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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

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Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lip Service or Hearts Desire - August 26, 2012 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Mark 7:1-13

Last Sunday we witnessed an exodus of people from following Jesus because what He was teaching was too hard for them. They decided it would be best for them to follow someone whose teachings were more in line with what they believed. Sounds pretty familiar to what happens in our own world today. Too often we do not like what we read in the Bible, so we stop reading it. We do not like what we hear the pastor preach from the pulpit so we label him as not being in touch with today, or we simply stop listening and maybe stop coming. We do not like what is taught in Bible class, so we stop coming. We do not like our fallible, sin stained opinions contradicted by the Word of God so we do not show up to talk about the issue. We live in a country where, to a great degree we still have the freedom of religion and we have the freedom from religion. Too often we exercise the later and instead of looking, shopping for a church which teaches the Word of God in all its truth and purity, no matter how hard it is, we look for, we shop for a church which teaches what we want to believe. Instead of going to Bible Class and asking the hard questions we stay away and make up our own doctrine. We like to have our own way, and we like to have our own opinions validated and unfortunately, our own way does not always lead to Christ.
 
After reading our text for today, two clichés came to my mind. The first cliché was “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We have all heard this cliché and we understand it to mean that what is on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside. Yet, how often do we look at someone and immediately make an internal judgement about that person. I confess, I tend to be that way, and the worst part about it is that I know that I do not always make a good first impression. So, I do try very hard to not “judge” people by their first impression, but to give people two, three or more chances to make an impression.
 
The difficult thing about this is the fact that we live in a society were presentation is everything. There was even a television show called Spin City (and not that I would advise watching it) with the understanding that truth is not what is important, but the spin you put on the truth, that is what is important. As Christians we might better understand this cliché in the context of our understanding ourselves as being at the same time a sinner and a saint. We are sinful human beings and if looked at from the outside, that is what is seen, yet, we are at the same time saints, forgiven children of God, but that is only seen by God as He alone can look into our hearts. Certainly we would agree that we would not want to “judge a book by its cover.”
  
  The second cliché that this text brought to my mind was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” This cliché brought to mind the fact that there are two type of dirtiness and two types of cleanliness. There is physical dirtiness which happens when we go out and work and play and get dirty. The opposite of this is physical cleanliness which occurs when we take bath. And there is spiritual dirtiness which is what we know and call sin. The opposite of this is spiritual cleanliness which comes with forgiveness and which also reminds us of Holy Baptism. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we are made clean, we are made a part of God’s Kingdom. We are washed clean of all sins and we are made saints in God’s Kingdom.
 
The problem in our text is in this discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees on cleanliness and uncleanliness and on believing the Words of Jesus or believing the words of humanity. The problem or the question started over a discussion of ritual cleansing, but that was not the real problem or question. As so often is the case in our world today, we do not always talk about what is on our minds instead we talk about something else, hoping we will get an answer to what is really on our minds. I call this “the question behind the question.” If there is a teaching of the Bible we do not like, we talk about all the exceptions which we believe might be acceptable, instead of talking about the specific doctrine which is on our minds. We talk to everyone we think will agree with us instead of going to Bible Class and discussing what the Bible really does say. The Pharisees finally cut to the chase in our text and asked “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” In other words, the question behind their question about clean and unclean was a question concerning the traditions of man versus the will of God.
 
For the Pharisees the man made traditions of washing, literally of baptizing of hands, of the ritual, ceremonial washing, even a sprinkling, were more important than faith or even why they did these things, why they followed these rituals and traditions. Too often in our world today we have a problem with tradition, either we put too much emphasis on tradition, or we do not respect tradition enough, we sin on both sides, but really that is not the crux of our text. For the Pharisees, the problem was that the disciples did not follow their human, man made traditions. For Jesus, the problem was not the traditions, but the question behind the traditions. Although some traditions might not be good traditions and might need to cease, some traditions are good. However, again, the questions is not so much about traditions, but what is behind certain traditions.
 
Because Jesus did not faithfully follow all the man made traditions and enforce that His disciples do the same, He was accused of being blasphemous, a fake, a phony, even a heretic. He certainly could not be a prophet, at least not a fit prophet, at least not in the eyes of the Pharisees. According to the Pharisees, a true prophet, a fit prophet, was one who knew and followed all the Laws of the Bible, but more importantly, who knew and followed all the traditions of the fathers.
 
Jesus, Himself, cuts to the chase as well and states, from the prophet Isaiah, a prophet with whom they were well familiar and who they respected. Jesus states, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And then, just in case they do not understand, Jesus gives a specific example of the Pharisees doing just this, worshiping God in vain and following the rules taught by men instead of by God.
 
Jesus gives the example of the fourth commandment, of honoring our father and mother. Jesus says that the Pharisees believe that it is okay to disobey God’s command in order to follow their own law which states that if one is a Pharisee it is okay to not honor one’s parents by taking care of them. For the Pharisees and even more so for many in our world today, what is important is not what God says in His holy Word, but our own man made laws and traditions.
 
The point Jesus is making is a very valid point for us today. The question is “do we live by the fallible rules of mankind or do we live by faith?” And the answer is seen in our actions. The solution according to Jesus is that it all begins with faith. Now remember, as you have heard me say many times, faith is the instrument through which God gives us all the gifts He has to give. Faith is the instrument which is given to us through the Word of God and Holy Baptism and which takes hold of and makes all of God’s gifts ours. Like I have said in my ice cream illustration, when a friend gives us a bowl of ice cream they also give us the spoon, the instrument we use to move the ice cream from the bowl to our mouths. So, likewise, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life through His means of grace and also the instrument, the faith to make those gifts ours. Faith has its basis, not in man made traditions, but in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Faith in His Holy Word.
 
And this faith which God has given to us in our hearts is not simply lip service. Saving faith is not acted out by just showing up for church on Sunday morning and thinking that we have done our duty for the week. Faith, true saving faith shows itself in action, in being used to make God’s gifts ours and in sharing those gifts with others. Faith shows itself in being more interested in the truth of God’s Word rather than following fallible man made rituals and traditions, for the sake of following man made rituals and traditions.
 
Faith, true saving faith comes from outside, it comes through means, namely the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Faith comes from outside, and it springs up inside as a living faith. As the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to give us faith through the means of grace, He also works in our hearts, using the gifts God gives so that we cannot help but respond by living lives of faith, that is by living lives hungering and thirsting to eat and drink Jesus’ flesh and blood as we heard last week. God’s desire is that we worship Him in spirit and truth, that we hunger and thirst to make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, those means through which He comes to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give. God’s desire is that our desire is to be where His Word is preached in all its truth and purity and His sacraments are distributed according to His Word. God’s desire is that we read and hear His Word, that we confess our sins and hear His most beautiful words of forgiveness, that we remember our baptism and that we come to His Holy Supper where we eat His body and drink His blood, participating in Him so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life, His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection and His new life in heaven becomes our new life in heaven.
 
My prayer is that the Lord will continue to help us to move from simply honoring our Lord with our lips only to desiring to be in divine service and Bible Class, to desire to make regular, every Sunday and even every day, and diligent, as often as offered, use of His means of grace. So that we might grow in our own faith life and ultimately so that our faith might shine forth so much that others will see the faith that is in us and be brought into His kingdom as well. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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