Sermon for Sunday, 09/02/2018
Texts: James 1:17-24; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Theme: The Heart That is Right with God”
A recent poll shows that seven percent of Americans claim to be Spiritual but not religious. By this, they claim that they acknowledge the existence of a divine being, but they do not associate with any formally organized religious community or participate in any religious ceremonies or rituals. While I remain unconvinced that this is right a path worth taking by anyone who calls himself/ herself a Christian, I fully understand that sometimes religion can be abused, and made harmful to people, instead of becoming a community of love of God and those around us as we are commissioned to do.
As we see in the gospel reading of Mark, Jesus is having some differences of opinion with the Pharisees and some of the scribes, who were among the main religious leaders of the time. The Pharisees and scribes were upset because some of Jesus’ disciples did not observe the Jewish hand-washing ritual before eating. To these religious leaders, this was a serious religious offense that Jesus had allowed his disciples to commit.
Let me stress that this washing of hands had nothing to do with personal hygiene. They were part of the traditions the scribes and Pharisees had given to the people as part of the law. “Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hand?” They protested!
Frankly, we all carryout some traditions because we are not the first generations of our family and Christian ancestries. There are those who have come and gone before us, and some of their practices, writings, hymns, prayers are still important to us today. They are part of our rich heritage.
But for the Jews at the time, something much more was at stake. Whenever the Jews practiced these washings, they declared that they were “special and other people were “unclean or defiled” This was never God’s intention for the Jewish religion and any true religion for that matter.
In his response, Jesus quoted Isaiah, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition.” Then Jesus taught the crowd, “it is not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it is what you put out that pollutes: lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, mean look, arrogance, deceptive dealings, foolishness- all of these are vomit from the heart. There are the sources of your pollution.
For ancient people, the heart was believed to be the center of decision, intentions, and the will. In this context, the heart is the source of everything we do; good or bad. So, having the Right Heart puts a person on the right path. The point Jesus is making is that the right heart breeds the right attitudes and behaviors, and vise versa. It can be a source of wickedness, as well as good.
Every evil that a person does is first conceived in the heart before it’s put into action. That is why Jeremiah (17:9) says, “The human heart is deceitful of all things. It is incurable. No one can understand it.”
But it can also be a source of good. Proverbs (3:3-4) states, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man. No wonder why we are told in Proverbs 4:23, that “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
I am sure we now understand Jesus’s description of the religious leaders as people who worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. That’s not what God wants us to be. God wants our hearts to be close to Him. I am talking about hearts that honor God. Hearts that are influenced by God’s words and live in obedience to them as James says in his text.
The heart that is Right with God is the source of transformation. Paul cautions us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed through the renewing of our mind (heart in the same context-Romans 12:2)
True worship flows from the heart that is Right with God. David says, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart. And I will glory Your Name forever (Psalm 86:12). This is the kind of heart that knows it is not the center of worship, but God is. The opposite is to worship God with only our lips, (on the surface) according to Jesus in this text. And this is not what God wants of us.
Next, the heart that is Right with God is not full of hate, but overflows with joy, love, kindness, grace, kindness, to even people who may be considered undeserving.
The behavior criticized by Jesus in this text sometimes shows itself in many different forms among Christians. Sometimes the church becomes so overly concerned with process and procedures which are just intended to be the vehicles through which we do ministry, that we lose sight of our missions and ministry God has called us to.
My plead to you this morning is not to allow anything, not even me as your pastor to stand in the way of your service to God. Know that like everyone else, I too am a sinner saved by grace and serving in response to God’s grace upon my life. Don’t allow the trivial things to set you off as the Pharisees and scribe did.
Rather, each day we should be asking God to fill our heart. For if we don’t avail our hearts to God to fill it, something else will. They could be rage, anger, arrogance, resentment, covetousness, jealousness, envy, etc, and that’s the last thing we want.
As I close, it’s my fervent prayer that you and I will serve God with a heart that is right with Him. May our hearts be filled with praise and adoration to the Lord, and may God fill our hearts with His Spirit.
God bless you.