Pentecost 1418 (PR1) – “What Have You Learned?” Mark 7:1-13

Pentecost 1418 (PR16) – “What Have You Learned?” Mark 7:1-13

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

The text for our sermon meditation is taken from the Gospel account of St Mark, the 7th Chapter:

“5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.””

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today we celebrate the blessing and the privilege of learning to walk in true righteousness. This is the purpose of Rally Sunday, the day in which we focus on our spiritual formation and feeding of faith. Well did Dr Luther understand the great benefit this learning had both for life in the worldly community and for life in the community yet to come. Hear what Dr Luther wrote.

“Some are now saying: If my son learns enough to earn a penny, he is learned enough. Nowadays nobody wants to raise children for anything else than knowledge and ability to make a living. … as if there is no God who has given them different instructions … they are the most noxious and harmful folk on earth … The reason is that so far as they are concerned, they do nothing but bring about the downfall of both the spiritual and temporal estates as well as the ruin of both domestic and child training. Then nothing but wild animals and hogs remain in the world, and they are good for noting but gorging and guzzling.” What Luther Says, #1331, pg 450.

Our Lord is about this same purpose as He speaks with the Pharisees and scribes who come to him. These men question Jesus about the teaching and training he gave to his disciples. If Jesus is a righteous man of God, why then does He not instruct his disciples in the way of righteousness? Why then does Jesus allow his followers to become lax in their keeping of all the righteous works handed down in the tradition of the fathers?

So there is a conflict presented by the Pharisees and scribes. The discussion centers in discerning the voice of God speaking through the words of Moses. What is necessary for righteousness and holiness before God? Can such righteousness and holiness be measured by our actions, or is there some other measure to be used?

The Pharisees and scribes have a standard by which they have lived. This standard they use to measure the holiness and righteous deed of others. Mark simply calls this standard the tradition of the elders. Such traditions certainly come from the books of Moses. For Moses recorded all the ceremonial laws given him by God. You can read through the book of Leviticus and study the ways to ceremonially cleanse yourself from some uncleanness, sin or otherwise.

However, the traditions of the fathers were further rules derived by men as means of ceremonial cleanness and righteousness. These were more than supplemental interpretation of Moses. These traditions became the standard of holiness and righteousness for the people of Judah. If you kept to these traditions you were considered with favor. If you failed to keep these traditions you were considered unclean.

Such was the charge the Pharisees and scribes bring against the disciples of Jesus. According to the tradition of the elders, the disciples transgressed the rules and regulations for cleanliness. They had not washed their hands before sitting down for a meal. It was not simply wetting the hands to remove dirt. Rather there was an elaborate ritual to insure the hands were truly cleansed. The water was applied in such a manner that it never flowed back over the hands. The water was cupped in the hands. The hands were lifted and turned so that the water then flowed down to the elbows. The dirt washed away did not flow back to cause uncleanness.

Today we might see a similar practice with a surgeon. Scrubbing for surgery, the surgeon works to clean his or her hands from fingertip to elbow. Every portion of the hands and forearms is scrubbed clean with disinfectant and rinsed. Holding the hands up and with bent elbows the surgeon enters the operating room is gowned and surgical gloves are put in place. In this case the traditions of elders is necessary for the benefit of the patient undergoing surgery.

Yet there are other traditions to consider as well. Congregations have traditions which are unique to its members. These traditions arise over time and may become compulsory. There is one parish that had a tradition of members passing behind the altar after receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood. No one knew or even remembered why it was done. They only knew that was the tradition.

Later it was learned that this passing behind the altar had a purpose long unneeded.  There was an alms box fixed to the back of the altar. It was used as a collection from the communicants for the purchase of wine and wafers. As they passed behind the altar they put their coins in the box.

What the Pharisees and scribes were witnessing was something of this sort. They had customs that were continued but had no real benefit for those who practiced them. They were additions to the Word of God that gave a false sense of holiness and purity. They may be practical, but they did not increase anyone’s righteousness before God.

This is a difficult lesson to learn. We are creatures of this world that are attracted to feelings and things visual and physical.  We tend to think that we have to help God along in the work of righteousness and holiness. Or we totally ignore the work that makes us righteous and holy, and seek a path that only looks good but does not help our spiritual well-being.

Consider what is offered to you here in this place of worship and spiritual nurturing. Each week the word of God is offered along with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Along with those gifts of grace, we sing praise to God in hymn and liturgy. Still more gifts of grace are offered in Bible Study after worship and now at other times throughout the week. These are not traditions but are the very means to build your faith and seek the guidance and will of God.

Yet, we treat these offerings from God as options. On more than one occasion people have confessed their absence from worship because there was nothing going on at church last week. Others make the deliberate choice to not seek instruction in God’s Word outside of worship. Perhaps it comes from thinking everything needed to be known was learned in Catechism Class. Catechism Class is but the foundation. A foundation is put in place to be built on. How many lives of faith are stunted because the study of God’s word withers on the vine?

How will you give proper witness to overcome the sinful errors of thought and desire place before us by the world today? The epistle reading today speaks of God’s plan for marriage. What do you believe about marriage today? Do you accept the thought that as long as two people are in a committed relationship there is no problem?  Do you accept the thought that cohabitation before marriage is acceptable to God? Do you understand the difference between love and lust? Is it okay to physically, or verbally or emotionally abuse someone?

There are a host of other questions that must be answered by the Word of God. Do Christians worship the same God as Jews and Muslims? All of these religions are monotheistic, that is believe and confess a belief in one god? The world will tell yes. If you do not agree, why do you not agree? Where in Scripture do you find the knowledge and answer to defend your faith against these and other deceptions placed before us by Satan.

We are called upon by Jesus to honor God not only with our lips, but also with our hearts. If your heart is empty how will you honor God with your lips? There is much to learn with regard to righteousness and cleanness before God. It comes through the diligence of faith and study of God’s Word. Such study allows us to discern the righteousness of God and the empty traditions of men.

Our Lord came to this world to redeem us from sin and empty traditions. It was Jesus whole reason to be born into this world. Jesus came to lead us to the cross of suffering and shame. There upon that cross of suffering and shame we see the sacrifice that reconciled God to the world of sinners. We sinners had pushed God away and scorned His righteous ways. Yet Jesus came to bring God near in His body given and His blood shed upon the cross.

The blood Jesus poured out upon the cross marked this world as His own creation and His own possession. We were covered in that same blood in the water of Holy Baptism. Jesus marked as His brothers and sisters redeemed and set apart to learn the mysteries of God’s salvation. This is continuing education for us and a necessity for us. We are not wild animals and hogs good only for gorging and guzzling the vain treasures of this world. Rather we are people of God in whom the image of God is restored. To us God revealed His teaching, His righteousness, His will for our lives.

May we all continue our growth in, and our learning of God’s will. The blessings are immeasurable and the end is eternal.  Amen.