15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018
“God Makes Gross Good”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The basis for the sermon today is our assigned Gospel lesson from Mark 7 as previously read.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
After last week’s dessert auction, the last thing I need is more calories. That being said, have you ever heard of Jelly Belly jelly beans? Originally heralded as a “gourmet” jelly beans, you can now buy them just about anywhere and they are SO GOOD! What makes them so appealing is the unique and amazing flavors: buttered popcorn, cotton candy, bubble gum, chocolate pudding, and toasted marshmallow just a name a few. There is even a Dr. Pepper flavored jelly bean…right on!
However, make sure you check that packaging before you buy them! Jelly Belly also markets a product called “Bertie Bott’s Beans;” apparently is a candy-making wizard in the Harry Potter franchise and he must not be very good I suppose. I say be careful because the Bertie Bott’s Beans look the same as Jelly Belly jelly beans, but the flavors are…uhm…much different. Grass. Earwax. Dog food. Dead fish. Dirt. Dirt? Really. Yes, dirt flavored jelly beans. Gross. Those are just a few of the nasty Bertie Bott’s jelly beans; some flavors are too gross to mention in church.
In our Gospel lesson, the Pharisees and Jesus are at odds about gross and not gross, but not regarding jelly beans. The issue is dietary purity. Today’s Gospel lesson continues last week’s Gospel lesson in which the Pharisees – the preeminent Jewish religious sect that tried to impose their vision of morality and obedience to the Law on Israel’s people – had just finished rebuking Jesus because His disciples ate with “dirty” hands (7:2). By dirty I mean they were ceremonially unclean and not ritually pure according to the Pharisees’ legalistic guidelines. The Israelites had LOADS of rules like this to follow mandated upon from the Old Testament and then rigorously enforced by the Pharisees like no meat with blood in it (Gen. 9:4), no young goat meat boiled in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21), and they had to ritually wash their hands, cups, bowls, and vessels (Mark 7:3-4) or they would be “gross” in the eyes of God.
Now, don’t kid yourself. The Pharisees were not that concerned about the purity issue itself. To them the bigger issue was Jesus; to the Pharisees, Jesus was religiously incorrect – His doctrine in their eyes was gross and dirty. This was a clear attempt to publically shame Jesus and Jesus knew this…of course. So He addresses the real issue; He literally gets to the heart of the matter which is the matter of the heart: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him?…What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” The, to the disciples, Jesus explained, “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 7:18-23 ESV). Jesus is right. What comes OUT of a person – out of our gross, sinful human hearts – is what pollutes us; what makes us gross and dirty in God’s eyes.
Consider Jesus’ list again. Evil thoughts – you’ve never had an evil thought about an obnoxious co-worker or noisy neighbor or rebellious child? Sexual immorality – you’ve never looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust in your eye or desire in your heart? Theft – you’ve never taken something that didn’t belong to you be it an item or credit for an idea? Coveting – you’ve never wanted something that belonged to another? Slander – you’ve never spoken a harsh regarding a neighbor, your significant other, a fellow believer, maybe even your pastor? Foolishness – you’ve always had a sound, clean mind never given over to drunken thoughtlessness? Bologna. You’ve done it…and I’ve done it too. And if we have stumbled in sinful guiltiness once – just once – we are guilty of breaking the entire Law of God (James 2:10) for which we deserve death (Romans 6:23). What an absolutely gross cesspool the sinful human heart can be. How ironic that the heart gives and provides human life, but also betrays us in sinful thoughts, words, and deeds fir which we deserve death! How ironic is that?
But how much more glorious and wonderful is God’s grace toward us! God makes your gross good, that is, even with our sinfulness and guilt and shame, He forgives us because of Christ Jesus. We have a Savior willing to disgustingly hang bleeding and dying on a cross – abused in every way – so that we might be cleansed of the grossness of our sin. You have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb given and shed for you. Cleansed through the life-giving, soul-sustaining waters of Baptism. Cleansed by God’s precious Word of absolution: sinner, as gross as you are, you’re forgiven.
God’s grace is NOT a license to more gross behavior. The Christian life isn’t a set of do and don’t rules, but it’s different lifestyle. It is having a faith not about clean hands and pots, but a changed heart. It is living and loving God with all your heart and soul and strength. It is loving and caring for your neighbor as yourself. The changed heart isn’t so concerned with food choices as it is extending mercy to another hurting soul. The changed heart doesn’t worry as much about whether your cup or pot is ceremonially clean as it does witnessing to eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus alone. The changed heart is less concerned about defiled hands and more concerned with busy hands that shape a shared life together in and through Christ. The Pharisees didn’t get that and that kept them from seeing who He really was and is.
Friends, I get it. I know there are times when you feel like the world is handing you nothing but gross, dirt-flavored jelly beans: constant unrest and shootings like we had in Jacksonville, family issues, money concerns, the pain and loneliness and anxiety, your health, your co-workers, and those around you who make life tough. But God has taken the dirt and impurity – the sin – and cleansed us making us forgiven…redeemed…your gross is good…through the blood of Christ and uses your life events for good. We have been blessed in order that we can be a blessing to and for others.
If you open a box of Bertie Bott’s Beans and you get “booger” flavor, I can’t help you; there’s a lot of gross in there. Instead, when life gets tough and uncertain, don’t open a box of candy. Open your Bibles and hearts and eyes and ears to God’s holy Word and know that God makes all your gross so very good, just like a Dr. Pepper flavored jelly bean.