Roots of our Faith

Roots of our Faith

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 23, 2018

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37

 

In our gospel reading, Jesus attempts to quietly move through Galilee, while preparing his disciples for what is ahead. And what is ahead? His death, which he predicts to the disciples for the 2nd time. Failing to understand, the disciples turn their attention to “more important” matters—like who is the greatest among them. Aware of their antics, Jesus calls them on their behavior. “What were you arguing about on the way?”

 

Recognizing the need for a teaching moment, Jesus calls the disciples to him to provide an object lesson through a child. While embracing the child, the one considered least in society, Jesus points to the greatest, his Abba Father, saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” A little child will lead the disciples to new understanding—whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. That’s the upside-down gospel Jesus proclaims.

 

Although, in our culture, a homeless person might be a better metaphor of the lowest and least because things have changed drastically in 2000 years. No longer are children held in such low regard. These days, parents and grandparents-to-be prepare for months for a new born baby to arrive. Our daughter, Sarah, is an artist and the baby room she created for Harper six years ago would have put Leonardo da Vinci to shame. One painting read: “With your first breath you took ours away!”  Truly, children are far from the bottom of the totem pole in most families. But as much as we want them to have a full life—with love and happiness and vast opportunities—we fail them if we do not help them understand that greatness comes through serving God and serving others. To help children grow in Christian faith, to help them develop deep, spiritual roots, that will carry them through wind and rain and sun and storm—that is of the utmost importance. It is of eternal importance. Children need to be rooted in their faith—rooted like a tree planted by streams of water.

 

One of my favorite spiritual practices is to read and meditate on the Psalms. Generally, I prefer the Book of Common Prayer that divides the psalms into morning readings and evening readings and allows for the entire Psalter to be covered each month. Often, when the first day of the month rolls around, I sit with my coffee, open the Psalter and feel lightness in my heart because I know it is time to reflect on Psalm 1 again. I know it is time to ask myself, “What kind of tree am I?”

 

Hear these words again: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do they prosper.”

 

If I am a tree planted by streams of water—what sort of tree might it be? There are days when I feel like an oak—sturdy, strong and true. Other days I long to be a dogwood tree—with a floral display in the spring, green foliage in the summer, scarlet berries in the fall, textured bark contrasting against the new-fallen East Tennessee snow. Some days I feel a bit droopy—my head bows low and my arms hang at my side—on these days, I must be a weeping willow. A tree planted by streams of water—today, what sort of tree might you be?

 

The righteous are said to be like fruitful trees nourished by streams of water.  But what about those who choose to live in other places besides God’s streams of water? Let’s continue reading from Psalm 1, “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

 

While the righteous may be like rooted trees, the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away. This simile from the world of farming offers the image of thrashing time, when a farmer scoops up the grain and lets it fall to the ground, allowing the wind to blow the scrap—the chaff—away. Unlike the righteous, the wicked are not nourished. They have no roots to hold them steady; therefore, they’re scattered about to and fro.[i]

 

In God’s creation, are we trees or are we chaff? Thomas Merton said, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. It ‘consents’ to His creative love. It expresses an idea which is in God’s mind. So the more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him.” To live the Christian life is not to pretend to be somebody else. The tree doesn’t try to be a peacock or a jack hammer. A tree is content to be a tree. You and I, however, tend to struggle with our identity—our true self. We find it hard to embrace the person God intends for us to be. It’s difficult for us to accept the truth that our lives are not our own, that we are dependent on God for sun and rain and breath.

 

Maybe we feel that God has created us, and we are left on our own to be the best that we can be. But do we really have that much power? Without God’s grace, the best we can muster doesn’t amount to much!  Even with our best intentions, we are incapable of “getting it all together” on our own. As one commentator notes, “A changed life is the gift of God’s Spirit. Paul described this new life, the life for which we were made, as “the fruit of the Spirit;” not “the fruit of my good intentions.” “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”[ii] While being transformed by the Holy Spirit, we begin to feel our arms stretched upward giving glory to God, our roots growing deeper, watered by the grace of our baptism, and swayed only by the wind of the Spirit.[iii]

 

“Happy (or blessed) are those who delight and meditate on the law of the Lord….”  This is the beginning of Psalm 1, which sets the tone for the entire Psalter, inviting us to use the book as a guide to a blessed life. The instruction to delight in the law will seem odd to us if it brings up images of legal rules and prohibitions. But, ultimately, the way of God’s law (or the Torah) is the way of love. The law is our instruction book for wise living—so that we may learn the way and will of the Lord and allow God to shape our hearts and minds. That’s why the law is a cause for delight.

 

But God’s law of love won’t be a delight for everyone. Some will reject it and take the path that leads to sinfulness and cynicism. Their way is an illusion—with no more depth than the chaff that the wind blows away—because they aren’t connected to the source of life.[iv]

 

In America, it’s common for preachers to preach the “cotton candy gospel.” Promises are made that if you have enough faith and do A and B and C—you’ll have everything your little heart desires. Since this false teaching is so prevalent in our culture, it’s important to stress Psalm 1 is not a recipe for prosperity. We know wickedness sometimes prevails. But in the grand scheme of God’s love story for humanity, those who delight in the Lord, know theirs is a God who acts in history to free people from the bondage of sin. In the words of one commentator: “God is genuinely concerned about the way real people spend their precious God-given years on this earth. God cares. God provides. We can choose to take to heart God’s gracious will for humanity and allow God to use us in the grand unfolding of God’s [plan]. Or we can choose to live as if God were not actively caring and providing for God’s people—which is to say, we can opt out. God’s blessing belongs to those who opt in, centering their lives on Gods law (torah).[v]

 

Still, sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s true! That’s true because sometimes bad things happen to ALL people. And when they happens, we may go to the Psalter in search of other songs that need to be sung—songs that give us words for lament and fear and loss. But Psalm 1 captures the wisdom needed for us and for our children and for our children’s children: How we choose to live our lives matters, and a life lived in relationship with a good and loving God is a life that bears fruit.[vi]

[i] Carol J. Dempsey, OP, Feasting on the Word, 85.

[ii] Galatians 5:22

[iii] Rev. James Howell at www.workingpreacher.org

[iv] James L. Mays, Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms, 40-44.

[v] Ruth L. Boling, Feasting, 82.

[vi] Ibid.

*Cover Art © Jan Richardson Images, “Between Heaven and Earth”; used by subscription

 

Count the Cost

Count the Cost

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 16, 2018

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 1:20-33; Mark 8:27-38

 

Our reading from Mark places us in the center of the gospel. A journey of some 15 miles puts Jesus and his disciples near Caesarea Philippi, a city rebuilt to honor Caesar, a very Roman place. From this point onward, Jesus will focus his attention on his disciples. Actually, from here on, they will be enrolled in something like Intensive Discipleship Training. Important issues must be considered: What is Jesus’ true identity? What is his true mission? What will be the implications for his disciples’ own identity and mission?[i]

 

On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. One commentator puts it well when she writes, “The scene looks to us like a stopover on a political campaign, where the candidate and his entourage are checking on the results of their focus groups along the way. What are folks saying? Are they getting the message?”[ii] Evidently, the disciples have heard people’s opinions. They respond: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”

 

However, when Jesus shares his definition of “Messiah” foretelling of his own death, it’s too much for Peter. You see, Peter may have the right title, but he doesn’t understand what it means. He doesn’t want to hear about a suffering Messiah. Like many others, in all probability, Peter is more interested in a Messiah who will establish God’s rule; provide honor and glory to his followers—a just reward—NOW![iii]  So Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t turn out well for Peter who gets called Satan before all is said and done.

 

During his earthly ministry, Jesus excels in many things, one of which is to draw a crowd. Wherever he goes; whatever he does, there’s a crowd near by. Today’s text is no exception. Why are they there? Might they expect a political march just around the corner?  Maybe. Do they want healing? Could be. Do they suspect they are in a funeral procession? Not likely!

 

Now imagine, Jesus is walking along, followed closely by his disciples and he sees all those people following him. He knows their hearts. He knows many have come for the wrong reasons. It’s time for a teaching moment, so he says to the disciples and the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

 

If Jesus knows how to draw a crowd, he also knows how to get rid of one. Who wants to stick around for this? Take up a cross? Lose their life? But that’s exactly what Jesus will do—all for the sake of the gospel. Jesus will deny himself. Jesus will choose to follow the will of God—all the way to the cross. Jesus will practice what he preaches.

 

Taking up one’s cross is often misunderstood; trivialized by popular use.  Today, we are likely to point to our arthritis, or an ill-tempered spouse—and say, “I guess that’s my cross to bear.”  But Jesus isn’t talking about something that miserably happens to a person. He’s talking about a lifestyle. Through the grace of God, the cross we bear is the way we choose to look at and live out every day of our lives, while seeking to become more and more like Jesus.[iv]

 

Jesus offers a cautionary word to those gathered around him: “Before signing up, count the cost!” We, too, should take heed—we who are followers of the way.  Are we willing to give up that which is dearest to us, our plans, our hopes and dreams, our resources, and toss them aside if it means that not to do so will keep us from the path God has chosen for us?  Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross and live a cross-bearing life?

 

It’s certainly not a popular way of living. One writer notes, “In America we don’t know much about self-denial. We know about self-fulfillment. We know about selfishness. We know about consumerism. Two roads stand before us today. There is the way of the divine things, which is the way of Christ. And there is the way of human things. There is a way to save your life, but you will lose it there. And there is a way to lose your life for the sake of the Kingdom, and there you will find it.”[v]

 

“Losing your life” defines the whole of Jesus’ ministry and mission. And like Jesus, at one time or another, haven’t we experienced losing our life only to receive it back again? Allow me to provide an example: When our church provides food to someone though our Break Bread Together program, we are giving something away, right? We are “losing” time. We are “losing” resources. Yet, don’t we receive even more? We feel joy because we are participating in a story bigger than ourselves—the gospel story of caring for the needy for Christ’s sake. We know God’s blessings because we are doing the work of our Abba Father and it is good.

 

David Lose calls this way of receiving unexpected rewards through sacrifice “inverted logic.” It’s a logic that goes against the logic of the world. The wisdom the world offers will have us believing that there is security in possessions and power. The world’s logic operates on the notion of absolute scarcity. We are pitted against one another in a winner-takes-all competition for goods, meaning, and love. Yet, the way of Jesus is a different “way.” Jesus will have us give of ourselves; Jesus will have us put others first; Jesus will have us take up burdens on behalf of another. Lose concludes that it’s no wonder Jesus is rejected by the people. He’s not just an unusual king—he’s the anti-king—almost the opposite of the kings of the world. I suppose it should come as no shock that his kingdom is still having trouble attracting applicants.[vi]

 

So, what is the cost for us?  Some of us may face unpleasant comments about church being a waste of time or the rehashing of the latest scandal involving some preacher—with the conclusion that all Christians are hypocrites. Some of us may have to reconsider our priorities—how do we use the time, financial resources, and spiritual gifts that God has given each of us? For people on the way—every day—there are choices to be made.

 

 

In a poem, Robert Frost writes,

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…”

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[vii]

 

Will we choose the way less traveled; the way of Christ? Hardships? There will be some. But bounteous blessings will be ours, too—poured down like rain—in this life and in the next when we will see Jesus in all his glory, seated with his Abba Father and the holy angels.

 

But for now, here we are, fellow travelers on the way. We have the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and our Guide. We have the church as a community of faith to celebrate with us when joys abound; to help us see life and love and hope when our vision gets a little cloudy; to hold us up when we can’t stand on our own, to give of ourselves—our time, talents and treasures—all for the love of Christ. The church, the Bride of Christ, is just one of the many gifts Jesus offers to the world. How blessed a people we are—to know Jesus as our Brother, our Lord, our Messiah, our Savior!  Amen.

[i] The Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, 230.

[ii] Sharon H. Ringe, Feasting on the Word, 71.

[iii] Harry B. Adams, Feasting on the Word, 70.

[iv] Van Harn, 403-406.

[v] Mickey Anders at http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/09/pentecost-16b-september-16-2012.html

[vi] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=616

[vii] Robert Frost at http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/09/pentecost-16b-september-16-2012.html

*Cover Art by Stushie; used by Subscription

 

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 9, 2018

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Mark 7:24-37

A few weeks ago, Kinney and I took a day trip to Jacksonville Beach. Moses, our new puppy, went with us. Upon reaching our destination, we gathered our stuff on the beach—chairs, towels, a picnic lunch, drinks, water for Moses, and, of course, Traveling Jesus. I had high hopes for Moses. I imagined he would enjoy playing in the sand. Although I did not expect him to dive into the ocean, I did expect him to at least tolerate it—to at least walk with us along the water’s edge. I was wrong. What ended up happening was a comedy of errors—Kinney and me eating our food hastily rather than leisurely. And me—pulling and tugging on Moses who was having none of it. None of any of it. “No!” to the water and “No!” to the water’s edge and “No!” to a walk in the sand. “No…no…no…” It was like dealing with a toddler. Nonetheless, the sun was shining, the waves were rolling in, and even Moses choosing to have a temper tantrum rather than play in the “Red Sea”—even that could not dampen the joy of being out in God’s wondrous creation—getting away—resting—being replenished.

 

Occasionally, all of us need some time away—time to rest and be replenished. For those in ministry or other care-giving professionals, it’s crucial.  Without it, things go awry: spiritual, mental, physical health begins to show wear and tear and then…a crisis is inevitable. Yes, sometimes a respite is what is most needed.

 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark reveals a very human side of Jesus—he, too, needs rest. At least, that seems the most likely reason for Jesus to travel all the way to Tyre, where, hopefully no one knows him. In fact, the text makes it clear that Jesus enters a house and doesn’t want anyone to know his whereabouts. Even so, a woman whose daughter is ill finds him. The woman, a Gentile of Syrophoenician birth, bows before Jesus to make her request. And how does Jesus respond? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Did you get that? Jesus makes a racial slur toward the woman, calling her no less than a dog! This isn’t like Jesus at all. When has he ever spoken to anyone like this? Is Jesus afflicted with compassion fatigue? Is that what’s going on here?

 

To say that this is a complicated story is an understatement, so it won’t surprise you that wells of ink have been spilled over it. Some have suggested that Jesus is teasing the woman, calling her a “puppy” instead of a dog. Others have suggested that this is a test, much like the story of Job and because the woman responds so cleverly, her request is honored.  After wrestling with this text, I am convinced that there is more to the story. I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus is calling the woman a puppy. Folks, dog means dog and that’s exactly what Jesus is saying. What’s more, there’s no indication that Jesus is testing the woman. This isn’t a test. This is life.

 

Jesus is fully divine—but also fully human! Keeping that in mind may be critical to our understanding. Having said that, could it be that at this point in his life, even Jesus doesn’t fully know everything there is to know about his earthly ministry? Could it be that he learns something about himself when he encounters this foreign woman who bears her heart and soul to him?

 

Jesus’ response about the children being fed first indicates his belief that the Jewish people, his family, will be fed first. He’s come for his own people’s salvation—first. That doesn’t mean that the gentiles won’t be included later. So, it may be that Jesus isn’t telling the woman, “No,” as much as he is saying, “Not yet.” But she’s a mother with a sick child! So, she receives his derogatory comment and digs in her heals. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In that moment, it seems that Jesus’ eyes are opened to this woman who has been silenced in her own culture. Who else will see her, if not him? Who else will hear her, if not him? Might his message of hope, even now be for all people? It will certainly be so for her child, because Jesus heals her from afar. Miraculously, the child has hope and a future, because of the tenacity of her mother and the mercy of the Lord.

 

As strange as it may seem, from here Jesus goes to another place where predominately Gentiles reside. Is Jesus taking the next step, expanding his ministry even now? (I wonder.) A deaf man with a speech impediment, presumably, also Gentile, is brought to him. Using a technique common in healing stories of the day, Jesus uses a sort of “spit-bath” to heal a man who is physically unable to hear and unable to speak clearly.

 

The Gospel of Mark is known for telling a story within a story, sandwiching one within the other. Could it be that this man’s impediment actually mirrors that of the woman? Are the two stories linked? Even if she speaks, as a woman in her culture, who cares? Who hears her? Who understands? Like the deaf man, she has no voice. But Jesus has a way of giving voice to the voiceless, doesn’t he?

 

The movie, “The Help,” which came out a few years ago, is a period piece set in the 1960’s. It tells the story of Aibileen, a black woman who works as a maid in Jackson, Mississippi. A widow, she is devastated by the death of her son. Although she takes pride in the 17 children she has helped to raise, there’s an emptiness inside her. This begins to change when Skeeter, a young white woman, returns home from college. Unlike her peers, Skeeter wants a career, so she gets a job as a newspaper columnist. Through a turn of events, Skeeter begins to really see the domestics in her town. She realizes they have no voice in the way they are treated—not really. So, she comes up with a plan to write a book filled with the stories of the experiences of the domestics in Jackson. For safety sake it is to be written anonymously. She convinces Aibileen to share her story; then her friend, Minny, joins in; then others step forward.

 

Of course, once it’s published, the book creates a scandal and in no time, the people in Jackson figure out the source of the stories as well as the writer. In the end, the dark truth is brought to light and the voiceless are given a voice—though not without great cost. But hasn’t it always been true that giving voice to the voiceless is risky business? Just ask the one who hung on the cross for love’s sake!

 

Recently, I’ve been reading the minor prophets of the Old Testament. Repeatedly, they speak against the ways of the people in their day. The way that the rich take advantage of the poor, the way that God’s law of love is put aside for personal gain. In God’s time, God will judge how the poor and weak and hurting are treated. That’s a part of our story that we might prefer to gloss over, but Jesus won’t let us. In his ministry, Jesus cares for the poor and the sick and the outcast. Even when it means that he will miss his holiday weekend, by the power of God, he is able to muster up enough strength to hear one more voiceless person’s need and heal her daughter; he is able to have compassion on one more voiceless man and restore him to health.

 

It’s interesting that when Jesus cures the man he says, “Be opened,” and immediately the man can hear and speak plainly. “Be opened.” Perhaps, it’s the word we all need to hear: Be opened, oh closed heart that is willing to love the person like me, but not the one who is different.  Be opened, oh closed mind that will not accept new teaching, so sure of my own wisdom. Be opened, oh closed lips that could share the love of Jesus but hesitates to do so.

 

Today, when we look around us, what do we see? Do we see someone marginalized by society, being treated badly? Maybe we’ve been less than gracious to someone who is “different” than us. Maybe we’re prejudiced against people of other races—unable to accept that there’s only one race—the human race. Maybe we hold grudges toward those we perceive as “milking the system” or we might have hard feelings toward “those people born of privilege who know nothing about the real world.” What might we have to confess to the Lord? Then, how might we go about setting it right?

 

Jesus is fully human; fully divine. Can we handle such a Savior? Can we handle Jesus changing his mind? Can we handle Jesus growing in ministry as he takes on each new task given to him by his Abba Father? Or, with clinched fists, must we hang on to a Jesus who knew everything from the moment he was born and struggled to hide his divinity from the other little children? But, didn’t Jesus wear diapers? Didn’t he need to be fed and cared for and disciplined? And didn’t he have a mother who would do just that?

 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there at the cross. She refused to leave her son. In that moment, if she had the option to approach a stranger who looked down on her, a healer who might call her a dog—if that had been a choice for Mary in order to save her son’s life—she would have been there in a heartbeat. Of this I’m sure. I know because I’m a mother, too. Call me any name in the book—just heal my child. It’s the love mothers and fathers have for their children. And as fierce as that love is—God’s love for each one of us is fiercer still. God loves us more than we can fathom. God will move heaven and earth to get to us. God will send his Son to rescue us. Fierce, holy love—it’s ours for the asking! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

*Cover Art, “Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman,” via Wikimedia Commons; used by permission.

 

Hearts and Hands

Hearts and Hands

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 2, 2018

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 

After spending several weeks in John’s Gospel, this morning we return to Mark. As a way of getting back into the story line, let’s review events prior to our reading:  Jesus teaches; he heals the sick; he performs many miracles—including feeding the 5000, walking on water, and raising a 12-year-old girl from death to life! It’s no wonder news of Jesus spreads throughout the land. It’s no wonder some Pharisees and scribes come all the way from Jerusalem to witness him in action. Of course, they must check things out. If Jesus is doing all that they’ve heard he’s doing—he’s a force with which to be reckoned. He could usurp their power. He could upset the status quo between the Roman Empire and the Jews. Yes, it’s worth a trip.

 

The religious leaders arrive on the scene. They gather around Jesus and his disciples. In no time they’re out of sorts. What in the world are the disciples doing? Are they really eating without first washing their hands? The word used for “hands” in verse 2 is koinos, which means “common” or “ordinary.” For these Pharisees, food should never be eaten with ordinary hands—only sanctified hands will do![i]  While the complaint is made against the disciples, the quarrel is really with Jesus, who is their teacher.

 

Let’s try to imagine something similar happening here in our midst. Picture our Executive Presbyter, Deb Bibler, has received word that you have a heretic preacher on your hands—espousing all sorts of crazy ideas. The Executive Presbyter calls the president of Columbia Theological Seminary to discuss the rumors. They decide to call in a few other experts. Walter Brueggemann, retired Old Testament professor, is contacted as well as preaching professor, Anna Carter Florence. On the next Lord’s Day, they show up in mass. It just so happens that your pastor preaches a wonderful sermon (now don’t laugh, it could happen!) and we have a church full of people—even the balconies are jam-packed. Seven baptisms, Holy Communion, and the Blessing of the Hands follow the sermon. The music is exceptional. After the service the religious authorities request a meeting with the pastor and session members to discuss the events of the morning. The first thing on their agenda? They want to know why we had a Blessing of the Hands since that isn’t mentioned in the Book of Order. Seriously! In the context of the greater happenings of the day, that’s what our visitors want to discuss?  Ridiculous! Right?

 

While the ridiculous complaint made against the disciples seems to be about hygiene—it isn’t. It’s about the way these particular Pharisees and scribes interpret practices of Jewish ritual purification. Although certain cleanliness practices are required for priests as they prepare for holy work, no Old Testament text says that everyone must wash his or her hands before eating. Probably over time, some religious leaders began to espouse that the rules applying to the priests regarding hand washing should be applied to everyone. Now, obviously the idea hasn’t totally caught on—since the disciples are called on the carpet for their behavior.

 

In response to the claim of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus, never one to mince words, calls it like he sees it. “You hypocrites. Isaiah was right about you when he wrote—this people honor me with their lips when their hearts are far from me.” Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophet and changes the conversation. The Greek term “hypocrites” describes an actor whose face is hidden behind a mask. Jesus calls the religious rulers on the carpet for living phony lives—paying God lip service while presenting their human teachings as divine commandments.[ii]

 

While Jesus denies any error, it isn’t the Mosaic Law, in general, that Jesus rejects. After all, it’s not as if he’s on the verge of gathering up a busload of people to go across town for a pork chop sandwich! No, what Jesus rejects is any interpretation of the law that clouds the intent of the law. Biblical commands never take precedence over love and compassion. We have learned this slowly—from slavery to the position of women in the church to being inclusive of all people. Without a doubt, we are still learning this lesson. [iii]

 

Later in our reading, Jesus tells the people that uncleanness and evil don’t originate from the outside of a person anyway. They begin from the inside. They begin in the heart. Holiness, too, begins in the heart, which motivates the hands to be about doing the will of our Holy God. For holy living, hearts and hands go together. Because spiritually speaking, no matter how often we wash our hands, they cannot be holy unless our heart is holy.

 

In a moment, we’ll turn our attention to the work of our hands—instruments that are a gift from God. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God calls us to holy living and holy work. The work may be to prepare the Lord’s Table for our meal this morning, to sing in the choir, to help out with the Generations of Faith Sunday School Class. The work may be outside of the church—at the side of a friend or family member, at the office, at school, while gardening, while caring for a loved one, while preparing or sharing a meal. All kinds of work can be holy work if it is motivated by love of Christ. And Christ needs you to be about his work so that his love will reign—for all people—for all time.

 

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[The Blessing of the Hands to follow.]

[i] Douglas R.A.Hare, Feasting on the Word, 22-23.

[ii] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 611.

[iii] Anders as quoted at http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/08/pentecost-14b-september-2-2012.html?m=1