In the summer, as we have time to unclutter crowded closets, toss out items from a packed attic or sort through a congested garage, we are liberated from the confines of old items.
We create more room in each nook and cranny, feeling as if we have performed an exorcism. We cast aside all that is burdensome and restricting. We fill numerous trash bags and discard saved items that are unnecessary.
We need a chance to cast off, clearing out not only our house, but also our minds by throwing away items that were once a blessing, but are now a burden. Despite that we have not used an item for years, it does not make it easy to discard.
We even find this in the church as we say, “We have done it that way for years.”
The dogma of routine can damage as much as it can set free. However, in the fervor of cleaning out, we can accidentally throw away an old item that can lead to something new. One way the church discovers new life is through reclaiming what is old. I was reminded of this practice by revisiting the history of a couple old traditions.
I grew up sitting in Sunday School classes surrounded by ancient biblical maps and dusty chalkboards, but I never knew that in the 18th century, “Sunday School” began as a way to provide education to children who lived in poverty. The church taught reading, writing and Christian faith, meeting a particular need, while championing education. This old tradition reminds us of timeless values, which can still lead us forward in new ways, as we reclaim them.
Reaching even further back in the history of the church, we discover the work of widows in 1 Timothy 5:10, where a widow was “well attested for her good works,” having “brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saint’s feet, helped the afflicted and devoted herself to doing good in every way.”
In the years to come, the church would limit these tasks to prayer and fasting, but these women had a vibrant ministry, which can call us forward in good ways today.
When we look back, we see a great deal we can reclaim. We might reclaim baptism as a calling, where every person is a minister in the name of Jesus Christ.
We might reclaim communion as a means of grace, where everyone is served at the table.
We might reclaim the practice of fellowship for all ages, forming the church into an intergenerational community.
Clinging to the past for the sake of avoiding change is wearisome. Our reticence to try something new might be alleviated, in part, by recognizing that we are focused on what is rather old, for the grace of God is as old as creation.
We can practice reclaiming, perusing the pages of yesterday, while ever changing along the way.
Dr. Tripp Martin has been the pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church since 2013. Prior to living in Auburn, he served churches in Georgia and Mississippi.