LIPS AND HEARTS: EXPRESSING OUR FAITH
The text for this sermon is Matthew 15:10-20. Pastor Jim presented this sermon at Resurrection on August 17, 2008, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
You and I have just heard a gospel lesson that is a difficult one to understand. The lesson deals with our mouths, our hearts, and things that make someone unclean. It also addresses an obvious disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees. The challenge for you and me is to enter this section of God’s Word and see what we can learn that will have meaning for our lives as Christians today.
It is helpful to understand the context of this lesson. It is part of the 15th chapter of Matthew, the chapter that can be titled “Clean and Unclean.” At verse 1, several Pharisees (teachers of the Jewish Law) came to confront Jesus with 2 questions: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” and “Why don’t they wash their hands before they eat?”
We already know that Jesus considers the Pharisees to be too legalistic. He says they concentrate on the details of the words too much and don’t try to teach people about loving relationships with God and with people. The Pharisees in turn call Jesus too liberal, saying he makes it too easy for people, that he doesn’t lay down the law as to what God demands.
So in the midst of verbal battle with the Pharisees, we hear how Jesus thinks, and as Christians we believe this reflects the heart of God. Jesus says to these disciples who have a whole list of food that can or cannot be eaten in order to be pleasing in God’s sight, “It is not what does into the mouth that defiles a person but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Jesus goes on to talk about the connection between the mouth and the heart. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
This washing of hands talk could be lost on us today if we don’t understand what it represents. The Jewish laws (there were at least 600 of them) listed what was unclean and what you were to avoid and why you were to ritually wash your hands while asking for forgiveness. Here are just a few things that these laws said made you unclean:
Some of us may think that Jesus was teaching something foreign to Jews when he said that words and actions are more important than ritual. But we can go back to the prophets of Israel and Judah and hear these words:
How can we apply what we have heard in Matthew to our Christian lives today? Let me ask some questions to get us thinking:
In chapter 15 of Gospel’s Matthew, right after today’s lesson, comes a story that we can title “The Faith of the Canaanite Woman.” This story illustrates what Jesus and the Pharisees have just been talking about. A woman has a son who is very sick. She hears about Jesus and his power to heal. She also knows that the Jewish people do not want her to approach Jesus or any good Jew, that they consider her unworthy and unclean. What is she to do?
Bible scholars point out that this was a big question in the early church. Who should be let in and who should not? Should everyone coming in have to conform to all of the traditions and laws and rules? Was the church open to new ideas and new people and new ways of practicing the faith? If you read the story of the Canaanite Woman, you’ll see that she doesn’t at first get a great reaction from Jesus. He talks about being sent only to the House of Israel. But this woman, an outsider was so persistent, that finally Jesus concedes and heals her son. And so lessons are taught about persistence and about inclusiveness for the Church.
Starting September 7th, we have a new adult class on Sunday mornings that has the title, “”They Like Jesus But Not the Church.” In this 6 week course, we’re going to be taking a serious look at how folks out there view us in here. Some of the folks out there include members of our own families, perhaps son and daughters. What are the disconnects and how can we be reaching them? It is my hope and prayer that all of us here at Resurrection will be taking our direction from Jesus in all our words and actions.
Thanks be to God. Amen!