9 Pentecost Proper A15                  
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 15:10-28 Sermon                                         
August 14, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
351 "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
----- "God We Praise Thee, God We Bless Thee" (now playing) 


TEXT (vs. 10-12; 16-18): 10And [Jesus] called the people to him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.' 12Then the disciples came and said to him, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?' 16And [Jesus] said, 'Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 


            Eating out at a restaurant is something that most of us enjoy from time-to-time.  Normally we would either:  sit down at the table and look through the menu, or we would take our plate and go through a buffet line.  The nice thing about eating out like this, is that we have the opportunity to pick and choose what we want to eat.  We have complete and total freedom to eat what we want.  And apart from any dietary restrictions some of us may have, what we choose to eat doesn't make any real difference in the grand scheme of things.  We can eat according to what suits our individual tastes.

            Now of course we can get into various topics of nutrition and the major food groups and a whole host of other associated topics.  We can talk about saturated fats, and calories, and sodium content.  We can talk about various ways and techniques when it comes to food preparation.  We can talk about the proper etiquette when it comes to how to eat.  And in many cases, talking about food can be fun and entertaining.  There's even the food network on television that many of us watch.

            But still we have a lot of freedom here.  Even when it comes to those foods that aren't really good for us, we still have the option to eat basically what we want to eat.

            Can you imagine what it would be like if we had a lot of religious dietary restrictions and requirements?  How would you feel if you went into a restaurant with me, and I told you things like:  "You can't have that ham and cheese sandwich.  You can't have bacon with your eggs.  That pulled pork barbecue sandwich is sinful.  And you'd better not order pancakes and sausage either.  God is going to punish you if you do that!"

            You'd probably look at me like I had lost my mind.  After all, what business is it of mine as to what you order from the menu?  Why would God regard the person who orders bacon and eggs any differently than the person who orders a T-bone steak?

            Food is one of the areas that we in the church call "adiaphoron."  That's a fancy word we use to describe those things that don't make any difference to God one way or another.  It's one of those areas where we are free to make our own choices, and suit our own tastes.  Just because I absolutely detest tuna fish and have a dislike of salmon doesn't mean that God is going to regard me any differently than those who love those things and eat them regularly.

            Today I am especially focusing upon verses 10-20 in chapter 15 of Matthew's Gospel.  The main part of the appointed Gospel lesson for today is verses 21-28, the part immediately following.  However verses 10-20 are shown in parentheses, which mean that they are an optional addition.  And I have chosen to include them, because Jesus is making some very important points, and I have never preached on these verses before.   

            Jesus has offended the Pharisees.  That should be nothing new for us to learn.  Jesus was always locking horns with them in one-way or another.  He calls them a "brood of vipers," which is calling them a big pile of venomous snakes.  He calls them "white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones," which means that they were all nice and pretty on the outside, but completely rotten and decayed on the inside.  He very blatantly calls them hypocrites; that is, people who say one thing and do the opposite.  These are all appropriate and fitting terms for them.

            But what happens now, is that Jesus uses a very crude illustration from human physiology.  Listen to the way he puts it in verse 17:  "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?"  Think about what those words actually describe!  And these words are directed straight at the Pharisees.  Is it any wonder that this offended them? 

            I never make any apologies for what the Bible says, and I'm not about to start doing that, even when things start getting crude.  But addressing this text in a sermon does present an interesting challenge for me.  I have to be polite about it, but I can't take the edge off of it either.  So with that in mind, let's look at what was happening--and I'll try to choose my words carefully.

            If we look at the first nine verses of Matthew 15, we see the Pharisees scolding Jesus because his disciples hadn't washed their hands properly before they ate.  Now this had nothing to do with just washing them to get the dirt off like we all do before we eat.  This referred to a type of ceremonial washing ritual that was part of a religious custom.  There was a prescribed method for doing this, and the disciples weren't following the ritual.  And this upset the Pharisees.

            Jesus immediately points out that the Pharisees basically ignored God's moral law, and were far more concerned with their own ceremonies.  In verses 8 and 9, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah to them:  8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"   That pretty much sums up what they were doing.

            But Jesus doesn't stop there.  He goes on with the actual intent of offending the Pharisees.  He wanted his illustration to be as offensive as possible to them.  He wanted to hit them hard!  Think of it this way.  It doesn't matter what kind of nice foods that Heinz or Gerber puts in those little baby food jars.  Because when all is said and done, the dirty diaper stinks just as bad.  And that's putting it about as politely as I can.

            So that's exactly what Jesus means when he talks about food going into the stomach and being expelled.  That pretty much describes the Pharisees' whole system of theology.  They were ignoring what was important, and focusing themselves on meaningless traditions.  These Pharisees were completely full of hot air!  And when Jesus calls them on it, no wonder they were offended.  He hit them square in the theological breadbasket.  And they weren't happy about that at all.

            So we turn away from what goes through a person's digestive system and gastrointestinal tract.  Instead, we look at what comes from a person's heart, from the very depths of their soul.  This is where faith not only speaks, but where it shows itself in the life of a believer.

            The first place it is expressed is through a person's words.  This will be indicative of what a person has going on inside of them.  These words will be God-pleasing and reflect his love, mercy, and grace.  These will be words of kindness and understanding.  These will be words of support and not condemnation.  These will be words of hope, and not despair.  These will be words of praise, and not words of whining and complaining.

            But words are absolutely meaningless if they're not coupled with the appropriate actions.  This shows the difference between the true believer and the hypocrite.  This shows that what comes out of a person's mouth is the truth and not a lie.  Dr. Luther appropriately says, "Faith alone saves; but a saving faith is never alone."  Words and actions always need to be there as well.

            I believe that one of the most powerful lessons this text teaches, is that we spend far too much time on those things that do not have any importance.  Think about the words Jesus speaks in John chapter 6, verse 27:  "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." 

            The food that perishes is the unimportant stuff in our lives.  That's the food that might taste good right now, but in the end it is just run through the gastrointestinal tract.  When people focus upon the unimportant stuff, it's like ignoring the good spiritual food God gives us, and wind up paying more attention to the pattern on the dinner plate.  And I know that we are all guilty of doing that very thing.

            Have you ever heard of the expression, "Don't sweat the small stuff?"  When we sweat the small stuff, it's not only a huge waste of our time, but it can literally destroy our souls.  We can get ourselves so worked up over the things that really don't matter, that we completely lose our focus upon the true bread that comes down from heaven.

            When we sweat the small stuff, it's like feeding our souls with a steady diet of pickled eggs, cheetos, pork rinds and Budweiser.  There's no spiritual nourishment in it at all.  The unimportant things we feed ourselves crowd out God, and we wind up starving our souls.

            The true bread is what we feed on through faith alone.  God gives us the faith in the first place, and we keep it nourished through continually feeding on his Word, and participating in the Lord's Supper.  This is what keeps our souls well fed, and gives us a spiritually balanced diet.

            The Pharisees were on the road of spiritual starvation.  They had placed so much importance on the things that didn't matter at all, they wound up replacing God's will with man-made traditions and ceremonies.  This is a very easy road for us to take too, so we dare not think that we're exempt from any of this.

            Jesus came to set us free from all of this.  Sin has separated us from God and turned our attention to the petty things of this world.  Sin puts our own carnal desires first on the list, and pushes God into the background.  Sin keeps our eyes focused upon the unimportant things.  Sin serves to drive us further and further away from God.

            Jesus came to set us free from the petty and small stuff in this world, and focus our eyes heavenward.  God the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to accept this for ourselves.  Jesus came to take the burdens of this world and the sin that crushes us under its load, and put it on himself.  He took all that to Calvary's cross, where he paid the price for our sin in full.  So since Jesus has taken all of this away from us, why do we keep insisting on taking it back and burdening ourselves with it over and over again?

            In our Gospel lesson for today, we meet this Canaanite woman who had a daughter that was lying sick in bed.  It was her, and not the Pharisees whom Jesus commended for having great faith.  This woman knew exactly who Jesus was, and she placed herself entirely in his hands.  She knew that Jesus would heal her daughter.  She wasn't all wrapped up in the small stuff like the Pharisees.  Out of her mouth came words of faith and hope.

            It's what comes out that counts.  That's the lesson we learn from our Gospel lesson for today.  When we spend our time and focus our attention on the small stuff that doesn't matter, then it's like food that goes into the stomach, through the gastrointestinal tract, and is expelled.  What comes out isn't very pleasant at all.  And when Jesus points this out to the Pharisees, and basically shows them that they are full of nothing but hot air, they were very offended by what he had to say.  He definitely struck a guilty conscience. 

            So if our outlook resembles that of a soiled diaper, remember how that diaper got soiled in the first place.  When we take the time for a deep personal assessment, we'll probably find that we've gotten our priorities all mixed around, and we've paid more attention to the pattern on the dinner plate than to the spiritual food God gives us.

            So when we feed on Christ, the true bread that comes down from heaven, what comes out is a product of the heart, from the very depths of our souls, which is a very beautiful thing.  Our words and our actions bear witness to the faith that we have.  Just like the Canaanite woman, our Saviour has heard us, and he has come to our rescue.  Faith alone has saved us, and Jesus has become the most important thing in our lives.  He has taken the burden of the small and unimportant things from us, and he has forgiven all of our sins, so our sense of purpose is on track, and we can keep our eternal heavenly goal always before us.