INNARDS // Sara Wolbrecht // August 23, 2015 // Mark 7:1-23
When you were growing up, what kinds of chores did you have to do? Maybe daily things, weekly things. Yeah, my brothers and I had to clean the bathroom sinks, set the table, make our beds. Was there a reward or punishment tied to it? Like your allowance, or not getting to watch tv?
For the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, there were religious rules and laws that needed to be followed. We’ve seen this surface already in Mark’s gospel, especially with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the grumpy church people – they are always frowning. They are self-appointed legal experts who enforced a complex system of laws that need to be followed for religious purity. When you can check off the list of things that you have done correctly, then you know that you are good, you are spiritually ok with the synagogue, and with God, you are close to God. This assuredness was a big deal to the Jews. The Pharisees and the Jews abided by these laws because they lived in deep fear of essentially being contaminated by external things, people and animals and foods and things that were not religiously clean and pure. It was a fear-based system of religious faith, where people clung to these rules to know that they were ok from the external things that could “pollute” them.
One way we can boil down the essence of these religious rules is to see them as God’s chore list, right? The tasks, behaviors, and expectations that needed to be followed and fulfilled. Check it off the list, you’re good, you are considered spiritually pure, clean, and close to God.
In the gospel of Mark so far, we’ve observed Jesus messing with this system, right? Which terrifies them and their sense of security.
This is part of the backdrop on which we now read Mark 7:1-23. Jesus’ healing, feeding 10,000 people with 5 loaves of bread, and his water-walking – all of that is now interrupted by this debate between Jesus and the religious scholars – because Jesus’ disciples are not following the rules. Listen closely as we see Jesus’ response that once again points us toward the kind of stuff that really matters, beyond a list of chores. We’re using The Message version of the bible for this reading.
Mark 7:1-23 (The Message)
The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).
The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”
Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”
He went on, “Well, good for you. You get rid of God’s command so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions! Moses said, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel out of that by saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to say to father or mother, ‘Gift! What I owed you I’ve given as a gift to God,’ thus relieving yourselves of obligation to father or mother. You scratch out God’s Word and scrawl a whim in its place. You do a lot of things like this.”
Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”
When Jesus was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”
Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)
He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”
We’ll come back and zoom in on this list of fabulously hot words in a moment – but first, let’s zoom out for the 30,000 foot view, the big picture of what is happening here.
We see here right off the bat, so clearly that Jesus is making the point, that following the chores, the list, making sure that all the right things are done on the outside of us – all of this has no real bearing on the state of how we’re doing with God, and who we are as people. If anything, Jesus says, we will be polluted by the vomit of our own hearts. Now – Jesus often has a flair for the dramatic right? He’s saying, stop going through empty motions, stop pointing to things outside of yourself, but pay attention, instead, to the state of your heart. It’s the inside of YOU that matters, far more than anything outside.
These are revolutionary words – they were at that time. Jesus challenges what everyone thought was the foundational way for goodness, holiness, moral correctness. At the time, it had everything to do with avoiding the bad things, following the chore list that assured you of being ok. Jesus says: nope. You’ve got it backwards. It is the stuff on your insides, your soul, your intentions, your character, your heart – that can pollute you – and the signs of that pollution come out outside of you, in murder, greed, etc. But it’s your innards that matter.
These continue to be revolutionary words for us today, too. How often is the gospel, Christianity as we see it today, boiled down to morality, to not doing certain behaviors – behaviors like we read on this list! The gospel – so tragically – in our modern world is still boiled down to sound like God’s chores. And we could easily make this a sermon about this list being all the things we shouldn’t do, and to carefully watch our lives to not do these things – because they “pollute us.” (And to do a whole lot of shaming around that if we are – right? That is one way we could easily go with this). But then, if we did that, what do we make this? Another list of chores! A not-to-do list. The word gospel means, “good news” and that is NOT good news. Those are chores.
What we have seen in Mark’s gospel actually points us to what the gospel is about – and it is not about following rules. Jesus has touched the untouchable and outcast people on the fringes of culture; Jesus has shown a mastery over bread and the sea; Jesus has shown compassion on the sick, the hungry and on his own weary friends.
Jesus has shown us: God is singularly focused on the restoration of all things. For sick bodies to be made well, for emotional brokenness to be healed, restored. For all war and oppression and injustice – all of it to be stopped and peace restored. For the brokenness of our earth, including the fires that rage across Washington state and throughout our country – to be ceased and restored. That is the business that God is in – and this is the revolution that Jesus shows his twelve disciples and his followers of all time.
And Jesus invites us into this restoration. Does he say, “Hey, come on, follow these rules!” No, he says , “Come, follow me.” Enter into a dynamic, organic life where the centerpiece of it all is a life together, in relationship, engaged with the heart of God, engaged with others, with the wider world.
And Jesus says here – that God’s restoration work is an issue of the heart. God sees the places within us where we are broken, hurt, stuck, lost, scarred, suffering – and God begins to tenderly, without shaming us, but from a place of deep and abiding love God begins God’s work with our hearts, our insides, our soul, our intentions, our character. Forming us with love to be people of love.
So that’s the 30,000 foot, big picture, gloriousness of what Jesus is about – but let’s zoom back in to this intimidating, juicy list we read today, how do we then engage this list?
greed (insatiable desire for more),
lewdness (being crude),
envy (to want what someone else has),
slander (passing on a hurtful word about someone),
Looking at this list, question: in your opinion, is murder a good idea? How about malice? Bullying. Nope. Deceit (lying to someone)? First thing about this list: We can all agree that none of these things are a good idea. But the second thing about this list – we can see ourselves in this list. (And if you don’t you are lying to yourself – which is on the list!). We’re not going to raise our hands for the ones we’ve done. But we all could. And reflecting on how those things have affected us –there is nothing positive about it. They affect us negatively, we have “been defiled” by those things (to put it in the language of the text), which means we have been pulled farther from God’s heart. AND pulled farther from our beloved friends and family. This is a list of things that are toxic to us, and toxic to those around us – like vomit. Things that wedge in-between the organic goodness of life with God and with those close to us. Jesus was right.
So again, what do we do with this list if it isn’t a not-to-do list? Here’s what we can do: This is a list of symptoms. A list of red flags. A list that points us to deeper issues of the heart. Jesus is right – these toxic, behavioral things that come out of us are great indicators of how we’re actually doing on the inside. Jesus is saying: pay attention to these! Watch out for these! But don’t just change your behavior. Use it as an invitation to look deeper. To ask questions, to seek support, to get to the deeper issue within us – because at its source it is a heart issue, a character issue. These are the red flags we can watch for.
And again – Jesus calls them to our attention not to shame us, but to point them out as areas of growth and possibility, that if we go into the root of what is actually causing that behavior, God can bring about restoration in us.
And you know what? At the heart of all of these things? If we drill down to the source and motivation and heart behind that behavior? 99% of the time the heart behind these behaviors is the same. If you were here last week, you know the answer. What do we all want more of? Love and belonging. And is what is sometimes so twisted and backward, the reason we do most things, even why we lie, bully, envy, slander – we do it because we all long for more love and belonging and to be accepted. That’s the source. And Jesus reminds us today, that if that is what we long for – then letting it play out in these things, the only result is the exact opposite of what we long for – we’ll be driven further away from authentic relationship God and with others.
So, my friends. We’re all on this list – in different places at different times. So what about you and this list, now? Where do you see yourself? This is also not an all-inclusive list – is there something else in your life that is pulling your heart away from God and others?
greed (insatiable desire for more),
lewdness (being crude),
envy (to want what someone else has),
slander (passing on a hurtful word about someone),
I invite you to prayerfully linger over this list, and ask God if there is something you could pay attention to in your life – again, not to shame us, not for us to just modify our behavior, but to go to the heart of the issue. Because we are always in the process of transformation, we are always a work in progress, and because: God is in the business of restoration.
Maybe there is envy or greed – these are practically American values. We exist in a culture that tells us we never have enough, and that we are not enough. I know I experience this –and there are a few websites that have daily steals and I got into the bad habit of checking them out every morning first thing to see what kind of things I “need.” But it was forming in me a heart of greed – an insatiable desire for more. When really: I have enough. Is there something in you that is feeding envy or greed? Because it is so present in our culture.
Maybe you have been lying – maybe even lying to yourself, and it’s time to come out from under that lie.
And in looking at this list, I felt strongly nudged by God to say something about sexual immortality (because who doesn’t want to talk about that in church). This may be for you today, or someone near to you, or not – in which case you can file it away for later. There is so much we could say about what Jesus means here by sexual immorality. And I personally love talking about the connections between God and sexuality, because I think sexuality is something that Christians need to reclaim as good. Our sexuality is a gift from God. And we are made to share in the beautiful relational reality of intimacy, the rich connectedness, fulfillment, ecstasy that can happen with our partner. God made us for that and the bible celebrates that.
So sexual immorality: is when we remove sex and sexuality from the context of relationship and intimacy, that’s where (I think) we can get off track. Particularly porn. I have been a pastor now for eight years, and I have seen countless marriages destroyed because of pornography and other sex addictions. And not only marriages, but people, who became shells of themselves because of porn addiction. And I have also seen some of these same people healed, restored, marriages, too, through intentional hard work through therapy and addiction work. Because that’s what God does.
But all to say, if porn is something that you dabble in: be careful my friend – I know it’s good, I know. But porn actually rewires our brain. There’s science behind it. It will pull us away from God, away from the real, actual person we can be with, and even pull us away from our self. Again – this is not about shaming, but about the state of our hearts and paying attention to opportunities for growth. I would love to talk with anyone more if you want to have a conversation about this – about God and sexuality. I’m always here. Ok? Ok.
As we sit with this list, we also sit in tremendous grace. The amazing grace of God – and so as we take a few honest moments to listen to our lives, let’s also receive this song, this video, as a gift of grace for us, too.
Last week we named how the only way, the only way into more love and belonging is through vulnerability. Being vulnerable, that’s how we grow into deeper love and acceptance.
Jesus invites us, today, to be vulnerable with our issues of the heart – which means we reach out for the prayer support we need, for a friend to talk to, for a counselor to see. Because we never walk the road alone – but we find ways to surrender to the amazing grace of God that comes alongside of us, through the necessary care of friends who will carry us along. And yes, there is grace, there is grace, a million times more than we need, there is grace.