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The Rev. Jennifer Adams – September 2, 2018 – Proper 17, Year B: John 6:51-58 Mark 7:1-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them….5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:1-23)

Ugh. This gospel passage is a hard one, actually it’s a is a tricky one, isn’t it? Just as this passage gets rolling, just as the blame is finding a focused place to land, just as I and perhaps the crowd in this passage are becoming sure that “if only the pharisees would change their ways everything would be OK” and the anti-Pharisee movement is gaining momentum, Jesus changes direction. And that shift is a hard one, I actually sort of feel it in my gut. About half-way through this passage, Jesus makes a hard shift from speaking about the Pharisees as hypocrites to implicating us all. And so I think this passage is inviting us, all of us, to take a much needed pause.

Because dang it, I want to say it’s their fault! I really do. Here is Jesus who has come into this world with a profound message of forgiveness and love, mercy, and peace, and the Pharisees stand up try so very hard to interrupt that amazing grace at every turn. Passage after passage, after hungry people are fed, and they’re on the brink of widespread celebration, the Pharisees say things like, “Why didn’t you wash your hands?” Really? They’re actually looking for ways to restrain the grace.

Passage after passage when hurting people are healed and the lame are just beginning to dance, the Pharisees interrupt the whole scene by asking, “Why did you heal them on the Sabbath?” And I want to scream. They use religious law as a means by which to limit Shalom.

Throughout the gospels Jesus offers mercy and the Pharisees find a reason to stifle it. He opens a a door and they insist using religious reasons on keeping it closed. Jesus embodies a wide-embrace and the Pharisees justify their distance from that other. There is abundance offered and they emphasize a reason not to share. And I can hardly stand it.

And so this morning, I want to stand up and cheer Jesus on as he exposes their pattern:

“Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

To that I want to say “Hah, finally, they are getting put in their place!”And then sit down, smugly. And so I admit to appreciating passages like this one, perhaps a little too much. The passages where Jesus lets them have it. That time Jesus calls them a brood of vipers? Just for the record, I like that one too.

But here’s the thing, and why this passage is so very hard: I have my patterns too. Hence the call to pause. One of my patterns is that they so very quickly become a “they,” and it can all fester in that place inside of me that is in the grand scheme, in the kingdom scheme not a good place at all. Because it can come out it harmful ways.

The Pharisees are an easy target on which to hang the woes of this world. And I can go on for hours about how I think this connects with our world today. Trust me I have an internal list of who falls into the Pharisee camp these days. But as I said, I have my patterns too and one of them is that I can come pretty close to convincing myself that if only the Pharisees changed their ways, everything would be OK.

And while this gospel is challenging those who lean toward the Pharisaic end of things to take a hard an honest look at themselves, there is challenge in this for us all. This is a hard passage for everyone. Notice that while Jesus is shouting in a very focused way for about three verses at “them” he then invites “the entire crowd” and for four verses says things like, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

And so while Jesus is telling the Pharisees to let go of purity codes as a means by which to discern who is worthy and unworthy of holiness, he’s telling all of us that what comes out of us matters. And what comes out of us shapes whether or not we are able to love that neighbor; it shapes our experience of the kingdom of God.

How we speak to that person who is hurting matters. And how we speak to that person whom we perceive to be inhibiting wholeness matters. How we speak to that person who has never been welcomed to the table matters. And how we speak to those whom we perceive to have had too much control over who is welcomed at that table matters too. Jesus is telling the Pharisees to celebrate the wide embrace, the hospitality, the feast, to which they are also invited. And the same is true for us if for no other reason than the table and the experiences of wholeness and so much else that is a means by which the kingdom is proclaimed has come for us all – them too.

And so we are to seek a way that is genuinely reflective of the mercy, forgiveness and love of Christ in every direction. In every direction outside and inside of ourselves. In every direction politically, religiously, neighborly and otherwise too. We need to carry the awareness that what comes out of us can do harm.

But what comes out of can also do good. What comes out of us can do love.

And this is so very hard today because the lines have been drawn and it’s so very easy to fall into patterns that do not invite this embracing Shalom which is the peace of God, that one that “passes all understanding.” We go so easily now to, “It’s their fault,” but this gospel reminds us that that is never the whole story. We can’t find one category of people who are entirely responsible for the woes of the world and that approach has in itself led to some of the most heinous acts every done.

I think this week we’ve celebrated voices in our country who have attempted this approach certainly imperfectly, but at times with strength and with grace. John McCain. Aretha Franklin. R-E-S-P-E-C-T all around, please.

What comes out of us no matter who we are matters. Created in the image of God we have power and we let it go when this becomes of matter of simply placing blame. We pick it up when we learn to speak with strength that is fueled and tempered with compassion, compassion frankly for all.

This passage invites us to pause, perhaps every day. To pause and re-center ourselves as they say to seek a way that is genuinely reflective of the mercy, forgiveness and love of Christ. As hard as this passage is, the good news is that this way of grace is open to us all. Everyday. We have the power to do harm, and sometimes we do. And we have the power to do love, and sometimes we do. Our work is to keep it heavily weighted in the direction of mercy, forgiveness, peace.

May we be a people willing to acknowledge the ways in we have said things, or done things or perpetuated patterns that hurt others. And may we be a people willing to receive forgiveness and to help make change, even in ourselves.

Amen.