TRADITION, TRADITION, TRADITION!
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?" And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'
You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."
These Pharisees were very religious. They gave a lot of money to the synagogue. They fasted twice a week. They kept themselves pure from the dirty world. Yet when Jesus came along and spoke words like no one every spoke on this earth before, healed the sick, cast out demons, the Pharisees were unimpressed. They did not see God at work in this man. All they saw was a man who failed to keep the traditions. For three-and-a-half years the Pharisees kept picking away at Jesus, until they finally crucified him at Calvary.
So over here we have the Pharisees --- the good guys --- and over here we have Jesus and his disciples --- the slobs; they eat with unwashed hands; they sit down with tax collectors and sinners; they pluck grain on the Sabbath Day. They're slobs! They don't keep the tradition!
Now if we take our churches and fit them into this picture, our churches are the good guys, who keep the tradition. We make sure that things are done the way they've always been done. We make sure that everybody's doctrinally sound, according to our tradition.
But where are the slobs? Where are the disciples who eat with unwashed hands and sit down with tax collectors and sinners? Plenty of Pharisees around, who leave the commandment of God and hold fast the tradition of men. Where are the folks who quit worrying about tradition and hold fast the commandment of God? Where are the people who draw near to God with their hearts?
Our churches are in the shape they're in because they've been taken over by tradition at the expense of the commandment of God.
But cheer up, the Lord Jesus has not given up on us. He's still around with all the power of heaven to help us. He's looking for a few slobs, who are hungering and thirsting for the real thing: for God's life, God's Spirit, God's mercy.
It doesn't matter whether these slobs are young or old, rich or poor. As soon as the Lord finds a handful of people whose hearts are tender toward God, who are ready to sell all they have to buy the field with the treasure, he creates a miracle.
Why not here? Why can't the Lord take a timid crew like we are, who are more tangled in our traditions than we realize, and turn us into a living Body, committed to him with all our hearts, who know how to go out there and bear fruit?
One big thing standing in the way of such a miracle --- guess what? --- is tradition. Tradition is all the stuff we have substituted for simple, direct obedience to our Master. Traditions are all the things we do in the name of Christianity that have nothing to do with Jesus himself. Religious stuff, that clutters our lives and gets in the way of knowing the Lord.
One tradition that sidetracks us, for instance, is "Loyalty to My Brand" --- instead of obedience to God. God doesn’t care whether you call yourself a Lutheran, a Baptist, a Catholic, a Pentecostal or a Presbyterian. In God's sight your brand is meaningless. The Lord says, "What are you doing about the call I have put on your life? What are you doing with the words I have spoken to you? How are you getting along with your brothers and sisters in the congregation?"
"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."
Never once do we hear Jesus complain about the "dull worship in the synagogues." He goes to the synagogue every Sabbath to be in the congregation as it tries to worship. He listens with receptive ears to the words of scripture, takes his turn reading. This is where the Father wants him to be. And so the Messiah himself gathers with his fellow Jews to give glory to God. Jesus wasn't just honoring the Father with his lips; his heart was right there.
There's another tradition which is quite popular these days: the tradition of "The Designer Jesus," a Jesus who is designed to suit my taste --- as opposed to the crucified and risen Lord, who commands me to fit in with sisters and brothers in his Body.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The tradition of "The Designer Jesus" bypasses all that. You can travel solo. You can be a Lone Ranger. You don't have to mix with all those hypocrites! All you have to do is turn on the TV and surf the channels until you find your kind of "Jesus."
"The Designer Jesus" is a tradition even among church goers. We can sit together and still make sure we don't get too close with our hearts. You have your "Jesus" and I have mine. And everybody's comfortable --- and spiritually dry.
I had been preaching for about 19 years, trying to juggle the living Word along with the traditions as best I could, when I met a man who was outside all this tradition stuff. This man and his young followers had issues of their own to deal with --- and repent of. But watching these slobs practice their faith helped me to see how much time I was wasting keeping the good guys happy.
It seemed like it was time to clear away the clutter and focus on the one thing that matters: the commandment of God….the call of the Lord Jesus. "Lord, here I am. Show me what you want me to do. I'm ready to follow you outside the camp, bearing your reproach. I'm ready to do it your way, even if it makes me a slob, even if it gets me in trouble with all the good guys in the synod office."
Suddenly the Spirit began to move with fresh power in my life --- and in that church.
That's how it works. The minute we're ready to ease up on the traditions and get serious with the Lord Jesus himself --- taking his words at face value and acting on them; trusting him to help us walk the walk --- his Spirit begins to move with power. Jacob's ladder slides down from heaven and the angels get to work.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a village where a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things and one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."
Martha represents the good guys. She's getting dinner ready. After all, somebody has to get dinner ready! But listen to Jesus:
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. One thing is needful."
And that one thing is to listen to what the Master has to say --- and do it.
"It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail. (Tradition is of no avail)
The words that I have spoken to you, they are Spirit and they are life."
The Lord Jesus is still on the lookout for a few slobs,
who draw near to him with their hearts,
who listen to him with their hearts,
who walk with him in obedience, and put their hearts into it.
If we are willing to do that, we will see amazing things happen in our churches in the coming days.