Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Thus says the LORD:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
The Word of the Lord.
May God be merciful to us and bless us;
may the light of God’s face shine upon us.
Let your way be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations on earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has brought forth its increase;
God, our own God, has blessed us.
May God give us blessing,
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe. Amen.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
[Paul writes:] I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
The Word of our Lord.
[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus absolutely – positively shocks – every single Jewish person listening to him preach – when he boldly declares “Listen and understand. What goes into a person’s mouth does not make him unclean – but what comes out of his mouth – that is what makes him unclean.”
There likely would have been a stunned silence as this declaration settled over the crowd – followed by some serious grumbling and mumbling. Because with this statement – Jesus turns the Old Testament food laws upside down and inside out. And in doing so – Jesus turns these peoples’ lives upside down and inside out too. To the Jewish people listening to Jesus that day – keeping kosher was a really big deal.
These laws had been part of their lives for as long as they could remember. During the Exodus – God had given his people laws to govern their lives and to keep order in their society. As a part of these laws – God had declared some foods okay to eat – but other foods were just plain off limits.
These dietary laws weren’t like following a diet to help you lose a few pounds – or to lower your blood pressure. They didn’t cheat. They didn’t bend the rules while they were on vacation – or on their birthdays. They didn’t sneak a little bacon when no one else was looking. They didn’t have a cheeseburger when their wives couldn’t see them!
These food laws were an important part of their relationship with God. Keeping kosher was about worshipping – honoring – and serving God in their daily lives.
By observing these laws – they were publicly proclaiming their faith in the one true God every single time they interacted with food! These laws were about their identity as believers in the one true God. And so – these laws were a really big deal to them.
It is no wonder folks were deeply troubled by Jesus’ words. Jesus was telling them to change their relationship with God. Which is something most people don’t take lightly.
Think about how we react to changes at church and to our own faith practices. It usually doesn’t go over very well does it? A perfect example of this happened at my church in Indiana.
One cold January Sunday during our annual meeting – a deeply loved and high respected matriarch of our congregation stood up – cleared her throat – and declared that she thought the entire Worship and Music Committee should be fired.
“Whoa” – I remember thinking – “this is bad. This is really – really bad. This is the kind of bad they warned us about in seminary . . .”
I could feel the eyes of the entire congregation shift from Dorothy to me. And in that moment I realized they expected me to do something about this – because I was the PASTOR. Apparently THIS was MY problem!?!
My mind was reeling as I looked at the members of the Worship and Music Committee sitting with their families at tables in our fellowship hall. Two of them looked stricken and were clearly worried about what they had done to deserve Dorothy’s wrath. While the other two looked downright gleeful at the idea of getting kicked off the committee.
What had we done? I couldn’t think of a single crime that was so heinous that our ENTIRE committee should be fired.
I waited – a just second or two – hoping that I might be swept up into heaven in a fiery chariot like Elijah was – but no such luck! So I decided to pretend like I wasn’t terrified of Dorothy – and I asked what our crime was?!?
“You changed the Apostles’ Creed!” – Dorothy declared with great indignation. “And the Lord’s Prayer too. And that is just wrong. You can’t change God’s Word like that.”
“Ah – ha! Maybe it isn’t our fault. Maybe we are innocent! Maybe – just – maybe it’s the new hymnals’ fault!” I remember thinking.
And then I said with fear and trembling – “Is it new red hymnals? But I don’t think either the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer have changed? Have they?”
After all – I knew for a fact we were all still trespassing. Because we had voted as a congregation to stay trespassers.
“Pastor” – Dorothy said – “I truly hate to contradict you in front of your entire congregation – but you are WRONG. I counted and there are at least 11 CHANGES to the Apostles’ Creed.”
Later that afternoon I too pulled out a green hymnal and a red hymnal and checked. And you know what – there are 11 changes to the Apostles’ Creed. I hadn’t even noticed the changes – but Dorothy had. And the dear – kind – passionate woman of faith was struggling mightily.
Changing anything relating to our relationship with God isn’t easy.
So – you can see how troubling Jesus’ declaration was for the Jewish people in his audience. Jesus was asking them to make serious changes in their lives and in their relationship with God. And folks were upset.
Change is hard. Actually change is really – really – really hard. Think of how hard the changes we have had to make this year have been on all of us!
But change can be good to – because change makes us think and thinking is almost always a very – very good thing!
Thinking is good for us.
With all of this talk about food laws – it might seem like we got a free pass this week. After all – we aren’t concerned about keeping all of those Old Testament food laws. Most of us love a good cheeseburger or nice crispy piece of bacon.
Wouldn’t it be nice to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and to move on?
If only it were that simple – but it isn’t. Because Jesus tells us – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false testimony, and slander. These are what defile a person.’”
And here we get to the heart of our Gospel reading. Here we get to the part that we ALL need to do some serious thinking about!
Jesus makes it crystal clear that our actions and our words reveal the state of our hearts and souls. And not what we eat or what we wear or what our bumper stickers say.
A t-shirt saying we love Jesus doesn’t matter all that much if we wear it while being downright hateful and horrible – now does it?
If we wear a cross necklace – but say nasty things about our neighbors – what are we really saying?
If I have a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker on my car – but spend my commute cursing and gesturing rudely – what am I really declaring to the world?
We are Christians all of the time and not just when we are at church or when it is convenient.
We are God’s people at the grocery store – even when the wretched self-scanner thing-y is demanding that we return our items to the bagging area and we are in a hurry.
We are Christians when that infuriating guy just won’t wear a stinking mask.
We are Christians when that group of people clearly isn’t social distancing!
We are Christians – all of the time. There is no time in our lives when we are not God’s children.
As Christians our actions and words matter. Our actions tell God what is really in our hearts.
And Jesus reminds us that when we live our entire lives for God others can see the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy in action. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.