by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Earlier this Summer, at the annual church picnic, a couple of the younger guys asked Larry what kind of car he drove.
“You mean a Taurus?” Larry replied.
“No, that’s not it.”
“You’re not talking about a station wagon, are you?” Larry asked after a moment, clearly puzzled.
Unbelievable! It was indeed a sad day—to me, anyway—when a red-blooded American male didn’t know a station wagon when he saw it. I felt as though they had come unmoored from their past. When I was their age, every guy—for that matter, just about everyone in the country—knew what a station wagon was. Poet and philosopher George Santayana once observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I wondered what part of the past those young guys were going to repeat.
Once, when the Sadducees were trying to trap Jesus (Matt. 22:23-33), he told them, “‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” (Matt. 22:29b ESV). The Sadducees had forgotten the scriptures that were supposed to be the foundation of their faith. They had lost their connection with their past. Jesus also told the Jews that they were ignoring Moses, since he had written about the Christ who was to come (John 5:45-46). “‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’” (Deut. 18:18).
Recently, some Jewish friends of our family invited us to their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. One of the officiating rabbis said that, by claiming the Jewish faith and heritage as her own, Julie had become the latest link in a chain of faith and tradition that stretched back to her parents, grandparents, and the earliest Jewish people.
As I write this, it’s coming up on a year since my father’s passing. But he lives on through me and through our daughter, Monica. I’m a link in a chain that extends back to my own English, German, and Sioux ancestors. Obviously, Methodists don’t have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and confirmation isn’t the same thing at all but we have a tradition too, a tradition that goes back over 100 years to the founding of our church in 1903, and a United Methodist tradition that goes even further back than that. “Tradition” in the United Methodist Church is “. . . experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures.” (A Dictionary for United Methodists, Alan K. Waltz). Our tradition includes not only Methodist tradition but the tradition of the earliest apostles and the traditions of Christians all over the world.
Right now, our church is preparing to say “goodbye” to our current pastor, Rev. Jeff Carr, and waiting to hear who our next pastor will be. I don’t know if he or she will be young or old, male or female. I don’t know what his or her preaching style will be, or how he or she will change our worship services. But our church will continue. We’ll continue to worship and praise God, to serve others and our neighboring community, and to join in praise, prayer, study, and fellowship. We’ll continue to care for and support each other.
Each of us is a link in a chain that goes back to the earliest persons of faith, both our own ancestors and our spiritual ancestors like Moses and Miriam, Joseph and Mary. As new members are brought into our community of faith, they become new links in the chain of faith and tradition. As we continue to pray, praise, work, and share, we continue to forge new links in the chain of faith. They become persons of faith who know and have experienced both the Scriptures and the power of God and are prepared to share both with the world.
“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. . . . have you not read what was said to you by God: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.’” (Matt. 22:29, 31b-32 ESV.)