the one about traditions
August 31, 2015, 1:51 PM

Sermon from August 30, 2015

Text: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!
So, we’re out of the Gospel of John (for now). So, no more growling stomachs while the pastor preaches about bread during the sermon anymore!
We dive back into Mark’s Gospel and we are witness to this story where those who hold on tight to the rituals of Jewish life are a little miffed with Jesus and his band of followers. They’ve been taught from an early age in their faith that one must be ritually clean – and all the items and utensils they use – before eating. Their thought is that one must follow this cleansing process or suffer the anger of God.
The Pharisees and scribes – who were the most adamant opponents to Jesus and continually tried to trip him up and embarrass him in front of the many crowds that were drawn to him – again question his disciples because they aren’t following ‘the traditions.’
Jesus’ response is that which questions their true intentions. Are they following these rituals because it is of human tradition or are they following the ritual because they view it as a gift from God and an extension of the grace that God has granted them?
Of course, we know the answer… Jesus calls them hypocrites.
The church today still adheres to its many traditions. No tradition is bad in and of itself. But, we as human creatures have laid upon them potentially more ‘rules’ than were originally required.
One of my favorite stories about how we as humans do this is when I talk about my little sister and where she works. You see, my sister has one of the best jobs in the world (a part from a pastor that is). She gets to work at Disney World. She loves her job, and my family is pretty happy about that because she really isn’t allowed to work anywhere else for the rest of her life. During her orientation, they had to learn some of the ‘rules’ of being a ‘cast-member’ at Disney World.
One of the most important rules that any cast-member learns is how to direct guests where to go. They are taught not to point with one finger, but with at least two fingers. Now, the story they are told is that in many countries and cultures it is considered rude and offensive to point with one finger. So, naturally not wanting to inadvertently offend someone, they oblige and point with at least two fingers towards an individual or group’s destination.
Now, that’s a good reason to not point with one finger. It’s called being respectful of another’s culture – which is always a good thing. But, do you want to know the real reason why they point with two fingers? Well, Mr. Walt Disney was a notorious chain smoker and whenever he took guests on tours guess how he pointed – with two fingers because that cigarette was always in his hand.
The story of the church that I always highlight is why we have candles. The story we’re given is that the candles represent the presence of Christ in our life. As that candle burns, we remember God’s presence here with us – that same light that throws back the darkness in our lives. Where we know that coming into this space there is always a candle lit. Reminding us again and again that God is here.
But, the real reason candles started appearing in worship? Thousands of years ago it was dark and priests needed to see in those cavernous cathedrals and worship spaces. It made sense.
But, since we’ve given a more theological reason as to why we use candles in the church, we’ve bestowed upon them even more reverence – especially in how they are lit. I’ve had a few folks here ask me – pastor how should we light them? Did I do it right? Can I do it better? My response – did you light them? Did you burn the church down? Good job! You did it right!
You see, the light of candles and the pointing with two fingers are good things. They are wonderful things that we do to help ourselves and others be directed in life. But, when those other rules are placed upon them that keep us from enjoying the sheer gift that we’ve been given it gets in the way and we lose sight of what God has called for us to do and be.
You see, ritual purity laws that the Pharisees questioned Jesus and his disciples about aren’t necessarily bad. It is good to eat with clean hands and utensils. Helps food taste better, keeps you safe, and more. However, I think there are two things at play here that Jesus pushes back on.
First – doing the ritual isn’t an excuse to not do what else God calls us to be. Making sure you do a tradition in worship or in your life absolutely correctly and perfect doesn’t give us a free pass to be jerks to those around us – both in this place and outside these walls. Too many times I see people who lift up the fact that they are always in church or that they say their prayers every night or more. Yet, I witness them speaking cruelly to their neighbors, where they horde the gifts that God has blessed them with, where they don’t live out the love and hospitality that Christ proclaims. When that ritual or tradition either keeps us from living out God’s gracious renewed life of baptism or even supplants that call – that isn’t good.
The other thing that this conversation brings up and that which Jesus specifically alludes to is that it isn’t what is outside ourselves that defile us. It isn’t the dirt, or the germs. It isn’t the clothes we wear or the actions of others around us. What defiles us are those things that come from inside us. Those thoughts and actions we do to hurt, injure, or twist the person and people around us.
Jesus gives us a whole list of how those things can manifest themselves in our lives.
So, what are we to do? How are we to go on through this life?
Well, we have to remember that the rules and traditions we do are not the things that make us whole, and pure, and accepted in God’s eyes. We have to continually remember that we already have that love. In our baptisms we have been claimed in that love and not one thing can take that away from us. We’re already loved, forgiven, and accepted.
It’s this crazy thing called grace that God has given to us. That grace that has set us free. Free from feeling that if we don’t do this right, or light this candle, or point in this way, or wash this hand then God won’t love us as much.
God already loves and accepts you. God does! I promise! God has looked upon us in our baptisms and has declared us worthy and clean.
Now that we know we are worthy, pure, accepted, and loved – now we get to live into those traditions. Not as the obstacles and rules that prevent us from experiencing the grace of God, but instead getting to experience them with joy because of the gift we’ve already been given.
Where we get to light those candles, not because we need to see – but, because God is here. We get to point and direct others to the joys around us not in a half hazard way, but in a way that brings us into relationship and respect with those around us.
And when we do slip up – and we will – we remember that it’s not that God will love us a little less and we’ve got to work our way back up, but that we remember that we are fallen and we continually pray that God continues to work on us and in us so that we can fully live into the gift of love and life that we have been given.
It isn’t the rules and rituals that make us ‘right’ before the sight of God – God has already done that in our baptisms. The rules and rituals are those reminders of what God has already done for us and for the world. Amen.


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