Posts Tagged ‘Mark 7’

You Are Doing It Wrong 9-2-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, I explore a debate that Jesus engages in that focuses in on the practices that are acceptable (or not) to God. From here we move into the idea that encounters with the divine through worship look or sound or seem a whole lot different to different people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-are-doing-it-wrong-9-2-18

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Many of you out there know I’m a fan of movies…and that I often make comparisons between them and the scriptures. I suppose you could say that movie acts as a bit of a parable in these instances…and today is no different.

I’m remembering one that came out back in the early 90’s…a movie called Backdraft that focused on 2 brothers who were 2nd generation firefighters in Chicago…the movie opens with a flashback…as the brothers are young…and together they are trying to put on the gear that firefighters utilize for their protection as they battle the blazes…and the younger brother is trying to get the heavy fire-resistant coat buttoned up correctly…his older brother takes one look…and in the condescending way that older brothers often have tells him “You’re doing it wrong” and promptly buttons it up for him.

Now this moment repeats a little later on in the movie, when the brothers, now fully grown and assigned to the same fire station, set off on the first fire for the younger brother, who has just graduated from training…and as they get off the truck, he’s still struggling to button up his coat correctly…and sure enough…once again, big brother, takes over…and buttons him as he says…You’re doing it wrong.

The moment repeats itself one more time at the end of the movie…when the younger brother…who now has lot of experience, is sitting in a truck across from another newbie, experiencing the same problem…and it comes full circle as he leans across to help the new guy after saying…You’re doing it wrong. (Pause)

This repeating moment speaks to a sense of unfamiliarity…of needing to learn the right way of doing things…and it also points us in the direction of certain things that must be done in a certain way…and while firefighting might not have much in common with worship…I had a professor in seminary that reminds me a lot of those two brothers. He was tasked with teaching us the “proper etiquette” for leading worship…and believe me the guy took it seriously…

I remember the way he would correct us in worship lab…yes we had a lab about worship, crazy as that sounds…he was always kind…but he would point out when you did something wrong…like lifting the bread incorrectly during the words of institution…or adding in the phrase “in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit” in a moment when you aren’t supposed to…or the way you hold your arms during the prayers of intercession. If we messed up, we’d hear that same phrase…you’re doing it wrong.

Now…this is evidence of something we call High Church or Low Church…and its essentially talking about the traditions of worship. There are some congregations and pastors who are extremely high church…they wear ALL the vestments…and they follow very distinct rules about things…rules as tedious as which candle you light on the alter first…and whether or not you should lift the offering plates towards heaven before placing them on the altar.

And then on the flip side there’s the low church mentality…one that doesn’t always put a ton of stock in the “right way” of doing things. You might call it laid back…any guesses on which side I fall? (pause)

Here’s the thing…these different practices…different methods or ways of doing things effect how worship looks and sounds and functions…and yet it raises the question…is there a right way and a wrong way? Or are there simply different ways to worship?

And that seems to be the question being hotly debated by Jesus and some of the religious elite in today’s passage. We hear that the Pharisees and Scribes are criticizing Jesus because his disciples don’t go through a ceremonial handwashing before they eat…thereby risking their unclean hands making the food unclean and therefore making them unclean when they eat it.  That’s the initial controversy…and since they are his disciples…clearly they must have learned this behavior from him…and therefore, he gets targeted.

But maybe you’re wondering why this is a big deal…well in the Jewish culture…there is great importance about being ritually clean or unclean…and it goes all the way back to Moses and the law…and it serves a variety of purposes. These were God’s chosen people…and God willingly dwelled among them…but since God is perfect…since God is utterly clean, God cannot tolerate anything or anyone coming near that is unclean…and there have been countless rules and regulations developed to ensure the proper fashion of things…that the proper worship of the divine is happening.

And this rule is one them…but funny enough, Mark has embellished things just a bit by saying that ALL the Jews follow this law…because in actually, even in Jesus time, this particular rule about ritual washing of hands only applied to the priests.

Now Jesus makes a point of this…actually several times over, and in some of the verses that we skip over today, he makes a heck of a point about food being unable to defile…or to make a person unclean…when he reminds his audience that food goes in the stomach and comes out…into the sewer…think about that for a moment and maybe you’ll make the connection of just what Jesus thinks about this whole contraversy.

But there’s also another statement that Jesus makes…one that really caught my attention, as he quotes from the prophet Isaiah…He says “in vain do they worship me.” (pause) In vain.

I thought about that a lot…because at first glance it sorta seems like this prophetic word of the Lord is a bit troublesome…saying that worship is in vain…I mean, God might as well be saying that worship is pointless…that it serves no purpose…that there’s no reason for it…and if that’s all we hear, that’s troubling.

But we’ve got to stop and consider what Jesus is really talking about here. One thing we need to remember is just how utterly connected the Jewish culture is with their religion, and their worship practices…far more than we are in within our own faith tradition…but for the Jewish people, even the what they ate was tied to worship and could effect it.

And so when the Pharisees accuse Jesus and the disciples of eating with unclean hands…of being defiled…of being unacceptable…they are essentially saying that if you don’t do it this way…then God will not hear you…God will not see you…or on the flip side that if you do not approach God in this way then you do not approach God.

And when I start to hear things like that, I get a little nervous…because it seems to indicate that worshipping God…that experiencing the divine comes with an owner’s manual…and that there’s a checklist to it all…that God can only be found in this specific box…but if the scriptures tell us anything, its that God will not be contained…God will not be found in a box…and if the life death and resurrection of Jesus shows us anything…its that there is no length that God will not go in order to encounter us. (pause)

Now…as I say this…maybe you’re sitting out there thinking about the traditions and the rituals that are important to you…those aspects of worship or prayer or quiet time or reflection…those aspects that have become vital for you…and not only that, but they have become life-giving for you because you experience the divine within them.

I’ll never forget the time, very early on in my experience of leading worship at a tiny country church near where I lived…and I dove right into the liturgy, but skipped over the Brief Order which we also use here every week…and they stopped me…and I had to go back and do that…because for that congregation…for that small gathering of believers…that moment of confession and the announcement of forgiveness is vital. And its not my intention to say that those things are not important.

But what I will is this…that thing that is vital to a divine encounter with God…that looks different for different people or different groups or different denominations.  God shows up in many mysterious ways…some of which might trip your trigger…some of which just seem odd or foreign…and maybe even prompt to think “you’re doing it wrong.”

But thanks be to God that God shows up…because when God shows up…hearts are changed…and that’s the point of this whole deal…and I believe this is what Jesus is talking about as he reminds us that it is not what goes into the body that defiles…but what comes out…because what comes out is a reflection of the heart that lies within us…a heart that can and does reflect the light of life…but can and does reflect the brokenness of the world…brokenness that manifest itself in these different traits that Jesus talks about…attitudes or behaviors that hinder our relationship with God and with our neighbors…these evil things come from within. (pause)

But remember…God shows up…and somehow, someway, we have a God who changes hearts…and our amazing God does this out of a perfect, all in, love for each and every one of us…there is nothing that you can do or say or think that will make God love you any more…and there is nothing that can make God love you any less…and this is the promise which has been made real for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…when God shows us that there is no box…not even a tomb…that can contain the divine from showing up among God’s people.

We all worship a little different…but the one that we worship is the same…and when you encounter the divine, in whatever way is meaningful for you…in whatever way touches your heart…God will never say You’re doing it wrong. Amen.

Same Story Different Language 8-30-15

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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/same-story-different-language-8-30-15

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.