Sermon for September 2, 2012

Sermon for 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, Sept. 2, 2012

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text: Mark 7:14-23

Sermon Theme: “The Christian Way Is Inside Out”

{Sources: Emphasis online Illustrations; Emphasis online Commentary by David Kalas; Concordia Pulpit Resources by Steven Smith, Volume 22, Part 3, Series B, original ideas)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In most cases, in the early years of a child’s life, the parents pick out the clothes for the child and put them on him or her. Gradually, however, little boys and girls want to take on those responsibilities themselves. They want to pick out their own clothes, and they want to dress themselves. Then, having done it themselves, the child will often appear with an air of pride and self-satisfaction. “Look at me! I did it myself!”

Sometimes, of course, the outfit is not much to be proud of. While a few children will have a knack for it right from the start, more often, the kid ends up with outfits that are either impractical or ridiculous. My oldest daughter would have chosen high heels when she was three. On many occasions, the do-it-yourself method has resulted in some article of clothing being put on backward or inside out.

So it was with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees paraded about, wearing their religion quite proudly. “Look at me!” they said by how they lived. But Jesus saw — and pointed out to them repeatedly — that they had put it on and were wearing it the wrong way. Most especially in this week’s gospel passage, the Pharisees were confused about the insides and the outsides of their religion.

When we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees, it is clear to us that they are legalists, — everything has to be done by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. That’s not all bad, of course. In fact, legalism usually begins as a form of very sincere earnestness. Luke-warm believers never become legalists. It’s both a function and a mutation of being earnest.

In any event, the Pharisees had become legalistic about their religion, and legalism inevitably focuses on that which is visible and measurable. After all, if you are going to fulfill God’s requirements, you have to number and list them. And so religion becomes a totally external ritual, focusing on such things as proper hand washing, dietary rules, and other external observations.

In our sermon text, Jesus, however, reminded those around Him that the inside is more important than the outside. It’s not that the outside is unimportant; not at all. Much of God’s law in the Old Testament, after all, speaks to the proper care and handling of things that are external — from sacrifices to rituals. It’s just that the inside should be primary, for that is where the fruits of true religion originate.

Jesus pushed the Pharisees to understand that all their washing, all their dietary laws, all their righteous acts could not clean up a toxic-waste dump of the spirit within a person’s life. Earlier in Chapter 7, the Pharisees had criticized the Disciples for not observing the proper hand-washing ritual. Cleanliness is good; obedience is good; but both are ineffectual if the heart is far from God, that’s the point Jesus was making.

Legalism did not die with the Pharisees, of course. We too can be guilty of such. So rather than pointing fingers and snickering at the Pharisees, we ought to take a look in the mirror to see whether we are wearing our religion well or not.

Often we are just like the Pharisees in that we tend to judge everything from the outside, both trivial things and important things.

One pastor tells the story of a member of his church named Jed. Jed would come to church in his work clothes, which were the only clothes he had. He often had a five o’clock shadow from not shaving. He loved the church’s Sunday School program and he appreciated the church helping his wife through some health issues.

Other members who did not know Jed, thought he should be coming to church looking more presentable. They thought he looked like a bum and so probably wasn’t sincere about religion anyway.

One winter, a big ice storm came. The church building was as cold as a meat locker, and the sidewalks were covered with ice. Jed came to church very early that day and worked on the furnace until he had it working again. Then he threw rock salt on the sidewalks.

When worship time came, the church was warming up nicely, and the older people were able to walk on the sidewalk without slipping and falling. Jed is an example of what Jesus is talking about in our sermon text. Rather than looking at Jed’s shabby wardrobe and unshaven face, the folks needed to see what came out of him through his actions. His care-giving actions revealed what was in his heart.

Some of you may be old enough to remember the great movie actress, Mary Pickford. She was once asked how she was able to maintain her poise and good cheer, considering that she had had so many heartaches and disappointments in her life. Pickford replied, “All the water in the world can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside.” It is what’s inside of us that is critical.

As sinful human beings, our nature is to focus on external sin rather than on internal sin. We are in a “beauty is skin deep” culture that judges by appearance, — beauty products are a billion dollar business.

We act like Pharisees in focusing on external sins of others rather than the sins from within ourselves. We judge and condemn with only a surface knowledge.

For example, we see an older man holding hands with a woman much younger than he, and we decide that he is sneaking out on his wife and having an affair with another woman.

We see a woman with expensive furs and jewelry and we decide she is flaunting her wealth and we think catty thoughts about how great she thinks she is.

We are outraged by the story of a triple shooting in the paper, but we feel anger and hate for someone in the church and don’t believe Jesus when he says that hating our neighbor is murder.

To be sure, we are often like the Pharisees in that we may look OK on the outside but are not fine on the inside. Although we smile nicely and are pleasant, we all have sin deep down inside us. Even when we are acting the nicest, we can still be sinning with our thoughts. We even worsen the sin by lying to ourselves about our sinful thoughts. Jesus says in our text, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

And it takes something completely outside us to wash us clean on the inside. God looked into His heart, not ours, to devise a plan for our salvation. It wasn’t anything inside us that paid for our sins — no thoughts that were righteous, good and pure. Nor was it any outward actions that we did.

No. It was the God of heaven, infinitely above us, completely outside us, who came to earth and paid the price — his life on the cross. We must look away from ourselves, up to Jesus, to see the reason for our salvation.

And then, the Holy Spirit, from outside of us comes into our sinful hearts and brings the cleansing provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit comes to us in the water and word of Baptism, which washes away our sins in a miraculous way. He declares us pure, holy, forgiven.

We also receive forgiveness through Christ’s body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine, connected to the Word, in the Lord’s Supper, which is also something outside us that purifies us within.

I suppose the old adage, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” has some truth to it. But the way to a pure heart is through the cleansing blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Create in us a clean heart, O God. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.