I recently attended a meeting with our Synod Staff and lay and rostered leaders from around the state. We were discussing the upcoming Synod Assembly and brainstorming together about themes and speakers for this event. Our new Bishop’s Associate Juan Carlos, who is from Peru sometimes pronounces words in a way that can stop you in your tracks. The point he was making was about how important it is for us as Christians to have a living tradition however, in his pronunciation many of us heard him say, “leaving tradition.” We got it sorted out rather quickly but this dichotomy has stuck with me.
Change is hard for all of us. And sometimes change can feel like we are leaving tradition behind. This is especially difficult in the church because the church is often the place that we want to stay consistent and predictable. Because the rest of our lives may feel a little out of our own control. And yet, we all can point to changes that have taken place in the church throughout our lifetimes. New hymnals, new pastors, new language, and for many of you, a sanctuary that was turned completely around! Instead of leaving tradition can we see these changes over time as living tradition?
At Christmas, I asked for a new cast iron frying pan. The one I have been using simply isn’t big enough for our family. But, this wasn’t an easy decision because that pan belonged to my grandma. It was given to me when I learned her doughnut recipe many years ago. Getting a new pan felt a little like leaving tradition. But, my sister also asked for a cast iron frying pan for Christmas and the opportunity presented itself to pass on the pan. This is an example of living tradition because my sister will continue to cook in the family pan. Her hope is that some of the cooking experience comes built in to that old cast iron pan.
So what about my new cast iron pan? I’m working to get it seasoned. It’s the heaviest pan I have ever owned. And, it’s part of this living tradition. Because I will continue to use it in ways that the other pan had been used. I’ll probably make doughnuts in the new pan the next time my parents come to visit. Tradition will continue.
Living tradition is a way of both honoring what has been and recognizing the need to adapt or change over time. Valuing a living tradition is in fact very Lutheran. We love being able to lift up the both….and’s of our life and faith. The simplest example is how we are both saint and sinner. A living tradition offers us the ability to honor yet change and adapt who we are for the world we live in today. In fact this is our reformation heritage and it’s also our biblical heritage. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus both quote the Hebrew scriptures and then offer a new or expanded interpretation? (See Luke chapter 4 as one example.)
A living faith requires change. In the midst of change, we can honor tradition and yet try something new. The challenge is to lean into the change.