Pentecost 1518 (PR17) – “What Fills Your Heart?” Mark 7:14-23
Pentecost 1518 (PR17) – “What Fills Your Heart?” Mark 7:14-23
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:
“14And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.””
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In the past I did on occasion brew my own beer. While it has been a while, I did find it to be a satisfying hobby. You learn quickly if the product was drinkable, if everything goes according to plan. There are many different steps in the process and each process is always underscored by the need to have everything cleaned and sanitized, sterile if you will.
If there is any contamination in the fermenting or bottling, you will not have a drinkable product. A little speck of mold in a bottle, or a failure to properly clean and sterilize your equipment, and you will be growing things that you do not want. You will see these unwanted contaminants floating in the bottle. It’s not what you put into the bottle that gives you problems; it’s what’s already in the bottle that spoils it.
Why do I mention this? Well, it is because the idea that I just spoke about is taught by Jesus in the Gospel reading today. Not the brewing part but the cleanliness part. Jesus speaks of what true cleanliness is and what it produces. Ridding yourself of uncleanness produces a faithful product – the product being obedience to the will God. The Lord cleanses us by his grace and creates for us outward faithfulness to His word and will.
Our Lord has just finished a detailed discussion with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law concerning true cleanliness. These men observed the disciples eating with unwashed hands. Now, any parent would cringe at this, too, if they saw their children eating with unwashed hands. How many times did your mom or dad tell you to wash up for supper and then inspect your hands before you sat down to eat? What would they say if there was evidence of dirt still clinging to your fingers?
Yes, it is important to wash up before eating. From a health standpoint, it is necessary to prevent the spread of disease and sickness. This is especially true in a restaurant setting where you have quite a gathering of people. I was at one restaurant where, prior to sitting down, I had to use the restroom. A kitchen worker left one of the stalls walked past the sinks where I was washing my hands and, without even looking at them, left the restroom and went back into the kitchen. What does the sign in the restroom read?
“Employees must wash their hands with soap and warm water before returning to work.”
I mentioned this to my wife. The hostess heard me and asked for details. As far as I know, the worker was sent back to the sink, soap and warm water to clean his hands. With more than a little suspicion, I ordered a meal.
While cleanliness is the issue, we must consider what kind of cleanliness the Pharisees and Jesus are addressing. And no, we cannot use this discussion to say Jesus is teaching against washing our hands before eating or preparing food for others to eat. The cleanliness Jesus and the Pharisees are discussing is ceremonial cleanliness – that is the cleanliness that makes the sinner righteous before God.
If you think government regulations are strict, just read the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus prescribes the commands of God for ceremonial cleanliness. It is quite a rigorous cleansing that needs to take place. There is the removal of the uncleanness you know, but also the uncleanness of which you do not know.
According to the book of Leviticus, you cannot even get out of bed in the morning without being unclean before God. For, something unclean may have touched your bed while you were sleeping, and you have to remove that uncleanness. To this commands of God, the Jewish teachers of the Law had added over 600 more cleanliness laws.
After discussing what true Godly cleanliness is all about, Jesus calls the people to himself and teaches:
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
What Jesus is teaching is that cleanliness or uncleanness is a matter of the heart. The food we eat has no bearing on the condition of our hearts. I am not talking about the effects of what we eat, like cholesterol and sugar, etc. With Jesus, I am talking about the spiritual condition of the heart. For, Jesus must remediate his disciples on this point, and does so very clearly, when he rebukes them for their ignorance. Listen to his words.
““Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”
This last comment by Mark is very interesting and fully explains what Jesus is teaching. If you remember, there is a whole laundry list of unclean animals which the Jews are not allowed to eat. To eat them would make the Jew unclean before God. Now Jesus appears to be saying that there is no unclean animal. That would be true. The animal is not unclean. God only declares it unclean for purposes of worship and obedience to His will. Isn’t that a surprise? Makes me feel better about eating pork.
Let me ask you another question and clear up what is going on here. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was that tree unclean? Was its fruit unclean? What was the purpose for God to tell Adam and Eve not to eat its fruit? The answer is the same for the dietary restrictions God later gave to the Jews. Certainly, there were some physical health reasons, but the restrictions were to test the hearts of His people. The test revealed obedience or rejection, humbleness or arrogance, righteousness or sinfulness. It is all about the heart.
Nothing has changed since that time. The issue is still about the heart of men. Moreover, the issue is still about revealing the condition of men’s hearts. Jesus seeks first of all to remove sinful ignorance which covers the hearts of men. Hear his words.
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, all manner of sexual immoralities, all manner of thefts, all manner of murders, all manner of sins against marriage, all manner of coveting, all manner of wickedness, deceit, inability to curb the flesh, evil eye, blasphemy, arrogance, unsound thinking. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (my translation)
Jesus is saying when it comes to sin and uncleanness it is a matter of the heart. Like that little speck of mold or mildew in the fermenting tank, so is sin in our hearts. As the batch of beer is ruined by the growing mold and mildew, so also is the heart ruined as the mold and mildew of sin reaches out and contaminates our thoughts and desires.
It is amazing how something so small and seemingly insignificant can affect everything. That is why everything needs to be cleansed of contamination. In the brewing process, sanitizing washes are used. In the Christian Church, a sanitizing wash is used as well. That sanitizing wash is Holy Baptism. It gets into the utmost hidden recesses of our lives and seeks to remove the sin that grows there.
How does this Baptism work? As Dr. Luther said of Baptism, it is not the water alone, but word of God in and with the water, that does these great things. What are these great things baptism does? Let us go back to Jesus list of sinfulness spoken earlier.
Think in terms of opposites. We are talking about healing or restoring what is spiritually amiss within our hearts. What is the opposite of deceit? What is the opposite of our inability to curb the flesh? What is the opposite of evil eye? What is the opposite of blasphemy? What is the opposite of arrogance? What is the opposite of unsound thinking?
Through the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood our Lord continues this work of cleansing. He confirms in our hearts the cleansing of sins in the death of Jesus Christ. He continues to assure us of righteousness before God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He strengthens in us he desire both to will and to live a holy life in the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ.
God works his healing in us by making righteous what was unrighteous within us. Likewise, St Paul as reminds us, this change of heart and mind in not meant to be only for the short term. No, this restoration of our hearts is to remain in perpetuity until the Day of our Lord’s Coming. Moreover, every part of our lives has been protected by the water of Holy Baptism. That is what Paul teaches when he says to put on the whole armor of God. Head, heart, hands feet, waist, knees, etc, are covered in this Gospel washing. This washing has the power not only to change us, but also to defend and protect us from sin and its master, Satan.
“Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
We at times forget our great calling in the Gospel and become complacent in our spiritual life, and I do not exclude myself from this truth. We are called again in Christ to lay aside our sinful unsound thinking and return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls as Paul teaches in Romans 12:1-2.
“1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Lord, who has cleansed us to be his holy people, fill us with his inward grace that we might live with outward faithfulness. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen