Lately I find that much of my thinking is coalescing around the word legacy. From the reconsideration of the nature of public discourse brought about by recent tragic events in Tucson, to my work with two struggling congregations in our presbytery; from my sermon preparation to recent and ongoing Session conversations about planning for the next steps of Palo Cristi’s future, I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to leave a legacy.
What does legacy mean? Webster’s Online Dictionary provides three definitions:
1. a gift of property, especially personal property, as money, by will; a bequest.
2. anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor: the legacy of ancient Rome.
3. an applicant to or student at a school that was attended by his or her parent.
Most of us are familiar with the these. We may even have been the beneficiary of an inheritance, or a legacy admission to a private school or college. But it seems to me, they also fit with the kind of work Jesus did and the mission that comes to us as his 21st century followers.
We have clearly been given a gift. It comes to us from the faithful saints throughout the ages. We have been welcomed into the work as heirs to that legacy. We have learned by the example of those who have gone before us and can celebrate that because of their efforts, we are blessed to have the strong faith we have today. But the benefits of legacy can also be its downfall. In that same dictionary, there was a fourth definition that caught me by surprise:
4. Adjective: of or pertaining to old or outdated computer hardware, software or data that while still functional, does not work well with up-to-date systems.
To say it another way, legacy can be a problem when seemingly good, still relatively functional “stuff” doesn’t really work very well in a world that is quite different from the time in which the “stuff” was intended to be used. For example, my dial telephone may still work perfectly well, but it is nearly impossible to find phone service that will accept that kind of technology. My analog television now needs special equipment so I can watch regular TV.
Jesus’ disciples stumbled over this problem all the time. They had very particular ideas about how things should be done. When Jesus was set on making his move to face what lay ahead of him in Jerusalem, Peter wanted to focus on dwelling with the more familiar and certainly more safe Moses and Ezekiel, who were actually dead (Matthew 17). The disciples chastised those who brought children (a.k.a. future disciples) to Jesus, trying to keep them away from him so they could get on with more serious ministry (Matthew 19:13-15). An outsider to the community, a woman, had to disrupt and overturn the traditional view that Jesus had come only for God’s traditional “heritage” people so she could get healing for her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). Clearly definition #4 was in play.
Thank God for Jesus! As he carried out God’s good-news-sharing mission, he hardly ever lost focus. As he taught others to share that work with him, he always kept God’s purpose as his primary goal. Although he sometimes resisted it, he clearly understood what kind of sacrifice it would take to carry out that work. And finally, when he called others to follow him, he taught them how to pay attention to their context and adapt their methods, to do whatever necessary to make sure that the work they did together would continue to bear fruit long after he, long after they all were gone.
As his followers, we are called to do the same thing.