Look Within

by | Aug 29, 2021 | Sermons

Look Within

Today’s passage finds us agreeing with the Pharisees and scribes. Not something that happens very often, but when they ask Jesus why the disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat, we might find ourselves nodding our heads in agreement. Afterall, we live in the age of Covid-19 and increased sanitation and hand washing is encouraged!

Of course there is more going on here than just washing hands. Jesus gets to the reason why the Pharisees and scribes are so upset and as usual it has nothing to do with what it first appears. It turns out that God is far more concerned by what comes out of our mouths, the thoughts and feelings of the heart, than by what we consume. 

Scripture: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23


This week the Session will be meeting to disucss the return to in-person worship on September 12th. If you have any concerns or questions that you’d like to be considered don’t hesitate to reach out to your elder, Rev. Ellis or Mary in the office. 

Children’s Time

Kristin Schmidt from Ministry to Children has a video called Clean Hearts for Christ. You can watch it below. Parent’s if you’d like some activities to do with your children she has created an entire lesson plan with activities for you to engage in.

It is the nature of the gospels to disturb.

Indeed, it may well be the nature of all of scripture to disturb. To wrest us out of our complacency and allow us space to engage with God and God’s intentions for creation.

Our passage from Mark starts off innocently enough. The Pharisees and scribes are critizing the disciples who were eating with unclean hands. Now in our context of heightened hand washing due to Covid, this appears to be a pretty valid concern. We may actually find ourselves on the side of the scribes and Pharisees! What is evident, and which Mark explains to us, is that the scribes and Pharisees follow heightened hand washing routines. This is done in accordance with customs that require them to be ‘ritually clean’ in order to perform their function within society. They can’t enter the temple, or the presence of God if they are unclean. Therefore, they follow a different set of practices than others. We should note, that it wouldn’t just have been the disciples who didn’t routinely wash their hands before eating. Likely not washing hands was the common practice. What is clear is that different Jews followed different traditions about cleanliness.

The heart of what is going on here is similar to the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel. There the priest and the Levite walk past the injured person. Why? Because if they touched the individual, they would be ritually unclean and unable to perform their function in society. In that story Jesus says that they’ve got it wrong, which is what Jesus is about to do here in Mark’s gospel.

The concern that the Pharisees and the scribes have is that by not washing their hands the disciples are ingesting unclean food. That is their hands defile the food.

Jesus responds in classic Jesus fashion by quoting from Isaiah. He says,

“This people honour me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

There are a number of ways we could describe this. That humanity is more interested in deciding how to honour God than in actually paying attention to what God says. That we like to put God in a box that fits our presumptions and worldviews.

Joel Marcus writes, “The basic problem Christians should be concerned about, Mark seems to be saying through this striking pileup [of the word anthr?pos-people], is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the anthr?pos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.” (Working Preacher)

When he responds, Jesus isn’t commenting on the Pharisees and scribes. He’s commenting on the people as a whole. Jesus doesn’t respond ‘you scribes and Pharisees’, he responds by commenting about all people. Not you people or those people, but all people. It isn’t a specific group of people, but people in general.

Jesus then tells all those who are gathered a simple truth. That wrongdoing doesn’t come from an external source. We can’t blame the devil for evil, Jesus makes it explicitly clear in this passage that evil comes from the human heart. Our great joy is knowing that God’s love extends beyond our brokenness and finds the good inside. God’s love is transformative and will bring about goodness in us.

And Jesus reminds us of that by focusing on purity, not just of what we eat but of our whole selves.

Dirk Lange writes, “Human beings want religion not God. Or, to put it slightly differently (and perhaps in a more nuanced manner!), they all too easily equate religion with a very particular, culturally determined, idea of God. They name their religion – their rites, their laws, their stories – divine or Bible-based. They find mystical origins for their laws turning those laws into unquestionable truths.

However, what really happens is a domestication of God. God is made into what “we” want God to be, usually just a better more perfect version of ourselves. The result? God is certainly honored. God is part of the landscape and discourse. Yet, God is honored only with the lips but far from the heart. God is abandoned and replaced with culturally constructed versions! And human traditions (precisely a culture’s prejudices) are divinized.” (Dirk Lange)

Where does this leave us?

It is the nature of the gospels to disturb.

Through the incarnation, God through Christ, takes on human form and is all too aware of where the root of all evil resides. Not in some external, existential being, but from within. Jesus isn’t picking on the scribes and pharisees in this passage, he’s speaking to everyone. We are all guilty of this. Within our social, economic, political, religious and lives we construct rituals and traditions which affirm what we think and believe, and which exclude others. We do this for our own gain, financial and otherwise, and we do so to marginalize and explain away others who do not look, act, speak or think like us.

Rachael Mann reminds us, “The notion of Incarnation is important here. In Jesus Christ, God embraces a human life and is not afraid. That is, the picture we have of Jesus is of one unafraid of fully living in the midst of compromised humanity; of, as his interlocutors sometimes have it, drinking and laughing and partying amongst the ordinary people.” (Rachael Mann)

Our hope is that through Christ, we begin to see ourselves aright. To pierce through the differences that we’ve constructed. We remember that the bible refers to ‘widows and orphans’ as code for the other. That is anyone who is not like us. If we are taking the message God has for us in scripture to heart, then we need to be very careful about the boundaries and barriers that we are creating in God’s name. We must be honest about whether they reflect Gods will or our will.

It is the nature of the gospels to disturb.

Today Jesus is asking us to take a look inside and ensure that our words and actions don’t defile us. Because if they are unworthy of us, then they are also unworthy of God. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website. 

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