"From Within"

2 September 2012

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

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

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and 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.) So 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?” He 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;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Prayer.

I believe in a God of love.

I’ve never been able to believe in a transcendent God;

That is,

A God who created,

Set the world into motion,

Then stood off watching how everything played out.

Our scriptures suggest otherwise.

One of the necessary requirements of free choice

Is for God to be relational;

To be able to adapt to the changing reality of human decisions.

When Adam made a bad choice,

God stepped in and acted with tough love.

When Abraham made a good choice to accept God’s covenant,

God responded with a loving promise to forever bless his offspring.

When we failed to listen to the prophets God sent us,

God sent us his Son,

Which was, and is, the ultimate act of love.

From my experience, the only constant about God,

Is love.

Because we are always changing,

God’s love requires God to relate, interact, guide, direct our continued existence.

Change has its benefits.

Humans are a constantly changing, evolving, improving people.

Guttenberg and his printing press

Changed the way we communicated,

Greatly impacted the speed and means the Gospel was spread,

And played a significant role in the ending of the Middle Ages

And the emergence of the Renaissance.

The Industrial Age

Changed transportation, shrinking the world.

It brought us iron framed skyscrapers,

Telephones in every home,

And refrigerators in every kitchen.

Likewise, the Internet Era

Is changing us in new, unknown, and unimagined ways.

Without being a curmudgeon,

Change has its downside.

Change that outpaces moral and ethical concerns leads us

To pollute our forests and streams,

Allows us to use nuclear weapons,

Subjects us to questionable medical procedures,

And exposes us to the risks of unintended consequences.

Like it or not,

We are a changing people.

And because God loves us as his very own,

God is always with us,

Rolls with our fits and flurry,

Celebrates our victories

And mourns with us in our defeat.

Change is the central focus of our Gospel for today.

Dietary and cleanliness laws had been on the books in Judaism for the past one thousand years (or more).

They are easy to find in the Torah,

That is, the first five books of our Old Testament.

They were penned by the Priestly class and Scribes of their day.

These laws were recognized as words from God,

Became the foundation for Hebrew doctrine,

And opened the Rabbinical age of interpretation and modification

Based on the original source.

This led to elaborate rules about what was clean

And what was unclean;

And when unclean, as was humanly inevitable,

Rules prescribed the process for becoming clean once again.

Many times, but not always, the Rabbinical rules

Belayed underlying, ulterior motives;

Such as how to increase Temple profits.

Rules followed doctrines, which followed scripture.

It doesn’t take long before people

Follow the rules without question

Because, well, that’s just the way it is.

That’s what the authorities tell us to do.

They must know better.

So we just follow.

The problem raised in today’s Gospel lesson is that

Pharisees and scribes joined Jesus and his disciples for a meal.

Some of the disciples were not following the rules.

The religious authorities took offense.

Where they being disrespected?

Was Jesus’ Rabbinical credentials being challenged because he wasn’t keeping his students in line?

Either way,

Jesus’ liberal attitude

Towards their conservative interpretation of the Law

Led the Pharisees and scribes to ask:

“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 

The old school collides with the new curriculum.

Using the revered words of the prophet Isaiah himself,

Jesus rightly exposes the erring divergence of Rabbinical doctrines:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

Look to the heart, Jesus teaches them.

The heart is the source of people’s motives.

If the heart is rotten, behavior will be evil.

“It is from within,” Jesus says, “from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

That’s what defiles a person.

If the heart is good, the behavior will be acceptable unto God.

Examine the heart,

What comes from within;

This becomes the new metric,

The new measure for a life lived according to God

And in Christ’s example.

Through the words and actions of Jesus

God changed the ground rules for what is faithful discipleship.

In today’s world there is much clamber for changing doctrine.

Like our Hebrew ancestors

Significant Church doctrine has evolved over nearly two centuries.

Church historians can often times trace the roots:

Doctrine A came about because of Doctrine B, which preceded it two hundred years earlier.

Precedent bequeaths precedent,

One would hope,

Faithfully back to scripture,

Such that all sound doctrines are rooted in Biblical authority.

Many times this is not the case.

Either doctrines become antiquated due to the evolving and changing human condition, or,

Doctrines err and stray from original scriptural intent due to human imperfection.

While Jesus was able to make an immediate and sweeping correction

Of outdated and errant doctrines,

It isn’t so simple for us today.

Many clamber for change for change sake.

Many will cite their specially selected,

out of context,

examples of scriptural authority to support their case.

Others will have hidden motives, overtly or covertly expressed,

That will bring them passion for doctrinal change.

Still others would prefer to hide their heads in the sand

and hope that one day it will all blow over.

When it comes to the big issues of the day,

How, we ask,

Are we to faithfully discern any and all modifications to traditional doctrines

Without violating our commitment to Christ?

Jesus, as always, shows us the way

To appropriately adapt to our changing world.

First, change begins from within;

From the heart.

A heart that is grounded in and channeling the love of God

Is at the heart of faithful living.

A loving heart is able to calm the stormy seas of social change.

It all begins with love,

A love from within,

That ultimately comes from our God of love.

Secondly, it is my experience

That the Spirit of Jesus,

The Holy Spirit,

Works in and through that loving heart

To change the hearts of others.

Therefore, appropriate doctrinal changes only comes about

By the Spirit’s movement,

By the Spirit’s will,

By the Spirit’s direction.

It is a community affair;

An ecclesiastical affair, if you will.

It is the Spirit of Jesus that brings about change to the Church and her doctrines, replacing the old with the new.

Therefore, faithful change today

Is always somewhat conservative and slow acting.

It takes time for the Holy Spirit to work,

For hearts to be warmed,

For change to come.

The Church is never fast, nor should it be.

The Body of Christ is always slow,

Deliberate,

And always open to the movement of God.

This is a good thing.

It protects us, when used faithfully,

To superficial winds of change

That calls for haphazard and reckless changes.

It protects us from charismatic but dangerous leaders

Whose motives may not be completely pure.

At the end of the day,

How are we to know?

How are we to know when to change and when to hold fast?

Live a life that aligns your heart with God.

Allow yourself to be a channel of God’s love to the world.

Watch for the movement of the Spirit of Jesus in the lives of others.

Listen to the words that come

From within.

You will know.

You will know.

Amen.