Mark  7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

How’s Yur Heart?

September 2 2018

            The Pharisees and their Scribes huddled together and shared their amazement at what Jesus was saying and doing. They had been sent from Jerusalem to make the trip up to Galilee and observe what this teacher Jesus was doing.  Rumors and stories of Jesus had reached Jerusalem — and the religious authorities had sent them to see what this Jesus was all about. As they observed Jesus, they saw Him heal many people — and they heard Him speak about the Kingdom of God.  They witnessed the Kingdom of God in all of it’s power — they saw God at work and heard the words of God as they observed Jesus.  Yes — the Kingdom of God was among them — they saw it with their own eyes and heard it with their own ears. 

            So — they were happy — excited — ready to join Jesus and His ministry — right?

            Wrong.

            They huddled together and shared their amazement at what Jesus was saying and doing — but instead of being excited and ready to join in Jesus’ ministry as He healed the sick — fed the hungry — and taught God’s will to the people — they were upset. They were angry.    

            Can’t you just see them in their huddle? Can’t you just imagine what they were saying? “Did you see how His disciples ate without going through all the ceremonial motions of cleansing their hands?” one may have said — “Yes — who does this Jesus think He is — anyway?” another may have said. “His followers aren’t following our traditions at all” another may have said. “We must correct Him”  still another may have said.  “If He doesn’t follow our traditions — our authority and power may be at risk.”

            The Kingdom of God was right in front of them — and all they could think about was their traditions and their authority and their power.  So they approached Jesus and asked Him why His disciples didn’t go through all the traditional ceremonial motions of cleansing their hands before they ate.  Surely — if He was a religions man — He would see the error of their ways — and correct them. But Jesus did just the opposite. Instead of correcting His disciples — He corrected the Pharisees and their Scribes.  Listen to how Eugene Peterson in his translation The Message translates part of Jesus’ response:

“These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it.

They act like they are worshipping me, but they don’t mean it. They use me as a cover for whatever suits their fancy, ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.”

            Then Jesus went on to say that it’s not ceremonial cleansing or anything from the outside that makes a person “clean” — but what’s inside that determines whether they are “clean” or not. It’s not a question of following traditions as much as it is a question of your heart.          Keeping traditions — Jesus says — doesn’t make you “clean” or “unclean”.  What makes you “clean” is what’s in you — what’s in your heart.

            So before we start shaking our fingers at the Pharisees and their Scribes — before we start talking about how short-sighted they were to have the Kingdom of God in their midst but to only see how their traditions were not being kept —   before we start talking about how they should have known that the ritual cleansing didn’t give a person salvation — before we start talking about what bad folks they were try to hide the evil that was in their hearts by “going through the motions” of washing their hands or doing one of the many others ritual laws they had — maybe we should look at our own hearts. Jesus knew that what was in a person’s heart was what made them “clean” or “unclean” — and gave a list of dark things that can lurk in the hearts of those who appear to be so good — things like fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly

            Quite a list Jesus gives — but of course we know that it only scratches the surface of things that can lurk in our hearts — even when we try so hard to hide them.  Other things are things like demanding to have our way — or demanding that things be done in the same way they always have been done — or things like not wanting to accept new ideas — or things like believing that God is going to always act in the same way and never dare to do anything new among us. If we are honest with ourselves — we’ll see that there are times when we see God at work — but greet it the same way the Pharisees and their Scribes did — huddling in our little groups and criticizing it.  We may say that we want to follow God — but God better be going in the way we want God to go!   We may say we want to change — but our heart may not be in it.

            Do you do what you do because you want to — because you truly believe that it’s the right thing to do — because you love God and want to share God’s love with the world — or because you think you might impress others — and maybe even impress God? Do you just go through the motions of living the Christian life — coming to church when there is nothing else that seems more inviting to you —  reading the Bible on occasion — helping others when it isn’t too inconvenient — going through the motions — but not really having your heart in it? Going through the motions of coming to church and helping others isn’t what makes us “clean” or “unclean” — it isn’t going to give you salvation — it isn’t going to impress God in the least — if your heart isn’t in it.  It’s what is in your heart that counts.

It’s what is in your heart that makes you “clean” or “unclean” — it’s what’s in your heart that saves you from your sins — it’s what’s  in your heart that really makes a difference in your life.

            So – how’s your heart?

            Do you really want — deep down in your heart — to love God– to experience God’s love — to share God’s love with others — or — deep down in your heart — would you still like to do your own thing — even if your own thing is wrong and sinful? Do you really want — deep down in your heart — to grow as a Christian — for us to grow as a church — to follow wherever God may be leading us — even if it means giving up some of our time – honored traditions — or deep down in your heart would your really rather not be challenged and do things the way you’ve always done them — and would you rather the church stay just the way it is — even if the way you are and the way the church is is not the way God wants you or the church to be? 

            Let God change your heart. Let God change what you feel. Let God change what’s on the inside. Then — you will be “clean” — then you will be saved — then you can begin to be the person God has called you to be — and when all of us begin to let God change our hearts  — we can begin to be the church God has called us to be.

            Jesus said that it’s not things from “the outside” that “cleanses” us — but the heart — the inside.But — there are some things “from the outside” that can indeed change us — change our hearts — and make us more the people God would have us be. Things like God’s love. Let God’s love touch your heart — and change you. Things like worship. Let your worship experience truly be a time for you to give praise to God — and truly be a time for you to listen to God — and be changed by God. Things like Bible Study. Let your study of God’s word on a daily basis change your heart — truly let God speak to you and change you.  Then — let our Bible Study times as a church be times when we listen to God — then share where we feel God may be calling us to go. Things like outreach into the world with God’s love. Let it be a time when you want to share God’s love with the world. Things like fellowship with others in the church. Let our fellowship times be times of excitement and love — times when we get to know each other better — times when we experience the love of God from each other.

            Yes — there are some things from the “outside” that can change us on the “inside” — that can change our hearts.  And once our hearts are changed — we will do all we can to experience God’s love and share that with the world. Ezra Taft Benson once wrote:

            “The Lord works from the inside out, not the outside in. Instead of taking people out of the slums, Christ takes the slums out of the people — then they can take themselves and others out of the slums.  Instead of changing people by changing their environment, Christ changes people — who then change their environment.   Instead of shaping the behavior of others, Christ can truly change their nature — which then changes their behavior.”

            Once your heart is changed – you will do all you can to grow as individual Christians and as a church. Once our hearts are changed – you will truly be the people God has called us to be.

            Let God change your heart. Then — show the love of God that is in your heart to others. When God’s love instead of sin is in your heart  — you will care enough to show the love of God that is in you s to the world.

            Let your heart be changed. Let your heart be filled with God’s love. Let God change your heart — then show the love that will be in your heart to the world. Amen.