Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 16)

August 23, 2015
Text: Mark 7:1-13

            Jesus is not against washing your hands.  In fact, if your mother tells you to go wash up for dinner, Jesus wants you to submit to her and do your Fourth Commandment duty of honoring her, serving and obeying her, loving and cherishing her.  So also, the rest of us appreciate it when you observe proper hygiene habits, so love for your neighbor demands that you wash.  With soap and water, please.  It’s one of the unwritten rules of our life together. 
            But the scribes and the Pharisees are not concerned about germs.  Their concern runs much deeper.  It is a question of how one becomes and remains pure: Clean before God, sparkling before the neighbor.  The scribes and Pharisees were upset that Jesus’ disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed (Mark 7:2).  They were offended at this because the disciples were blatantly disobeying the traditions of the elders.  Note, this handwashing is not a command of God.  It is a tradition of the elders.  It is a commandment of men.  The Jews were afraid of becoming ceremonially unclean.  So in addition to observing the commandments of God recorded by Moses in the Law, they added extra traditions that went the extra mile.  They washed everything.  The word in Greek is “baptize.”  They baptized everything: Hands, cups, pots, copper vessels, and even their dining couches.  Because what if someone ceremonially unclean had touched those things?  What if (gasp!) a Gentile had touched those things?  What if an unclean person or a Gentile or a sinner had, unbeknownst to the pious Jew, brushed up against him in the market place?  The scribes and the Pharisees were worried about guilt by association.  We must wash off that filth!  Baptize those hands!  Baptize everything!  Wash it all away!  God will be impressed!  God will see how pure you have kept yourself!  You will shine in the eyes of your neighbors!  You will be clean!  But it’s hypocrisy.  Because as shiny as you are on the outside, any honest examination of the heart will turn up nothing but sin and death, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, covetousness, and every form of wickedness.  Jesus rightly says in another place, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27; ESV).  The scribes and Pharisees rely on their works, especially their works over and above God’s Law, to make them pure and clean.  And it works, on the outside.  People are impressed.  These are “good Christian folk.”  But God looks at the heart.  He is not impressed.  The heart is unclean.  The heart is evil.  In preferring the outward righteousness of the Law, the scribes and Pharisees reject God’s clear Word.  And so by what they do they make void the Word of God. 
            It’s easy to sit in judgment on the legalistic scribes and Pharisees.  We are always better at seeing the sin of another than we are at seeing our own.  The truth is, though, we do the same thing.  Like the scribes and Pharisees, we build a façade.  We present ourselves as holier than we actually are.  Think about it.  When someone at Church asks you how you’re doing, you don’t tell him about your struggle with lust or the evil thoughts you entertain about your co-worker.  Nor do you tell him all the judgements you’ve been making about him ever since he approached you.  You tell him you’re doing fine, because that’s what you want people to think about you.  “That is one person who’s got it all together!” you want us to think.  And you certainly don’t want them believing you actually mean what you say when you confess that you’re a poor, miserable sinner.  When you get right down to it, that’s probably why you don’t come to private Confession, because you don’t want the pastor to know that you have real sin.  But you do want everyone to know that you’re here, Sunday in and Sunday out, repenting sincerely, believing truly, and that you give to the offering and serve on this or that board… that you vote the right way and dress the right way and believe all the right things.  And incidentally, I’m glad if all of that’s true.  But I don’t for a minute believe that the hidden chambers of your heart are as clean as your public persona.  I say this in love, because I know myself, and I know fallen human nature.  More to the point, the Bible tells us what we are.  You and I, Pharisees that we are, are whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, full of death on the inside.  Or as Jesus tells us today, all that running around being “good Christian folk,” doing the things we expect “good Christian folk” to do, and counting on that as our righteousness, our purity: that doing, our doing, makes void the Word of God.  Repent. 
            This whole Josh Duggar thing is precisely about this.  For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Josh Duggar is the Christian kid from the reality show 19 Kids and Counting who was recently exposed for having molested his sisters a number of years ago, and more recently for having an account with a website that specializes in facilitating adulterous affairs.  Needless to say, the media is all over this.  Here is a Christian who has taken a mighty fall.  Josh’s Christian fans are horrified by the news.  But here is the thing they all fail to consider.  Get ready, because this will be a shocker.  Josh Duggar is not the exception, he’s the rule!  And the very fact that we love to stand in judgement of him shows us for the Pharisees we are.  Maybe your sins are different than his.  Do you think that makes you clean?  The truth is, you don’t want others knowing what you think, say, and do in secret, either!  You’d be horrified if we could all read your thoughts, because you know how nasty they are.  You can be as squeaky clean as we all thought the Duggars were on the outside, but that doesn’t cleanse you of your evil heart and your very real guilt.  If you think it does, you make void the Word of God.  And you are still in your sins. 
            Thank God, you are not made clean by what you do.  You are made clean by what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do for you.  The Lord Jesus is not just righteous, He is righteousness itself.  He is the Holy One, come down from the Father, the only-begotten Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He took upon Himself our flesh.  He went down into the dirty, stinking Jordan River to soak up your sin and the sin of the whole world.  And He took it to the cross, bearing it in His holy Body, to bathe in the one and only cleansing agent capable of the job: His Blood, the Blood of God made man, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  And now our risen Lord, Righteousness Incarnate, gives Himself to you as a gift.  He does it first in your Baptism.  He is not satisfied simply with baptized hands.  In fact, He is not satisfied with full-body immersion, if all the cleansing is is an outward bath.  When Jesus baptizes you, He cleanses you from the inside out.  He starts with your heart and with your soul.  He takes possession of you with His Holy Spirit.  And what begins at the Font continues in the Word of Preaching and Absolution, and at the Supper of His Body and Blood.  By these means He gives Himself to you to be your righteousness before the Father.  The Father doesn’t look at what you do.  What you do is all sin.  The Father looks at what Jesus does.  And He counts it as your righteousness.  You are clean.
            And now you can do things, like take care of your elderly parents, or give special offerings to Church, and yes, wash your hands before supper, not to impress God or your neighbor with how clean and pious you are.  You can do those things because the Spirit of God has created in you a clean heart, a new heart, a heart that beats with the very Blood of the Lord Jesus given to you in His Means of Grace.  You aren’t saved or clean or any better before God by any of those things that you do.  You are saved and clean because of Jesus.  Only Jesus.  It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus Christ for you.
            I pray Josh Duggar knows that his “good Christian, family values” public persona is not, and has never been, what makes him clean before God.  Jesus Christ already made him clean by His sin-atoning work on the cross.  This is not to minimize the very real damage he has done to people by his sins.  But it is to say that he has salvation in Christ, and all his sins are forgiven.  Yes, even Josh Duggar, the hypocrite and molester and adulterer.  Josh Duggar is spotless before God.  Because he is covered in Jesus’ Blood.  And so are you.  Because you are in Christ.  Because you are baptized.  All your sins, every last deep dark secret of your heart, all of it is forgiven.  You are righteous.  You are clean.

            You can’t get that by washing your hands or your dishes or your furniture.  You can’t get that by anything you do.  You have it in Christ, by what He has done.  And it is free gift.  You’ve been washed at the Font.  You’ve been clothed with Jesus.  Now He brings you to His Table, because you’re clean and dressed for the Supper.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

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