The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17B (Aug. 30, 2015)

Lessons:Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 Psalm 15 James 1:17-27 St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Semicontinuous Series: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

Prayer of the Day: O God our strength, without you we are weak and wayward creatures. Protect us from all dangers that attack us from the outside, and cleanse us from all evil that arises from within ourselves, that we may be preserved through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 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.) 5 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?” 6 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;  7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” 14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.


Cherished Beliefs

Jesus.GermsIn the men’s room at Saint Peter there has been (for years) a small card taped to the mirror, at about eye’s level for a 5-year-old. It says, “Jesus and germs are everywhere, so wash your hands and say a prayer.” I have no idea whether there is one in the women’s room. It reminds me of the old joke that ends with, “Jesus and germs, Jesus and germs; that’s all you talk about, and I can’t see either one!”

This week’s Gospel lesson is about Jesus and germs, but the intent of the teaching is not to prevent us from spreading diseases. The intent is to explore religious tradition, and discern the ways in which it promotes or inhibits our participation in the kingdom of God.

The Lutheran church is a liturgical church, with 500 years of rich history behind it. We have many cherished beliefs and practices, and most of them are far more significant than the color of our seat cushions or the Sunday morning worship schedule. At the same time, we think of ourselves as a reforming movement within the catholic tradition — a church that is always committed to evaluating our beliefs and practices (even the ones we cherish the most!) with one question in mind: “Do they strengthen our church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

These are not always easy questions to ask. Occasionally they compel us to make some major adjustments to our life together. Think about our church’s changed positions on slavery, or the role of women in the church, or the age of first communion. These days we are asking questions about same-gender relationships and whether the communion table is open to the unbaptized.

Did I catch any of your hot buttons there? If so, perhaps you can imagine the position Jesus finds himself in, here in the seventh chapter of Mark. He too is living within a religious tradition that has many cherished beliefs and practices; a number of them related to the careful washing of hands and cooking utensils. Recalling the words of the prophet (Isaiah 29:13), he has evidently concluded that too many believers in his day are living with clean hands but unclean hearts. So he invites his followers to set those customs aside, and focus on what sort of intentions come from within them.

The Pharisees and the scribes are aghast. But his point is clear: “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” Do these washing traditions help to cleanse the heart, and promote Godly intentions? If so, follow them with passion and pleasure. But if they distract from the heartfelt transformation that God wants for us, they are not much different from rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Jesus calls us to question whether our beliefs and practices lead us to a bolder proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a church, and as individuals, are we willing to do this?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were people of Jesus’ day so committed to these washing traditions?
  2. What is Jesus trying to accomplish by allowing his followers to ignore them?
  3. How does this exchange impact Jesus’ relationship with the religious officials?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What beliefs and practices should we be re-evaluating today?
  2. What might we do if we find them in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. Am I most inclined to embrace or question our beliefs and practices?