Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pentecost 14 (Proper 17), Series B

Sermon on Mark 7:14-23
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
September 2, 2012 (The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

When the secular world thinks of Christians preaching the law, very often what they think of is self-righteous people pointing an accusing finger at others “out there.”  Very often the stereotype is that Christian preachers all talk about how it is “those sinners” who are a bad influence to be avoided.  I mean, they drink alcoholic beverages!  They smoke!  They dance!  They even (gasp) play cards!  We might also think of those preachers who urge their sheep to keep themselves pure by avoiding the movies, television, and “secular” music, so that they can avoid accidental exposure to scenes involving violence, sexuality, or other sinful behaviors.  Now, to be sure, it is good to be cautious and discerning when you’re choosing among entertainment options for yourself and your children.  After all, one of the temptation strategies the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh use against us is the idea that “everyone else is doing it,” so avoiding shows where gratuitous sex or violence is portrayed as normal or even as a good thing is probably a good idea, in general.  But when the source of sin is portrayed exclusively as something that comes from outside of us, something that we can avoid by staying away from the cinema or the television, and only listening to “Christian” music, then there’s a problem.

As Jesus points out, the source of our sinfulness is our own heart.  We were born defective.  We were born enemies of God.  Even when we outwardly do what is loving and good and right in this world, we are doing it to make ourselves look good to others, ourselves, or even God, rather than relying on God for every blessing we have.  Our best good works are often done in violation of the First Commandment, because they are done with the motivation of making our goodness come from ourselves, that is, they are done with the idea that we are our own gods.  The theologians call this the doctrine of original sin.  The fact is, sin isn’t just something we learn how to do because of bad influences we encounter as we go through life.  Sin is something we were born with.  Sinfulness, being an enemy of God who wants to try to save himself, is something we inherited from Adam and Eve, something that was in us already before we were born.  Sin isn’t something that comes at us from the outside first and foremost, it’s something that comes out from the inside.

Now, as I mentioned, that doesn’t mean we can simply go watch and do whatever we want, because as those who are born sinful we can’t help it.  The symptoms of our sinful condition are learned from, and influenced by, our fellow sinners.  And so it’s a bad idea to go and watch something you know will tempt you to do something selfish and unloving toward your neighbor.  Our text mentions that Jesus declared all foods clean.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go and eat something that will destroy your health.  Poison is still poison, and it’s simply a matter of wisdom to avoid that which is going to hurt you.  And so what Jesus is saying here should not be seen as encouraging carelessness.  Rather, Jesus is speaking against the idea that we can actually keep ourselves pure by avoiding things.  We can’t.  The impurity is already there from our birth.

There is only one man whose heart contains good things.  Only one human being has ever lived that has not had the stain of original sin permeating His body and soul.  That Man is Jesus Christ.  What proceeds out of His mouth is life itself.  What He says is the opposite of defilement.  In fact, the Word that He speaks recreates in us a clean heart and renews in us a right spirit.  His Word puts the old self to death and resurrects us to a new life that is predicated on His Word, His righteousness, and His eternal life with His Father.  Out of His heart comes nothing but the goodness and love that flows from His Father’s love for those whom He has created.  Out of His heart comes love for the neighbor, kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness.

And that’s true even in a very literal sense.  Not only when we think of the “heart” somewhat poetically as the seat of our emotions, but even when we speak of the literal bodily organ called the heart, the muscle that pumps blood through the body.  Out of Jesus’ literal heart, when it was pierced, came His blood.  And even His blood itself brings us these things.  It is supernaturally united with the wine those of you who are communicants will be receiving in a few minutes.  His blood, coming from His heart, gives us nothing less than the kindness and love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  And it gives us these things not only in this life, but more importantly, His blood gives us that eternal life, love, and happiness in the Father’s presence forever.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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