Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
So in Mark’s Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is getting after the Pharisees and the scribes for being so worried about an old cleansing tradition. They get after Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat with defiled hands (meaning they ate before washing them). The Pharisees argue, “We have always done it this way. How dare they go against tradition?” These Pharisees and scribes were so concerned about cleanliness and what was going in the body.
Now we are quite similar actually; many if not all of us here this morning are mindful and concerned about what goes in our bodies. You make decisions about healthy versus unhealthy foods that you eat. You’re probably quite mindful of the pills and other medicines that you are putting in your body. Hopefully you’re paying attention to how much water you are drinking in a day. Plus we try to limit the amount of unhealthy beverages that we consume; like pop, alcohol and caffeine. You see, we are very concerned about what is going in our bodies. The Pharisees were concerned because those who ate with dirty hands were considered defiled or spoiled or desecrated.
But Jesus turns this tradition around on the Pharisees and says it’s not what goes in the body that defiles someone, but it is what comes out that defiles. With how concerned we are about what goes in our bodies, Jesus is also talking to us. It is not what goes in your body that defiles you and makes you a sinner, it is what comes out of it. And Jesus backs up his argument, when you put something in your body, where does it go? As Jesus says, “it enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer; never once entering the heart.” And the heart is what matters most to God.
What defiles us, making us unclean, making us a sinner, is not what goes in our bodies, but what comes out of our hearts through our words, our actions, and our thoughts. So what is coming out of your heart through your words, actions and thoughts? What message are you sending to your family with your words and actions? Do they hear that you care about them and love them or that they really don’t matter much? What message do your friends and co-workers or your boss hear – that you’re dedicated or you could really care less? What message are you sending to God? Do you act in a way that you fully trust and believe in God? Or do you only call on God when you need help? That God should be there when you need him, but otherwise you don’t need to bother with God, nor should he bother you.
Or how about the church, the body of Christ. What message do our words and actions say about this church, about us? Are we welcoming to visitors that we don’t know? Do we go out of our way to welcome these visitors into the church? Or do we just ignore them and when they leave ask around, “So who was that sitting in the third pew from the back?”
Jesus’ point could be described by how a clay pot is formed. How many of you have ever worked with clay? In 7th grade art, I had to make a clay pot for an assignment and let’s just say that I didn’t keep the pot. But anyway, as you are forming this clay pot, you begin with a center and work outwards. And as you do that, it becomes quite easy to lose the center of the pot (that’s what happened with me, my clay pot was not circular, it was more oval to almost rectanglish). But as you are forming this pot, your goal is to keep focus on the center. And this is what Jesus is trying to get across to us, focusing on ourselves and what goes in the body, and focusing on old traditions because we’ve always done it this way, takes our focus off of the center, off of Christ at the center.
Whatever comes out of your mouth reveals who you really are. So as the reading from James today reminds us, “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Be doers of the word, not merely hearers of it. If you come here and listen to God’s Word through song, scripture and sermon and go “Oh that was nice”, but don’t do anything (meaning you don’t change your attitude or your lifestyle or your devotion with God), then that message from James is for you. He’s telling us, don’t simply hear God’s Word, God’s Word is intended to move you to act on something. So when you hear that Christ is to be at your center (and the only one at your center), then do something about that to keep Christ as your center. And the same is true for our church. Is Christ at the center of everything that we do, from council decisions, to the maintenance of our building, to how the sanctuary is decorated, to how we act and treat one another?
If Christ is not at the center then we’re doing something wrong, and He will stop at nothing to be at the center for our God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to be one of many in our lives, he wants to be the only one in our lives. And He will stop at nothing to get there. Jesus is constantly working on us to become the ONLY priority in our lives and He will not rest until He has reached His goal.
During Jesus’ ministry, He also had one goal, and that was to go to the cross, to take your sins (all of those things that defile you including your obsession about yourself instead of caring for others). You don’t like that, well too bad. Jesus took all of those sins that you enjoy and love, every last one of them, and they were nailed to the tree. Jesus took your sins away so that He could be the only one at the center of your life. Trust the word of God over yourself and your traditions because Jesus is indeed the answer to it all. Amen.
© 2015 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.