Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's A Family Tradition

My scripture today is from Mark 7:1-7:23
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. 
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word for our lives, that has been revealed to us through your Son, Jesus the Christ. And through the same Spirit, give us the courage and wisdom to embrace your will for our lives, that we might truly worship you in spirit and truth, and serve your kingdom through the witness of our lives. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

I think every family in the world has adopted a set of rules, which may be spoken or assumed, to help to define what is acceptable behavior within the home. They are rules or customs that actually help to shape family identity. And one of the areas that these rules come into play, are as we gather around the table to share a meal together. In our home, there are certain expectations that as a mother, I established for proper family etiquette.  These rules needed to be followed if you wanted to eat without being the recipient of “The Look”….you know the one that let you know you  crossed the line. One of those expectations was that you only had about a minute to show up at the table when I announced that the meal is ready.  Now that my children are grown they have grown to understand my position. I spent time preparing this meal, I felt as if the rest of the family should have had the courtesy to come to the table when called. And when they came to the table, they had better present themselves with clean hands, a shirt on their body, and no hat on their head. I am a real stickler on the hat issue. Even when we would go into a fast-food chain to grab a bite of lunch, whoever ate with us would be asked to remove their hats, even if everyone else in the restaurant had one on.  Of course, families are not the only place in which rules of etiquette are seen to govern and define group identity. Most social clubs, including the VFW and American Legion, require that you must remove your hat in order to be served, as a sign of respect for those who have served and gave their lives in defense of our country.  But more importantly, in light of our Gospel lesson for this morning, rules of etiquette have often been established to define and govern religious identity. According to our text, some scribes and Pharisees noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples were eating without washing their hands. And then Mark adds an editorial comment, saying: “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.”  There are a couple of points about this text that I would like to comment on. First, notice that in Mark’s editorial comment, he is not just speaking about the Scribes and Pharisees observing these traditions of the elders. He says that all Jews in that day observed those traditions, which shows that they were more than simply rational hygiene practices about washing one’s hands and dishes before eating. They were a part of the kosher laws that helped to define and govern Israel’s religious identity as a people of God.  In fact, Orthodox Judaism to this day continues to follow the kosher laws that defined Judaism at the time of Christ. And if you have ever eaten in an Orthodox Jewish restaurant, you will notice that not only are the dishes clean, but the dishes are changed with each course. The reason for this is, that dairy products, such as butter, are not to be served with meat products in the same course. Thus, in some Jewish homes today, you will find double sets of dishes used for each meal.  **Tell Rosita Franks story.  Thus, when the Pharisees and Scribes asked Jesus why his disciples did “not live according to the tradition of the elders, but ate with defiled hands,” they were not just concerned about their neglect of good hygiene. At issue was the disciple’s neglect of the traditions that defined and governed their identity as a religious community – their identity as God’s chosen people.  Jesus goes much further than addressing the issue of hygiene. In verses 18 and 19 Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” And then Mark concludes this statement by stating, “Thus, he declared all foods clean.”  According to Gail Ramshaw, in her commentary on our scripture for today, “Most likely, what is going on in this passage is that the community to which Mark wrote his Gospel was engaged with the first-century controversy… about whether Christians were to maintain Jewish dietary laws… For the Christian, all foods are clean. That is, ancient practices about which foods and which eating habits render a person unclean do not apply to the resurrection community.”  If this is the case then the controversy between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees expresses a fundamental difference in religious philosophy. From the point of view of the Pharisees and scribes, the dietary laws of Israel not only defined them as a religious community, but by following these laws they were set apart from sinners and outcasts and the rest of the Gentile world.  On the other hand, when Jesus ate and sat at table with sinners and outcasts, he was asserting that the grace of God extended beyond the respectable Jewish community.  Instead of setting himself off from the rest of the world, Jesus wanted to reach out to the world. In other words, Jesus wanted to expand the concept of what defined the people of God.  But it is not that Jesus simply wanted to embrace an “anything goes,” “I’m OK, you’re OK” standard, as to what constituted the defined the community of the faithful. Every community needs to have some defining principles, which shape their identity, and regulate their existence. And I believe that verse 8 of our text gives us Jesus’ defining principle, when he said to those who questioned him, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”  But just what is this “The” commandment of God that is to take precedence over human tradition in defining our existence as the people of God? I doubt that a prohibition against the list of evil intentions that come from the heart, which concludes our text, is what Jesus is referring to. After all, there are certainly many more things that could be added to this list that would qualify as “evil intentions of the heart,” than what are mentioned.  But later in Mark’s Gospel, I believe Jesus defines what he means by “The commandment of God. In the twelfth chapter, “one of the scribes comes to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is ‘Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” This, above all else, is what should define our Christian community. This is what led the early church to abandon the kosher, dietary laws of Israel, and sit at table with people of all races and social classes, eating foods that had since been taboo. It is most likely what has brought about the human tradition of eating ham on Easter – in defiance of the kosher laws of Israel, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  However, if this is the defining principle of the Christian community, that we should love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves, then we need to uplift these principles as what defines us as the Christian family. Too often, we, like the scribes and Pharisees, fail to live by the guiding principle of our faith, to rise each morning, and end each day, in prayer and worship of God. Too often we fail to embrace those who are different from ourselves, as our neighbor and as people for whom God cares. When you stop and think about it, we are not so different than the scribes and Pharisees. It is easy to embrace our traditions, but much more difficult to actually embrace and live out the defining principles of our faith community. May God’s Spirit awaken our hearts, and give courage to our actions, that we become the people of God.  Amen

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