The Living Faith of the Dead

September 20, 2012

Hebrews 11:32-33

"Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and obtained promises…"

Reflection by J. Mary Luti

Everything new is bad - that's the default credo of some congregations, and their dogged traditionalism drives them into the ground. But the opposite happens too. In their lust for change, some people believe that everything old is bad.

Traditionalists forget that Jesus isn't dead. He's more alive than we are and coming towards us from a future of fullness. It would behoove old fogies to spend more time imitating this future Jesus, all imagination and originality, and less time looking for him on some mythic Galilean hillside.

But ecclesiastical entrepreneurs forget something too. It takes buckets of courage to live a future before it appears in full. If you lack it, you'll get picked off by cynicism or consumed by fury when people resist and things don't change fast enough, or at all. You'll need help.

From whence cometh such help? The author of Hebrews thinks it comes, ironically, from the past. From Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and many others. From the faith they received and handed on in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. From traditions and practices, ideas and examples, rituals and songs. Held by these things, they struck out like scouts in new directions.

Idolizing the past is bad. It's just as bad to think all we need is now. It's bad enough we have tradition-bound churches; we don't need churches that are (as Chesterton put it) "slaves to the arrogant oligarchy of those who just happen to be walking around at this very moment."

We are recipients and products as well as agents and creators. Embracing that truth is the way we acquire humility and audacity, two virtues that undergird all holy change. Letting the past have its way with us even as we imitate the imagination of the future Christ will help the church be something that isn't just like everything else. That's what we're after. That's what we need. That's a revolution.

Prayer

God unwavering and true, you are our help in every generation. By ancient faith and undying hope, help your rooted people live tomorrow's joy today.

About the Author
Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Worship and Preaching at Andover Newton Theological School.

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