Jesus and his disciples are SO RUDE, you guys.
They are eating lunch without having washed their hands!
The Pharisees are outraged! There is a long standing tradition of ceremonially washing hands before a meal. Jesus is letting his disciples flout that rule. This kind of carelessness and disrespect drives the Pharisees crazy. How can someone who claims to be speaking God’s word be so thoughtless and rude??? The hand washing convention was based on Biblical principles about priests purifying their hands before entering the Temple. And as modern people with an understanding of germ theory, washing hands before eating just makes sense! The Pharisees’ upset is completely logical.
I prefer stories where I see myself clearly on team Jesus. Unfortunately, I know deep in my heart that I have more than a little Pharisee in me.
We, as Episcopalians, get the Pharisees’ point of view. We really, really like our ceremonies! We want things to be done the proper way with respect and decorum. Whenever I visit my husband’s Presbyterian church, Matt always teases me afterward, “Did you even feel like you were in church?” He knows that I love the Episcopal tradition, the liturgy, the vestments, the shiny chalices and patens. Our way of doing things is what feels like church to me.
But then we get to this Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost and Jesus calls us to account.
He reminds us that none of our ceremonies really matter if what is in our heart is vile.
He uses the Pharisees’ upset to make a larger point. Not only does the hand washing not matter to Jesus, but Jesus also believes that the food we eat cannot defile us, which flew against not only convention, but also Biblical law. Jesus tells the crowd that nothing outside them can defile them. But what comes out from within them can.
For the first thirty seconds of us reading this passage we think this is good news for us! We can eat whatever we want! We don’t have to obsess about Levitical law!
But then Jesus gets really specific about the sort of things that defile us. For awhile we are okay—most of us can avoid murder and theft, and according to the latest polls at least half of us avoid adultery. But, by the time Jesus is done with his list all of us are convicted. Who can spend a life time avoiding envy or pride? All of us are guilty. All of us are defiled.
We can get dressed in perfectly appropriate clothes, arrive to church ten minutes early, pray quietly and yet the moment we look at another parishioner with disdain, we become defiled. Eric and I can do an absolutely perfect liturgy with no misspoken words or clumsy accidents, and yet the moment I covet a pair of shoes one of you is wearing, I am defiled. This idea that we create our own alienation from God is incredibly disheartening. We live in a cycle that we cannot break. Our situation appears hopeless.
Have heart! Jesus is not going to leave us in our pools of self loathing!
Jesus knows exactly how our minds and souls work. Jesus calls us to account, but Jesus also saves us from ourselves.
We start(ed) a year of studying the Bible at 9:30 this morning. In our time together, we’ll be reminded that from the beginning of time God has loved us and done everything in his power to be in relationship with us. He tried direct relationship, starting over with new humans, forming an intentional community, giving us the law, giving us kings and prophets and nothing solved our fundamental, human problem. That we, despite our best efforts, always screw things up. Even the best of us are not perfect.
At the risk of spoiling the outcome of our year of studying the bible together, God finally alights on a solution—and so he becomes a human being, taking on all of our humanity, but none of our sin. He teaches us and heals us, and then he is sacrificed on our behalf.
And he does all this not because he is fed up with us and thinks we are hopeless, but because he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. He wants to liberate us from the powers of evil and sin that trap us under their weight. He wants to help us do better, to be a more loving, healthy, peaceful community.
We are not cured of sin, of course. I will still covet your shoes, you will still judge what your neighbor is wearing, but now we can ask forgiveness for our small mindedness and ask the Holy Spirit to help us be more generous and content. We don’t have to get mired down in self-loathing because Jesus has already forgiven us and restored our relationship with God. We can shake off our sin and get on with the work God has given us to do—to love him and to love each other.
During our parish picnic today, you will notice quite a few people wearing name tags that say, “Ask Me about (blank)”. If you have been wanting to get more deeply involved in loving God and your neighbor through one of our many ministries, they will be happy to help you figure out how you can serve. There are so many ways to take care of each other and our neighbors in this congregation, formally and informally. I highly recommend this work to you—whether it is international mission, singing in the choir, deepening your understanding of God through a Bible Study, serving in our food pantry, preparing our altar, or caring for our homebound parishioners. This work will deepen your understanding of humanity and of our loving God.
So, please, seek out these volunteers and ask them your questions.
Let’s get to work!