14th Weekend after Pentecost
August 29, 2021 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Mark 7:1-8
Get back to my reading here. So I was reflecting on this Rally Weekend that we have here. And realizing that last year, this time, we still were not gathered together in person. We still were online only. And it was, it was very different. I really enjoy how we how we do Rally Weekend and gather together and and have our hamburger and hot dog brunch as we are out there and we're playing games in the yard, and it's just this kind of renewal of life back into the church after a summer break. You know, it doesn't stop. The pattern of church doesn't stop. But we come back with the programming year and school starting up again. And and there's just this, you know, influx of energy and enthusiasm that hits and it was completely missing last year. It just felt so different. And it just, yeah. You know, when you share the peace in the church, there is what, all of five, six of us here at the time. It was just a different time, and it's I think it helps us to remember these these traditions that we have in the Church and what we missed and what we were were missing. And as we come back, these these things that kind of bring us closer together and get us involved and enthused. They're very, very--they can serve to be very important in the life of the Church.
So, too, in Jesus's day, this idea of of what what the Pharisees and Jesus are arguing about here has to do with traditions and has to do with what's important at the time. And I think it's a little disappointing, the English translation that is used here when it talks about the Pharisees and Jesus, just don't wash their hands before eating, it just makes them sound like filthy people, like they show up with just mud on their hands and just started chowing down. Right? But the word in the Greek is actually "baptitso," so it's it's to baptize their hands, to to wash in a ritualistic way. And the same is true with these other traditions of the elders, the washing of cups, pots and bronze kettles. It wasn't just that the Jews somehow had an angle on germs and were able to clean things, but this this idea of of setting it apart. This idea of being uniquely under the one true God and how that was so important at a time that they were occupied by the Romans.
I think the Pharisees and the scribes, they often get a bad rap in these stories because as we read it today and as we know that these people ended up conspiring to have Jesus killed. Any time the Pharisees and the scribes show up, you know, it's like when the the bad guy comes on the stage in a play, right? "Boo hiss!" And we just always assume whatever the Pharisees do is dumb and stupid and bad. That's not really the case and that's not what's going here, and we have to remember that Jesus earlier in Mark says that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you have no place in the kingdom. It's not that the Pharisees were the bad guys. But it is that the Pharisees were misguided in how they were going about trying to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish to honor God. Because they ended up doing things like this where it became a burden on the people to do all these rituals, to make them feel like if they're not doing it properly, then they have no place with God. If they're not washing their hands the right way, they have no place with God. And conversely, these are things that you're doing to let people know that you're part of the group. And so if you're not doing it, are you really a part of the group? Or especially in the case of Jesus the Rabbi, if you're not doing these rituals that we have set out, how can we trust that you are even the Messiah to come? So Jesus doesn't respond in a defense of him and his disciples. Jesus felt that his disciples handwashing was quite thorough, I guess. And I'm sorry, kids, you can't get away with saying, well, Jesus didn't wash his hands, so I don't have to either!
He outright calls them hypocrites. "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites." Because he's accusing them of acting a part, of playing a role. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me teaching human precepts as doctrines. It's not that this idea of, you know, baptizing your hands and ritually washing these pots and cups to set them apart as as you know, this this special way of being together under the one true God.
It's not as though that is bad in itself. We do many such traditions in our culture to be one together in our identity. Flying the American flag and whatnot. But it's the idea that the acts themselves become more important than what they represent. And that is what Jesus goes after here. Because it becomes very easy in the church to get involved in these traditions, in these in these things that we end up doing that aren't necessarily the core of what we do. How we go about it. But isn't necessarily the core of what we do. We get involved in these traditions where where, you know, that becomes more important than then worshipping Christ himself. Things like the color of the pew cushions and whether we play the organ or not, right? Or if somebody came in to worship with us today wearing short shorts and a tank top, you know, it looks like they just came from working out -- or even nowadays, I'd say a cumberbund and a top hat.
We'd say, well, what's the deal with that person? We definitely talk about him afterwards once they leave the building. Right. Because they violated some unspoken tradition that we have, as well, as to the proper way to come and worship God. And we can get carried away because I think it's easy to latch on to the rituals themselves and the traditions themselves as a way to show that, well, we're we're doing it right, we're doing it good. I'm washing my hands the proper way according to the tradition of the elders. And I know that some of you are not. And I can hold that over you because I am somehow a better Christian or in this case, a better Jew than others.
When in reality, it has nothing to do with that, there's a term for that called adiaphora. Luthur like to use that term a lot, and it meant these things that are neither commanded by scripture nor forbidden by it. And a lot of the things that we end up holding dear. Are not the things that scripture commands us to do. May be surprised to know that the word organ, or the word worship band, is not in scripture. Even James gets on board with this. Talking about, if any, think they are religious, what is the point of their religion? And he says: Care for the widows and orphans. And to keep oneself unstained by the world. Your religion is worthless if you are not acting out of love, acting out of a changed heart. Jesus goes on to say that that is exactly where defilement comes from. By not ritually washing their hands, they are not cursing the food that is entering their bodies. But Jesus is recognizing that these evil intentions come from within our very heart. Because our primary sin is selfishness. Our primary sin is to work, to act and preserve ourselves. And I hate to say it even when we're actively helping people. It's usually out of a way to feel better about ourselves. Jesus knows this and knows the danger that this involves. That even doing the right things, he's not condemning this idea of ritual washing. But even doing the right rituals at the time can be for the wrong reasons, and can actually be more damaging than beneficial to one's walk with God.
It is from within. That that this problem happens. And it is with this problem from within that we can't just read a self-help book and do better. We can't do better. Our core problem is from our very heart. And so Jesus comes not to be a good teacher and tell us the right things to do.But to point out from time to time, especially with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the way that we are wayward, in the way that even with the good things we're trying to accomplish, we can be wayward, not just with the bad things. And then Jesus dies on the cross and rises again to new life on the third day so that you and I can be changed from within so that we can have somebody from the outside. In our hearts.
We come together for this meal, this communion meal. And we feast on the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Literally, figuratively, in with and under the bread and the wine. But that is the promise to us, is that Jesus is really present, truly present in the bread and the wine, for us. To strengthen us from the inside out, to change our hearts. And even with this, Paul cautions against that. Saying that if you take it in an unworthy manner, it can actually be more detrimental to you than beneficial. Because if you take it believing that it doesn't do anything, you're going to get what you want. The rituals themselves really aren't the problem. They can be really beautiful ways to grow us closer to God. The danger lies in us thinking the rituals themselves is what does the trick. Only Jesus matters. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ matters. Everything else falls into its proper place when Jesus is at the center.
So we can go have our hamburger and hotdog brunch after worship today, celebrating Rally weekend as a ritual of the church, as a way to bring us closer to God in community with one another. But it's a great example because I know not one of us thinks that eating a hamburger or hotdog here is going to bring us closer to God. But in the ritual itself, as people of God together, united in Christ, enjoying this time together, we can indeed grow closer.
I'm just going to throw this out for those of you listening to us online as our worship wraps up here in the sanctuary. If you're in the Ames area, please come down and enjoy this time together. Because it is Christ at the center that brings us together. This service weekend that we will be doing a couple of weekends from now is proof of that. We don't have to be in here worshipping in intellectualizing our faith, we can be out there serving the neighbor and serving God with our hands in an act of worship. It is from within the human heart that defiles. But thanks be to God we have Jesus Christ. Born for us, died for us, risen again on the third day for our forgiveness, for our peace. So that we may ask God to enter into our hearts and change them for the better. Amen.