Mark 7: 1-8; 14-15; 21-23
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 honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
14Then 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.”
Grace, peace, love, and forgiveness are ours from God our father, his son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Before we get into today’s text, I want to take the opportunity to once again thank you all for being such a welcoming and joyful people—I feel so blessed to have been embraced into this community so quickly.
Words matter. Actions matter. And intentions matter.
And yours toward me have been incredibly grace-filled and encouraging. Thank you for that.
One thing about myself that I haven’t shared with you is that I absolutely LOVE music. One of my favorite singers is Bob Marley. I love the fact that he sang with such hope in a better tomorrow, even as he addressed issues of pain, poverty, injustice and the walls humans tend to build up between people of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, and religions.
A line credited to Bob Marley has been rolling around in my head this past week as I’ve considered today’s text.
He said, “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Some people feel the rain: rain is an experience that they are a part of. Others just notice that they’re uncomfortable and soggy.
I have noticed that in my life, things that are uplifting or easy or fun are the kinds of rain I feel, experience, and enjoy dwelling in. However, the things that are difficult to cope with, like heartache, loss, financial stress, and crumbling relationships? I’m sometimes tempted to sit in those puddles feeling sorry for myself.
And I think to some degree, that’s what today’s text is about: recognizing the great contradiction in our experiences as humans:
- Realizing that we are productive beings, with or without the good news of God as the central driving force in our lives. We make things, say things, do things, and leave a mark in the lives of other people regardless.
- The difference between living in the gospel or not, however is this: what kinds of things do we make, say, and do?
- If we are sitting soggy in our puddles, believing that we are acting on our own, and able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, the output is going to look a lot like what Jesus outlines for us in today’s text that you just read:
- Arrogance, greed, mean looks, foolishness, bullying. The consequence of this kind of thinking is a world where there are walls built up; where there exist two teams: US and THEM.
- THOSE people, who are different from us.
- THOSE people, who have hurt us.
- THOSE people, who we haven’t agreed with, so we don’t embrace them as OUR people any more.
The words we use matter. Our actions towards all of our brothers and sisters matters. And our intentions matter, in this world of divisions.
The bible is just chock full of these beautiful contradictions, isn’t it?
On one hand, there are hundreds of passages that give us hope and affirm that when we love our neighbors, we are indeed doing the work of God with our own hands.
On the other, there are just as many that put a mirror in front of our own faces, challenging us to examine our behaviors, language, and ways of thinking.
During the summer of 2007, I had the opportunity to serve as a young adult leader on an extensive road trip around the United States with the high school youth group at Westwood Lutheran in St. Louis Park.
The dozen or so adult leaders and about 50 kids piled into busses and headed to places like Oklahoma City, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Madison.
As we pulled into a pretty rough neighborhood just outside of downtown Cincinnati, our plan was to unload our big group of eager young folks and volunteers into the community to do some service work. When we arrived at our host church, it didn’t take long for us to realize that the plan had been changed for us.
Instead of strapping tool belts and paintbrushes on the kids, the pastor of that Ohio parish took us on a walk around the neighborhood. We saw drug deals and signs of prostitution. He stopped us at a corner near an alleyway, and pointed to the ground, where a young man had been killed as a result of senseless gang violence.
We saw the pained faces of “Those People”: the ones who had been left behind in the wake of injustice both in the community and in our social welfare programs. “Those People” who needed our help. “Those People”, who we thought we could make a significant impact in their lives with a fresh coat of paint.
We spend the rest of the afternoon with the pastor in a big empty room in the basement of the church, where we had a fascinating conversation about intentionality in the service we do for others. We had shown up with an idea of exactly how we would help fix a community that we clearly didn’t even understand. He spoke to us about how so many folks come to the area to help, and make a big show of doing the “right thing”, even though their hearts aren’t in it. He spoke to us about how they use the cover of a religious organization to preach at the people in that neighborhood a politicized message about what they need to do to help themselves. He explained to us that God’s work is nowhere to be found if we’re not taking the time to build relationships and asking HOW we can help, but merely dictating WHAT we will do to serve.
Does this sound at all like today’s text from Mark 7?
Many of the kids were angry about the fact that they didn’t get to “do” anything, and instead had to sit and talk all afternoon. By the time we returned to Minneapolis, however, it had turned out to be an eye-opening and transformational experience.
Am I suggesting that we were sinful or fraudulent in our desire to serve our less privileged neighbors in Cincinnati? Not necessarily. But we did realize that we weren’t being intentional about doing God’s ministry in Ohio. We went into that trip to do our ministry with people we never had the intention of getting to know or understand.
Our words matter. Our actions matter. Our intentions and the consequence of what’s in our hearts MATTERS.
Today’s gospel is one of these really excellent passages that aims to redirect our ways of thinking and evaluate our own words, actions, and intentions.
Jesus doesn’t just scold the Pharisees and religious scholars. He turns his criticisms to his disciples who [yet again!] just don’t get it.
For me, this scripture turns into a question of how I respond to God’s gifts of love, grace, and forgiveness.
How do I respond to love by sharing love with others?
How do I respond to grace by extending forgiveness and compassion?
How do I even begin to think about forgiving the people who have hurt me so deeply?
It’s not a simple task—taking everything in and responding with love and kindness doesn’t always feel like a natural process to me.
It takes practice.
I have to take the time to reflect, pray, and breathe.
We don’t take time for deep breaths too often, do we? There’s just too much to do!
- School & homework
- Extra-curricular activities
- Commercials and advertisements
- Political ads, arguments, and verbal fights disguised as “debates”.
Look at today’s lesson, which we just read: Jesus says our evil and pollution originate in the dark places of our hearts: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, deceptive dealings, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness…
Gosh, I’m guilty of a number of these things every day, and I’m guessing you might be too!
The good news, in my view, is that each day, in every moment, we are given the opportunity to accept Jesus’ invitation to let him into our hearts to be a filter. To bag up the garbage; the hurt; the suck in our lives and be human vessels of love to our neighbors—and not just the neighbors we like!
We’re called to speak with a radical sense of compassion and selflessness to even our brothers and sisters we don’t agree with: those who think and act differently than ourselves, who believe things we don’t believe, those who criticize, condemn, and hurt us.
And as we navigate our journey of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, we remember that we’re not alone.
We have each other, the larger community of faith. We remember that in each of our baptisms, a promise was made by the whole body to walk with us: to teach us by a healthy example, to live and dwell among us, to hold us up when we can’t find the strength to stand on our own two feet.
And beyond that, we have in each of us God in the form of the Holy Spirit: the force that compels us to use Our hands to do God’s work; the sense of peace that transcends all understanding and logic.
We have this incredible spirit of God in each of us. I find that the wind of the spirit moves and blows through me the most when I’m in a quite, prayerful place, or while I’m lost in music. Most recently, it was during the song “Breathe Deep”:
Breathe deep, breathe deep the breath of God
For me, that’s what today’s gospel is so much about—breathing all of life in: the good, the bad, the joy and happiness along with the pain and sorrow.
Breathe deep, let it all in, and because we have a God who loves us unconditionally and showers us in gifts of grace and forgiveness, we are able to exhale words of love and compassion. We are able to listen with empathy. We are able to worship a God in God’s own image, rather than an image of God we create for ourselves.
When we inhale deep breaths of life and let God take care of the things that get in the way of our ability to pay forward the gifts we’ve received, we are able to forgive, worship, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, sing a joyful song, all while dancing and dreaming together.
God our creator who loves us,
We come to you this morning with thankful hearts, that you send your son Jesus into a world that needed him then and needs him now.
We pray that we are able to take the time to breathe deeply and acknowledge that the things we do and say really do matter. We pray that you would help us to make your work central to everything we do with our hands.
Thank you for the gifts you have given us: our environments, communities, time, talents, and your grace and love for us.
In Jesus’ name we life these prayers to you.