Where is Your Heart (Part II)
Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church Salem, OR
And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.] And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? 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?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "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. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Last week we heard how Scribes and Pharisees, typically rivals of each other, had journeyed 85 miles from Jerusalem to see Jesus in the Land of Gennesaret. No doubt they had heard of the many miracles that Jesus had performed the feeding of the 5000, the healing of the sick and the casting out of demon. And of course they heard about Jesus saying He had come down from heaven. That He was the bread of life. And that unless you ate of His flesh and drank of His blood there was no life in you. But nothing would have gotten their attention as much as Jesus teaching with great authority. The crowds had gathered around Jesus, listening to His words, heeding His teachings. Both the Scribes and the Pharisees prided themselves on their teaching. Who was this Jesus to come in and circumvent their niche, to remove their authority and control over the masses?
You see they didn’t come from Jerusalem to learn of Jesus, to learn about Jesus or to learn from Jesus. They came seeking to bring charge against Jesus. They wanted grounds to have Him branded as a heretic. But after examining His teachings, obviously, they found no fault. So they did what people do when they’ve had their authority challenged and their egos hurt. They began nitpicking. By the way, nitpicking is the archaic practice of pulling nits (lice) from the head of an infested person. The Scribes and the Pharisees were looking for the smallest error, the smallest inconsistency anything that would set them apart from Jesus and His group of followers. So they switched their focus to the disciples.
You see, the disciples didn’t follow the tradition of the Elders concerning the manner in which they washed their hands. The Elders of Jerusalem, some 85 miles away, said that after being in the market-place one must wash their hands up to the elbows three times before eating. Can you imagine someone 85 miles away say someone from Kelso Washington trying to impose a tradition on you here in Salem Oregon?
Let me give you an example of such a thing. A member of a Lutheran Church, not Missouri Synod, moved here and visited us. That church had the practice of having everyone shake hands before service. It was their tradition! The visitors said they enjoyed our church and service very much. They even stayed for the Fellowship Hour. Many of our members visited with them and they were impressed with the warmth of our congregation. When I visited with them they said they wouldn’t be back. They had 2 questions or concerns. The first one was, “Why don’t you shake hands before the service, don’t you want to be a friendly congregation?” In reality that’s 2 questions. We don’t shake hands typically before the service for the same reason we don’t tend to chat before services. Let me show you what I mean. Please take out your Hymnal and just open the front cover. Notice the Prayers for Worship! Let’s speak together the first prayer On entering a church
Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells. In the multitude of Your tender mercies prepare my heart that I may enter Your house to worship and confess Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, my God and Lord. Did you catch that? Notice the word “prepare”. We spend our time before worship preparing to be in the presence of God and one another as the Body of Christ. That’s what the words of the second prayer are all about. O Lord, our creator, redeemer, and comforter, as we come together to worship You in spirit and in truth, we humbly pray that You would open our hearts to the preaching of Your Word so that we may repent of our sins, believe in Jesus Christ as our only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness. Hear us for His sake. The first prayer is I, I love the habitation. The second prayer is we, we humbly pray, we may repent. We go from being just one to being an assembly of believers. Ultimately we do this to come together into Christ presence to worship. All is preparation. That’s why I don’t do announcements before the service. That’s why it’s good to pray before the service.
The second half of that question is “Don’t you want to be a friendly congregation?” Of course we do. I would have thrown out their question if they had sat alone in the Fellowship Hall or if they left right after church. But they didn’t. They even commented on how warm, how cordial the congregation and of course the pastor was. You see they connected friendliness with an act of congregational love during worship, expressed through the shaking of hands. This was their experience, their tradition. So is it wrong to shake hands before the service? No. I would encourage all of you to greet all around you before the service. But at the same time prepare for worship.
The second question or complaint they had was this, “The LCMS doesn’t have women pastors?” You see they had a woman pastor at their previous church. She had helped them through some tough times. They had a good experience with this pastor. I decided to direct them to some articles written by our previous Synodical President A. L. Barry. By the way you can access these though our website under what the LCMS believes. Dr. Barry said this.
Although some Protestant churches ordain women to the pastoral office, this is a 20th century innovation. For more than 1,900 years, there has been nearly unanimous faithfulness to the Word of God, given through the Apostle St. Paul, that women are not to serve as pastors (see 1 Cor. 14:33-35, 37; 1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:1-2 and Titus 1:5-6). He goes on to say, “The issue of the ordination of women is not a matter of "human rights" or "church traditions" (notice that word, traditions) or various human opinions and customs. Nor is it a matter of "discrimination against women." God has given the responsibility to serve as pastors only to certain qualified men. The church calls these men to serve as representatives of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the pastoral office. Women are not called to serve in this way because God has not given this responsibility to women.”
So often our beliefs are formed from our experiences. Our experiences then become our traditions and our directives and our preferences. This is what happened to the Scribes and Pharisees in last week’s text. They used the tradition of the Elders as divine law, as the definition of what was right and wrong. But only priest were bound by Levitical Law to the hand washing ritual. And then not to the elbow as was the tradition of the Elders but to the wrist. Do you see how they tainted God’s Law? They added to it. Our Old Testament reading today warns us of doing just that. Deuteronomy 4:2 “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you…”
Jesus reminded them of what Isaiah wrote (29:13): “And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, yet their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,” We have a real challenge. We all face the risk of becoming like the Scribes and the Pharisees who lean to the experiences and traditions of man. And if you want to know if you are starting down that path just take a look at those who came to be in Jesus presence.
Did they come to learn or to leer? Were they seeking to grow or to gloat? They sought to distance themselves from Jesus and His assembly.
Do you come to learn and grow? Or do you find yourself leering and looking for a way to distance yourself? Do you grasp tradition, trusting in an experience that is not defined by God’s Word but by your own personal life and experience? Is it causing you to want to remove yourself from Jesus presence and His assembly here? Have you found your ego hurt because things aren’t going the way you thing they ought to be? If so you might have Scribe or Pharisaic tendencies. Listen carefully to what happened after the Scribes and Pharisees departed.
In our text today the delegation from Jerusalem has left and now and Jesus is once more alone with those who had been misled by the religious authorities. I imagine the crowd included many of those who had been fed in the wilderness. One of the things we notice is how caring and tenderly Jesus treats those remaining. “And Jesus called the people to Him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." (Mark 7:14-15) In other words Jesus is saying where is your hearts?
It’s not what you put into your mouth that defiles you. Defilement is not physical, but moral and spiritual. Jesus continues His words. “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. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-22).
The word for "evil" usually denotes an evil condition. The word used for "evil" in our passage refers to something that is actively evil. All the items mentioned in verses 21-22 are called "active evils." And it all begins in the heart. Where is your heart? Is it on the things of God or the things of man?
Dear bothers and sisters, our text presents a sobering picture of mankind, Christians included. We still have a flesh. How often we need to confess with St. Paul: "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing" (Romans 7:18).
There are those in our society who believe that the primary way to improve man is to cleanse his environment and the pollution which enters man. They use the external things as the defining source of defilement. They like the Scribes and Pharisees would use experience and tradition to find peace with God. But Christianity teaches that God cleanses our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9) and we as Christians must often pray: "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God. And renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10) And God is faithful and just and does cleanse us from all unrighteousness and creates in us a new heart.
So consider yourselves to no longer a slave to the things of this world for you have been cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, "for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:7). He makes us clean through His Word and Sacraments. He declares us clean by the blood of Jesus. And He declares us FORGIVEN for Jesus sake.
So where is your treasure? I pray your treasure is in Christ Jesus. For where your treasure is, so there also is your heart. May your heart always be in Jesus. For in Jesus is eternal life. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, amen!