the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 2, 2018

Mark 7. 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Believing isn’t following the rules, it’s trusting the love!

by Gretchen Shults, deaconess

Over the past several Sundays, we have been reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter six.  I loved all the texts and hymns about Jesus, the bread of life.  However. . .

Our reading, this week, turns us back to the stories in Mark.  And the readings in September are challenging!  They call us out of our fake, counterfeited comfort zones demanding us to examine our lives carefully.  With that comes anxious, inward thoughts of measuring up – feeling not good enough, powerless and lost.  Living in this time and place, we are faced with changes – with decisions to be made.  As I wondered what we should do, I ran across an interesting title of a book:  Good News for Anxious Christians; Ten Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do!  In my frenzied state, I ran off to find that book!  Consequently, I was his with tendinitis in my leg!  I was down!

The reason, though, this book title intrigued me was, first, that Christians can be anxious in these unpredictable times and, second, that I did not find any good news in our readings for today.  Only commands!  Things we HAVE to do and not do!  The only thing I could say after inspecting the texts was, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  We know the church is rooted only in the grace and mercy of Christ.  Lutherans insist that Holy Scripture can only be properly understood in light of the gospel.  We know the difference between law and gospel. . .  or do we?

Jesus found it necessary to confront the Pharisees because oft heir false expectations of what god asked of them and gave to them.  Mark tells this story to accomplish the same thing for his listeners.  Perhaps we, too, need to have our expectations confronted.

Into our gospel reading comes Jesus with his mercy for all.  Jesus comes to erase the line that separates us into classes of clean and unclean.  He crossed boundaries into the realm of the unclean to save lives.  Jesus comes with a new truth, moving deeper into our lives with love and acceptance for all.  He comes so close seeking to embrace everyone.

Talk about uncertain times!  The scribes and Pharisees were having a panic attack!  They didn’t want any part of Jesus.  The system of the Pharisees made no room for Jesus.  He was a threat to their way of living.  Pharisees were the Pietists of their age.  They ordered their lives by applying the law to every facet of their lives – and then some!!  The law provided boundaries for control.  It distinguished the righteous from the unrighteous, the clean from the unclean.  The scribes were guardians of the traditions.  The scribes and Pharisees were the most pious and responsible members of their society.  It was just such people as these who had the most trouble with Jesus, who had the most to lose because of him.

Even though God’s laws are holy, good, just, and true among sinners, they have a bad habit of getting our of place.  They start pushing so hard to make things right that they elbow Jesus right out of the picture.  His grace and mercy get hidden behind the lists of dos and don’ts, of obligations, and of responsibilities.  The commandments do not, will not, and never were meant to save us.  That is Christ’s work and Christ’s alone.  Christ saves us, among other things, from the law.

The Pharisees were standing in the very presence of the kingdom, the banquet, the feast, and worrying about why some didn’t follow tradition and wash their hands.  Jesus was direct and to the point.  They honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him.  Jesus clashes with the Pharisees over the source and nature of uncleanness.  He teaches that uncleanness is not external and can not be overcome by ritual, by a mere washing of hands.  Rather uncleanness arises from the very center of our being.  Jesus goes deeper to the heart of the matter.  Hence, there is nothing that goes into a person from the outside which can make him unclean.  Sin is a condition that springs from a self-centered heart.

Together, we confessed that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against God and have not loved with our whole heart.  Sin ruptures our precious relationship with our living God and with others.  Sin is not a catalog of external behaviors.  Sin is a condition like a virus within us rather than skin dirt on the outside of us.  Jesus said all these evil things come from WITHIN us.  The only way to know the grandeur of God’s grace is to come to terms with the recognition of our own sin.  We try to make ourselves clean by throwing dirt on others.  Our best intentions will not eradicate our sin, issuing a pardon won’t work nor will everyone-is-doing-it.  Uncleanness marks us all and needs a far more radical washing.

Only Jesus knew what it would take to make us clean entirely.  He knows that nothing less than his innocent suffering and death on the cross could remove the stain of our uncleanness.  Dying on the cross as the unclean one, cursed, and abandoned, Jesus makes eternally valid the good news that IN HIM we are not ENTIRELY clean!

When we continue to face our sin and long to hear the gospel, I quickly considered ten things we don’t have to do!  One, we don’t have to safe our4selves by keeping the Law!  Christ has done that for us!  Two, we don’t have to live in the past!  Jesus said, “I AM,” not “I was.”  Three, we don’t have t go through life alone.  Jesus said, “I am with you always.  I am sending the comforter, as well as “the whole christian church on earth!”  Four, we don’t have to put on a false smile.  Christ is not dead!  He shares his victory with us!  He loves us!  Five, we don’t have to know all the answers to the world’s questions why.  Christ has our backs.  We are covered with his answers concerning sin, death, and live.  Six, we don’t have to work, work, work, to prove our worth.  Christ values us.  We are one of the sinners for whom he died.  He said, “This is my body given for you!”  Seven, we don’t have to be burdened with guilt.  “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for HIS sake, God forgives all our sins.”  Eight, I don’t need to read that book!  The one I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon!  The title was enough!  Jesus is the Word!  He has the words of eternal life!  Nine, I don’t have to tell YOU what to do!  Because, then, I would not be telling you what Christ has done for you!  And ten, we don’t have to worry.  God gives us the promise of “a future with hope.”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!”  (Romans 15.13)  Amen!

Midland Lutheran Church