14 Pentecost Proper 17B
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 7:14-23 Sermon
September 2, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 360 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
TLH 243 "O That I Had A Thousand Voices"
WOV 716 "Word Of God Come Down On Earth"
TLH 657 "Beautiful Saviour"
NOT A VERY PRETTY PICTURE
TEXT (vs. 14-16): “14 [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 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. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.'"
This morning, I'm going to take you back six years. Some of you will remember what was going on at that time. Six years ago, on the first Sunday in September, I returned to the pulpit after a month's absence, which was an absence that wasn't planned either. Pastor Bo, who was the chaplain at Concordia back then, came that first Sunday I was gone.
For the entire month of August in 2006, I was in hospital for 8 of those days; and following that, I needed some recuperation time. So allow me to take you through what had happened. It's an ordeal I shall never forget.
I had been out-of-town for a couple weeks in July. Amongst other places, I had been to Princeton, Minnesota where I was a vicar back in the 1980's. Then I went to Plymouth, Minnesota to meet with the Coordinating Committee of the AFLC. After that, I went and visited my uncle in Clear Lake, Iowa. And then I returned home.
This entire time, I had been experiencing some abdominal cramping. The pain wasn't acute, just sort of a nagging dull pain. After I returned home late in the week, I wasn't getting much better. On Saturday, I was experiencing some cold sweats, and I knew that something inside of me was just not right. On Sunday, I came to church and preached while I sat on a stool. I told myself that if I wasn't any better on Monday, that I would go and see the doctor.
Well, I did go and see the doctor on Monday. He examined me and ran a few lab tests, which showed an elevated white blood count. But since I wasn't experiencing real acute pain, he wasn't sure what was going on, so he admitted me to hospital that afternoon.
I underwent a battery of tests there, including a CT scan. Nothing bad showed up. So on Tuesday evening, August 1st of 2006, they decided to do exploratory surgery on me. And I can be thankful that they did.
I spent over 4 hours on the operating table. During that time, they removed a ruptured appendix, and about 30 centimeters of my colon that had become perforated due to an acute diverticular disorder. Not only was the poison from the ruptured appendix beginning to run through my body, but I was also in the beginning stages of peritonitis. After the operation, the doctor let me know in no uncertain terms as to how fortunate I was. He estimated that if I had not had the operation, I would have survived only a couple more days at the very most. It was that close.
For the next eight days while I was in hospital, I had tubes and hoses and wires connected all over my body. It took me a while to figure out what each one did. One of those tubes I remember quite well was the big one that was hanging out of my side. It was a drainage tube that the doctor installed to drain off all of the toxic stuff in my abdomen. I don't know exactly what all the stuff was that was being drained, but I know it looked like thick coffee; and when they would change the bag, it had the most putrid odor that you could imagine. This most definitely wasn't a pretty sight. I was full of some pretty nasty stuff. It was no wonder that I was so sick.
I didn't relate this story to you to "gross you out," as the old saying goes. But I do think that this illustrates very well what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson for this morning. What Jesus is describing is not a very pretty picture at all.
In our Gospel lesson last week, the Pharisees were scolding Jesus because the disciples didn't adhere to the tradition of ceremonially washing their hands before they ate. This was just an outward ceremony that had nothing to do with what was going on inside a person. That part was being completely ignored by them. And that is the part that needed attention.
Jesus wasn't at all concerned about the foods people were eating, or the various traditions that surrounded the eating of them. In verses 18-19 of our Gospel Lesson, when Jesus was talking with his disciples, he tells them: "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
Jesus uses this simple lesson of human physiology as it applies to the digestive tract to make the point that a person's diet has nothing to do with their spiritual condition. A person can have the healthiest diet you could imagine, consisting entirely of the fibre and fruits and organically grown vegetables and free-range eggs and meats, and all of the stuff the health food gurus say is so good for us. Our digestive system can be in top-notch shape; but what good is it if we have unhealthy souls? I think it would be safe to say that there are a lot of people who had impeccable diets during their lifetime that are sitting in hell right now. Even though eating properly and getting good nutrition is always a good idea, it isn't the ultimate "be all to end all" that some people would have us believe.
Jesus tells us that there are things human beings have naturally rattling around in their souls, and those things are not good. Jesus gives us a proverbial "laundry list" of these in verses 21-23 of our Gospel lesson: "21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, lust, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Those are the things that naturally exist within the souls of people, and those things do not paint a very pretty picture at all.
One piece of advice we frequently hear is that we should "follow our heart." Have you ever heard that before? I know I have, and I believe that this is one of the things our culture does all of the time. Think about the condition of the human heart, and what the results are that we see around us. That "laundry list" Jesus gives us contains things we see and experience every day. There is enough empirical evidence around us to demonstrate that the human heart is something that is opposed to God and cannot be trusted.
If we look back in the Old Testament, there are some very good examples of this. The entire book of Judges gives us an account of some of the deepest, darkest, most immoral days of Israel. Cruelty, obscenity, and hardness of heart all reached their deepest depths in this book. As the book concludes, we read in chapter 21, verse 25 these words of judgment: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Some of the most horrible things described in the Bible were considered right at the time because people judged by what was right in their own eyes. This is just another way of saying that they were following their heart.
The philosophy of the world today is running right down this track. People want to believe that human beings are basically good, and they will contend that given half a chance, human beings will do the right thing. But Jesus tells us differently. In our Gospel lesson for today, he says that "…evil things come from within…" The Prophet Jeremiah records in chapter 17, verse 9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" And right after the flood, the Lord himself said in Genesis chapter 8, verse 21, "…the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth…" And yet, our culture wants to believe that human beings are basically good. But the Bible tells us that human beings are basically evil. This is the point Jesus is making in our Gospel lesson for today.
This is truth, and it is a truth that we just don't like to hear. I know I don't. It means that when you or I want to do what feels right deep down in our hearts, we have to distrust it. God tells us that our hearts are a source of evil, not good, so we cannot trust it for good. We can't trust it for truth either. That heart of ours, what we feel deep in our souls is virtually a traitor within us.
Do you reckon that we don't like this truth because we are relying upon our sinful hearts to tell us what we should and should not like? It is terrifying that Jesus tells us that we carry the seeds of our own destruction around inside of us in our evil hearts. It is terrifying for Jesus to tell us that our own hearts betrays us.
We have to agree that it's not a very pretty picture. When I think about this, I think of that drainage tube hanging out of my side. I was filled with what I can only describe as some of the most wretched and vile toxic waste I could imagine. I was able to see what was coming out of me. But this is nothing compared to the vile and toxic waste that we have in our souls. We need to get rid of this, and Jesus is the one who will do it for us.
Every Sunday at the conclusion of the sermon, we stand and sing the words of Psalm chapter 51, verses 10-12: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."
Do you know who first spoke those words? It was King David. David was the one who followed his own heart when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then committed murder to cover up for it. This is the same type of stuff Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson for today. What caused David to do what he did, is what causes us to sin as well. We have this same infection.
But David makes a plea to God. He is praying for a clean heart and a right spirit! He wants to be forgiven and restored! He wants a soul that is clean, and not full of disgusting toxins and poisons. He knows that God is the only one that can save him. His own heart cannot do it. And furthermore, he wants God to give him a willing and free spirit that will be turned to God and his ways. David wants to be a forgiven and restored sinner in the eyes of God.
Every time we sing this part of the liturgy, this is the prayer that we are making. We have heard God's law and God's Gospel. We know that even though our sin condemns us, God forgives us and restores us.
That's why we focus our attention upon Jesus, and nothing else. When our hearts betray us and lead us to sin, Jesus is the one who gives us this clean heart through faith alone. Think of the words of our first hymn this morning: "He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free, his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood avails for me." Yes, the foulest of filth that comes from our hearts is made clean by the blood of Jesus.
Jesus was born with a clean heart. He experienced all the temptations we experience, but he never sinned. Instead he took the sin of our hearts onto himself and carried it to the cross. As he hung on that cross, he paid the price that God's justice demands of our sin. He suffered the punishment that we deserved. We know that the price he paid was more than enough because the grave could not hold Him. His resurrection from the dead shows us that God is now ready to create a clean heart in each of us.
Human beings are always displaying signs of their sinful hearts and souls in varying degrees. I think the most blatant sign is demonstrated in the psychological profile of a sociopath. A sociopath is a person that can commit some of the most heinous and detestable crimes that you could ever imagine, and they can do so without any remorse or compunction whatsoever. There are no feelings of guilt, and there is no real sense of right and wrong. The only wrong they feel is that they got caught, and that's it.
Personally, I have a difficult time understanding people who are that way, people that seemingly have no conscience whatsoever. Unfortunately I have come in contact with them, and I have experienced this type of behavior, usually from somebody who has cheated me. But it doesn't surprise me either, because I know that the sinful human heart can do some pretty awful things.
You've perhaps known about children who have gotten into trouble. And when confronted with the problem, the parents will say, "Oh little Jimmy or little Susie could NEVER have done that!" And they will fight their child's innocence to the death, rather than to accept the fact that their child has a sinful heart that has a natural affinity to do the wrong thing.
In the adult world, we experience the same thing. The human heart and soul continue to betray us and lead us to sin. The people we trust betray us. The people we thought were telling us the truth lie to us. The people that were wrong will defend themselves rather than admit their guilt and apologize. The people that were once nice to us will treat us rudely. The people that once patted us on the back will now stab us in the back, so-to-speak. That's the product of the human heart and human logic. And it affects everybody, Christians and heathens alike.
As Christians however, we have our Saviour on our side. He not only understands and forgives us, but he also asks us to understand and forgive as well. And sometimes that's not easy.
Back in 2006, it took a while for me to get rid of the toxic waste and poison that had taken up residence in my body due to my ruptured appendix and perforated bowel. The surgery, and that drainage tube, and the antibiotics, and the other procedures I had cleaned my body. Of course the Lord was the one that provided the healing. None of this I could have done on my own either.
One little side-note to all this, is the doctor told me that one of the things that saved my life was my size. My body fat enveloped my ruptured appendix and prevented the poison from going throughout my body as fast as it would have otherwise. So I guess being a large person is not always a bad thing.
But as we look at our hearts and souls, we cannot clean the mess that's there either. That's the mess sin creates. Only Jesus can take care of that. Because of his love for us, he took all of that poison and toxic waste out of our souls, and took it upon himself. That's what he took to the cross with him.
Through our faith in Christ, we have been purified and cleaned. Through faith we can now approach our God with confidence, knowing that Jesus has made us pure and holy and acceptable to him. And when sin and temptation come into our lives, we also know that we will always find the cleansing forgiveness Jesus offers. Yes, through faith alone, Jesus gives us the clean hearts and lives God requires, so that we may enter into heaven's gates, and live with him for all eternity.