Saturday, August 29, 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost

14th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 7:14-23 - August 29th and 30th

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Dear friends in Christ, what we heard today in our Gospel lesson is a continuation of our confrontation from last week's Gospel. If you will remember, some of the Pharisees and scribes decided to complain to Jesus about how Jesus didn't make His disciples wash their hands according to the tradition of the Elders. You see, the pious Jewish custom was that if you didn't wash your hands after being out and about amongst the "sinners" - then you were defiled. The only problem - God didn't teach this. God didn't command this. It was just stuff made up by man - and Jesus just lays into the Scribes and Pharisees over this. But that was last week - and this week, Jesus picks up and continues the same thread. So, give ear to what Jesus speaks to us here today.

"[Jesus] called the people to Him again and said to them, 'Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.'" Now, did you note what Jesus does here? He shifts His focus. He's not directly addressing or correcting the Scribes and Pharisees - He's addressing the crowd. And why? Because it would have been the crowds who had been browbeat for generations by this made up, pious garbage. It would have been the crowds who would have been taught for years that because of not jumping through other peoples' hoops well enough, that they were lousy people, that they were defiled and not fit for polite, Jewish society. The same thing goes on enough today. How often are people looked down upon by the "good Christians" because of their clothes, their looks, their jobs, the fact that they aren't rich enough, aren't good enough, come from the wrong family - all that same sort of junk. The scribes and the Pharisees were the upper crust - and they could look down their noses at folks with the best -- so crowds -- don't worry. When it comes to being good, when it comes to right and wrong... it's not your situation in life, or where you work, or what your wallet looks like -- rather -- what comes out of you -- rather - that's the problem to watch out for.

Now - none of this should be surprising to any of us here. While we nice little Lutherans can easily run with our own Pharisacial love of "niceness" that God hasn't commanded - we have been taught well enough to know that this is wrong. We love the parables of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, or the Good Samaritan. We know that the cultural ideals of wealth and power and such aren't necessarily what God demands. However - the disciples - they haven't quite gotten it yet. "And when He had entered the house and left the people, His disciples asked Him about the parable." Okay, Jesus - we heard what You said to the crowd - but You weren't quite serious about it? Right? I mean... external defiling is sort of a big thing - it's sort of how we little Jewish boys know how to rank each other, how we know who is safe to play with and whom we wouldn't want to be caught dead with in public. That's just how Jewish culture operated. Remember how Nicodemus the Pharisee came to Jesus at night - wouldn't want to be caught with Jesus - wasn't sure of Jesus' rank on the made-up-righteousness pole. What Jesus says was so counter-cultural that the disciples couldn't believe their ears.

And so, Jesus gets a bit blunt. "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" Now, this translation is a bit ironic for me - because the translators clearly wanted to be delicate with it. They wanted Jesus to seem nice and polite and proper - even when He's just in this very passage spoken against artificial social customs about looking nice. They wanted to spare our delicate ears. That phrase "is expelled" in Greek is actually "eis ton aphedrona exporeuetai" - literally "into the latrine is pushed out." I guess today instead of latrine we'd say toilet. The text isn't ambiguous or delicate. Yes indeed, Jesus, right here, is giving the parable of the poop. Oh no, cover the kiddos' ears! Shock and horror. No - our kids know this. Every parent has had to tell their kids not to play with poop - and why? Because it's dirty, it's nasty, it's icky. And that's the point that Jesus makes -- you know that meal you had for dinner? It looked good, it smelled good before you ate it. So - what is it after you've gotten done with it? How does it look after your morning constitutional? Whereas before you ate it, before it entered you it was lovely - when you are done with it it certainly doesn't smell like roses anymore. In fact, you want to get it as far away from yourself as possible - push it into the latrine and let it flow down the gutter - hurry up and flush the toilet. Before you - good. After you - horrid - and it doesn't matter one bit if you ritually washed your hands before you ate. That's the point.

Now, Mark does give one quick caveat before we move back to the main point of the parable - "Thus He declared all foods clean". Mark does point out that the Jewish dietary laws fade away with Christ. All the food laws were designed to separate the Jews from the world - not to make them "better" but so as to remind the world that God would send a Savior, would send the Messiah. Once the Messiah is here - you don't need those things that made you distinct, and you certainly don't need traditional handwashings. But that's not the main thrust of the text. Rather, Jesus continues and makes things plain and straight forward. "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 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."

Well. That's quite a list there, isn't it. And guess what. We're going to ponder it now. And it isn't going to be comfortable, it's going to be messy and stinky, because with this list Jesus is attempting to demolish any sort of self-righteousness that we have built up about ourselves, any sense of self-righteousness that we think we have. Ready - let's start. First on the list - evil thoughts. Right then and there - bam. Do you look good, have you done all the right things? Well, no, you haven't, but even if you are deluding yourself into thinking that you have - you've still thought evil. You've still hoped that someone would get theirs. Even when you bite your tongue, you've thought the words. Even if you didn't give them a piece of your mind, it was still there, on your mind. Inside you. You might have disciplined your actions (which is good) - but your thoughts were still wicked.
And what sort of thoughts? Where do they lead? Sexual immorality. You know, flowing from impure desires. Wandering eyes. Lust. Or theft - that comes from your heart - it starts with a desire for more, to take, to have what is not yours, to have what God has specifically not given to you. Murder - that flows from out of you - out of your hatred and disdain. But you say you haven't killed - do I need to break out Matthew 5, where if you have insulted or are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder? Or the Small Catechism, where if you fail to support your neighbor's body and life - where if you are passive towards someone because you are mad at them and just leave them alone then you have in fact broken the 5th commandment? And the list goes on. Adultery - whosoever looketh upon a woman with lust hath committed adultery with her in his heart. Coveting - to desire something that is not yours, to focus upon it, to make it an idol. The first commandment and the 9th and 10th are bookends - they both deal with idolatry - for our wants and desires demand our worship and obedience. Deceit - oooo, just not being fully honest. Yeah - that's evil. Sensuality - being focused on whatever feels good rather than what is right - making sure you enjoy things and are well liked rather than doing what God has said -- that's evil. Envy... we don't talk often about envy as being one of the most wicked things around - it's not as bold or "juicy" to gossip about as an affair - but if you are envious of someone, do you think to show them good, Christian love? No. That's evil. Then slander - oh, how quickly we can gossip! Pride - how quickly our minds will elevate ourselves. And to sum all of this up - foolishness. Unthinkingness Our minds are great gifts to us given by God, tools to used in service to our neighbor, and yet, how often are our minds thinking against our neighbor! How often must we discipline ourselves so we don't do what our mind first wants! These thoughts - that's what defiles a person - and guess what you are according to your old sinful flesh? Defiled. You know what your thoughts are according to your sinful nature? Well, the best thing that could happen to them would be to flush them down the toilet.

Do you hear how blunt Jesus is being here? I mean, He's not pulling any punches with this - this is up and in your face - this is Jesus literally rubbing our nose in it. Why? Well, when it comes to life and salvation, there are only two options. The first option, the false and wrong one, is we think we save ourselves - and what deludes us into thinking this is we start comparing our actions to other people's actions. Things we can see - I didn't do what that fellow over there did, so I *must* be better than him. Then we fall into the great comparison game and try to work ourselves up the ladder to God, thinking that we will make ourselves acceptable to Him by our own works and holiness, and that is evil. That is death. That is the way to be flushed eternally to hell. The other option, the right option - life and salvation come by the forgiveness that Jesus gives... and yes, we in this room need forgiveness. We have sinned against God in not just word and deed, but in thought. Indeed, even if our neighbors look at us and say that we are good, decent people - doesn't matter. We know our thoughts. And when we pause to consider them - we see how wretched they are, and we see our need for forgiveness.

And the wonder - Christ gives you this forgiveness, for He is perfect and righteous. His mind doesn't have any of those evil thoughts. Seriously - Jesus has never had a single nasty thought about you; never once has He wanted to see you get what was coming to you. Indeed, to stop, to prevent what was coming to you, He, though He was perfect in not only Word and deed, but also thought - He goes to the cross for you. That's where His mind is - as we hear in Philippians, Paul says this is what is on Jesus' mind. Jesus "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." That's where His mind is. Upon you and your salvation. It is even why on the night when He was betrayed, even as His death was immenent - His thoughts were upon you. Take and eat, take and drink, given and shed for you. Whereas from our minds and hearts come defilement, from Christ comes forgiveness, life, and salvation. Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His thoughts are good, good for you, and His mercy for you endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

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