I know what you mean. For, of course, there is that very telling saying about Anglicans and light-bulbs, isn’t there? Question: how many Anglicans does it take to change a light-bulb? Answer: at least ten – one to change the light-bulb, and the others to say how good the old one was. Yet we to have to admit that tradition is important. After all, we’re not God, are we? We don’t just create new things from nothing. We build on what has been given to us, reshape those things and then we pass them on to others to adjust, and add their own gifts and insights, don’t we?
Yes you’re right to that degree. The word ‘tradition’ actually means something which is handed on, like a baton in a relay race. Only, unlike a relay race, the baton itself changes as it is handed on. Indeed, it has to change, or it will become useless and die. Someone, possibly the great artist Pablo Picasso, once put it this way: ‘tradition’ they said, ‘tradition is like having a baby; it is not like wearing your father’s hat.’ Having a baby is about nurturing untold new possibilities, not letting what has been golden in the past fade and fester.
I agree with you on that. Indeed, it is of the very essence of being Anglican to look afresh at our tradition with the eyes of today’s accumulated reason and experience. Indeed, it is of the essence of being Anglican always to look afresh at our Bible – which in a way is really part of our Tradition - with the eyes of today’s accumulated reason and experience. Do you think then that the real difference we need is between ‘tradition’ and ‘traditionalism’?
Yes, I do. The church historian Jaroslav Pelikan put it very well when he said: ‘tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’ So to be truly faithful to tradition we have continually to be open to God’s untold possibilities. Otherwise we will stop having babies and nurturing them and we will instead settle only for wearing our fathers’ hats.
Fair enough. All of that can sound a bit theoretical though, even if beautifully poetic. Can we perhaps think of some examples of what this means? After all, we do indeed have some wonderful traditions of gold and possibilities untold among us. And aren’t the bible passages we have heard today very evocative of sharing God’s new possibilities out of traditions of gold?
Yes certainly. Don’t you love that passage from Ecclesiastes (3.1-9) for instance, where divine wisdom reminds us that times change and that what or how we do something at one time may be very different on another occasion?
Yes, that is right. The letter to the Romans (8.18-25) puts it beautifully too, doesn’t it? It speaks of how we called together into a new creation, rather like sharing in bringing children to birth. We do so out of the riches of the past but with a hope, in God, of something more. It helps us understand that even our sufferings, even our bafflement and loss, are part of God’s tradition: becoming something more, something new, something eternal.
Amazing imagery, isn’t it?! And I think we can see this played out, in a humble way, in the tradition of this place, and in this building of St Luke’s. After all, St Luke’s is very much both a symbol of our Christian traditions of gold and an invitation to possibilities untold. It has strong and beautiful features of the past, such as many of its stained glass windows and medieval architectural design. Yet it has always, always, been changing. And, of course, it remains, literally unfinished, even architecturally. Perhaps that is even a gift, in some ways, reminding us always to respond to what new things God is calling us to?
I agree. Our recent addition of a labyrinth sums that up too, don’t you think? After all, we can hardly have a more ancient symbol of tradition than the labyrinth. Yet it was created afresh for our times, not just with wonderful new modern skills and technology, but with new aims in mind. Placing it here, and outside for everyone to use, is a marvellous expression of how our Church is seeking to be share our Faith afresh in this new generation? It is certainly like a lovely baby, isn’t it, not an old hat?!
Yes, that is part of what we are trying to be as a Minster for our city, isn’t it? We are seeking to respond to the untold possibilities God is opening up in our growing city: untold possibilities to nurture afresh something more, something new, something eternal, for us all. After all, 50 years ago, when our Church community first joined in the Carnival of Flowers with this festival, Toowoomba was a very different place. Can we even imagine what it will be like in another 50 years?! No wonder we need to nurture new life out of all that is good in our inheritance of gold.
Thankyou Penny. That is very helpful to me, and I hope it is helpful to us all. Is there a final thought you would like to share? I know that you have recently been to a conference about the challenges and opportunities for the Church of our digital age and communications. Is that an area of ‘untold possibilities’ do you think?
It certainly is. 500 years ago we had a similar series of challenges and opportunities with the invention of printing which made the written word so important. That is why, in recent centuries, books and other written items became so much part of our church traditions. Today however we live in a very different and very visual world, with an even bigger revolution in communications and technology. So, on the one hand, the Church needs to embrace this. We for example have begun to do that here with the use of audio-visual screens and some social media pages. We need to explore this much more. Yet, on the other hand, we also very much need to offer God’s gifts of stillness, and space, and sanctuary, to enable us to find our true and healing centre in this fast world of change.
All of this brings us back to the grace of God which both unites and transcends our traditions of gold and our possibilities untold, doesn’t it? This is the heart of what Jesus is saying in our Gospel reading today (John 6.28ff). Those who questioned him were clinging to the traditions of gold they had received from Moses. Those traditions had fed them in the past but were fast becoming dried up food for the present and future. Jesus therefore reminds them that both the good things of the past and the good things to come are from God. Our traditions thus only remain golden and our possibilities are only real when we dwell in God. It is no good looking back or looking forward if we are not looking towards Jesus Christ – and not only looking towards Christ, but dwelling in God and eating God’s living bread…
So, on this wonderful occasion, let us rejoice today in our God who has fed us in the past and offers us bread for our continuing journey, rejoicing in our traditions of gold and our possibilities untold: in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
by Jo Inkpin & Penny Jones for Carnival of Flowers Sunday, 18 September 2016, in St Luke's Toowoomba