Faith Perspectives – April 11, 2018
By Rev. James Miller
Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville
There was once a little girl who was helping her mom bake a sheet cake. The mother took the cake out of the oven, lifted it out of the pan, and placed it on the cake platter.
The daughter readied the frosting and knife, but first, without explanation, the mom cut off the end of the rectangle and slid it around the corner, facing a different edge, making the cake an unusual, blocky shape.
Curious, the daughter asked, “Why did you do that?” The mother stopped for a second, and replied, “I don’t know. That’s just how my mother always did it.”
Well, grandma lived a few blocks away, so after frosting the cake, the two of them drove over for a visit, bringing with them a piece of cake for grandma.
When the mom asked her mother why she always cut off the end her cake, she confessed, “I don’t know. That’s just how my mother always did it.”
Thankfully, great grandma was still alive and resided at the care facility across town, so the three of them packed up and paid great grandma a visit, also with a slice of cake in tow.
When the trio asked great grandma why she did it, she replied,
“Because my cake platter was too short to fit the cake!”
Traditions are good, but it’s a good idea to periodically ask why do we do this? Some traditions are useful (washing your hands before eating, exchanging Christmas presents) but some traditions don’t serve a purpose (cutting off the edge of a cake, washing a raw chicken).
At Trinity, I’ve raised the useful question about various activities around our church “If this program weren’t already going, is there a need great enough that we’d start it today?”
I don’t mean to be an impetuous, young upstart who hates tradition (I do love me some historic liturgy in the church!) but I do believe we should be good stewards of the resources God has given us.
If we’re wasting our resources on ineffective, useless activities, then we’re doing a disservice to our neighbor and our God.
Jesus understood this when He spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 12. “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?”
Pharisaical practice established traditions surrounding the Sabbath, extra laws of not lifting a finger on God’s day, all with good intention, but as Jesus points out, the tradition is bad.
Jesus shows the danger of mixing old traditions and the New Covenant in Christ in Luke 5:36-39 in the parable of new wine in old wineskins.
And He perfectly sums it up in Mark chapter 2: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
We are not made to serve traditions, but traditions are made to serve us.
So ask yourself,
“Why do we open presents on Christmas Eve?”
“Why do we hold meetings at this time?”
“Why do we sing these hymns?”
If the answer is anything but “because we’ve always done it this way,” then you’re on a right track.
Traditions are good, as long as they serve us well, and we’re not the ones serving them.