“A Six-Volt Battery in a Twelve-Volt World”
With input from choir member, Ray St. Pierre, I will begin this morning’s message with a brief lesson in auto mechanics. In the old days – I’m talking about the 30s and 40s – cars came equipped with a six-volt electrical system. That’s all they needed. The engines were small – a hundred horsepower, or so – and they had few accessories – a starter (if you go back far enough, you even had to use a hand crank on the old Model T), windshield wipers, a cigarette lighter and, if you were really uptown, the better models had an AM radio.
As cars got bigger and more powerful and loaded with all sorts of accessories – including an air conditioner – the old six-volt system couldn’t handle the load. So, GM, Ford and Chrysler switched over to a twelve-volt system. The others followed suit. Twelve volts gave – well, twice as much power as six volts, and it proved to be the ticket. Even with the big SUVs today, our cars and trucks run on a twelve-volt system.
So, that’s your automotive lesson for today. The reason I mention it is
because, years ago, one of my Maine friends, frustrated with his wife’s unwillingness to embrace new technology, simply said, “Pat, you’re just a six-volt battery in a twelve-volt world.”
That accusation has stayed with me through the years. And, from time to time, it makes me wonder: Am I a six-volt battery in a twelve-volt world? Are you? The gospel lesson for today brought all this back to me. Jesus said,
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we’re called to let go of the old and embrace the new. Isaiah said it best:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
The problem is it’s hard to know what to let go of and what to hold on to. It doesn’t take long to realize the pendulum swings both ways – what’s in fashion one year may be old hat the next, and we do well not to chase after every fad. At the same time, life moves on, and if we’re not willing to adapt and grow, we’ll soon be left behind.
So, as we listen for God’s Word in this morning’s message, I’d like for us to consider what it means to cherish the faith of our fathers and mothers without getting stuck in the past; and, at the same time, what it means to embrace new paradigms and expressions of faith without losing sight of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Several year ago, my son, Sean, worked in a Sears repair center up in Augusta, Maine. He’s a young guy who’s pretty much up to speed on just about everything. He describes working for Sears as a walk down memory lane. For example, a customer will come in needing a part for a Kenmore washer. “Do you have the model number?” he’s been trained to ask. The customer squirms. “Model number? Why do I need that? I bought it from Sears. Can’t you just look it up?” “Sorry,” he says, “We don’t have access to that information and without the make and model number I can’t look it up in the parts catalogue.” He says, at that, some customers simply turn and walk away.
According to Sean, Sears is old school. Parts are shipped from a central warehouse. It takes two to three days, minimum. And sometimes the freight costs more than the part itself.
So, why doesn’t Sears modernize and get with the program? I’m guessing, but I suspect it’s a matter of holding on to the past: But we’ve never done it that way before.
We live in a changing world, and the question is whether or not we have the courage to let go of the past and the faith to trust God to transform us into the church God would have us become.
What does it mean to cherish the faith of our fathers and mothers without getting stuck in the past? What does it mean to embrace new paradigms without losing sight of where we’ve come from and where we’re going?
We see this all the time in the church: We hold on so tightly to old patterns and practices that they develop a life of their own. I’ll give you an example. In the ordination service of the United Church of Christ, it is proclaimed:
[The United Church of Christ] looks to the word of God in the scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant reformers. (U.C.C. Book of Worship, p. 404)
Well exactly what does that mean? There are many “ancient creeds” of the church. I seriously doubt that most of you could explain the Declaration of Barmen , or compare that to the U.C.C. Statement of Faith . I know I couldn’t. Have you ever even heard of Barmen Declaration? So, why don’t we just drop this statement from the ordination service? The answer is: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! It’s tradition. If we didn’t make that statement, something terrible might happen.
In taking our children through the confirmation process, we spend six months getting them ready to join the church. They can tell you all about the sacraments and how Deacons are elected; they can recite the Lord’s Prayer and sing the Gloria; they know how many books there are in the Bible and how to find them.
But is that enough? Are they then equipped to withstand the forces of evil in the world today? That’s the question. Will they be able to hear God’s Word over the clamor of the marketplace? Can they hold their own in the struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular humanism? Do they have what it takes to live a life of faith in a dot.com world?
You see, the point is, if we’re not careful, we can go through all the motions of keeping the faith and never experience the promise of new life in Jesus Christ. We can spend all of our time and effort preserving the status quo and miss the kingdom altogether.
What does it mean to cherish the faith of our fathers and mothers without getting stuck in the past? What does it mean to embrace new paradigms and expressions of faith without losing sight of where we’ve come from and where we’re going? I’ll be the first to confess I love the old traditions of the church. I love the great hymns of the faith: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; O God, Our Help in Ages Past; The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord . I love the old gospel hymns: Amazing Grace; In the Garden; The Old Rugged Cross . I love the liturgy. I’ve sung the Doxology and the Gloria Patri ever since I can remember. I learned to say the Lord’s Prayer and the Statement of Faith by rote, even when I didn’t know the meaning of half the words.
I love the old traditions. But I’m coming to love new traditions, as well. I love many of the newer hymns we sing, Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ and Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore, and I like it when we pass the peace sometimes during the Lord’s Supper.
Somehow, we’ve simply got to keep pace with the world in which we live; otherwise, we become outmoded and irrelevant. But we have to be careful because, if we become too worldly, we will lose our distinctive witness as people of God and disciples of Jesus Christ.
A colleague on the Cape is leading his church through a process revitalizing the church. One of the principles they’re using is called, “Bless and Add.” Bless what’s working and be thankful for it, but at the same time, add new programs, new classes, new expressions of faith. Don’t just recycle the past because that is the way we have always done it.
I’ve been thinking about that a great deal lately, and asking myself: In what ways are we adding new ideas and experiences to what we already know? In what ways is our old life of faith giving way to something new? I don’t have any answers just yet, but I’m working on them.
Several weeks ago I stopped in the middle of my sermon and invited those present to join in conversation with me. Some good ideas came out of that talk.
Two of them I’m hoping to initiate in the near future. One is to gather a membership committee, and the other is to invite folk to gather and study Matthew 6.33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness. . .”
What does that mean in a world which basically judges us by what we have? If you have ideas about what we might do differently, I would love to hear them.
I hope we will never stop growing, never stop shedding those parts of our faith that are out of date and never stop incorporating new ideas and disciplines that put us more in touch with the world in which we live. Jesus said,
“ Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit. ”
To be faithful is to let go of who we are and what we have and let God transform us into what God would have us become. Anything less is to be a six-volt battery in a twelve-volt world. Amen.