"All School Worship" — Sermon given by Barbara Moore, RSM

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Mark 7: 1-13

I stumbled across a powerful statement the other day, and it seems to fit the daily Lectionary reading we just heard from Mark's Gospel.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

(let me repeat it…)

It seems to me this phrase is at work in our Scripture passage this afternoon, and calls us to reflect on that reality.

Jesus is in Galilee in the north, and some of the religious leaders come up from Jerusalem and gather, as the texts says "around him" . This is an interesting use of words. They encircle him.

It is fascinating to speculate why they made the trip, and why they were observing him and his followers? And why he was encircled rather than offered an atmosphere of dialogue and respect?

I also find it interesting that they observed during a meal…a moment of community; a time of relaxation, conversation, enjoyment, and perhaps the informality that lightens a long day of ministry, when one's guard is lowered!

In this passage, the center of religious power, Jerusalem, is extending itself to the margins; to the north; to the areas and people whose economic, political and social status enabled them to observe the law, but with a good deal of flexibility.

Or as a former colleague, William Hertzog describes, they lived "the little tradition".

Faithfulness, but with a good dose of practicality, because of their experience, and their context; limits, their status, and responsibilities.

Most were oppressed in many ways and the "luxury" of temple practices was beyond them. 

Traditions kept but not as rigidly as those in Jerusalem might require.

One also wonders if the issues of ritual and traditions were a matter of some conflict and concern within Mark's 1st century community?

Why is he including this story? Were the people struggling? Trying to decide what to hold on to from their ancient faith, and what practices to release?

Each of our denominations has faced this issue on some level…hymn choices, translations of holy books, inclusion of women, and gays.

Mark's description that all "Jews do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands", is a bit of an exaggeration, but the practice was wide spread.

He adds a list of other traditional actions; washing food, pots, cups and kettles".

Already the term "tradition" is used three times in a critique of Jesus and followers.

Jesus responds by calling his critics "hypocrites", "whose hearts are "far from (God)".

It is not the traditions that are the problem; or I might add their original intent, but the way they were expressed, enforced and applied, as well as the judgments placed on those who were less than observant.

No matter the sincerely of their original intent, in time, particular traditions had the capacity to separate people; pure form impure; orthodox from unorthodoxy; insider from outsider.

Jesus' is concerned when people honored God by external practices but their hearts were far away.

He is also concerned about choices between human traditions and the commandments.

He uses the commandment of honoring one's parents as an example and notes the way in which a practice enabled aid to parents to be diverted.

 "You make void the word of God through your tradition".

Twenty two years ago our seminary established the program for the Study of Women and Gender in Church and Society.

That is the study of the role, gifts and ministry of women; and the relationships between men and women in church and society.

This program also sponsors the "Christian Faith LGBT Experience Lectures"; Women Thriving in Ministry Series; and the Helen Barrett Montgomery Conference held every other year.

And as you know on a regular basis women and gender classes are offered such as Dr. May's course this semester, and the emphasis on women and gender finds its way into all our course and texts.

Just as Black Church studies is a critical program for us, Women and Gender Studies becomes a thread through all that we do and teach.

The aim of the program is to hold on to the rich traditions and outstanding leaders who have struggled to reclaim and reinforce the dignity of so many left behind…

But at the same time to address traditionalism and many of its practices that have stymied, suppressed and neglected the role, gifts, and importance of the place and power of women in Church and society.

That traditionalism is faced when Scripture passages regarding women and their relationship to Jesus Christ and the men in their lives are carefully and scholarly addressed.

When passages and policies that denigrate the LGBT community are studied and explained.

When the saints who have given their lives and energy are held up and in many cases reintroduced.

When systems that control and dominate are exposed.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead" Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

Dr. Jin Young reminded me that following today's text we find the story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman's daughter.

She appeared in our call to worship!

Because of her persistence and faith and because of Jesus' openness and change… "A tradition becomes the living faith of the dead….(in fact it continues to live through this text) and an accepted traditionalism becomes the dead faith of some who could never accept his actions of inclusion and recognition of the marginal ones.

The question for us may well be… where do we find ourselves as we study theology, scripture, ministry, ethics and lived experience?

Where do you and I find ourselves in this challenge "Tradition is the living faith of the dead Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living"!