History has been an important to me since I can remember. My dad's idea of vacation was going to museums and national parks. Mine was trying to go to Disney. Oh well. My days of Scouting including time on battlefields and battleships. My favorite book on leadership of all time is a book called The Founding Fathers on Leadership. I have tried to pass that love of history on to both my children and nurture it wherever I could. Though I think it drives them both nuts that I will tear up in museums and battlefields and almost every time I stand for the Star Spangled Banner. History isn’t just on paper – history is made up of stories, stories of real people. Just like the movie, I’d love to spend a night in a museum.
One of the stories that I love from history (though I can't confirm it's authenticity), is a story about a group of soldiers in France during World War II who had become separated from their platoon during a fierce battle to retake a village. The village was finally retaken but in the process one of their fellow soldiers was killed. The small motley group of men carried their dead comrade to the nearby village church. They sought out the pastor in order to ask him if he would grant permission to allow their friend to be buried in the church cemetery. The pastor asked the others if they knew if their dead friend had been baptized. They said that they did not know. The others explained to the pastor that they had talked a lot about life and death and God, but one subject they had not broached was if and when their comrade was baptized. "Well then," explained the pastor, "if you do not know if your friend was baptized I must inform you that church rules do not permit you to bury your dead friend in this cemetery." Saddened by this news, the men carried the body to the edge of the cemetery and buried it on the other side of the fence.
The next morning the small rag-tag army walked over to the church cemetery to check the grave of their friend to make sure it hadn't been disturbed. They were all startled and disturbed when, after looking for quite some time, they could not find the fresh grave. Just as they were about to give up in utter frustration the pastor approached them and said, "You cannot find the grave because it is not there where you are looking for it. Yesterday, I felt really guilty after telling you that you could not bury your friend here in the cemetery. So I woke up very early this morning and moved the fence so that your comrade is now included in the church cemetery."
Jesus ran into a whole lot of museum curators for the faith, people who, unlike that pastor had no problem leaving the fences up and putting up more fences because they had lost sight of the 1 Thing. In Mark 7, Jesus was confronted by some of those museum curators, and Mark recorded this exchange…
1 The Pharisees and some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. 2 They saw that some of his disciples were unclean because they ate without washing their hands. 3 (The Pharisees, like all other Jewish people, don't eat unless they have properly washed their hands. They follow the traditions of their ancestors. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they don't eat unless they have washed first. They have been taught to follow many other rules. For example, they must also wash their cups, jars, brass pots, and dinner tables. ) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus, “Why don't your disciples follow the traditions taught by our ancestors? They are unclean because they don't wash their hands before they eat!” 6 Jesus told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites in Scripture: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship of me is pointless, because their teachings are rules made by humans.' 8 “You abandon the commandments of God to follow human traditions.” 9 He added, “You have no trouble rejecting the commandments of God in order to keep your own traditions! Mark 7:1-9 (GW)
Jesus isn’t dismissing the Old Testament here when he talks about “traditions of their ancestors.” These traditions are ones that had been passed down to help the Jewish people live out their faith. Author Richard Foster notes there were something like 613 of these traditions (Streams of Living Water). They were traditions, like commentaries that try to make more clear the meaning of God’s Word. These traditions over time, became the boundaries, the fences, to keep some things out, and some people out and allow others in.
But Jesus clearly was perturbed and he took this opportunity to call out to the religious leaders and the everyday people that clearly, in God’s Kingdom, tradition would not be the 1 Thing. The good things of the Law of God, these things: honoring one’s mother and father, loving the Lord God, loving your neighbor, caring for the widow and orphan and the stranger = these things couldn’t be done because of curators who had made up rules and traditions and forgotten the words of the prophet Micah who said, You mortals, the Lord has told you what is good. This is what the Lord requires from you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with your God.
“When church is our shelter, we fail to trust in God,” writes Thom & Joani Shultz in their book, “The 1 Thing.” The church’s 1 Thing is not to become a museum dedicated to what has happened but to be a place where life transformation is happening! You need only look at the happenings in our church and community from this past year: One Great Day of Service, a day dedicated to service in our community, a growing and vibrant arts festival that invites our community into our church, our new special needs ministry, Loving Hearts, the start of our brand new worship service at 9:51 on Sunday mornings. Walk the halls any day of the week at almost any time – from preschool, to afterschool to More Than Sunday School – children make us a second-home! But when you hear the stories of those people who are meeting God here – that is what the 1 Thing is all about and it is the 1 Thing that Cumming FUMC must never lose sight of – not now, not ever – for this is the 1 Thing.
It has been said the church is only one generation from extinction. When Jesus is our 1 thing, then we have nothing to fear!