“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”
1947, six days before Opening Day, the Owner, Branch Rickie and the Brooklyn Dodgers did the unprecedented when they called up Minor Leaguer Jackie Robinson to take over the helm at First Base. This move broke the color lines of Major League Baseball, a feat that hadn’t been seen since 1880, and an act that would forever change the trajectory of America’s favorite pastime as well as viewpoints on segregation across the world.
In hindsight we can look back and appreciate the bold move that Mr. Rickie made when he brought number 42, Jackie Robinson, up to play for his ball club. In that moment and for many years that followed, people would remain cynical of the choice to deviate from the norm of whites only in baseball. Today nearly 20% of those playing baseball for the MLB (Major League Baseball) are African-American. What’s more is that his number does not adequately reflect the number of varying nationalities within baseball today, from Japanese to Latino, the fact remains that Branch Rickie in his unwavering quest to see things different and his willingness to take risks, both calculated and uncalculated risks, has forever changed the game that so many of us love and that all have an equal opportunity to pursue.
Radical change isn’t new to our faith, or us but is something that Jesus dealt with head-on. In a conversation Jesus had with some Pharisees; a group of religious leaders that were very prominent in Jesus’ day and age, Jesus is questioned on a break in customs. You see the Pharisees had better than 600 laws, rules and regulations that they had committed to memory and were responsible for keeping as well as holding other accountable to daily. In his conversation with the Pharisees, they came to Jesus with questions about fasting and why he and the disciples did things different that John the Baptist and the others. Here is Jesus’ response:
22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”
Old wineskins were often made of goat hide and were used to store wine. Because of the gases that would be emit from the alcohol, the skin of the wine bottle would expand and harden. Once someone would pour the wine from the wineskin, it was not possible to refill that skin with new wine, as it would break open under the pressure causing all of the wine to spill out and become useless. This was more than just a mess but would become a costly mistake for anyone who would seek to do such a thing.
The point of Jesus’ conversation is that change is a good thing as long as it brings honor to God and others. While tradition in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, there are more times than not that we as people get caught up in our man-made traditions and several things happen: we lose sight of why we do what we do, we aren’t necessarily intentional about what we do, and we don’t always put a lot of thought into our traditions as we do just going through the motions. What’s more is that often our traditions are exclusive making it difficult if not impossible for those on the outside to experience life with us through our traditions. It is this traditional mentality that Jesus speaks to head on and is the topic that has been running through my mind recently.
If I were to put it in the form of some question I might ask, what tradition are you holding on to that no longer serves its original intent or purpose? And I would also encourage a sober look at whether the traditions you hold on to bring glory to God through others or if they keep people at bay, hindering them from expiring Christ in you.
As a Pastor I always try to be aware and conscious of the traditions that we cling to as a church and often consider whether what we are doing is effectively engaging our community and drawing people toward Christ or keeping people from experiencing life and ministry with us or from encountering God in real and relevant ways. While I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, I know that in my life and in the life of our church, there is awareness that doing the same things over and over again won’t necessarily promote effective and healthy change. While change can seem unnecessary and even scary at times, it is necessary in growing as a human race and in our faith. Imagine a child that grows into a young adult but is still bottle fed soymilk 3 to 4 times a day and a diet that is supplemented with Cheerios or processed peas. This young adult would likely be undersized and very malnourished, and as a result certainly would likely not be healthy or have the ability for optimal growth. The same is true of our lives and the traditions we hold on to so tightly. It is our very own traditions that we cling to that might be hindering our growth and causing spiritual and relational malnourishment and more.
I believe it is not only important but necessary for us as individuals to consider the things that we do – everything that we do, and ask ourselves if it is really the best for ourselves and all of those we may influence. This is true for the church as well. Is the music that we sing, the messages that we share, the seats that we sit in, the clothes that we wear, and the programs or projects that we are a part of drawing people closer to God in light of what we are doing or are they keeping people out either intentionally or unintentionally? A great way to access this is to take a personal inventory of your life and activities and gauge the growth in every area; a spiritual check-up if you will.
What I have come to believe and greatly appreciate is that we need more Branch Rickie’s and Jackie Robinson’s in life and in faith; people who are willing to break through the traditional walls of man in hopes of reaching people never reached before.
It is to that end that I will pray and continue to serve in life and in ministry. It is to that end that I pray that we as a community, you as a person, and the local clergy and leaders become even more intentional in reaching the lost for Christ. After all, a right relationship in Jesus Christ is the only thing that is eternal. If that is the case, how much more should we invest our time, energies and efforts in thinking outside of the box, in breaking through the walls of tradition, and in fulfilling the mission and vision that Jesus gave us better than 2,000 years ago?