Happy New Year! When we come to the beginning of a new year, I always get excited. Like opening a gift, I enter a new year with anticipation and hope, not knowing what the year has in store, but knowing that it will be an adventure! This year will be no different. For example, we have a glimpse of what 2017 will hold for our families, community, and nation. God willing, we will adapt well to the minor changes that occur. Some significant changes will also occur. Whether it is the presidential inauguration or the meeting of the General Assembly of our denomination, we know changes will result.
Change is a difficult thing, even for the most tested of individuals. Patterns, routines and traditions often help us to get through the most questionable of times. However, as Christians, when we merely rely on patterns, routines, and traditions, we stop being open to seeing the way in which God is active in this world and in our lives.
When I think of traditions and customs, I often think of the story of a woman I once knew. Every year on Christmas, her family had a roast. She prepared the roast as her mother always had, cutting off the ends of the roast and baking the roast for hours. One Christmas, as the mother was watching, she asked her daughter,” Why are you cutting off the ends of the roast? That will dry out your roast.”
The daughter replied, “I do that because it is what you always did.”
The mother laughed and said, “I had to cut off the ends because I never had a pan big enough for the whole roast.”
It is interesting to look at why and how we do things. When we are children, the first way we learn is by observation and mimicry. As we get older, we learn by experimentation. When we stop learning and growing, we fall into the routines which are always comfortable, but never challenging. When we come to the point in our lives when we stop questioning, we begin to fall into the dangerous pattern that lets us merely exist.
Now, I am not asserting, as the Gnostics did, that knowledge will increase your faith, or that you may become God-like or even a God. As we grow in our understanding of how and why this world works the way it does, we open ourselves to seeing God’s work in ways which we never thought we would. One of the great struggles of our time for many people is seeing how God is active and present in our world, but I find when I step back and ask the question, “Why?”, I often see that God is very much part of everything that is going on.
We open ourselves to the life of hope. Our knowledge and understanding of our world help us to better understand God and our lives. As we enter this New Year, keeping our minds and hearts open to being transformed by God through seeking knowledge and asking why will be increasingly important. As a church, we will be entering into a new time of growth. But we will always need to be asking where God is calling. That will help us determine which ministries that we support are vital and will help us to grow into the future, and which are no longer vital and can be allowed to go.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen