The Spirit of God’s grace and mercy in every generation is like new wine in old wineskins (Luke 5:27-39). Old traditions simply burst as they make way for new ones. It doesn’t mean that old traditions no longer have use. That would be like disregarding every good thing our parents taught us. In every generation the Spirit will not be confined, limited or defined. As we live our own lives, the old continues to exist within us to support a renewed understanding of God’s grace and mercy every day.
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” Matthew 15:1-20 In my mother’s house a clean room was a “tradition,” an unspoken, uncontested act of obedience. However, my two sons are seven years apart and by the time my second son reached the age at which I felt he understood the importance of taking responsibility, I no longer concerned myself with the clean rooms. I’d fought that battle with the first and lost over and over again. I simply asked that he keep his door closed at all times. I realized choosing battles is an art form and in between those years, so much more was going on in the lives of my children that needed more of my attention, more of my love. Of course everything can not be solved by simply shutting the door and “traditions” we hold to can make us and at other times break us. Yet, in 2000+ years the one tradition that allows us to grow and move forward in spite of the battles we choose, is the tradition of God which has never changed; to love, to love unconditionally, and to love more – over and over again.
There is a really good story that comes out of WWII Poland, about a man who was well known for his care and compassion for others and who was deeply loved because of his radical hospitality to villagers and strangers. When the man died, the villagers prepared his body for burial and proceeded to the village church where they asked the Priest to perform the burial service and to bury the man in the church cemetery. The priest, who also knew and loved the man, agreed to conduct the funeral service – but despite many pleas from the villagers, he could not bury the man inside the hallowed ground of the church cemetery because he was not baptized.
Insisting that the rules of the faith were clear and could be not be broken, the priest came up with what he thought was a compromise. He would bury him on church land but just beyond the fenced consecrated grounds of the cemetery. During the night after the grave had been filled and the stone placed, the fence that surrounded the cemetery had been moved by some of the villagers – so that it now took in the grave in which the man had been buried.
We have to be very careful that we don’t build the kind of house that David wanted to build based on the self-perceived elevation of his own glory, or the kind of house that the physical church in this small village became. I believe that God did not intend for his presence to be forever ruled by “walls” but rather guided by the heart. The house that God wants us to build is our relationship with him, so that others may see and have access to this household of faith through his son Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of God’s covenant of promises and faithfulness. Just as the villagers expanded the fence, which enclosed hallowed ground to include the grave of the man whom they loved – so God, through Christ, expands the boundaries to include those who believe in him. We now are the dwelling place for God’s presence, a house without walls, not a house built to divide, judge or exclude, but a house which reconciles us to God and to one another.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a I will raise up your offspring after you,… and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Psalm 89:20-37 I will not break my covenant, nor change what has gone out of my lips. His line shall endure forever…It shall stand fast for evermore…
Ephesians 2:111-22 …remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus …have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall…