Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)

August 30, 2015
Text: Mark 7:14-23

            It’s so contrary to our instinct.  We’re always guarding against things from the outside entering in and making us sick or unclean.  We worry about germs.  We worry about touching things that are gross.  We worry about what we inhale and what we ingest.  We carry around hand sanitizer to kill off anything we touch.  We wash with antibacterial soap.  We watch what we eat.  We are forever on a diet.  And almost daily in the news headlines we read about how this or that common food or drink or ingredient is going to kill us.  Now, not all of this is bad.  It’s true that germs make us sick.  It’s true that we should take care of our bodies and observe proper hygiene habits.  And it’s true that too much of some ingredients in processed food can do damage to our bodies, although I’m not sure we need all the sensationalism from the alarmist media.  But this is basically who we are.  We’re always worried about what comes into us.  Maybe for different reasons than the Pharisees, but we’re worried just the same.  And so it comes as a shocker when Jesus says: “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” (Mark 7:15; ESV). 
            This is the fundamental problem of fallen human nature.  We’re always worried about defilement from the outside in, when the real problem is inside out.  “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (vv. 21-23).  This is what happened in the Garden, in the fall of man.  Suddenly Adam and Eve went from totally focused on God and His good and gracious will for them, to totally focused on self and the desires of the flesh.  So they died.  That is the way of death.  The fall of mankind isn’t just about sinful outward actions, what we call “actual sins,” bad things we do and good things we fail to do.  No, it goes much deeper than that.  In fact, it goes right to the heart of man.  We don’t just say our actions are fallen.  We talk about fallen human nature, what we call “original sin.”  And it effects every aspect of us.  We are rotten to the core, corrupt in our very essence.  We are born looking away from God, our only source of life and salvation, and looking instead upon ourselves.  Incurvatus in se, is the Latin theological phrase.  “Curved in on the self.”  We are navel gazers, self-involved and self-obsessed, narcissists, and so in our own self-interest, we cut ourselves off from God and off from our neighbor.  Repent. 
            This is why we have the Ashley Madison scandal that is all over the news.  This is the website I referenced last week that specializes in facilitating extra-marital affairs.  Their tag line is, “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  Lord, have mercy.  I’ll be honest, it takes a lot to shock me in this fallen world, and I’m not surprised so many men and women (mostly men) fell prey to this temptation (33 million accounts, over 23,000 in Grand Rapids alone!).  Those kind of numbers are a little too abstract to make it real, though.  What really put it in perspective for me is an article that revealed there are only three zip codes in the United States without Ashley Madison accounts: Nikolai, Alaska, population 94; Perryville, Alaska, population 113; and Polvadera, New Mexico, population 269.  That’s it.  That means you and I undoubtedly know someone with an Ashley Madison account.  That means there are accounts right here in Dorr, in Wayland, in Hopkins, and in all the places you live.  And the hackers are releasing names and all the juicy details.  Many Christians have fallen to this temptation, and they will be exposed.  I’m telling you, if your name is on this list, you’d better come talk to me right away.  It’s time for Confession and Absolution.  That’s the only way you’re going to get out of this mess.  This is the way the devil works (and make no mistake, there is a demonic power behind this website).  First the devil helps you justify the sin in your mind so that you feel comfortable, or at least excited about doing it.  Then, once you’ve committed the sin, he pulls the rug out from under you.  He accuses you and tells you God can never forgive you now.  He drives you to despair and puts you to shame before your neighbor.  And you know what can never help you?  Your heart.  Your heart is the problem!  For God’s sake, don’t believe the conventional wisdom that you should follow your heart!  Or be true to yourself!  Or go with your gut!  Or whatever recycled and warmed-over variation of that advice. 
            What is amazing is that even Christians, who should know better, tell you to “give your heart to Jesus” as if it’s some amazing present He’ll be thrilled about!  Like your heart is some kind of pure and precious jewel, and you’re somehow enriching Jesus by giving it to Him.  In Bo Giertz’ novel, The Hammer of God, the young pastor, Fridfeldt, wanting to teach his older, seasoned, superior pastor a thing or two about true faith, declares, “I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer” in Jesus… “I mean that I have given him my heart.”…  “Do you consider that something to give him?” asks the old man…. You see, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit one’s self to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed!  But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him.  That is how it is.”[1]
            Jesus is the Lord who has mercy on you and redeems you, body and soul, heart and mind, right down to your very essence.  Not because you’re so precious, but because He is so good.  He does it by taking on your nature, your essence, though Himself without sin.  Yet He becomes THE Sinner for you.  He takes into Himself all your sin and uncleanness, all that yucky stuff that oozes out of your heart, and He humbles Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  That is penalty for your sin.  That is the destiny of your heart.  Follow your heart if you want, but understand, it’ll lead you to the pit of hell.  Follow Jesus, whose heart for you led Him through hell on the cross… believe in Him,  Christ crucified and risen for you, and you have eternal life.  Jesus takes your heart and washes it clean and pure in His Blood.  Jesus takes you up into Himself and delivers you spotless before His Father.  Jesus forgives all your sins and creates in you a new heart.
            What is so backwards about all of this from our perspective, is that He does it by what He puts into you.  Salvation must come from outside of you.  Actually, what you take in, if it be full of Jesus, cleanses you, heals you, restores and enlivens you.  We are speaking, of course, about the Word of God, the Holy Gospel, the preaching that declares you forgiven and free.  We are speaking about the Holy Absolution, by which you return to your Baptism in which the risen Christ washes you of all sin, drowns your sinful flesh, and raises you to new life in Him.  We are speaking of the cleansing and nourishing Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which He gives you here at His altar, for the forgiveness of your sins.  What comes out of you defiles you.  What goes into you from Jesus makes you clean.
            Indeed, the Lord Jesus gives you a new heart.  The old heart must die.  The new, you can only receive from Jesus.  You prayed for this very thing in the Introit.  You’ll pray it again after the sermon: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).  Give me a divine heart and soul transplant.  And Jesus says yes.  It is done in your Baptism.  It is done as you remain in our Lord’s life-giving Word and Supper.  Everything is upside down now.  What comes out is defiled, what goes in cleanses.  Confession of sin is what comes out of you.  Absolution, forgiveness from Jesus Himself, is what goes in.  Body and Blood of Jesus is what goes in.  The Gospel is what goes in.  What you think, do, and say is all sin and filth and death.  What Jesus thinks of you, does for you, and says to you is purifying, healing, and life-giving.  Giving your heart to Jesus doesn’t save you.  That Jesus gave His heart for you, now THAT is what saves you.  It is not about what you do for God, but what God does for you in Christ.  It’s all so contrary to our instinct.  It’s all upside down.  But as it turns out, in God’s economy, upside down is right side up.  And you, O sinner, are a saint.  Because of Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1960/2005) pp. 122-23.


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