The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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Mark 7:14-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Imagine that everything about you is turned inside out.  Literally!: imagine that the stuff on the outside is on the inside, and the stuff on the inside is on the outside.  And imagine that you really do carry your heart on your sleeve, and that everything that is normally invisible to the people around you is now visible.  All your thoughts become like those little cartoon word-bubbles, and everything’s out there for anyone to see.  If everyone could see and hear all the thoughts and intentions of everyone else’s heart and mind…well, we’d probably not have jobs, or be married, or have any friends.  But if that happened, we would quickly see what Jesus means when He says that what comes out of a person makes him unclean; it’s what comes from the heart of a person that defiles her.  Jesus takes the Pharisees’ question from last week—“Why do your disciples not walk in the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unclean hands?”—and uses it to teach the crowds.  If the Pharisees were around an unclean person, they washed.  If they might have been around an unclean person, they washed.  If there was any chance that an unclean person sat in the place they were going to sit, they washed that seat.  They had an okay idea with their ceremonial washings; they just forgot what the washing symbolized, and made the washing itself the point.  Sort of as if I told you that when you take a shower or a bath, you should recall that Jesus has washed all your sins away through baptism, but then you started thinking that your daily, symbolic baptizing—the shower or the bath—was more important than God’s baptism.  The Pharisees’ washing should have reminded them that they needed to be washed inwardly; instead, they focused on the outward tradition—the symbol, rather than the reality.  But there is nothing in this world that can go into your mouth from your hand—not food, or drink, or the uncleanness of other people—that can defile you before God, “because it does not go into [a person’s] heart, but into the belly, and out into the toilet” (Mark 7:19).  To think that what comes into you by your mouth makes you unclean is to have everything turned inside out: in fact, it is your heart, it’s my heart, that is unclean, and from the unclean heart comes everything evil: “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, foolishness.  All of these evil things come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

This is nothing new.  In Genesis 6, “[Yahweh] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5, ESV).  It should be no surprise that people do horrible things to each other; it should be no surprise that humans exchange the truth of God for a lie; it should be no surprise that we would rather satisfy the fleeting desires of our hearts rather than enter the presence of God, who searches and judges hearts.  We are all hypocrites.  We are all hiding something.  We are all carrying secrets in our hearts that would condemn us before any human court, let alone in the court of God.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is very far from me” (Mark 7:6; cf. Isaiah 29:13).  God already sees our hearts and His Word easily cuts through our defenses and masks: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV).  Which is why I always tremble when I pray the words of Psalm 139:23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!”  Actually, I’d prefer if you didn’t do that.  Who knows what all might be lurking in the dark corners and deep shadows.  But there it is.  I’m turned inside out, heart on my sleeve; the spotlight of the Law that is far too bright for comfort is shining in every nook and cranny.  And Jesus says, “You want to give Me this heart?  I’m not sure I want to be accepted into that.”  We act as if we’re doing God a favor by giving our hearts to Him.  But this isn’t cash for clunkers.  We should be paying Him to get it off our chest.

Well, someone has to pay.  Because hearts don’t just grow on trees.  Or maybe they do.  It was because of a tree that our hearts were turned from our Creator.  And it is because of a Tree that our hearts are turned back again; new hearts, actually.  Undivided hearts.  “Teach me your way, O [Yahweh], that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11, ESV).  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, ESV).  “Thus says the Lord [Yahweh]: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came….  [But] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:22, 24-27, ESV).  That was the promise, and this is the promise kept: One whose heart was pure, who walked blamelessly and did what was right and spoke truth in His heart.  He alone could dwell on the holy hill of the Lord (Psalm 15:1-2), holy because it was covered with holy blood.  “Who shall ascend the hill of [Yahweh]?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV).  On the Hill of Calvary, on the Tree of the Cross, those clean hands were pierced with nails and that pure heart broke under the weight of everything that comes out of our hearts.  But at the intersection of death and new life, a new heart was fashioned from the flesh and blood of the Son of God.  It is that heart that was given to you and me in baptism, so that we now “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV).  We draw near to Jesus, who is living and active, and He puts His heart into us again and again—pierced with the sharp stabs of sin, but beating forever with the love of God.  The bread and the wine continue through our bodies, just as all food does; but His Body and Blood go right to the heart of our matter, answering our prayers and creating new hearts: undivided hearts, clean hearts, hearts and souls and minds that are completely spent in the love of God and the love of neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).  Hearts that do not need to fear being turned inside out before the Father, because they have been made new in the blood of Jesus.  Lift up your hearts!  Lift them to the Lord!  “Now…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/25/09


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