Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sermon starts at 24:00 in the recording
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and 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.) 5So 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?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Afterthoughts: The Intention of the Heart
During Sunday’s sermon, I mentioned that the Pharisees and scribes had the best of intentions with their questions to Jesus. The people of Israel had been taken into captivity by foreign powers because of their disobedience to God. They did not want to repeat that lesson again.
So their response was to be hyper-vigilant in their observance of God’s laws, so much so that they created a “buffer” around the laws to make sure that they did not get close to violating them.
They also, inadvertently, created an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd.
Their dictates determined who was in good societal standing
and created barriers to community and God.
Their judgments had far-reaching implications.
Think back to the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s and the judgments surrounding the disease. These judgments created barriers to the thing that those affected by AIDS needed the most: community.
What ended up happening was an organic movement among the gay community to set up care for their own, since the larger society was reticent to help or care for those with the disease.
This created an “us” versus “them” mentality.
Sadly, the Church, for the most part, followed suit.
Which, again, sadly, communicated to the society something about God that was not true; namely, that God was uncaring towards the suffering of those who had contracted AIDS.
So, it should be no surprise to us that Jesus uses the prophet Isaiah to retort the questions of the Pharisees and Scribes in our Gospel reading,
"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.”
They had abandoned the commandment of God to love others
for the sake of this tradition that respected ritual purity.
They had mistaken the intent of God’s laws and made a policy out of it that did not benefit the society that they found themselves in, nor did it teach others about the goodness of God.
They had forgotten that this life of faith is an affair of the heart,
that is, it is intended to be a manifestation of faith seen in the outworking of the people of faith.
This truth is restated in the reading from James last Sunday,
“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
Being a first fruit means we are God’s offering.
To the world.
Not to our own traditions.
Not to our comfort zones.
Not to our safe places and spaces.
To the world.
For the care of others.
For those we like and those we don’t.
James goes on to give us a glimpse into what this can look like.
First, he addresses the motivation,
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.”
Our motivation is to be those who hear the truth of God’s Word
and act on it.
Then, of this religious activity,
James adds the recipients of this motivation,
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Now, it is important to understand a few things about this statement.
At first read, it could look like the only thing God values is carrying for those who have lost their husbands and/or fathers.
A true read is to understand that our religious activity
cannot be a transactional love.
Caring love cannot expect reciprocity.
True love is like giving to a widow or an orphan from first-century Palestine, in that, neither the widow nor the orphan could ever repay any gift or act done on their behalf.
So it is to be with the manifestation of God’s love through the life of His people of faith. Love is an act of devotion to God, who, by the way, has so wondrously manifested and lavished this love upon us first.
It is through these eyes that we must understand Jesus teaching about loving God and neighbor explained in the story of the Good Samaritan.
God calls us to care for those we have the ability and resources to care for.
God was clearly calling me to care for my neighbors Helen and Haley.
They needed to be taken to an evacuation site.
I had a car.
I had the resources and the ability.
Many of you participate in this as you care for our neighbors that are unhoused and hungry.
You have the resources and ability to serve.
we are all called to this.
In both big and little ways,
we are called to care.
To manifest the character of the Living God to a world in desperate need of God’s living love.
Can we do this?
Will we do this?
I hope so.
May we, through the power of the Spirit, live a life of love.
Sharing the abundance of God’s goodness to the world around us.