Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Inside and Out
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
Before I was married. I was living in an apartment near my old church. A member in her 80s lived a couple doors down. Her name was Sadie. Sadie was a wonderful lady. She never married; she lived her entire life with two of her sisters. When I met her she was living alone. She had lived in the community for so long a lot of people would stop in and do little favors for her. She was a lifelong member of the fire department, and those guys were constantly stopping to check on her. I had a little job as well in the winter. I would stop by every couple of days and bring in wood for her. I remember chatting with her once; she was telling me about church and she told me this funny story. For years she had a volunteer job in the church. She would cover communion. When she told me this I had to ask what she meant. She said that every time they had communion she would wake up early and iron a pure white fabric almost like a tablecloth, and before the service, the elements would be covered by this fabric. During the middle hymn the elders and deacons would come forward, and her and another volunteer would follow the deacons and elders that would stop at either side of the table. They would lift the fabric off the elements and then fold the fabric, but they didn’t just fold it, she said you had to fold it a certain way. It almost sounded like the way you might fold a flag. She said one Sunday she walked into church and, to her horror, forgot it was a communion. She hadn’t ironed the fabric and didn’t have it with her. She remembered feeling like she let down God and the congregation. She didn’t know what to do so she just sat down. She told me how no one said anything, communion still happened, she still connected with Jesus, and the people still connected with Jesus.
The lectionary moves us from John into the Gospel of Mark. The Pharisees and some of the scribes arrive to set up another argument with Jesus. The criticism they present is one in a long list of criticisms. So far they have criticized him for eating meals with tax collectors and sinners, for picking grain on the Sabbath, for not fasting, for healing at the wrong time, for blasphemy for forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man.
The argument they unleash is about ritual purity, not about cleanliness. It is important to understand that, especially in the light of our global crisis. A ritual bath or ritual washing might even have been done in smelly stagnant water as long as it was blessed at one time. What Jesus is talking about is far more significant — what is the right way to honor God in all aspects of one’s life.
What we are witnessing is a first-century disagreement on how to follow God. For example, the priestly families in Jerusalem thought the maintenance of the temple was the best way to keep the commandments and were willing cooperate with the Roman authorities. The Zealots believed that it was impossible to follow God’s will as long as Rome held the lands as colonies, so its entire goal was to overthrow Roman authority. The Pharisees’ main followers were in areas outside of Jerusalem. So, they worked to adapt customs and religious laws, and it vastly altered the pollical and social landscape. To be ritually clean, was a biblical law for entering the temple, but this was not a concern for a Galileans because they would not be going to the temple. So, the Pharisees’ innovation was to extend these ritual purity laws far outside of the temple to the countryside. They believed this was how you honored God
Jesus is essentially trying to adjust their spiritual map and our spiritual map. What the Pharisees are essentially arguing is that what you come into contact with is what separates you from God. We see this in the parable of the good Samaritan. The priest avoids the man lying in the ditch so he can remain religiously pure. But Jesus is arguing is what keeps us from connecting to God is our hearts, a hateful hearts, bad intentions, and hypocrisy things that lead to damage and a trail of devastation. But before we look down our noses at these Pharisees we have to ask the question how often has Christianity been weaponized in the same manor? Vice lists that were compiled that have less to do about harm and more to do with someone’s perception of moral purity.
The Presbyterian Liturgy does its best to remind us of the damage that can be done. Every single week we pray a prayer of confession. This prayer should be a moment when we pause and truly reflect on the damage we have done on an individual level and the damage we have done on a societal level. Or about once a month we gather around the table. Part of our reflection should be about recognizing that we all have the capacity to be Judas; Jesus shared a meal with his betrayer. The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once said that the Lord’s Supper “reminds us of the need for honest repentance—of the need to confront our capacity to betray and forget the gift we have been given.” The Lord’s Supper should lead to honesty, self-awareness, and repentance, it should draw worshipers into gratitude for the world and for each other. “It changes how we see one another as we learn to see our neighbor as God’s guest.”
This week we are celebrating the gifts of the Stephen Ministers. One of their roles in the church is to help us recognize the love of God, and especially when we are experiencing some difficulty. Amity Haugk, a program staff member for Stephen Ministry, shares a story of a woman named Megan. She writes that Megan met with her pastor and the pastor encouraged Megan to connect to a Stephen Minster. She was initially hesitant but decided to try, and what she experienced changed her, “ I’d been struggling with some spiritual wounds that were pretty intense and in need of healing— things I didn’t want to share with family and friends. But on that visit, as my Stephen Minister walked next to me, I felt safe and comfortable. So, I shared my deepest hurts with her—some really painful things that I feared she might judge me for and that made me wonder if God could possibly love me. After I told her those things, I was really nervous and dreading her response. I was worried that she would think I was an awful person. But instead, she put her arm around me and said, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that.’ And that was a turning point for me. To go from fear of judgment to a positive affirmation of care, empathy—and even sorrow for what I’d been through—it was so meaningful. That’s when I began to feel God’s love again.”
Jesus tells us it is not what is outside of us that makes us unclean, but it is what comes out of our hearts, and we know that God was constantly getting into trouble for loving too much and forgiving too much.
 Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 278). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 280). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.