|Forum Home > Sermons > Sermon for Trinity 13, 30th August 2015 : mark 7|
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Here we are at August Bank Holiday. I know that many of you have had holidays this month so most of you won’t have been here for all of the last few Sundays. Those that have will realise that we have had three weeks on the trot where the reading has been about Jesus as the bread of life. We have heard of the Jesus that sustains us nourishes us and that gives himself to us for that purpose.
In today’s reading though we seemingly switch from these inspirational, self-sacrificing visions of God to a plain and simple warning. Our Gospel reading is:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. )
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside.”
It’s a fairly straightforward statement for once from Jesus. You can eat what you like how you like it but that won’t decide whether you are a good or bad person. Much of the evil in the world today can be attributed to people acting out one of those sins that Jesus’ lists. Whether it is greedily making money from trafficking people from Syria or Libya to Europe or just saying unkind things to those around you. If you are going to be like that then it doesn’t matter what rules you follow you are going to damage our collective humanity.
I think that most people would agree with Jesus’ sentiment. However, it’s here that the church can start to have a difficult time selling its religion. If there are no rules other than to be a good person, and even if we believe in God, why do we come to church? Why am I standing here wearing robes and why do we come and say the same thing week after week in this building?
I am pretty sure that it isn’t because I think God keeps an attendance record. There is no minimum attendance level and I don’t believe you get a better place in heaven the more times you come. This doesn’t work the same as air miles or Clubcard vouchers.
On one level it is quite simple, I come to be around other Christians and to worship God and to listen to Him. It is the same as any other club I may be part of, whether it’s a band, a history club, or a football supporter, it’s a community and they are only really communities if they spend some time together. We are of course called to be a community with each other and with God, so it’s no surprise really that we regularly meet with Him and our fellow Christians in our clubhouse to discuss the thing that we have in common, which in this case is Jesus’ call to meet him here. People are creatures of habit and having actions and discussing our favourite topics are means to deepen and broaden our collective interest. The actions that I do here are just ways for me to access and deepen those relationships with both other Christians and thereby learn more about being a Christian.
However if you spend some time thinking about it, then Jesus’ words actually propose quite a challenge to us as church going Christians. When does what I do here, indeed when does going to church itself, become a mere “tradition of men” that Jesus warns me against?
Going back to Jesus’ words over the past few Sundays where he created the image of Himself as bread of life then I thought upon the following analogy on the principle of you are what you eat.
If we think of food, then it’s generally good to eat off plates and drink out of glasses, to enjoy a meal shared with friends is a great thing for all concerned. But if you start to worry about the good china or the expensive glasses while your friends are using them then they are actually starting to get in the way of enjoying the meal with them. Alternatively this crockery gets left in the cupboard too precious to use and just gathers dust.
If we now think upon this as Jesus as the food, then to meet at church and share our experiences of Him and his work with one another, share a meal (perhaps around the altar) or even around a coffee at the end of the service is the important thing. The order of our service and how we do things should be there as an enabler to accessing that which God does in each of our lives. However when we start to care more about how we do things rather than doing the things, we start to hollow out our religion.
As the book of James says: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James is not saying that we shouldn’t have any traditions. But they are the tools we use to make a lasting relationship and not the relationship itself. My family always goes out for a meal on someone’s birthday, the tradition marks the event, but even if the meal isn’t that great or the conversation not particularly memorable our relationships are maintained which wouldn’t happen if we never made the effort.
Just take the Lord’s prayer that we say every Sunday and you all probably know off by heart. You can just say it and let it pass without any thought or meaning, but it works best if you actually read it as you say it, look beyond the words and look intently at its meaning. The same is true for all that we say and do on a Sunday. I don’t know if you have ever spent time reading and thinking on the creed or some other section of our liturgy after the service, there is great wisdom and great truth there that deserve to be given some serious thought.
Jesus said 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” All our words and actions are not just traditions IF they allow us to understand more of the commands of God, His wisdom and His peace. The things we do should be seen as ways of peering out from the world around us to glimpse God and allow us to make more of an understanding of why we are here and then why this is important to us. We can then share what God has done for us.
And so I will end with my conclusion: I don’t come here because I like incense, dressing up and reading out loud. I do these things because they help clear the noise of the world and allow me to listen to God. In listening to God I believe that there is more to being human than just what I can earn or buy, I understand that being human is deep and complex and that through the teaching of Jesus, God can both allow us to access that depth and give us the freedom to fully be: be complete, be full and be beautiful human beings whatever we do.
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