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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!

Disclaimer

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, September 2, 2012

The Heart of the Matter - September 2, 2012 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Mark 7:14-23

Again this week we pick up where we left off last week as we continue reading through the Gospel of Mark. Last week, you might remember, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees concerning their manmade ceremonial laws concerning outward washings. Jesus showed the Pharisees their pietistic hypocrisy in how they elevated their own laws over God and His Word. And we were reminded how often the same things happen in our world today when we elevate our own human opinions over and above God’s Word.
 
Perhaps you have heard someone say that we are no longer under the Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law. Let me tell you that statement is only partially true. Yes, Jesus did come to fulfill the Law and the prophets and He did so, perfectly, that is He fulfilled all the ceremonial laws perfectly, all those laws which pointed to the once and for all sacrifice of Himself on the cross. However, although the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled, we remain under both the moral law, which is the Ten Commandments, and the civil law, which are the laws of our land.
 
Concerning these ceremonial laws, last week the Pharisees were insistent that a person must abide by certain ceremonial washings. These ceremonial washings were given by Moses and yes, they were to be observed. The problem was that the ceremonial washings with which the Pharisees were concerned were not simply the ones given by Moses, but the ones they had added over the years. They were concerned about their own manmade traditions over and above what God had actually given.
 
Among the ceremonial laws were the laws that regulated that persons must eat and not eat certain foods. The Levitical law given by God to Moses made it unlawful for the Children of Israel to eat certain unclean foods. Jesus came into the world to fulfill all the Law and the Prophets and He did and as He fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets, especially the ceremonial laws, the laws which pointed to Him, those laws are no longer under effect. In other words, the price for sin that was set in the Garden of Eden; death, blood must be shed; and all the sacrifices that were offered by the Children of Israel, pointed to the one sacrifice, Jesus on the cross, so, as Jesus fulfilled all these laws, they became unnecessary.
 
In our text, Jesus explains, as for certain foods which were previously ceremonially unclean, now He declares all foods clean (v. 19). So, why are all foods now clean? As I pondered this question, I read the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible which I believe gives a good and valid explanation, “Jesus’ teaching will affect the future Christian mission. Simply put, Gentiles will not need to observe Jewish dietary laws. The question of food laws caused much controversy in the first-century Church.” In other words, this goes back to the Garden of Eden and the fact that when God promises a Savior, a Messiah, a Redeemer, His promise was given before there was a Jew and a Gentile, His promise was to all people and now after Jesus’ death and resurrection, nothing would hinder taking that Gospel message to anyone, Jew or Gentile.
 
And now, Jesus gives a bit of an anatomy lesson. He says that what goes into a body, passes through the body. What enters the mouth, moves into the stomach, is digested, moves into the small intestine, the large intestine, and then exits as waste. This physical food is not what makes a person spiritually unclean.
 
As for what makes one unclean, spiritually unclean, it is what is already in the body and what comes out of the body. Here we are reminded that we are conceived and born in sin. The sin of Adam and Eve is in our DNA, our genes and so is genetically passed on from one generation to the next generation.
 
We are conceived and born in sin and so our natural inclination is toward sin. As God pronounced back in Genesis, “every inclination of man’s heart is evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). Our natural inclination is to be disobedient, to not share, to speak evil and listen to evil, to not put the best construction on everything, to not hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, to not help and be of service to others. All the good things that we do are things we have to learn to do and are actually against our natural inclinations.
 
Thus, our sins are naturally sins against the commandments as Jesus enumerates. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (v. 21-23).
 
Sin is not simply sin when one does something against the commandments, rather sin begins in the heart in our thoughts. For the person who does not believe a person can sin in their thoughts, what do you think God means when He says, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell  of fire” (Matt. 18:9). How can your eye cause you to sin except that it is connected to your thinking brain? And there is the account of Cain and Abel where the sin of Cain began in his heart in his thoughts as he was jealous of his brother Abel. Sin begins in our heart, in our thoughts.
 
Sin begins in our thoughts and shows itself in our words. Our words reflect what is in our heart, either words of encouragement or words of discouragement. We speak words against God, against our neighbor, and at times even against our own family and friends. And we fail to speak up for and put the best construction on everything especially when everyone around us is bashing another person. We omit to speak up for our neighbor.
 
Ultimately sin does show itself in our actions. We actually commit sin by doing the things God commands us not to do. We put other things, idols before God, not blatantly, but subtly. We curse, swear and misuse God’s Holy name. We despise preaching and God’s Word, even despising His pastors. We disobey our parents and those in authority over us. We kill, we commit adultery, we steal, we bear false witness and spread rumors, and we covet what is not ours. Yes, we actually commit sins against God and one another and these sins have their beginning in our hearts, in our thoughts.
 
Jesus reminds us that we are conceived and born in sin, which means that our nature is to sin and He enumerates our sinning against all the commandments. Again, we are told that it is what is on the inside that defiles us, yet in our world today we are constantly told to look for the answers to life’s questions by looking inside ourselves. Look deep inside yourself we are constantly told. In the movie Star Wars Luke Skywalker was told to trust his instincts and to be lead by the force. I like the person who asked the question, “How would you like it if you were in an airplane and the captain came over the loud speaker and announced that he was going to turn off all his instruments, close his eyes and allow the force to help him land the airplane.” Frankly I would rather he allow the co-pilot to land the airplane using all the instruments. Yet, that is how many people make many decisions in our world, we turn off what we know, we neglect to seek God’s wisdom, instead we make our decisions, even important decision by what we feel or by what we think, by looking inside ourselves. If we neglect the Word of God and only follow what we feel, what we think, this ultimately leads to our own destruction and death, even eternal death.
 
What does this mean and where is the Gospel in our text for today? All three of our texts for this morning encourage our striving, if you will, with God’s help, to be the people He would have us to be. “Take care, and keep your soul diligently,” “keep alert,” and “from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts.” We live in a cursed world were sin abounds and where we are constantly being tempted to do what comes naturally and join in. And yet, we are called by Jesus to resist.
 
Thanks be to God for Jesus. Jesus was born and came into this world to do for the nation of Israel what all the people of Israel could not do and for that matter, to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place, to fulfill the demands of God’s law which is to live perfectly as our Father in heaven is perfect. Jesus came to do what all the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament simply pointed to. Yes, Jesus came to abolish the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament which point to Himself.
 
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets and He did. Every prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled perfectly. The odds of one person doing everything prescribed by the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament are too great to imagine and yet, that is what Jesus did. He came and fully and perfectly fulfilled all God’s promises. He fulfilled all things perfectly and then He freely of His own free will took all our sins upon Himself, all our sins and all the sins of all people who ever have lived, who are living and who ever will live. And He suffered the price for those sins, by dying on the cross, by suffering hell. Jesus earned and paid for all sins on the cross of Calvary. And now, He freely offers to us and gives to us this forgiveness that He earned. He gives us these gifts through His means of grace.  As we are Baptized and as we remember our baptism we are given His gifts. As we confess our sins and hear His words of absolutions we are given His gifts. As we hear His Word and as we read and respond with His Word, we are given His gifts. As we come to His Holy Supper and eat and drink His body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine, we are given His gifts. And what gifts are we given? Faith, blessings upon blessings, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life in this world, salvation and life in the world to come, even eternal life. And even more, while we remain in this world, Jesus helps us to overcome.
 
What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. I would simply encourage you, do not look inside yourself, rather look outside yourself. We cannot save ourselves that is why Jesus came. Jesus came to live for us, to die for us, to rise for us. He comes to us from outside of us through His external means of grace to give to us all the gifts and blessings He earned on Calvary. As we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, He gives us blessings upon blessings and He stirs in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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