13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2015
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Mark chapter 7.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Sometimes people do stupid things. There is no nice way to say something like that; no way to say it politically correct, so I won’t even try. Case in point. Any Minnesota Vikings fan or pro football fan knows how the foolish Vikings traded away 6 players and 12 draft picks – 18 guys – to the Dallas Cowboys for one guy…Herschel Walker…in 1989. Result? The Cowboys went on to win all 3 Super Bowls they played in during the 1990s (’93, ’94, ’96) and the Vikings never even won a playoff game with Walker. Sometimes people do foolish things.
It’s easy for us to sit back and say “what were they thinking?” They were trying to live the old phrase “out with the bad, in with the good.” The Vikings were cleaning house; ty were trying to get rid of their garbage in exchange for some glitter. For the Vikings of the 1990s, their attempt at a “cleaning day” had come and gone with no improvement…in fact, they had taken several steps in the wrong direction!
And that’s similar to what the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson were up to. The Pharisees were doing a foolish thing; an attempt at a spiritual “cleaning day.” In Mark 7, some Pharisees show up from Jerusalem, no less. That would be like if we were having a tremendous amount of success here at GSLCS with unheard of spiritual and numerical growth, and representatives from the LCMS in St. Louis showed up to point out typos in our bulletin. In this case, Jesus will have none of their legalism.
The Pharisees were acting foolish in that they tried to extend the cleanliness of the temple into everyday life; they tried to make their tradition something on par with the divine. The Temple priests were required to be ceremonially clean, yes, but not every person at every point of life had to follow the acts of ritual purification. That was never commanded by God in His Word. But the Pharisees had extended the tradition of the Elders (verse 5) to an area where it didn’t pertain. At that point they were elevating human tradition to divine command and holding people accountable…even the disciples of Jesus.
But we never do that, right? Whatever. In our eyes it is almost always “cleaning day”…for others. It may not be about washing hands, but our legalism and piety extends beyond tradition and enters the realm of divine command and that, my friends, is not good. We judge people who dress different than we do and people who behave different than we do. We criticize people who raise their children different from the way that we would. We look down our noses at some people and think that we would never do such a thing or our kids would NEVER do that. Don’t we lift tradition to equal level with the Gospel? “We MUST use this kind of service or hymnal and the service can ONLY be 60 minutes long and we can ONLY do things this way or that way ‘cause that’s what we’ve always done!” and “we’ve never done it THAT way before!”
How foolish were the Pharisees traditions, because no matter how much washing the Pharisees did or anyone else or any of us, there was no way any of them or any of us were going to get clean of the filth of their hearts. In both Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this event, Jesus adds the truth that it’s not what happens outside us, but what comes from inside us that makes us unclean; you’ll hear that in next week’s Gospel.
The Greek word for “wash” is “baptizw” which is where we get the English word “Baptism.” No matter what we do to purify ourselves from our own sinfulness, it is not cleaning day for us until we truly are washed; until we are baptized in the water combined with the Word of God.
It’s not just Mark 7 and Matthew 15. All of God’s Word provides the reality that we are not clean, really clean, until we are cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. When I was growing up, Saturday morning was “cleaning day,” and later that night I would stay up for “Creature Feature” (remember last week’s sermon?). In Christendom, our true cleaning day was Christmas Eve. Our true cleaning day was Good Friday. Our true cleaning day was Easter morning. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and lived and dwelled among us for one purpose – to live and die for the forgiveness of our sins. For every one of our evil thoughts, our judging others, our malice, our deceit, our envy, our slander, our harsh words, our evil intentions, our arrogance, our pride, Christ Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified that you and I might have hope; hope in the forgiveness of our sins before God and the hope of eternal life because of what Jesus did and by virtue of our faith in Him. Washing – Baptism – is a means by which God cleanses us…it is our eternal cleaning day.
People do foolish things, no doubt, and they will continue to do foolish things like reject Jesus and the Baptism He offers. I’m sure too that we will leave this place today and go out and do foolish things – sinful things – yet we know that we live each day in our baptismal grace – the forgiveness of our sins – because of the washing of rebirth that comes through Baptism.
When I used to work at Solvay Pharmaceuticals, I would frequently make decisions about releasing millions of dollars worth of product to the market or not. But now…that’s not my job to evaluate anyone’s soul, and it’s not your job either. Judgment is not our job…judgment belongs to God alone (Deuteronomy 1:17). Don’t be a modern-day Pharisee casting judgment upon people and their state of cleanliness before God using your own traditions and opinions. When you’re tempted to do so, instead remember the waters of your own Baptism, call yourself and others to repentance, and give thanks each morning for the eternal cleaning that took place there in your own life. Live life to the fullest because you, by faith, have been washed in the blood of the Lamb as you await the FINAL cleaning day, when Christ returns to make all things new, and because of your baptismal faith, that includes you.