Lectionary Reflection for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
August 30, 2015
[Jesus] said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Mark 7:6-8
My grandmother used to say “A little dirt don’t hurt.” This statement was pronounced with considerable emphasis and a stern gaze at any parent who tried to scold her grandchildren for getting a bit messy in outdoor activities. Sure, Mammaw didn’t want us pulling up to the dinner table with muddy feet and hands, but she knew that grass stains on our jeans or a little dirt on our cheeks couldn’t define or defile her precious grandbabies.
Mammaw saw through the surface and loved our mischievous little hearts just the way they were–dirt, grime, snotty noses, and all. While our parents were probably cringing at our demeanor and ruined Sunday best, she saw inquisitive, clean-slate minds and little vulnerable souls who loved her and life with equal gusto. And so Mammaw was forgiving that we didn’t find cleanliness next to godliness, nor rules, traditions, and strictures more important than the business of living and loving life.
Jesus and his entourage run smack into a cleanliness/godliness issue in this week’s reading from Mark’s gospel. The religious elite in Jerusalem take exception to the behavior–or lack thereof–of some of the disciples who fail to perform the ritual washing before eating. This seems to be symptomatic of their larger problem and understanding of what’s right and wrong, clean or unclean, acceptable and unacceptable, and most of all, what is essential and what is non-essential.
It’s a battle we’re still dealing with today–seeing beyond the surface, looking past our own traditions, expectations, and regulations to see the beloved child or children of God right in front of our eyes. How easy it is to point fingers of blame or whisper behind someone’s back about differences. Think of the worship wars, the kitchen klatches, and the parking lot prattle that looks an awful lot like what Jesus encountered.
Instead of dishing dirt about one another, Jesus reminds us that the real dirt is ground deep down inside, right into our hearts. Our broken, sinfulness is what’s dirty, not whether we follow all the rules, cross our “I’s” and dot our “t’s,” and do things the way we think we’ve always done them. In fact, James tells us in the epistle lesson this week that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
The surest way to see good in others, and ultimately in ourselves, is to look to God, because everything that is good comes from God. When we align ourselves with God’s purpose and do God’s work in this world, then suddenly we may find ourselves getting down and dirty and even liking it. Dirty disciples are the ones who roll up their sleeves and care for this world and the least of God’s children. Dirty disciples don’t worry about looks and appearances; instead they look into the eyes and hearts of their neighbors, and in doing so see God’s own face and they experience grace and mercy and endless love. In the end, “a little dirt don’t hurt.” It just might help us to see more clearly, so roll up your sleeves and get to work.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…”
Lutherans (and others) sing this hymn using the familiar words from Psalm 51 often during the liturgy. Maybe this week is a good time to “unpack” that short hymn during the sermon or during a temple talk. In the gospel lesson Jesus reminds us “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly” (Mark 7:21-22). When we acknowledge Jesus’ words that evil comes from within one’s heart, then asking God to create a clean heart takes on a whole new meaning. Perhaps you could create a litany and sing a version of “Create in Me a Clean Heart” between each petition.
Watch the short video, “Random Acts of Kindness” by Jesus Painter Ministries and Rob Westerman of HNC Norwood, with youth and then have a discussion about the epistle lesson from James (1:17-27). The video should help start some good conversation among youth. You can access it here (scroll down to the bottom of the page–you’ll recognize the right one). How might your youth group do something similar in your community that will help others and spread the light and love of Christ?
Psalm 15 is a good one to talk about how we are welcome as guests in God’s house. We’re travelers in this world. We move from place to place, from elementary school to middle school to high school and then maybe to college. There’s lots of change in our lives. Sometimes we feel more welcome than other times. Sometimes we’re good guests, and sometimes we’re not. One place we are always welcome is God’s house. In fact, this psalm doesn’t just talk about stopping in for an hour or for a night or even a year. We may “abide” in God’s house–really live and settle in–not just visit like a vacation house. God’s house becomes our house and we are given some instructions or “house rules” about what it means to live here. We are to do right, speak truth, speak good of others, do not do wrong to others, honor God, be generous and not take advantage of others. In short, we are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Where have we heard that before? Finish with a simple prayer that the children will always feel welcome in God’s house and that they will always love God and others so that all may live well and have enough.
Photos: St0rmz, Steven Depolo, and Ogilvy PR, Creative Commons. Thanks!