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Sermon for August 29th, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

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

That which defiles

7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’

6 He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”[b]

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’


The three readings for today have the theme running through them of the law, and of keeping the law.

In the Old Testament lesson Moses told the people to make sure to obey the laws of God.

In the Epistle lesson, James told the people not to just to hear the word but to do it.

And in the Gospel lesson Jesus came right out and said, well, you missed the mark, and you are obeying laws all right, but they are not the right ones!

They are the laws of men, and traditions that we have made up.

So does keeping the laws of God make us right with him, and if not, if we are not required to keep all the laws of God, then are we required to obey anyone’s laws? I mean, no-one is higher than God, right?

As Christians, caught between God and the secular world, whose laws do we follow? This has been a question as old as the church, a church that found itself under Roman rule, and was persecuted for believing. For them it was: Do we follow the laws of a pagan, hostile ruling power?

Thank God that we do not live under a Government that persecutes us for our faith. We will, God willing never know that choice, such as the early church had to make, to make sacrifices to the Emperor and worship him as a God, or be put to death.

So which do we obey: God, or man?

On the surface this might seem like a simple question, but we need to remember that we believe that it is not an either/or. It is not always one or the other.

We do not believe that there is the kingdom of God (which is good) and the kingdom of the world (which is bad). If we thought that way we might think that governments by their very definition are anti-God or anti-Christian.

So unlike some religious groups, we do not believe that we as Christians should withdraw from the world and refuse to pay taxes or obey the laws, as to do so would mean that we would be disobeying God himself who works through these powers.

This is a fourth Commandment issue for us: In honouring not only our parents but all those whom God has placed in authority over us, we are honouring God himself.

We remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:17-21 when he said:

Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

So, when is it right to disobey what a ruling power or government tells us to do?

When we are certain that a government or civil authority is acting and commanding us in contradiction to God’s word, then we as Christians should disobey the government and do what God tells us to do, as he has made his word known to us in the bible. We still then do not go against the other commandments, do not fight or kill for our faith, but this understanding that there is a time when you have to say no to what a ruling body is telling you, (when it is counter to your faith) is what originally led the first Lutherans to move to Australia, feeling that they could no longer in good conscience obey the Government.

But when the government or ruling power asks us to do things that are either not spoken against in God’s word, or are in agreement with God’s word, we do them happily, as good citizens of our country, and we can know that in doing this we are pleasing God.

It is important to realise that the government directives during this extraordinary Pandemic to wash our hands, and to sanitise, are not the same as the Pharisees adherence to strict hand-washing laws and regulations in the Gospel lesson for today, that Jesus had so much trouble with.

They were doing these in the belief that it made them right with God, and that failure to do so would mean that they were NOT right with God.

That is not the case in our situation. These things are mandated for us for health reasons, and for our protection, but also for the protection of others, and this is VERY MUCH in line with the teaching of Scripture, and the practice of our faith.

I have heard a lot of talk in the church lately about our human rights. But you know, as a bible based church, I can’t really find much about the concept of human rights in there.

In fact, the example of Jesus was to NOT demand his rights, but to give them up in service of others.

Philippians 2:5-7

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

I once heard someone on television say that they were not Christian, but they respected Jesus because he was a great teacher on the subject of human rights. And I laughed out loud. Because Jesus did not have much, if anything to say on the subject of human rights. He was not some political teacher. In fact, most of his teachings were exactly the opposite! “Blessed are the poor, turn the other cheek, blessed are you when people persecute you? “

However, it is not so clear-cut and simple as that. What we have learned from our Faith, and from the example of our Lord Jesus, is that all people have a certain dignity before their creator. And if God tells us not to kill people, steal from them, gossip about them etc, then that means that they have the right to not be killed, stolen from etc. (so, in fact, many human rights crusades and ideas have come OUT OF the Christian Faith.) And while we have the opportunity to give up what we think might be our own rights, where needed, to serve others, there are times when we may have to INSIST on human rights, not for ourselves, but again, in the service of others.

It is not fair to say that those who are worried about vaccine passports and mandates etc are being selfish, and putting the rest of us at risk, no matter how strongly we feel about the issue. Because many of the ones who are worried about these sorts of things are themselves vaccinated, or are doing so out of a concern not for themselves, but for others.. Many of them are worried, not about themselves, but about others. They are wanting to protect the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves, and this is again noble, and very much in line with out faith.

You may not know that at the time of Martin Luther girls were not educated, and there was a belief that they in fact did not have souls! And Luther stood up for them and made sure they all went to school. Not for his own sake, but for someone else’s rights.

And as much as this is all in line with our faith, and our faith allows for both views, in the end, it isn’t the central thing, is it? Now, Jesus might be a wonderful example, a great teacher, a great healer, but that’s not enough. You can’t follow his example, as it is one of perfection and we are far from perfect. You can’t be saved just by knowledge from someone’s teaching, that’s Gnosticism or universalism, and there have been lots of travelling healers.

He wasn’t a law-giver like Moses. We don’t get right with God, spiritually clean before him by following laws or washing or anything we do, and we don’t win points with him for resisting governments, and not doing things we should do.

Jesus is our saviour. We are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, once for all, as the payment for our inability to keep God’s laws, and set free from the power of the law.

But remember, we are not just set free FROM something. We are set free FOR something. The only law that we are obligated to is the law of love. We are now free to serve others, and as I have been told since I was early enough to know what it meant: “the Christian life is a life of service.”

Perhaps Martin Luther put it best when he said:

Go out in the knowledge of your free and full salvation, free to serve the world in love, with the love of God, in whatever way you can.


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