Year B; Proper 17; 9.2.2018

Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23


During our St. Paul’s Stewardship Team meeting last week, we had a conversation about bible stories that prompt us to ask questions of faith. One team member introduced the story of the miracle of the great catch of fish and how moving it was that the disciples dropped their fishing nets and followed Jesus. They left their jobs and homes to follow him! The question was, “What would inspire me to ‘lay down my nets and follow Jesus?’ What would cause me to leave my work, my home and my belongings to follow him?”

The disciples surely saw something in Jesus that made them stop what they were doing and leave everything to follow him. What did they see in him?  What was so compelling in him that they wanted to be at his side?  Surely, he was living a life true to God’s call and they saw that authenticity. He preached love, mercy and godliness. He was a healer and reconciler. He was compassionate and warm – people flocked to him just to touch the hem of his garment to be healed.

I imagine that it was exhilarating at times to be close to him as a follower.

But it must also have been exhausting to go around with him, contending with hungry people, sick people and people who opposed him.

It must have been exhausting, and not really sustainable to preach and heal at the rate that the crowds were coming at them. And it must have been exhausting to have those hypocritical religious officials from Jerusalem constantly shaming them for breaking religious laws – healing on the Sabbath, eating on the Sabbath and today’s “egregious infraction” – eating with defiled hands!

Jesus and his disciples were taking a rest and having some food after many long days of teaching and healing the crowds. That’s where we find them when this morning’s story from Mark’s gospel begins. The disciples and Jesus must have been relaxing outdoors in a public place because they were seen by those religious officials from Jerusalem.

Right away those religious officials see them breaking a purity law and interrupt their lunch. I am imagining them wagging their finger at Jesus, purposefully, publicly shaming him for not making sure his disciples washed their hands before they ate.

Now, this was a group of 13 adult men who had left everything to follow Jesus – traveled with him to learn to preach, teach and heal the afflicted. They were being called to share God’s mercy, not be shamed by these “über parent-like religious officials.” I’m remembering the voice of my parent when my siblings and I dared to show up for dinner having forgotten to wash our hands.  “Didn’t I tell you to wash your hands? Now, you’re really in trouble!”

In this gospel story, Jesus aims to teach his followers about living authentically and righteously, not hypocritically.  Jesus confronted these hypocritical officials by pointing out their hypocrisy.  He said, “You are blaming us for not adhering to a purity law that, on the scale of things, means very little as far as God is concerned. You are blowing hand-washing out of proportion when we all know that you officials regularly use ‘God’s law’ to enrich yourselves and keep yourselves in power. I know what is on your heart, and it’s not of God.”

Jesus’ equation was simple, “Maybe we break your fussy law and eat with dirty hands, but we are living a righteous, godly life, unlike you hypocrites. What goes into the body is not the bad stuff. But what comes out, that’s what reflects the spiritual condition of your heart.”

What is hypocritical behavior?  Well, the Greek root of the word “hypocrite” literally means, “acting out a theatrical role” or “to pretend.” To pretend to be someone we are not.

Theologian Loye Ashton writes this about hypocrisy, it is “…a denial of our authentic self in favor of a fabricated persona that we wish to be. Religious hypocrisy…is a most destructive kind in that it uses sacred teachings about truth itself to elevate self-deception.”

We all know of pastors who manipulate scripture or theology to be someone they are not. The Roman Catholic Church, for example is fighting hypocrisy very publicly on many fronts right now – priests who have been sexual predators toward children for decades while “pretending” to care for them have been exposed. Bishops who have covered up the hypocrisy of these predator priests have been pretending to save the image of The Church. And what about these wealthy pastors who teach the Prosperity Gospel, living a luxurious life that involves little righteous living at all. “God told me to buy this multi-million dollar jet. You too can have it all!” they shout from their stadium stage.

This notion of living an authentic life – a life of integrity and godliness is what Jesus was hoping to teach his disciples and the Pharisees. And it applies to all of us today.  What does a life of integrity look like? If each of us is made in God’s image, how do we discover that authentic image at our core and be true to it?

Some of us would call this “core” the “God center.” Jesus simply calls this “the heart.” He calls each of us to examine our heart for spiritual health.

Our children and young people can detect hypocrisy in a person or faith community right away. A colleague of mine tells the simple story that one year as the fall program for Sunday School was getting started, a group of teachers and young people spent their Saturday creating a “welcome” bulletin board and organizing and cleaning the classrooms. They decorated the bulletin board to read, “Welcome to Sunday Skool”- S K O O L. “School” was misspelled on purpose to draw attention to the words of welcome.

The next Sunday, my friend found a hand-written note in his mailbox that read, “These kids don’t know how to spell any better than they know the bible!” My friend was disappointed to realize that this person was so concerned with correct spelling that he or she missed the point of the warm welcome.

Peggy and I are reading a book entitled, “Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to help young people discover and love your church.”  There is a chapter devoted to fueling warm faith communities.

This is one of the characteristics of a warm faith community:

“Honest relationships and the ability to be real or authentic are not only preferences for younger people; they also build stronger churches.”

“Honest relationships and the ability to be real or authentic are not only preferences for younger people; they also build stronger churches.”

I think this is what God is up to here at St. Paul’s: “Creating honest relationships and being real and authentic.” Not only is this the desire for young people and children.  All of God’s people desire to belong to a warm community and to be able to trust those around them.

Living into God’s image of being authentic is the goal for every person of faith. It’s clear that St. Paul’s is called to be an authentic and godly community.

I’m excited for us to nurture this call!