Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sermon for 02 September 2012, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17B)

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 7:14-23
Clean & Unclean, Part Two
Proper 17B, 02 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

CPR: “Today’s date in history is unique. September 2, 1752 (260 years ago today), was the last day that England and the American colonies followed the Julian calendar. The rest of Europe had switched to the Gregorian calendar, and to standardize dates, England agreed to switch. So the day after September 2, 1752 was September 14. People were confused with what had happened, and riots occurred because people thought that the government had stolen time from them or stolen days that they couldn’t get back.
“There is irony in that what was on the surface—a number or date—affected what people thought about the actual living of days. The Pharisees who criticized Jesus were overly concerned about what was on the outside and so lost track of what was important on the inside. In England, the date became more important than the day, even as for the Pharisees rituals of washing became more important than the real cleansing of sin and evil inside of hearts (Mark 7:14-23). What really matters to us?”

What is really important in the Christian life? Going through the motions of piety, or being a pious, repentant sinner? The issue Jesus addresses with the Pharisees could be restated in contemporary terms this way: they were coming to church, tithing, were incredibly involved in their congregation, and looking presentable, but doing it all for the wrong reasons. Does their man-made tradition of washing make them really clean? Does it please a holy God? Does it remove their sin?
Consider their misplaced priorities. God desires mercy, not sacrifice, and prefers a repentant tax collector to a proud Pharisee. The sermon this week, as with the sermon last week, is based on Mark Chapter 7.
We would do well to avoid the self-righteous pride of the Pharisees and continually confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Forgive us, good Lord! We would also profit from getting our priorities straight when it comes to God’s Word: to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. And be careful not to add our own traditions, our own regulations or rules and elevate them to divine authority at the expense of genuine divine law.
14 And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”5
It is clear how the Old Testament purity laws had been misused and twisted from their original direction. Our Lord shows us a different perspective. He holds up a mirror to our dark, dirty hearts. And the picture isn’t pretty.
The disciples wonder about what Jesus has publicly taught. It is different from the man-made traditions the Pharisees and others insisted upon. Jesus teaches by His own Divine authority and not as the scribes and the teachers of the law.
Yes, we know more about fungus, bacteria, viruses and other infectious diseases than did people in Biblical times. Jesus knew about them too, yet taught the people in His Word and in person using what they could understand there and then. Remember, Jesus isn’t teaching a personal hygiene class. Jesus’ concern is about true spiritual cleanliness before our holy Lord God.
Jesus’ teaching focuses our attention on what comes from God rather than what comes from man: 5 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”6 (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.
It is clear how the Old Testament purity laws had been misused and twisted from their original direction. Our Lord shows us a different perspective. He holds up a mirror to our dark, dirty hearts. And the picture isn’t pretty.
“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.’”

Jesus pulls no punches in describing our uncleanness. We have been unclean from birth, stained with sin. No bleach, detergent, solvent, or sanitizer can make us clean again. We also sin daily, and much, so that our filthy rags become even more filthy. But God does not leave us in our filth. He can even use the dirty plot of the Pharisees, Chief Priests, and teachers of the law to make us clean.
The plot of the Pharisees saw its fruition in the arrest, trial, suffering, and crucifixion of Our Lord. Christ was a bloody sacrifice for you and me on Calvary. St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus, [God’s] (His) Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) Our uncleanness, our filth, our sins, are washed away! We are forgiven!
No mere ceremonial washing according to the tradition of the elders can remove the stain of sin. No mere outwardly pious actions can appease a holy God. But the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. We are cleansed from all unrighteousness!
The Gospel according to St. Mark begins with a different kind ceremonial washing, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist says this of our crucified Lord and our Cleansing Sacrifice: “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
St. Paul writes, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. (Titus 3:5-8)”
This day, as we prepare to partake of the Lord’s Body and Blood, know that you are cleansed, your sins forgiven. Remember also your baptism and into whose Name you have been baptized. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.