September 2, 2018: 15th Sunday of Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, although we humans base our opinions of others based on externals, today we thank You for not doing that with us! We thank You for looking deep inside of us and examining our hearts for evidence of faith. For it is what’s inside of us, what You have placed inside of us, that makes us blest human beings. Today, reiterate that truth. Amen
TEXT: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
You’re traveling alone. You walk into a diner for a bite to eat. Only two seats remain—both at the counter on either end. On the left, the person who will be sitting next to you is a burly truck-driver type in work clothes. On the right, the person who will be sitting next to you is dressed in a business suit and immaculately turned out. So, which seat will you take? Who do you want to eat by? Who do you want to engage in chit-chat while munching on a burger? Most people would pick the fellow in the business suit. Every day we all make snap decisions based on external appearances. You do it on the commuter train. You do it on the T. You do it in stores while shopping. But are you always correct in your first impression? The trucker might well have been a wonderful family man with a heart of gold. The “suit” might well have been an arrogant jerk. Appearances can be deceiving.
In the OT God proscribed various dietary restrictions on the Israelites for very good reasons. Some food was off-limits and branded “unclean” like pork, shellfish, and the like. Those ancient peoples did not know about the pork parasite called: trichinosis, but God did. (Which has been wiped out in modern swine herds.) Likewise, they did not know about “red tide” which infected shellfish and could make you sick or even kill you. But God did. Hence His directives.
Likewise, those ancient people did not know a lot about germs, microbes, bacteria or viruses. But, God did. So, He also set up directives about washing your hands before eating and washing the body to cleanse it, which then carried over into washing before religious ceremonies to mark you as clean before God. This external cleansing was to illustrate internal cleansing. In the church we call that: repentance. But, humans always seem to get carried away and embrace the external by tossing aside the internal. This is the basic problem outlined in our lesson.
The Jewish Pharisees were all about external show. If you looked pious and holy then obviously you were—at least to them. They externalized their religious principles to the extreme. And they branded anyone who didn’t as “unclean” before God. Basically they were OT Puritans who nit-picked about everything. And once you adopt that attitude, you quickly become a self-righteous religious jerk who thinks God is impressed by your actions instead of the attitude of your heart. So, when these men saw the disciples diving into some food with ceremonially unclean or unwashed hands, well, they got on their high-horse and criticized them and by extension, Christ. In their minds, they were obviously more holy.
Jesus replied to their jibe by quoting Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men.”—That’s because what the Pharisees had elevated to Godly standards of behavior wasn’t in the OT, but merely Rabbinic traditions added over the centuries. Then Jesus added this: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”—Which of course, is self idolatry. Or as the prophet Samuel said in 1 Sam. 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Considering that all of us do stupid and sinful things, have warts and pimples and cellulite, lose our hair and get wrinkles—well, it’s a good thing that God can look past externals isn’t it?
Now Jesus takes this opportunity to teach them and us about real sin. Sin alienates us from God. But the core of sin isn’t about what you see, it stems from deep within and corrupts the entire human being. We call this: original sin because we inherited it from our first parents. “Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.”” And finally, to drive home this concept, Jesus goes on to provide one of those “catalogues” of such sins: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean”.”
If you’re honest, you have to confess that you’re guilty of every single one of these sins. At some time or another you’ve harbored them, thought them, played with them, or acted upon them. So, that makes all of us unclean before God, doesn’t it? Unclean and deserving of God’s wrath and retribution. On our own we stand before our Maker totally corrupted and downright ugly.
Of course, this is where Jesus comes in. He came to make us clean again, as clean as Adam and Eve before the fall into sin. He came to give us His perfectly clean life of never succumbing to such evil—to exchange that life for ours. He came to suffer and die to pay for our unclean lives by dying for our sins on the cross. He came to rise to a new life, a perfect, holy, and shiny life emanating goodness and love eternally towards us. He came to send us the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the Trinity Whose work it is to apply and give us personally all Christ’s gifts of grace—the Spirit Who does just this through working faith in our hearts. God the Father ordained this holy cleansing. God the Son worked it all out. And God the Holy Spirit showers it upon us. Hence, as Dr. Luther says: “Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s go back to that diner. Like most people you pick the “suit” to sit next to. Bad choice. He looks wonderful and stylish, but in conversation you soon discover that he totally amoral. So, half-way through your meal you excuse yourself and plop down next to the truck driver who is helpful, happy, well-adjusted, and even pays your bill when you’re done! Moral to the story: External appearances don’t always reveal the heart of evil or the heart of gold which lie within. Good thing God looks past your externals! And as a Christian what does He see in you right now? He sees Christ’s holy heart which has been given to you via faith. Amen