends who took the roof off the building in order to accomplish the task.
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard the he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door , and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bring to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowed, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and , after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2: 1 – 5)
People sought out Jesus because they knew that He did offer an alternative to the life that society was forcing them to accept. It may have been out of curiosity or it may have been an attempt to entrap him that Simon the Pharisee asked Jesus to come to his house for dinner, as we read in today’s Gospel reading.
Now, at a traditional dinner, it was the host’s responsibility to provide water so that the guests could wash their feet. It is clear from Jesus’ comments
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
that Simon didn’t do this nor had he offered the traditional greeting kiss or perfume usually offered to the honored guest.
And the presence of this woman was also very much against tradition. Normally, the only women present at such a dinner would have been the servants and this woman, with her social status, would have never been allowed inside the room. Yet she was there, unveiled and with her hair down, both non-traditional, washing Jesus’ feet with her tears.
As he had done before, Jesus forgave this woman of her sins, not because she was washing his feet but because her faith was strong enough to overcome the resistance of society. Needless to say, the other guests, with their view of life tied to the traditional ways, were shocked.
But why should they be shocked? After all, in an ironic twist, most of those people present probably were aware of what had happened between Esau and Jacob, the sons of Isaac.
The Old Testament reading for today, Genesis 25: 19 – 34, tells the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac. Esau grew up and became a skillful hunter but one day, after an apparently unsuccessful hunting trip, he came home starving.
He was so hungry that he begged his brother Jacob for something to eat. In reply, Jacob asked Esau to sell him the birthright. In traditional society, the birthright included the inheritance rights for the first-born. And in Esau’s case, such inheritance included the covenant promises of a mighty nation that Isaac, his father, had inherited from his father Abraham. Some would say that Jacob was a schemer and a trickster to but it was by God’s choice that he, Jacob, came to own the birthright of the Israelite nation. Had God chosen to follow tradition, then it would have been Esau that would have been the father of the Israelite nation but that was not to be the case and, and in the end, Esau was left with nothing.
God’s plan for us is not based on tradition. Nor is it so rigid a plan that it can never offer any hope. If God’s will as strict as the law, then there would be no need for salvation because, once we have broken the law, we would have died in sin. As Paul wrote As he wrote in Galatians 2: 21, “I do not set aside the graced of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2: 21)
That is why God sent Jesus for us. Because God wanted to show everyone that it wasn’t tradition that promised salvation but God’s grace. Time and time again, Paul writes that is by our faith in Jesus that we are saved, not by our following the laws and traditions. For us today, the path to salvation is through Christ. Yes, we need to live a godly life; yes, we need to follow the law, both spiritual and man-made. But until such time as we accept Christ as our own personal savior, nothing is accomplished.
What saves us is not our adherence to a rigid code of laws or traditions whose origins are lost in time; it is our faith in Christ. The woman in the Gospel reading today was forgiven, the woman in the crowd and the paralyzed man were all healed not because of anything they did but because of their faith. The tears the woman shed as she washed Jesus’ feet that day were tears of joy, of knowing that she was forgiven.
For us, it is the same. As we go through life, facing each uncertain day, remember the third verse of “Amazing Grace” , “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
In 1 John 4, John writes of discerning from whom life’s instructions come; to make sure that what you hear comes from God and not some where else. It is tempting in life to see the path to take as a series of laws and traditions but in trying to stay on that path we often stumble. Yet, when we accept Christ as our Savior, when we understand that it is our faith in Christ that our sins are forgiven, the path becomes an easy one and a more fruitful one.