My apologies for the lateness in the posting of this sermon but I have been away in the Lake District which is almost devoid of any internet service.
I am possibly the most conservative (with a small "c") rebel in the world. Although I campaign vociferously for the reformation of the Church, my own church in particular, I do so whilst being, personally, very uncomfortable with change especially change that affects my day to day life. In fact, the word "uncomfortable" completely understates my feelings about things changing because, to be honest, I can become majorly upset and panicky when things are different. Change is actually painful for me.
Therefore, it is no surprise that I am a great respecter of tradition, of doing things the way they have always been done. This is reflected in my choice of Anglo-Catholicism as my churchmanship. When I go to church I like to feel comfortable. I don't want to be surprised. Although I don't get upset if things are not done exactly as prescribed in "Ritual Notes" I do expect things to be done with the appropriate amount of gravitas and done well. Certainly, I put a lot of effort into doing just that on the rare occasions somebody lets me loose to preside at a service in their church.
Of course, I am not alone. Church is chock-a-block full of traditions and every one of them will have defenders prepared to split their church in two rather than see their favoured traditions superseded by novelties.
The word “tradition” is given worth by certain factions within the Church of almost unimpeachable merit and is always linked by them to the word “orthodox.” By doing this, such factions are able to label as heretics anybody who disagrees with them. But, of course, these groups are no more traditionalist or orthodox than any other Christians because traditions, and for that matter most of what we regard as orthodox, are human inventions arrived at through human creativity and human reasoning. They were not given to us by God although God may allow us to use them in order to make our worship more fulfilling and our understanding of him more helpful.
All the fancy clothes priests wear in church, all the ritual in every service throughout the year, the order of each service, the colours in church, when and where we have flowers, what we do at the peace, how we take communion, when we are baptised, when we are allowed to take communion, who’s allowed to bless, who’s allowed to preach, absolutely everything in church is a tradition. Everything is of human invention, and, you know, that’s wonderful. Like our maker we are creative beings and we should enjoy being creative. In creating we are striving for the divine. However, we should never become so arrogant about our creations that we give to them divine status. Our creativity in church or anywhere else can never be equal to the creativity of God. Therefore, our creativity is not sacrosanct.
To be honest, I doubt that God cares what we do in church, only that what we do in church brings us closer to God. God cannot be effected by the way we worship. All God is interested in is that there is love between us. Throughout Old Testament times God tells the prophets over and over again that it is the love of his people that he desires not their sacrifices, not their elaborate rituals? That is what Jesus is saying in our Gospel reading this morning. He is telling the pharisees and scribes that what they hold to be divine is only of human creation. That their traditions are for their own satisfaction and that they do not satisfy God, and worse than that, their human traditions have become so important to them that they have usurped the commandments of God, given to them so they could enjoy the love of God. They have become prisoners of the law that is of their own making and they are unwilling, and unable by their own means, to break free from their prison.
I fear that many parts of the Church today have become prisons and that we have become our own jailers. We have bound ourselves with tradition, with arbitrary dogmas about what is natural and what isn't, with chains that we seem completely unable to shake off, even when we are rendered completely impotent by them. This is extremely bad news because it stops us from pursuing our primary vocation as Christians, that of proclaiming the gospel and giving the gospel life in our actions. No wonder the number of people attending traditional churches is becoming less and less at a terrifying speed.
If we are to become relevant to the people of the world, who need, most urgently, the love of God, we must break free from our self-imprisonment, throw off our chains, and make our traditions the servants to the Gospel - not visa versa. God is love and God is freedom. Tradition and Law are only human. Once we realise that 99.9% of everything we do and believe as Christians is of our own invention then we become free people. Free as God would have us be.
So am I saying we should just ditch all the traditions of the Church? Of course not. Although Jesus could throw off the traditions of his own culture when the circumstances dictated that he should, he also adhered to and enjoyed the traditions he grew up with when it was right to do so. He made choices. Basically, Jesus was not childlike in his religious observation, he was a reasoning adult enjoying the freedom and rationality of thought that is God’s gift to all human beings. We too should be adult about our relationship with our traditions. We should enjoy them if they are good and helpful to us. We should ditch those traditions that are no longer worthwhile and we should be proactive in inventing new traditions. Most of all traditions should belong to us, not the other way around.