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Saturday, August 29, 2009


Mark 7:1-8; 14-15, 21-23

August 30. 2009
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,'This people honors me with their lips,but their hearts are far from me;7in vain do they worship me,teaching human precepts as doctrines.'8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Does what we eat really matter?
Some say “yes!”
Some say “No.”
Some say you are what you eat, which means I am toast. Literally.
Does what we eat really matter?
I say this as one who fifteen months ago ate some fried fish for dinner. Some good fried fish – my father-in-law knows his way around fish and batter, yet within a few hours the chest pain began. It burned, it doubled me over and no amount of Tagament or Mylanta was going to make a difference. I woke Piper up after midnight because I could feel the pain getting worse and there was nothing that I could do to stop it, which is a frightening feeling. I had paced. I had drunk gallons of water. I had hopped up and down. All useless. Piper saw the look on my face and within minutes Her father was driving me through the mountains to the nearest hospital which was 45 minutes away through winding roads choked with deer, raccoons, rabbits opossum and who knows what else all attracted by our headlights and our need for speed. In the ER they treated me for an irritated hiatal hernia – an incorrect diagnosis, but give them points for trying and the pain medicine. By the time we had returned to Florida and my wonderful, yet cautious local doctor had ordered enough tests to choke a horse what was certainly clear was the fact that my heart was in fine shape. The nuclear stress test confirmed it. Took that treadmill all the way, baby. My ticker was fine, is fine. As it turns out the fried fish had triggered an attack from an essentially non-functioning gall bladder.
Bottom line: what I ate really mattered, but my heart was great.
This is the issue, these are the questions, in a manner of speaking, in today’s gospel.
Does what we eat matter – the things that we take in from the outside? And how’s our heart?

The Pharisees had interpreted laws concerning ritual purity, things such as the ceremonial washing of hands before eating (do not confuse this with what your mother told you to do before you sat down at the table) as applying to all of Israel, not just the priests. They weren’t breaking out Lava soap or anything, just splashing some water. In trying to help the people of Israel to maintain the proper boundaries of holiness and righteousness as a people set apart by God from all others, the Pharisees here saw Jesus’ disciples, who it seemed were a little lax in their ritual washing, as serving as poor examples to the rest of the people.

They declare to Jesus: Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"

So what does Jesus say?
Does Jesus cite chapter and verse in the scriptures where it says that only the priests need to wash their hands? No.
Does Jesus say: “The Scriptures says what they mean and mean what they say?” No.
That’s right, “No.”
We might be tempted to say that – Jesus does appeal to the Commandment of God.
That is important. The Holy Scriptures are, in fact, very important - as we said last week they point us to Christ – As we declare in our own constitution as part of the ELCA - “The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.” But before we jump in and make the interpretation of Scripture for moral deliberation as simple as reading the plain sense of the written word we need to take note of what Jesus does here.

Jesus goes on to say that nothing outside of the body can defile the body, which essentially re-writes the a good chunk of holiness code handed from God to Moses to the people of God. In the OT what we eat really matters. What we touch really matters. A lot of things outside of the body defile the body. But Jesus says, look, don’t you get it – my coming into the world changes things: It’s your heart that matters.
Is your heart close to God or far away?
Is your heart close to God or far away?

OK, so we are thinking the good Lutheran question: What does this mean? This heart talk. Jesus connects the nearness of our hearts to God with the Commandment of God and Jesus says this about the commandments of God in the Gospel of Matthew: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Which is to say all of Scripture for him.

To have hearts near to God means that we must empty our hearts of all that is not love for God, which is tough because we wrestle with sin all of the time and sin desires to fill our hearts as Jesus puts it with: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person, Jesus says.

So in our wrestling we desire , guided by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to make good moral choices, do we not? We desire to conform our lives to his. To allow God to rule in our hearts, to my our hearts God’s throne room. And here the Holy Scriptures are invaluable. As long as we accept that it is far too simple to say that they say what they mean and mean what they say.

“Living the Faith: A Lutheran Perspective in Ethics,” tells us [that] the Bible has not been dropped from heaven apart from an historical setting. Therefore, to read the Bible responsibly, we need to interpret its contents for our own time. This does not mean that only scholars can understand or apply the Word, nor does it mean we must insist on finding the one and only perfect interpretation for each biblical passage. But it does mean that the Bible deserves serious study. We must first understand what the words of Paul or Jesus meant to the people of their day before we can appreciate what they are saying to us.”

The study goes on to ask: “What does all this mean for the use of the Bible as a help in making moral choices? Because we Lutherans believe the Bible is the Word of God, we approach it expectantly and with reverence. We want to listen to what God says to us in Scripture, but what we hear will always involve our interpretation of the text. This means that we can and do come up with differing conclusions on what the Bible is saying to us.”

There are certainly Christian traditions that use the Holy Scriptures as a rule book – Give me a question and I’ll pop a verse right out for you that will tell you exactly what to do. In fact, just as I was writing this some folks came to the door wanting to argue that only the meek get into heaven, because that is what it says in the Psalm and Matthew and I am sure that they were going to tell me what meek means in their manner of thinking, but I graciously sent them on their way so I could get back to writing this. People come to us pastors and want to know where in the Bible they can find the simple answer to a moral dilemma that is holding them captive in their life. But this is not the most faithful path in our deliberation, is it, because taking one piece of scripture out of context can lead one to justify both good and evil, or lose the meaning by taking only a piece and taking it out of context at that. The Bible is not best served as being seen as a “Magic 8 ball” that you come to with questions, shake and wait for the appropriate verse to appear (and hope that it doesn’t say “Ask again later” because people tend to be in a hurry.)

But the study invites us that “Rather than to see the Bible as a book of answers to difficult moral questions, Lutherans, along with many other Christians, tend to see the Bible as a book through which the Spirit brings nurture and growth in the life of faith. As the church seeks to equip its members for Christian living, it uses the Bible as an important teaching tool. It gives us the Ten Commandments, stories of moral heroism (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife), of moral accountability (the prophet Nathan and King David), of loyalty under pressure (Ruth and Naomi), and parables that judge self-righteousness (the Pharisee and the tax collector) and exalt love and reconciliation (the prodigal son). We hear and learn these stories from childhood. They all are part of the church’s message that inspires and directs our life toward Gospel-motivated works of love and a sense of responsibility toward the neighbor.”

In terms of our salvation, what we eat does not matter (our health, of course, is a different matter altogether). But as a people of faith and a child of God, the status of our heart does matter. It matters to God in Christ Jesus; it matters to the world for whom God has chosen us as witnesses; and it matters to us as we shine the light of the love of Christ for one another. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, our soul, and our mind and our neighbor as ourselves requires us not to memorize a book of rules, but to allow our Lord to rule in our hearts and the power of the Holy Spirit to shape and confirm our lives to his. Which is on the one hand vastly more difficult because it requires true humility on our part and on the other vastly easier because we allow God to be God in power, wisdom and might, surprise and wonder, love and grace. Amen.

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