Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It’s always easy to pick on the Pharisees when they come up in our scripture readings, isn’t it. How about a few Pharisee jokes in the style of redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy to get us started.
You might be a Pharisee if you’ve ever shouted, “Amen!” more than 51 times during a single sermon…about somebody else’s sin.
You might be a Pharisee if you think the world would be a better place…if everyone were just like you.
You might be a Pharisee if you’re sure nobody…has ever had to forgive you.
You might be a Pharisee if you go to church…to prove you’re good.
You might be a Pharisee if you leave worship today…thinking that you didn’t get anything from it because you didn’t like the singing or how Holy Communion was served.
It’s easy to laugh a little at the first two. For most of us the last three might actually sting a little. When we see and hear the Pharisees gathering around Jesus, it’s easy to pick on them and think, “Wow, these guys are sure full of themselves, aren’t they?”
But let’s not too quickly forget the words that we heard from the book of James today and ask ourselves if we are “like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” (Verse 23-24)
We need to back up for just a minute. For the past several weeks our worship has centered on Jesus being the “bread of life” and the “bread come down from heaven” as we’ve walked through the dense and complex sixth chapter of the gospel of John. This week we return to the gospel of Mark. By this point in Mark, Jesus has been busy – feeding five thousand, walking on water, healing the sick. Today’s encounter is between Jesus and a few Pharisees. And these are not just any ordinary old Pharisees. These Pharisees are from Jerusalem. They are the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Not only highly regarded within the Temple, but across nearly every facet of Jewish life. People knew who these guys were and looked to them for insight and direction and understanding regarding every aspect of life – spiritual and secular. They’re questioning Jesus on deep seated traditions in the community. Traditions that go much further than simply keeping Jewish law. Jesus quickly cuts to the chase and quotes the prophet Isaiah, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees and the crowds that are gathered is to say that these traditions are human creations, not from God.
Lutheran theologian Frederick Buechner imagines our life in Christ a little like a young child learning to play the piano. Buechner thought, “The child holds her hands just as she’s been told…she has memorized the piece of music perfectly. She has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But her heart is not in it, only her fingers. What she’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping.”
When it comes to our faith and our life in Christ, I want to ask you a question: Are our hearts in it or only our fingers? That’s what I hear Jesus asking you and me today.
Are we majoring in the minor things? We worship God with our words and the physical presence of our bodies sitting in beautiful sanctuaries like this one and ignore that God is part of our lives as soon as we walk out the door – never giving the words, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” a chance to be implanted on our hearts before we leave and run off to chase the next thing we have to check off of our to do list.
I think that might be why I’ve been struggling with this gospel reading in Mark this week. As one of your pastors, I won’t stand before you and yell at you for having feelings or thinking thoughts or doing things that you know are wrong. I can’t formulate some sort of personalized strategic plan for you that will bring about a radical change in your financial wealth or emotional well being. I can’t shower you with enough guilt that may actually cause you to behave differently for a few seconds after you leave worship today.
You see, Jesus is not only attacking the Pharisees and the traditions they are trying to protect. In fact, his direct criticism is to the human being. Eleven times in the seventh chapter of Mark, the Greek word anthrōpos is used, which translates as “human being” or “person”.
Duke Divinity School New Testament Professor Joel Marcus says that, “The basic problem Christians should be concerned about is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the anthrōpos. 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.” [Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible 27; New York; Doubleday, 2000), 460-461]
Brothers and sisters in Christ – in the middle of all the evil that we face in this world. In the middle of all the things that come out of us that defile us. You see, I will never stop reminding you that you have a God who loves you and claims you as his own. I will never stop praying that you live your life in the promise of resurrection, with joy and thanksgiving that God has freed you from sin and death in your baptism. I will never stop celebrating Holy Communion with you and hope that in our celebration of the sacrament you are fed and strengthened and then feel called to be a blessing to your neighbor in all that you say and do. I will never stop believing that our God comes to every one of us, broken anthrōpos that we are, and says to each one of us, I love you. I forgive you. You are mine. This God lives in us today and in all the days to come.
I invite us to take a minute right now and wash together. Using the words for confession and forgiveness that are printed in your bulletin or on the screen behind me, let’s wash together and be made clean. We do not live out our life in Christ by just washing our hands. Our hearts need washing too. Please stand as you are able.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Light, we admit that we are much faster at talking, and too slow at listening. We are quick to engage in power-pleasing acts, but hesitant to hear your simple words of hope, of justice, of renewal. We do not notice how our casual speech can cause great harm and pain to those around us. Forgive us, God of majesty and mercy, and let your grace refresh us like a gentle rains. Pour your hope into our empty souls until it overflows to all we have damaged. Call us to new life through the words and witness of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in whose name we lift our prayers to you.
Silence for reflection and confession.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Did you hear the voice of the God speaking to you – whispering words of hope, of grace, of forgiveness into your heart and into your soul? This is the good news that is for us! In the name of Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven!