Scripture: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
What it is all about? Why do we actually come here nearly every Sunday to worship and praise God? At times each of us wonders about this, especially when we are irritated by someone else. One of the greatest issues that people have against the church is that those inside the church are a bunch of hypocrites. You know what, they are right. The church is filled with people that say one thing and live a totally different way. I would even venture to say that some of us are just as guilty of these actions. I can confess to each of you that even I have been hypocritical at times. I would like to think that I am not but if we are to become more like Christ the first step is to confess where we are wrong.
The second largest issue to many is that they are not good enough to be in the church. I am actually face with this issue more often. This second group is probably the group that you have more conversations with also. The first group is tense and argumentative. They do not want to listen but instead they want to accuse. Which means we probably avoid them as much as possible. Individuals in the first group in most cases have been injured in some way by the church and they want you to take responsibility. The second group is slightly different. They too have been harmed in some way by the church, in most cases they made choices in their life that has caused them to turn from the church. The main difference is that this group is more open. They are not as argumentative and are willing to be loved.
The two greatest issues keeping people from the church have a common problem. A community that is supposed to love has wounded both. These communities have often caused these wounds by the rules that have been applied.
I know at this point you might be nervous as to what might come out of my mouth right now. The rules we live by are important to our community. The rules set us apart from other communities and cultures. These ideas we believe are based on scripture. There are certain things that our culture has found as being beneficial. We have applied these rules to our lives and the lives of others because when applied life seems to work better.
I am not saying that rules are not good. We must have rules. Without rules a classroom would not be a place of education but chaos. Without rules or order we would not be able to have a discussion, debate, meeting, or even this meeting of worship. Rules are necessary, so necessary that people have written books expressing the importance of rules. Most of these rules that we apply to our lives are not law, but manners. When I mention manners, where does your mind go? For some your mind immediately goes to places around the table, why, because this is a place that manners become important to us. Our parents did not want us to embarrass them in public, so words like no elbows on the table became engrained in our mind. In a classroom it is just good manners to raise your hand, wait for the teacher to acknowledge you, and then speak. Manners however are not the same as a law. If someone does not raise their hand in class the world will not end. It may make the situation a little more difficult, but let’s be honest if a child does not raise their hand school will still be in session tomorrow.
Manners are different everywhere you go. Every teacher at a school has a different set of manners that was the rule of their classroom. Every household has a different set of manners or rules that allow their home to function. We as humans are amazing creatures we adapt quickly to these rules of mannerisms. In some cases the manners are similar to what we are used so we adjust quickly. There are other times where the manners are foreign to our way of thinking. For example if I were to invite everyone here to a fine art opening in a downtown gallery, most of you would be introduced to something completely foreign. For one you many not know how to dress, or how to act. If you showed up dressed in an incorrect manner most of us would feel uncomfortable probably wanting to leave immediately. If you received some insider knowledge and was dressed accordingly then many of you would still be uncomfortable, but eventually you would begin to mingle in some way, eventually someone would engage you, and draw you into the community.
I bring this up because there is a difference in law and manners. A law is something important. If a law were not observed it would run the risk of breaking the entire community apart. Laws are mainly based on respecting others bodies or property. Often communities lift manners up as equal status as a law; this is where emotional trauma occurs. For those that committed the offenses as well as those that have been offended.
In this passage, we are faced with this sort of activity. The Pharisees are getting worked up about what? Washing of hands? Now I will grant that this rule has some very important social benefits, but whom are they really harming? In our society we know all about germs so we can answer my question by saying that they could be transmitting potentially harmful diseases. As a whole most of us have not been mortally wounded from someone forgetting to wash before they eat, in fact the greatest harm is actually to their own bodies.
We read this passage from Christian eyes and we can quickly pass judgment on this community. They were willing to cast out of the community all of Jesus’ disciples because they failed to wash their hands before they ate. I agree that it is kind of gross, but is it really that important? We almost laugh at the entire situation. Of all the problems in their community like the constant threat of bandits in the county side, or the political tension between the Jewish and Roman world, these people are going to draw the line at washing hands. We laugh but I ask; did you wash your hands before you came to worship? What do I mean by that questions, have you obeyed all the manners and customs of this Meeting before you came in?
The Christian community has over 500 denominations based on manners. These manners are keeping some people away from our community because they do not know what to expect, or in some cases another community were so focused on the manners that they actually drove spiritually hungry people out of their community because they failed to conform to the manners. There is a term for this legalism. It is a community based on adhering to the rules of order instead of focusing on the deeper meanings of life.
I like to think that our denomination has been freed from this, but we too are a denomination. We broke off from our parent church because the values that we held, the manners we wanted to live by, differed from theirs. We had good reasons to develop our traditions of worship, but the basic beliefs are the same as our spiritual ancestors. The largest protestant denomination in the United States is the Baptist church; this church also has the greatest number of sub-denominations that are based on manners. The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the world, but they too broke off from the rest of the ancient Christian community because they had a different view of manners.
Manners are important within a community but they are not the law. Most everyone here has come out of a different faith tradition. If we were to ask everyone to recite their spiritual journey we would find that manners and the misuse of manners are probably a large part of why we left one community and found a home here. Manners can divide. If you do not conform to manners you become unwelcome in a community. Legal action can actually be taken against people that continuously refuse to conform to the manners of a community.
The divisiveness of manners is what Jesus is calling out in the community that he was speaking with. What defiles a man? What makes someone unclean? We tend to look at the outward expression, the manners. These are not the most important things. We can teach manners over time. The lack of manners actually point to a much deeper problem, the problem of sin. To treat manners only, is like giving antibiotics to a person with a viral infection, you are not helping anything and could be making the problem worse.
Jesus said that it is from the human heart where evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice (or greed), wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, and folly. These things go deeper than manners. These dip into lack of respect and love for another person and God. Greed is not love and will never be. It is taking unfair advantage of another. Teaching manners will not change greed, it will only teach a greedy person to be nice as they over charge a customer.
Sinful people are selfish people. They do not care about others. If you approach them with a band-aid of manners they resent you, because manners do not satisfy unless there is personal gain. They do not understand the reason behind the manners unless they are shown a different way. This is what Jesus was getting at. These people were honoring God with their mouths but they did not love. They embrace the manners of the culture but fail to observe the command of love.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
The Law of God is Love. Love God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And the second command is to Love your neighbor as yourself. Sin is cured by love. It is easy to say, “I love the sinner but hate the sin,” but to actually love the sinner is difficult. To spend time with them, patiently answering their questions. To not take offense when they ridicule our faith and to in turn answer with kindness is almost more than we can handle. Yet that is what we are asked to do. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The sinner does not need us to preach them a sermon telling them that they are going to hell. They already know it. They need us to love them. They need us to break their hearts of greed by our generosity. They need us to show them acceptance without taking advantage of their bodies. They need us to combat their pride with tactful honesty. When we live our lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living Christ’s love with others; we do not have to have the best arguments to win the debate. We only have to say God loves you and wants you to have a life filled with love.
Am I just being idealistic? Maybe, but I have seen people that have been living lives of sin, slowly turn. I have seen people living in adulterous lifestyles say that they are engaged, when just a few weeks prior they were opposed to marriage. All that I spoke to them about was the incredible mystery of marriage and how that union to me is more then just a physical activity but an act of worship. They looked at me with their eyebrows twisted because they know who I am and what I do. They expected me to condemn their lifestyle but instead they received love.
We can change the world around us. A world caught in the bondage of sin. But that change comes from the heart. It comes through each of us who have been loved by God sharing that love with someone else. It comes with us leaving our comfort zones and engaging those people, caught in bondage, where they are and walking with them into the light of life that is only found through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Change comes from us living lives of Love.
As we enter this time of Holy expectancy let us ask some questions of ourselves. Are we too focused on ourselves to love? Are we too focused on our manners to love? And finally do you love?