15th Sunday After Pentecost
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who sees us for who we really are and who still loves us. Amen
Today our lessons are about extremes.
On the one hand we have Jesus in our gospel
calling the Pharisees
who criticize his disciples for not washing their hands
They are so focused on human tradition
and what they do
that they’ve forgotten the meaning behind their actions.
Doing too much of the right thing
can become the wrong thing Jesus says,
and that comes from within our hearts,
not what we put into our bodies.
On the other hand,
we have James who proclaims
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
and goes on to compare people
who hear but don’t act
to someone who briefly looks in a mirror
and immediately forgets what they saw.
Looking in the mirror doesn’t do much good
if you don’t remove the lump of spinach you see between your teeth.
James wants doers that act,
not hearers who forget
and warns “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”
You’re doing too much,
you’re doing too little
seemingly opposing messages
but when we look at them closer
we see they have a common denominator:
both are about what’s in your heart
and the importance of taking time
to examine what is in your heart, your intentions
because if you don’t
no matter what you do or do not do,
you’ll get into trouble.
What we have here is a message of law.
we tend to focus more on the gospel,
the good news
but remember we are a people of both/and,
we are saint and sinner at the same time
and we need both the law and the gospel
it’s just a matter of timing,
we need the gospel when we despair
and we need that law when we get cocky,
we are saved by God’s grace,
and we are flawed human beings,
which is why we need help to work on our flaws,
and that is where the law comes in
the law acts like a mirror
and if we don’t like what we see when we look at our reflections
then it’s time to make some changes
But the thing about the law
is that it doesn’t just reflect back
who we are on the surface,
the carefully cultivated public image
that minimizes flaws,
no the law reflects back who we are in our hearts,
from where, as Jesus remarks to the disciples “evil intentions come”
and he lists all sorts of evil intentions,
murder, slander, adultery, the usuals
but also pride and folly,
intentions that, if we are unaware of them
shade our actions and turn them on their heads.
The Pharisees to whom Jesus is speaking,
are faithful people,
they understand the law as a gift from God
- they’re not trying to earn salvation by following the law,
the law is a gift from God
that when lived out
acts as a witness to the other nations.
The intent behind living out the law
is to bring people together.
But the pharisees have become so focused
on the act of living out the law
that their efforts to live faithfully
have actually separated them from the people
for whom they are to be an example
it has separated them from their neighbors.
The pharisees are shocked by Jesus
because he has gone back to the original intent
and in Jesus’ way of doing things
reaching out to the neighbor
is more important than keeping clean,
if you follow Jesus,
you should expect to get your hands dirty in the service of others
And how we serve matters
It might seem like an obvious statement but
it’s important to listen to those we serve.
A couple of years ago
one of the officials of our partner synod in Tanzania
came and talked to the leaders at the fall theological conference,
and part of his message was that
“some of you are doing too much without listening to what we need.”
I believe he was referring to a couple of larger churches
who had partner relationships with Tanzanian congregations
and would help them financially
but would dictate what their financial help would go to
and this, the official said, was hurting the Tanzanian churches.
At some point
the help became less about the true needs of the Tanzanian church
and more about what the church in the states was doing
it was easier to sell people on say building a church in Africa,
which had tangible results
with glossy pictures
easily hung on a church bulletin board
or posted to a website as an example international mission,
that was more appealing than a general gift of money
that could be put towards the things the Tanzanian church needed most,
which might not have translated well into pictures
or measurable outcomes
but which would empower the recipients to do ministry
in their own place, in their own way.
We must examine the true intentions in our hearts when we act,
and yes even when we serve.
We have to ask ourselves,
is this really out of love of neighbor?
Or is this about us feeling good about doing something?
Who are we actually serving?
On the other hand,
if we say we believe something
our lives should reflect that belief.
I’ve seen a meme go around on the internet that says
“Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.”
We’re called to share this awesome life changing message with others,
it loses a little something when our own lives don’t reflect the awe of the gospel,
even a little bit.
Saying that we are Christian
does not give us the right to do whatever we want,
in fact it’s quite the opposite.
When we say we are Christian,
or followers of Jesus
or however else you like to put it
there has to be the intent backing up the words,
intent that acknowledges that it’s a difficult thing to follow Jesus,
it makes us uncomfortable at times,
it requires us to search our hearts before we act,
and it requires us to act on what we believe
to get our hands dirty,
to change the way we think and live.
learning to live in this way takes a lifetime.
A lifetime of hearing and doing and searching the heart,
a lifetime where sometimes we do too much
and sometimes we do too little
but wherever we are on our journey of faith we are not alone
Claimed by God at our baptisms
we are made members of a community,
a community who lives this life together,
who is there to point out when we’re going too far in one direction or the other,
a community that gathers to confess our sins to God
and receive forgiveness,
a community where Christ brings us to his table
to renew us with his body and blood,
then sends us back out into the world to live intentionally.
gathered in this community
take some time,
yes right now,
search your heart,
ask yourself some tough questions.
Then come to the table that Christ has prepared for you,
bread for the journey. Amen
Elisabeth Johnson's commentary on workingpreacher.org was of great help in composing this sermon
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.