The Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Welcome back we are in the Gospel of Mark. We step right into the middle of a cultural clash between the Pharisees and Jesus or actually between the Pharisees and some of Jesus' disciples. The Pharisees are upset because some of the disciples did not wash their hands before eating. They complain to Jesus.
Now, it is important that we recognize that this is a cultural clash. It does have spiritual or religious overtones but it is a cultural issue. The Pharisees want to uphold a practice - which to our ears seems valid - that a person should wash their hands before eating.
Jesus challenges this cultural observance and cites Isaiah as predicting that this type of behavior would become commonplace or typical. Jesus says that the Pharisees are an example of how the People of Israel have lost an essential truth or lesson in their religious life. They have lost touch with the central relational message of their faith and are getting caught up in outward appearances.
They are very concerned about living up to the cultural expectations of their society so that they would look good to others. They are very worried about those who were watching and observing their behavior. The rules have become more important than what the rules are supposed to point to or remind them of.
Jesus takes the opportunity to teach an important spiritual lesson. Jesus takes the crowd aside and challenges them to consider what their motivation is or should be. He asks: "where does the motivation to keep the purity laws originate?" In the world that we live in today, I believe this is a really good question for us to consider.
Jesus is interested in the hearts of the people. Jesus is interested in where their thoughts, their actions, and their words come from.
Now before we go much further I thought I would share with you a couple of cultural experiences I have had that illustrate my message this morning. I have lived in this country off and on since 1984. But I still find myself capable of cultural gaffs that sometimes bring laughter and sometimes looks of horror.
So the first story is about an experience I had in someone's home. It came to mind when I read the scripture from Mark as I was preparing for this morning. Fiona and I were staying with friends in California. These were fairly wealthy folks, who really took seriously the practice of hospitality. We would often sit down at their dining room table with 15 to 30 people. They would invite the lonely and disenfranchised to share a meal with them. Especially at Thanksgiving.
This story centers around a butter dish. Bread rolls would often be a part of the meal and the butter dish was available in the center of the table. I would often reach for the butter and help myself to butter for my roll. I became aware at one point that the hostess would become a little tense whenever I did that. But it didn't seem like something big enough in the scheme of life to talk about. Then one time a friend of mine from Australia joined us for a meal. He helped himself to the butter and our usually very proper and self-controlled hostess exclaimed: "he does the same thing!" Apparently, my friend had run his knife across the top of the butter, as we do in Australia, instead of neatly cutting the butter stick on the end as was this family's practice. Our hostess was aghast. She had never experienced anyone who didn't know the proper procedure for "helping yourself" to the butter, and now there were two of them sitting at her dining room table!
The other story is a little more recent. I served an internship at St Timothy's Episcopal in Perrysburg with the Rev. Jeff Bunk before coming here to Christ Church. I would meet with Jeff once a week to review my service and for him to guide and instruct me in my preparations for being a Priest. Jeff and I got on well and these meetings were very helpful and productive. But one morning I felt Jeff was tense for some reason and it seemed to be getting worse the longer the meeting went on. Finally, he could no longer contain his frustration and he exclaimed: "will you stop doing that!" I was stunned. What reprehensible action was I engaging in that had brought Jeff to this level of frustration and the need for an angry outburst?
All I could do was ask what I had done or what was I doing? "That thing that you are doing with your glasses" was his curt reply. The glasses I wore at the time would slide down my nose while I was in conversation and I would have to push them back into position. What I didn't know or understand at the time was that it is not kosher to do that with your middle finger. I have to say that raising your middle finger is not an Australian cultural "thing." But it certainly brought a reaction from my friend and mentor that morning.
I am sure there are numerous other faux pars I have committed along the way. We sometimes cannot help things that we do or say that will cause offense to our neighbors and our friends. Of course, we often do that when we are unaware of what the cultural norms are in a particular group or community.
In the Gospel of Mark this morning Jesus is seeking to put aside the cultural expectations and he wants to get to the heart of the matter. Jesus is reminding his audience of the long history of the Heavenly Father seeking to have a heart-centered relationship with his people.
Jesus is seeking to challenge his audience to consider where their hearts are centered. He doesn't pull any punches when he outlines the results of a heart that is not focused on the Lord. "For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
I believe that Jesus wants to shock the people in much the same way EMS personnel shock someone who has had a heart attack. Often after a heart attack or some other serious health crisis, people find that their attitudes and their priorities change.
Jesus is hoping that the people will be shocked into remembering the promises that the Heavenly Father has made in the past to his people about their hearts.
For example in Ezekiel 36: 24 - 28: "I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God."
Now, this is not just a call to people in general, this is also a call to people individually like in Psalm 119 18-20 and 33-36 "Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain."
Or in Psalm 51: 6 - 15: "You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit."
An interesting thing about this encounter with Jesus for the Pharisees is that it is actually an opportunity for them to change. I know that often God will put people in my path or in my life to give me an opportunity to change. I first came across this idea when I was listening to the teaching from Graham Cooke. Graham has a great teaching moment when he talks about "The Three Wise Guys." These were three men who would come to Graham's early public meetings and ask him questions afterward. Initially, he would dread them being present, but after some time he realized his preparation and teaching was actually improving because of them The Brothers of Saint John the Evangelist have this idea as part of their teaching approach. This came up in a recent "Brother Give Us a Word" meditation entitled "Change" by Br. Nicholas Bartoli
"Saint Teresa of Avila once wrote that if we feel the need to change something in someone else, the first thing to do is consider what might need to change in us. If we find ourselves judging others and creating unnecessary separation and conflict, we need to quickly turn our attention inward, and pray that by our Lord Jesus Christ’s mercy we be delivered from this habit of separation and judgment."
I would like to end this morning with a passage from Ephesians 1: 15 - 20. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people spoke of us here at Christ Church in this way?
"I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,"