Beth Woolsey’s blog is always entertaining, and often deeply insightful: filled with a deep passion for life and compassion for others.
This particular post of hers (which lays out why she left Conservative Christianity behind) in many ways reflects my own journey on the same path.
I am confident that no matter how this election turns out, God’s plan will not die. The world was created by God as an act of Love. That love is still here, in everything, in us, in our neighbor. All we are called to do is to let God’s Love work as it should, though us. Because, that is what is at the core of who we really are, deeper than any Tradition.
NB: The sermon was preceded by this video clip of the opening song “Tradition” from the film “Fiddler on the Roof”.
Last week we observed All Saints Day – a day to remember and honor all those who came before us, particularly those whom we have loved, and who loved us, during their journey here on earth. I know that Sharon also mentioned it was Reformation Sunday: the anniversary of that day 499 years ago, when Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
And this morning, we heard the theme song from the Fiddler on the Roof, a musical that portrays the challenges of maintaining one’s faith, traditions and identity in the face of change and loss.
So you ask – how do all these tie-in with our scripture reading(s) this morning?
To begin with, our traditions are central to how we express who we are. They are an essential part of our identities as individuals and as a people. As Tevye said in the film clip: Tradition helps us know who we are and what God wants for us.
But, what he learns over the course of his story is that Tradition and Faith are not synonymous. Tradition expresses the truths of our Faith, but those expressions must change as the world changes, and as our understanding of God’s teachings and plans for us deepen and grow.
Tradition. A symbolic act that defines what it means to be us, or express what is an essential part of who we are, or what is important to us. Like: singing the Star Spangled Banner at a ballgame; or helping run the annual church fair; making cookies at Christmas, or celebrating the Holidays each year with our extended family. The rituals of Communion, Baptism, and Weddings are filled with all sorts of traditions – something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new.
Changing our traditions means changing our perceptions of who we really are, and what is important to us. This is a problem we constantly face as we change and grow. We are constantly having to ask ourselves how to remain true to who we are and what is important to us as the world around us changes.
The light of that star reveals the brokenness and darkness that surrounds us and which was always there, but now the veil behind which it was hidden is torn. The new star reveals how inadequate human effort is, and reveals the destructiveness of hubris and denial. But, it also brings the promise of God’s perfect gift, lying in that manger, the promise that new and better things are to come, and indeed are already here, and that God’s will and love for us can never be denied or defeated. But fear Not! For in Jesus the dream becomes reality and the light he brings will never die.
As a kid, my two great loves were science and exploration. I would consume the National Geographic the second it arrived in the mail, and my bedroom was festooned with space posters, photos, astronomic charts, and lunar maps. I faithfully read the New York Times Science and Technology section every Sunday afternoon. I so wanted to be an explorer, or maybe a Scientist! In fact, for a long time my ultimate goal was to become an Astronaut, or perhaps an Astronomer!
But, becoming an Astronaut was simply not possible for someone as nearsighted as I am. So much for that dream, things change.
That left Astronomy, which I pursued diligently for a long time. In fact, I audited a college level Astronomy class in 9th grade.
I loved our late night labs in that course, hauling out the telescopes and looking at the moon, planets and stars. Plus, hanging with college kids late at night was – ah – educational. That class was really fun, and cool – not to mention cold, there in Wyoming in the late fall!
What you soon learn when you regularly and carefully observe the celestial sphere is that the Sun, Moon and stars circle overhead, faithfully following their courses year after year. True, the planets wander, but even their wanderings have a regular pattern. And so, particularly for the ancients, nothing about the heavens is random. All the movements they saw were very regular, very repetitive and very predictable. From the point of view of the ancients, the only things that broke the rules were an occasional eclipse, or the rare comet. When such things occurred, their strangeness, unpredictability and frightening appearance were often taken as evidence of turmoil in the heavens: a sign of supernatural displeasure, great catastrophes, and doom.
But then we have the star in this morning’s reading.
The Star shining above that stable in the Gospel of Matthew is leading the wise to the Promise of God. It is a light that is a harbinger of the changes to come, but also the promise that God’s light is within those changes, and that God will never forsake us, nor forget us. Do not fear change, for God’s light and grace are in it – always.
So, it is close to midnight on December 31 here in the Boston area: New Years Eve. And, what am I doing? I am sitting in our living room writing my sermon for this coming Sunday while my wife, son (and cat) sleep peacefully in their beds, not far away.
Some things never seem to change – like the never-ending challenge of finding the time to faithfully serve my small but doughty congregation while balancing my call to the ministry with the duties of father and husband; and the demands of the numerous efforts, activities, and causes I’m involved in. It is quiet here in the darkened house. Everything seems stable, solid and at peace.
On the other hand, this Sunday is Epiphany Sunday and the star that shines so bright in Matthew chapter two, guiding the Wise ones who come from afar, is all about change – announcing that change is soon to come, and also confirming that those changes have indeed already begun. And with that change comes the realization that the old rules no longer apply; and that we can no longer expect the world to work as we believe it has always done. That we cannot proceed with business as usual any more.
Change is coming, and change is already here.
Change can be scary, but instead of fighting it, or pretending it isn’t happening, we – as people of faith – are called to acknowledge it, to see God’s purpose flowing in it, and to understand that while dealing with change is always a challenge, every change carries within it the promise and grace of of God.
I pray that this past year has been a good one for you – yes there have been many changes in all of our lives – good changes, and bad. I pray that in this coming year you are blessed with the wisdom and strength and resources you need to deal with the new changes and challenges you will face. And, I also pray that we all stand together, helping each other rather than fighting each other (as we have done so often in recent years) so that the changes we face as a people, and as creatures of God’s Green earth, are confronted and dealt with compassion, with wisdom, and with God’s grace fully active in our every thought and word and deed.
Remember the Star shining above that stable in the Gospel of Matthew, leading the wise to the Promise of God: a light that was a harbinger of the changes to come, but also the promise that God’s light is within those changes, and that God will never forsake us, nor forget us.
And so I wonder as I write this sermon – is the light of that star merely announcing that change is coming; or is it a light – a light of the Divine – that makes it possible for us to see the change that is already here?
Peace be with you all now, and in the days and weeks and months to come.
Have a Blessed and Happy New Year!
Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)
I admire those who are pushing for equality in this area. It does make me feel uncomfortable, but that’s OK: change tends to make all of us uncomfortable. But we’ll survive, and we’ll adapt. Things will be just fine, and our society will once again prove itself to be much more resilient and adaptable and compassionate than we imagined.
Now, intellectually, I recognize that going topless should not be an issue, regardless of gender, gender orientation or gender expression – and frankly, treating two groups of people differently because of something they have no control over always disturbs me: it just isn’t right.
On the other hand, this is a society that sexualizes women’s breasts; and – from an emotional perspective – the prudish old fogey in me recoils at the idea of actually seeing a woman’s bared breasts in public.