This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-23. Within this text, Jesus’ audience changes a couple of times. Likewise, his method for address changes, but his message remains consistent. We can take a lesson from this.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
If you were previously unaware, you likely noticed on your way into the church this morning that the first phase of our landscaping project, both on the front side as well as the backside of the church, has now been completed.
The initial work happened about a week ago as the dirt was moved around and the concrete footings for the new bell stand were poured…and then the rest of the work happened through the middle of this past week. A crew of 5 or 6 individuals were here, putting the different types of brick in place to create the wall and the bell platform as well as the decorative portion of the sidewalk.
As per usual in a situation like this, they were outside doing their work, while life inside the building went on like usual. Interactions between me and the crew were minimal, limited to a casual hello or a nod as I walked past them headed towards the front door…but there was one that caught my attention. I’d been in the office and was heading out…and as per usual I push open the front door and immediately turn to the right, heading out towards the parking lot…
But this time around, the timing was pretty spot on…and I pushed open the door just as two of the members of the crew spouted off at one another…and as can be pretty typical in situations like this…the language was…well, let’s just say it was pretty colorful on the part of the individual who had his back to the door…the one who didn’t realize that I was in earshot. (pause)
Now the reaction of one of the other crew members was pretty priceless…and as I was walking towards the parking lot I heard “Oh nice man…cussing in front of the pastor.” (pause) I thought about turning around to assure them that it was okay and I didn’t mind…but in all honesty, I was way too busy laughing at the situation to even do that. (pause)
Now for many of you this is no great shock…but I myself have the tendency for colorful language in many different situations…a situation that has gotten me strange looks from individuals on more than one occasion…and if, for whatever reason you haven’t heard me before, yes I will admit it…I have moments when I cuss like a sailor…I hope you don’t hold it against me.
But I bring all this up, because I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk to each other in our regular day to day lives…or more specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we address one another…and how we have the tendency to present ourselves a little differently in different situations…how the way we talk might change as our audience changes. (pause) I don’t think that this tendency is a bad thing…at least as long as the message remains consistent. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with today’s gospel lesson…and as per usual, that’s a fair question…because today’s lesson…at least at face value…doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot to do with language…in fact, it really seems to be aimed at the notion of rules…and that Jesus is discounting the old rules…perhaps calling people out for following the rules a little too closely. (pause)
That was my first thought as I approached this lesson throughout the course of this week…that Jesus is assuring us that faith doesn’t fit in a rule book…and that his harsh words for the Pharisee’s and the scribes are telling that he has abolished the Old Testament Law…in fact it almost seems as if he’s condemning them for relying on it too heavily…That was my first thought. (pause)
But then I read through it a few more times…and not just the broken batch of verses listed in the bulletin, but I read through the entirety of the chapter…and I noticed something important. (pause) Throughout the course of this chapter…at least through the first 23 verses of it…the audience that Jesus is talking to changes…not just once, but twice.
He starts off talking to the Pharisees and the scribes…but then he directly addresses the crowd that is sitting there listening to them…before finally pulling his disciples aside to explain just what it is that he’s been talking about. (pause) Three different audiences…and three different methods of talking to them. (pause)
First off the Pharisees and scribes…members of the group that I tend to call the religious big-wigs…and not only that…but Mark flat out tells us that they have traveled out from Jerusalem…and so, we see that these guys are THE elite…the best of the best…these guys come from headquarters…if they were Catholic, they’d be from the Vatican…they’d be the professors…the experts…and as such…you can bet a pretty penny that they know the scriptures like the back of their hands…the law…the rules…yah…they know what they’re talking about. (pause)
And so, they bring up rules of cleanliness…and honestly, don’t they sound like every dotting parent out there? Why don’t your kids wash their hands before they eat? (pause) That’s literally their question…they take a rule that in all truth only pertains to the Priests in the temple…and they embellish just a touch saying that EVERYONE does it…and in the end, all they’re really doing is trying to discredit Jesus by association.
But the thing to pay attention to here…is how Jesus responds. Keep in mind these are the experts of the law and the scriptures…and Jesus treats them that way…by sitting down and having a debate over those very laws…over those very scriptures…honestly it reminds me of a scene I saw many times at Seminary when two or three professors would be sitting around debating theology in the campus coffee shop.
And yes, Jesus calls them on their error…pointing out the hypocritical nature of clinging to ritual for the sake of ritual…the thought that how well we follow the rules matters for how righteous or faithful we are…Jesus tells them, in somewhat heated, yet scholarly debate…that they’re wrong…that this has no bearing on matters of faith in their lives. (pause)
And then…Jesus changes, his audience…for having set them straight…or at least sent them packing…Jesus turns his attention back to the crowds who are still present…likely wondering about the outcome of this scholarly conversation…And as Jesus addresses a new group of people…people with different background and understanding…he quite simply takes on the role of teacher…something that he always does with the crowd…and he lays out the same argument…the same truth as before…he just does it a whole lot different. “Guys…trust me, its not what you eat that defiles…its what comes out…your actions, your words…they shine a light on the defilement that resides within the individual.” Short…and to the point.
And then…as he withdraws with the disciples…and they ask him just what it is that he’s talking about…he gets pretty blunt…as I think a lot of us tend to do when we are with those that we know best…those who know us best…and once again…it’s the same topic…just a little more blunt so they get the point.
“Lord, what do you mean it is not what goes in that defiles?” And Jesus looks them straight in the eye “DUDE…SERIOUSLY? We’re talking about food here…you eat it…and eventually it ends up in the toilet.” It’s a natural process how can that defile you…and then in his normal fashion, Jesus gets pretty specific with the disciples…and why? Well because he knows that in the long run these guys are going to become the pillars of the church here on earth…in the long run, these guys need to understand what it is that he’s teaching them.
You notice that he doesn’t change the message…only how he shares it. And that is true regardless of the specific story that we read…as Jesus shares the gospel…as he shares the good news that through him, the kingdom of heaven has come near, the end result is always the same.
Today he’s talking about what defiles a person…and he tells us that what defiles us is the flawed human nature…that a sinful human heart lies within all of us, and that our actions and words reflect it. Period. (pause) And so now comes the million dollar question…what do we do with that?
Well first…we need to hear the gospel…that that sinful human nature…that lies within all of us…it just does…and then we realize that there’s nothing we can do about it…and yet God choses us anyway…through Christ, we are forgiven…we are accepted…just as we are.
And then, we share it…but what we learn today is that the way we share it is going to be different all the time. Because the gospel meets us where we are…and if we’re the one sharing it…then the gospel needs to meet the other individual where they are…and not only that…but we also recognize that each and every individual is going to share the gospel in a different way…because God uses them as they are…with the gifts that they possess…with the voice that they’ve been given.
And I remember when that particular lesson hit home for me…I was in my second year preaching class…spring semester 2011…Now by this point, I was no stranger to preaching…I’d been preaching off and on for several years by this point…and while my own style was certainly evident, I’d also picked up a lot of tendencies from other people…and during the critique phase of about my second sermon in that class…my professor pointed it out to me. These odd little phrases like “And so now I’d like to invite you to consider this possibility…”
And she said “Scott…I’ve listened to you talk…you don’t talk like that. What would you actually say?” I thought about it for a moment…Well in regular conversation I’d say “Think about it.” (pause) And she smiled and said “So say it like that in your sermon.” (pause)
The wonderful nature of the gospel is that its personal. Its personal to the person hearing it because it says that God has chosen you…God, loves…you. (pause) And its also personal to the person sharing it because it says “I have seen God do this, now let me share that with you.” (pause)
Sometimes we share the gospel very bluntly…because that’s what people need to hear…sometimes we share it through our actions…how we treat one another…sometimes the gospel sounds like “I don’t know.” Sometimes it sounds like “I’m so sorry.” And sometimes it sounds like Yes Jesus Loves Me.
We might be speaking a different language…and we might be hearing a different language…but praise be to God that the message is always the same. God loves you, and he died to prove it. Amen.