Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, golf season has finally come to Minnesota. After five long months, the greens are getting green, and the roughs are getting rough, and golfers are now dusting off their clubs for another season.
Pastor Keith and I are supposed to play tomorrow morning, weather permitting. I’m praying for rain! You see, Keith has already played about a dozen rounds and he is in mid-season form, and I have yet to swing a club. And after he beats me on the front nine, I know I’ll be buying lunch. And after we play the back nine for Diet Cokes, I know I’ll be buying the Diet Cokes. He won’t play me in July, but he loves to get me on the first day out every year! Cheater!
For those of you who play, you know that golf is a game with more tradition and more lore than any other sport. The history, the etiquette, the rules of proper dress, and code of conduct on the course is rich and full. And no golf event has more history and more lore than The Masters, which is unfolding this week-end in Augusta, Georgia. Do you know the story?
In 1934, retired champion golfer Bobby Jones decided to build a golf course to host an annual tournament, inviting some of the best players in the world. It would be called “The Masters.” Ever since then, the members of August National Golf Club have worn green blazers when dining in the clubhouse, and the blazers never leave the golf course. Players who win the Masters, also get a green jacket and a locker, and then they become one of the boys of Augusta National. After 75 years, the tournament continues to grow. It’s a little bit like Lambeau Field, in that it’s virtually impossible to get a ticket to The Masters. In 1978, they even stopped taking names for the waiting list. It is golf’s “holy land,” Augusta National, so no wonder CBS television has coined the phrase to describe The Masters “A tradition like no other.”
But there are other aspects of Augusta National Golf Club that also make it “A tradition like no other.” Until 1990, (that’s just 15 years ago) the only Black persons on the golf course were Black caddies, carrying the clubs of White men. Women are not allowed in the club, or to play on the course, or in the clubhouse. Two years ago, when TV advertisers balked at buying commercials for the Masters broadcast because women were not allowed in the club, the club President said “That’s okay, we’ll pay for the broadcast of the tournament ourselves.” We’d rather pay millions of dollars than allow women in our little private club. A tradition like no other, indeed.
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I didn’t come here to speak about golf today; I came to speak about traditions in the Church; practices and protocol that Christians have observed for generations. We saw it this past week, as Pope John Paul II was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica. All the pomp and circumstance; it is a tradition of longstanding for our Catholic friends. We saw it two weeks ago, when we gathered for Easter worship, and exchanged the centuries-old greeting; “He is Risen!” “He is Risen, indeed.” We witnessed it again this morning, when we stood and confessed to God that we are sinners, and we heard God’s gracious absolution; “I know you are sinners, but I love you and forgive you!” Now THESE are “traditions like no other.” Only in the Christian community will you be told that, though your sins are red as scarlet, you are forgiven, and your soul is as white as snow.
I believe that another valuable tradition is revealed in our gospel lesson this morning. It’s subtle. It may even be written in between the lines of scripture, but I believe it’s there for us to see, and to emulate in our lives of faith, and it is this.
On that first Easter evening, just hours after the resurrected Lord had shown himself to Mary at the tomb, two of his followers were walking back from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus. Heads down, hearts broken, they talked as they walked, about all the horrible things they had experienced in Jerusalem on Good Friday. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, another walker joined them. “What were you talking about along the way?” he asked them.
“Oh, about all the things that happened in Jerusalem, you know” they mumbled.
“What things?” the stranger asked, and the two followers were amazed. “Where in the world have you been this week-end? You don’t know? You haven’t heard? The man called Jesus, whom we believed to be a prophet of God, was handed over to the chief priests and they crucified him. And worse yet, there is this crazy rumor that he is alive again, but we haven’t seen him.”
Of course, they were speaking to Jesus but they didn’t know it. And it was then that Jesus explained to these two travelers all the mysteries of the scriptures, and how the Savior must suffer and die and rise again. They still didn’t know it was Jesus, but when they arrived at Emmaus, it looked as if Jesus was going to continue on. “It’s late” the travelers said, “Stay with us.”
And when they sat at the dinner table and Jesus broke the loaf of bread, they recognized that it was him…and then he disappeared. And immediately, these two men sprinted back to Jerusalem, burst into the room where the 11 disciples were, and…listen now…and THE DISCIPLES said to THEM “The Lord has risen!” And the two said “We know!!! We just saw him in Emmaus!” And a tradition was begun, you see. People who knew the truth about Jesus, excited to tell those who did not know.
I have used the following illustration before, so if you remember it, please bear with me, because I must use it here.
In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”
Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”
Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”
This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”
And that’s it! That’s the tradition that began on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter night. That those who knew about the resurrected Savior felt compelled to tell those who did not know. Over 2000 years, the Christian story is still best told to one person at a time. Oh, preachers can preach, writers can write, millions can be reached via TV, radio, and the internet, but the way this salvation story was intended to be shared is when one person who knows tells one other person who does not know. And that, my friends, is a tradition like no other.
The problem is, that tradition has fallen on rather hard times in this 21st century, and especially among Lutherans. We are reluctant to speak of our faith, because religion is such a private, personal thing. We are unwilling to share our story with others for fear that we might offend them. And the result is that we leave evangelism up to the bold legalists, who often paint the gospel as a list of do’s and don’ts and self-righteous good works. And that, my friends, is sad. Evangelism is both privilege and responsibility for every Christian, and the time has come for us to do what we have been called to do.
One of the tasks that our Intern Pastor Jason is trying to accomplish during these remaining five months of his time with us is to do a makeover of our Evangelism Committee. Not to blame anyone, but that committee has morphed into a group that has just two responsibilities; to feed our new members a meal three times a year, and to provide a worship service to the local nursing homes four times a year. Evangelism can be so much more. And the Evangelism Committee itself is apparently so unpopular that even the Stewardship Committee has more members on it! Currently there are three members. So Jason has his hands full.
But all of us have a story to tell. Each one of us has come face to face with Jesus in our own unique way, just like the travelers on the road to Emmaus. We don’t have to be seminary graduates; they weren’t! We don’t have to have the bible memorized; clearly, they didn’t. But to know that Jesus is alive, that he chooses to forgive the sins of those who call upon him, and that he promises to go with us into every corner of our lives. That’s the story that each of us has to tell. And just like someone once told you, and just like someone once told me, we have been called to be storytellers to others, so that they might know this God of grace. “Those who know, tell those who don’t know.” Now that’s a tradition worth living for. Thanks be to God. Amen.
––Copyright 2005, Steven Molin. Used by permission.