Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon Cliff Note: Holding Fast & Letting Go

Archeologist Robin vanAuken writes of her vocation as being a ‘steward of the past’.

But not all that is past is created equal.  Some is treasure.  Some is trash.  Context makes the difference.

How many of us have gone through the leavings of someone we loved after they died?  How much of what they left behind did we keep?  How much did we give away or toss away?  Context matters.  Their past is not ours.

In deciding what to keep, my Great-Aunt Virginia undoubtedly asked, “might I need this”?  When I’m going through my dead Aunt Virginia’s papers, however, I do not ask whether she might have need of it. The question I ask is not about Aunt Virginia’s need; it’s about mine.  And that shift in the question changes everything.

But what has that to do with stewarding the past?  With what we of today are to keep from yesterday to carry in to tomorrow?


It has to do with humility.

It has to do with care.

It has to do with understanding.

And it has to do with love.

Humility: some people of the past genuinely believed that the ownership of another human being was not only consistent with being a godly person, but it was so entrenched in their worldview that they genuinely believed the person over whom they claimed ‘ownership’ had a duty to be owned and not resist.  We have to be humble about our understandings when it comes to things biblical.  Sometimes we get it wrong.  Seriously, harmfully, wrong.  And almost always, our wrongness arises out of our certainties, out of our pride that we can know absolutely what God intends – not only for ourselves, but for others as well.  Our certainties, especially when they concern what someone else should do, must be tempered with humility, with the simple realization that I might be wrong.  Or those I revere who came before me might have been wrong.  Their path need not be mine.

Care – as Christians, we have a duty of care.  But care of whom?  Of what?  And to what end?  In Luke 9.60, Jesus tells a young man whose father has died to leave the dead to themselves and come now.  It’s cruel-sounding, this command not to even attend his own father’s funeral.

The call to the Christian is to be concerned with, to care about, the things which concern God.  And when it comes to the work of this world, God makes it clear that God’s focus is on the living, not the dead – on the present and not the past.

We are to take care of Jesus’ message, yes.  But it is for a purpose and not merely for its own sake.  Church is not a cemetery.  Nor is it a museum.

Jesus’ message is a living gospel proclaimed by living people to living people.  It is a word from the past, but it is a word for the present.

If we preserve Jesus’ message perfectly but keep it under glass, we have killed it.  The gospel is a living gospel or it is no gospel at all.

Understanding is necessary in order to have something worth proclaiming.  Amidst my Aunt Virginia’s papers were coupons from the 1920's . . . her ledgers of the money she spent day-to-day . . . her bridge scores . . . and stock certificates.

It takes understanding to be able to tell the important from the unimportant . . . that worth preserving unto the next generations and that which can be cast away.  Without understanding, one might  keep the bridge scores and toss the certificates.

Understanding requires intentionality.  It requires listening.  It requires learning.  It requires letting go of what we think, as if our opinions were our gospel, and being open to learn from others.  It requires a teachable spirit, one willing to learn.

Finally, stewarding the past has to do with love – a love that embraces and values the one in need standing right before us as much as we do our memories of those who have gone before – and even more.

To be good stewards of the past challenges us to examine what to keep and what to throw away.  And that requires from us large doses of humility, understanding, care and love.

Ultimately it requires that we surrender our own questions of the past and ask instead whether in the keeping or discarding we are about our Father’s business or our own.  As church, the only business we have is our Father’s.


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