My message this morning has an official title. It’s called “Ham, Home Runs, and Healing.” I’m going to start with the ham. Some of you have probably heard this story, so bear with me.
There was a young bride who decided one Sunday to make a nice ham dinner for her new husband. She put the ham on the cutting board, cut off the ends, and put it in her roasting pan. Her husband, who was watching intently, asked her why she cut off the ends of the ham. After a moment, she replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it.”
“Well, why did your mother do that?”
“I don’t know.”
So they called up Mom and asked her why she cut the ends off the ham. After a moment, she replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it.”
Getting really curious now, they called Gramma. When they put the question to her, she said, “Gracious, child, I had a small roasting pan and the ham wouldn’t fit.”
I’ve been thinking about traditions in general, and realized that we have many reasons for them.
When we celebrate events on a regular basis, it provides continuity. Singing “Happy Birthday” and blowing out the candles helps us feel like we’re a special part of a special family. We know we belong.
Sometimes we draw comfort from the familiar. When we’re struggling with tough stuff, reading John 3:16 or reciting the “Apostle’s Creed” reminds us that we’re not in this alone
And sometimes, like cutting the ends off the ham, our traditions have outlived their usefulness.
I went to the Bible to see what God has to say about traditions. I’ve chosen just a couple passages that helped clarify my thinking. The first is from Mark 7, verses 5 – 8:
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
Ouch. Our traditions can cause us to neglect God’s commands. That’s a pretty serious warning.
Another passage is from 1 Corinthians 11:1-2. Paul says:
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
Now here’s praise for holding firmly to traditions.
So which is it? Are traditions good or bad? I think neither. In and of themselves, traditions are neutral. What I think is important is the impact of our traditions. As Jesus warned, if a tradition keeps us from God’s commands, we’d better let it go. On the other hand, if a tradition helps us imitate Paul, who imitated Jesus, then we should hold on tightly. Let me give a couple examples from my own experience.
My father died back in 1974 at the old St. Mary’s Hospital. I was 19 years old. While he lay sick in ICU, the whole family was camped out in the waiting room for a few days. One night, as I was looking for comfort, I found that I couldn’t remember the 23rd Psalm – it just wouldn’t come into my head. So I went down to the chapel to look for a Bible. I went up and down the pews, but there was not a Bible to be found. So I went up to the altar and starting looking around there. All of a sudden, someone came in and started yelling at me. “What are you doing up there? You can’t go up there!” Well, I wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t know I’d broken a rule – and I don’t think this was what God intended I find in the chapel. Bad tradition.
A few years ago, my son Aaron was in the hospital for several weeks. I would go spend the day with him, and then come home and collapse at night. It was a rough time, and I started to get burned out. Late one night, as Tom was driving us home from the hospital, I remembered the little prayer cards at the church in Glen. He turned the car and we came this way. On the way, I wondered if the door would still be unlocked, as it was when I was a kid. It was. We went in and filled out a prayer card and put it in the offering plate. Two good traditions: prayer cards and open doors.
Remember my title: Ham, Home Runs, and Healing? We’ve done the ham, so now we move on to the Home Runs. I think it’s fairly certain that God doesn’t think in baseball terms, but we can, at least to a degree. As we walk with the Lord through our days and nights, He often steps up to the plate for us. If we’re paying attention, we see Him bunt, and hit sacrifice flies and singles on our behalf … but we don’t often see home runs. I think God wants to hit home runs for us … but maybe sometimes our traditions get in the way. I’m going to share the story of a home run I saw God hit, when traditions did not get in the way.
Many years before I knew Tom, he left a church that he had been part of for a long time. This church held a teaching that if someone left the church, they broke fellowship with the other members. In fact, the members were instructed to have nothing to do with anyone who left. In effect, they were shunned … and ostracized. As you can imagine, this was difficult for Tom. He not only left his church, he left his friends – including his best friend Steve. Sometime later, Steve also left the church.
Fast forward a few years, and Tom and I are planning our wedding. He decided to invite some of the people from his old church, and asked Steve to stand up for him. Steve agreed and a few other people also came to the wedding. God hit a couple singles, but He wasn’t done yet.
A few months after we were married, one of those who came to the wedding was involved in an original Christian musical at Proctors called “The Prodigal.” Tom and I attended, along with some others from his old church. We learned that one of the musicians was going to perform at that church the next morning. We decided to attend, as did Tom’s friend Steve.
We didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t know if we would be welcomed or if the door would be slammed in our faces. Tom and Steve hadn’t been there for years, and a lot of hard feelings existed.
Well, when we got there, people were … pleasant. They were polite. I was introduced to a few people … and then God took over.
I don’t remember the details of all that happened, or all that was said, but I remember some things.
It started with the saxophone player from New Jersey who was their guest. He played his sax for a while, and then he started talking – unplanned by him. He said that God wanted to heal some hearts that morning. Well, if you’ve been to a pentecostal-type church, you know that’s something you often hear, so honestly? I didn’t pay a lot of attention at that point.
Then someone in the congregation stood up. He said that a scripture had been burning in his heart all morning, and he read it to us – it was about God healing the broken hearted.
Then someone else spoke up – and someone else. Five different people had something to say or something to read about healing.
Then the pastor stood up. Now this man is rather mild-mannered and quiet, not at all dramatic. He took some papers out of his jacket, tore them in half, and dropped them on the floor. He told us that was his planned sermon for the day.
Then he took an index card from his pocket. It seemed a nurse named Mary was on her way to work early that morning, and she felt the Lord kept telling her to pull over and get out her pen and paper. She finally did. When she got to work, she called the pastor. She told him she had a message for this church, for this morning, that God was going to heal old wounds. The pastor dutifully, but skeptically, wrote it down. He, too, had heard this before.
But after the pastor listened to all these other people, all saying roughly the same thing, he read us Mary’s note. And he knew what else he had to do.
He then asked Tom and Steve to come forward. And when they had, with tears in his eyes, he publicly apologized to them and asked their forgiveness. He explained to the newer members that Tom and Steve had been badly hurt by this church, and today God was making things right.
Others came forward to ask forgiveness. People were praying for one another, people were hugging, people were crying, I was a blubbering idiot. The sax player played some more, and soon … a great celebration was underway. We sang and we clapped our hands and we danced and we gave our praises to the Lord. God’s people had been set free from guilt and healed from broken hearts. God had hit a home run.
So don’t tell me God doesn’t care. And don’t tell me God doesn’t heal. And don’t tell me God needs our traditions.
What He needs are people who listen to Him and obey, people who are willing to stand up for Him, even if we might look foolish … even if we have to break with a few traditions along the way. Psalm 147 tells us:
“The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.”
In John 10, Jesus said:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
Let’s follow Jesus … and maybe, just maybe, God will hit some home runs right here in Glen, New York.
Benediction: Lord, we are a people who need what only You can provide. We are outcast, we are brokenhearted, we are wounded. Come, Lord Jesus. Heal your people and set us free. Amen.