Sermon August 29, 2021

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Wash your Heart

When I was but a child, I remember how we used to go and visit my grandparents. My brothers, and my cousins, and I would be outside playing, and then we would hear this big old bell mounted to my grandparents back porch. It would start ringing, and we knew that it was time. It was time to eat, and so we all would rush to the house, and as we began to enter the door, my grandmother or my mom would be there directing us all to the bathroom downstairs, by saying, “Go wash your hands. Go wash your hands.”

Lucky I did not know this passage when I was young isn’t it.
I could have said, but Mom, “Jesus disciples did not wash their hands.” But now having been taught better when I read this passage, I still have trouble with the disciples not washing their hands. Don’t you.

After all what kind of people were they? That is sort of the way the Pharisees felt, but there was more to do with it than just that.

Really when the pharisees questioned Jesus about this issue, the real question wasn’t over an issue of social etiquette but it was over the whole concept of religious purity. The pharisees combined the issues of religion and social acceptability. Also when you were a pharisee you were not just a religious figure, but you were a political figure as well. They were people of the law of Moses, and many people believed in following that law. That gave them both religious and political power.

“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled? It was a religious, and political question as much as social question.

Jesus, why are you not obeying the religious rules given to us. Why are you not following the rules of our community? The implication in the charge the pharisees brought against Jesus is that his disciples are living an unclean life, because they are not washing their hands. Their whole life and being is defiled because to their thinking their hands were defiled. The pharisees considered them spiritually corrupted and bankrupt, because they did not wash their hands. Basically this action of the disciples made them ritually unclean. Not worthy of being considered children of Moses, and perhaps even sinful in the minds of some. Now I may be overstating the problem to make my point but I do not think so.

The problem with the pharisees was that they combined their faith in God with social customs, and political maneuvering.

When we consider this whole issue we may agree with the pharisees to a point. To us it does seem inappropriate for the disciple to eat without washing their hands. (But we know about germs and disease) Still we would not think of the disciples as being immoral. Just somewhat different, or perhaps practicing bad hygiene. Their actions might be bad, but they are not themselves bad people, because of what they did. They would not deserve to be excommunicated.

Still how often do we come close to practicing the logic of the pharisees? When we encounter someone who is not doing things the way we are used to seeing them done, what do we do? If someone comes to church and is dressed inappropriately, what do we do? And what if that person is a minister? That is even worse. Do we look down on them and figure they just aren’t very good people?

Some groups figure that it is a sin to wear makeup. The scriptures suggest this in I Peter 2:9, but more than that the scriptures are calling for both men and women to adorn themselves on the inside with God’s love and in God’s service. To be overly concern with the outside appearance is to have the logic of the pharisees.

This can be taken the other way also. How many times do we count people as being good, holy and righteous because of outside appearances. Some television evangelist we all know appeared to have it all together, but they did not.

Appearance can be deceiving.

Youth sometimes have to live with what is known as peer pressure. You have dress a certain way, act a certain way, have certain friends, talk about certain subjects, and if you don’t then you are outside of certain groups. You form your own group of friends and your group has a certain understanding about life. That is not really bad, until a group becomes exclusive, and unable to see how many different people there are in life, and how rich a variety of learning from one another life provides us.

And you know when you grow up, life does not change much. We still have peer pressure. There are still socially correct and incorrect ways to live, and groups to be a part of. There are rules and expectations that have nothing in themselves to do with true Christian morality, but when what is merely socially and politically acceptable is combined with what is morally and religiously true, then we are living like a pharisee.

And Jesus speaks these words to us: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.

You leave the commandment of God and hold fast the precepts of men.

When we use the logic of the pharisees we move away from what faith in God is about and start living by the power of our own strength. We may find ourselves living by a set of rules that totally misses the reality of God’s kingdom.

The pharisees were good at doing this. They read in the
Law of Moses, “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…”

The purpose of this commandment was to give rest to the people, the animals, and the land. The commandment provided time for the Hebrews to turn their thoughts to God and the spiritual aspects of life. This commandment was good and necessary for humankind.

As time went on the scribes and pharisees began to interpret what work was. They became so concern with their rules and regulation that they forgot the Spirit of the commandment. In the days of Jesus, people often used a rope to drop a bucket into as well to get water. If your rope broke on the Sabbath day, you were forbidden to tie the rope together. The teachers of the law had ruled that such an act of tying a knot was labor. If however, you were to take an article of clothing and tie one end to each end of the broken rope, that was not work –it was like putting on clothes, which was allowed on the Sabbath. The man with a broken well rope had to tie two knots instead of one.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? But ever time we start counting people out or in because of the way they are dressed, how they look, what they eat, or what social rules they are following or not following, then we may be practicing an equally ridiculous game. This is not to say that some actions are not really sinful, but it is to say that we can be guided down some strange paths if our biggest concern is what will the neighbors think or how can I get the most votes! Our religion truly is in vain, if who we are and what we are about is defined according to what people think rather than by what God thinks.

In the upcoming issue of the Christian Reader. An article by Charles Colson says the same thing in reference to politics: “All successful Christian social theory in the immediate future must be based on this truth: that religion be not made an instrument of political ideology. Because it tempts one to water down the truth of the gospel, ideological alignment, whether on the left or the right, accelerates the church’s secularization. When the church aligns itself politically, it gives priority to the compromises and temporal successes of the political world rather than its Christian confession of eternal truth. And when the church gives up its rightful place as the conscience of the culture, the consequences for society can be horrific.

So what is the answer? To realize as Jesus pointed out, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they defile a man.”

The life of your faith is within you. When you are born again of the Spirit of God. Then you are empowered by the Spirit to overcome the evil intentions in your heart. The real battle ground for holy living is within. It is not in being, doing, and saying all the right things on the outside, or aligning yourself with society, or a particular political party in order to gain power.

It is deep down in the heart. Wash your heart.

The song that proclaims, “Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart,” has rightly understood what Jesus was saying in our Scriptures lesson today. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “These people honor me with their words, but their heart is really far from me.” May each of us pray for ourselves this day, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.” If you are not Christian in your heart, then you are not Christian. The reality of Christ within you is always the most important part of life.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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