Youth Sunday Mass
30 Aug 2015
“‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!’” (Mark 7:9) In the name …
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend who works at a military base. His ID was taken away and he was told he needed to get an updated one. To get an updated military ID so that he could get on the base he had to go onto the base to apply, but he can’t get onto the base to apply because he has no valid ID. Talk about your perfect Catch-22. I’m sure it all worked out, but sometimes rules can become counterproductive. Sometimes we have to use our brains to figure out the reason for the rules and then follow that unwritten intuition. And that’s what Jesus is talking about in this morning’s Gospel. We have to be open to change because very little in God’s good creation ever stays the same.
And that’s an appropriate message as the church comes together on Youth Sunday. Children and youth epitomize change. There is so much that is new for them all the time. Last weekend Sharon, Kristin and I were sitting in a restaurant having breakfast out in Concord as we prepare for her life to change from college to job. A young family walked in with an infant asleep in his little carrier. When he opened his eyes, his world was brand new – again. For the longest time he stared at the ceiling fan – captivated. Change may come in different forms for the young, but it’s always going to be there. I know of young people here who are moving on to new schools and new experiences, and all of that is clothed in change. It’s inevitable and it can be nerve-racking, but it’s also natural and healthy.
Change is never out of the picture even when we get older. The changes may not be as fun as when you’re a kid, but change is there. I think the lack of change is one of the scariest ideas possible. When they were in the sentencing stage of the trial for the Boston Marathon bomber, they were talking about execution or life without parole in a supermax prison where Tsarnaev would be out of his cell for only one hour a day for the rest of his life. I would rather take the chair than live like that for decades on end. Change is what makes life meaningful. The lack of change would be a fate worse than death, I fear. And church’s job isn’t about preserving the past and keeping things likes they once were. Church is about helping us become who we should be.
I heard a lot of good things about change on Thursday evening’s School of Christian Living webinar. Fr. Sen. Banas talked about us as a once very progressive church that led rather than followed. We encouraged change, fostered it, expected it. Fr. Fredrickson spoke directly of change and transformation. This all fits in well with Jesus’ words that change is a part of God’s way. Change can be confusing, but change can be transformative. Change is a sign of life. And Jesus couldn’t be more forceful in making this point. He is absolutely clear about it when He complains that the religious authorities have become so enamoured of their own traditions that they have despised the living word of God. In Jesus’ words, “‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!’”
The Old Testament was filled with codes that reminded the people of Israel that they were always in the holy presence of God. This is why every aspect of their lives had a religious significance, even down to the way in which they would wash before eating. God was always close and everything in daily life had to reflect an awareness of this belief. Even the silliest sounding rule had this deeper meaning of reminding the people that they were living close to God. And the Gospels give evidence that Jesus followed all of these ritual laws. He saw their merit. But in today’s Gospel we also hear that He made the distinction between the rule and the reason behind the rule. And this makes all the difference in the world. If the ritual washings remind the faithful about the closeness of God, then so be it. But if it is a practice followed simply to maintain an old practice, then it has no meaning left. This is why Jesus moved the conversation from talk about the externals of what we do to the internal: Why do we do what we do. If the reason why we do something no longer makes sense, then we should ask ourselves, “Why bother?”
This question has to remain with us and the church still today otherwise we get caught in the same trap as the religious leaders of long ago – we do what we did in the past only because it was done that way in the past. This is to replace the living, changing, evolving word of God with a static human tradition. And sometimes the first ones to catch a whiff of the smell of stagnation are the youth. They are accustomed to change. It’s part of their normal. For a guy like me, it’s different. This week, for example, I got my new used car. It’s a lime-squeeze coloured Ford Fiesta. I have to ask one of my daughters to sit with me in the car some day and tell me how to work the radio. I can’t figure out how to manually change the station. Change for me is a whole lot more difficult than it is for young person. I have roadblocks in place. They can just as easily choose an alternate route to get to where they want to go. And that’s why the church needs to listen to the youth. They can help the church make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of doing something only because it’s they way it was done in the past and not let anything new or creative have a chance.
We as church need to take Jesus’ gospel message of love and active compassion and let it take us where it will. We need to turn away from turning away. We worship a God who welcomed the outcasts and the scorned. We have to keep Jesus’ open-mindedness in play. We need to prayerfully and intelligently determine what the core of our faith is and then prayerfully and intelligently put it into practice – even if this requires change. And let us pray that our young people may grow close enough to God through the life of our church that they may be our advocates of change when change is needed so that we don’t allow what has been done to trump what God still needs to be done. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo