Rev. Deacon Tom Bates
September 2, 2018
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
[This sermon was delivered with FrPaul Moore doing the Jesus parts.]
Before we get into the sermon, I’d like to share with you nine things we never hear in church:
- Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front pew!
- I was so enthralled; I never noticed that your sermon was 25 minutes over time.
- Personally, I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf.
- I’ve decided to give our church the $500 a month I used to send to TV evangelists.
- I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High School Sunday School Class.
- I love it when we play hymns I’ve never heard before.
- Since we’re all here, let’s start the service early.
- Father, we’d like to send you this Bible seminar in the Bahamas.
- Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign!
Today’s Bible readings deal with lessons for us on right living and doing the will of God- important lessons, important to us and important to God.
First, we’re told by Moses in Deuteronomy to obey all the laws that the Lord your God has given you and do not add anything or take away anything. I remind you of this because in the Gospel reading, the Pharisees add to the law of God.
Then we’re told by James that what God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of the orphans and widows in their suffering and keep oneself from being corrupted by the world. Likewise, the lesson of not allowing ourselves to be corrupted by the world can be found in the Gospel reading.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus addresses both the folly of adding to and taking away from the laws of God as explained by Moses as well as James’ admonishment to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.
Let’s talk a little about the gospel reading and Jesus’ teachings about cleansing. Just for fun, imagine yourselves to be the disciples and followers of Jesus. I’ll speak for the Pharisees among us. In my role as a Pharisee, I think it important to remember that the Pharisees were well respected; they were the forerunners of the rabbis; their job was to interpret the Torah; their interpretations were known as the Oral Torah. Of all the groups, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, they were the closest to Jesus and his followers. In my role, I’m an authority figure – not a jerk.
I’ll cast Father Paul in the role of Jesus. At the time of the Gospel reading, Jesus had a large following. He had healed all the sick that the people brought Him, he had cast our demons, dome many miracles and taught with authority and wisdom. The crowds that followed Him were so large that he had to sneak out to pray. Father Paul would you stand up please?
Father Paul, I’ve noticed firstly that some of your parishioners are not bowing for the cross; secondly, I’ve noticed that you and some of your parishioners are not crossing themselves as I was taught with three fingers together representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and two fingers apart representing the Old and New Testaments. Thirdly, I’ve noticed that some of your parishioners, including your deacon are not washing their hands prior to eating the potluck supper or having snacks. Sure you are using a hand sanitizer, but you are disregarding the ancient tradition of ceremonial washing. Don’t you know that cleanliness is next to Godliness? In the 1800’s one in six mothers died and thousands of babies because doctors didn’t wash their hands before delivery. Together, these aforementioned sins show a disregard for pious tradition and are a sacrilege for which you are largely responsible.
I’m sure your reactions are that I’m being pretty much a jerk and that pious traditions have nothing to do with sin. That it’s what’s in our hearts when we see the cross or eat a meal. And of course, that’s the lesson of the Gospel.
A common practice of the Jews in Jesus’ time was the ceremonial washing of hands. They believed that those who came in contact with unclean people or things, like food from the market and pots and pans, had to pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves. This was not a command of the Law of Moses but a tradition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the authorities on the law; I think that Jesus’ disciples would have taken what the Pharisees said to heart. That is until Jesus’ explanation. Jesus argued that such traditions not only caused people to misunderstand the law, but stopped them from doing more important things required by the law.
In support of this assertion, Jesus gives an example. The Law of Moses taught people to respect and care for their aged parents, but the Jews had added a tradition that enabled them to ignore their parents. They could make a vow that when they died, their money and goods would be given to the temple. Having promised their money and goods to God, they said that they were not free to give them to anyone else, not even their needy parents. Yet the Pharisees were able to enjoy their possessions as long as they lived. Their tradition contradicted the teaching of the law.
The Jews would not eat certain foods, believing that such foods made them unclean. Jesus said that just as eating with unwashed hands did not make a person unclean, neither did eating prohibited foods. The people really unacceptable to God were those who taught such traditions. They were hypocrites.
What makes a person unclean is the evil that comes out of the mouth and out of the heart, not the food that goes into the stomach. The source of all evil is a wicked heart, and this is what must be cleansed to be acceptable to God. It is as Jesus explains, “From a person’s heart, come the evil ideas which lead him to do immoral things, to rob kill, commit adultery, be greedy, and do all sorts of evil things: deceit, indecency, jealousy, slander, pride, and folly—all these evil things come from inside a person and make him unclean”. The Pharisees traditions of cleansing prevented them for seeing this.
After attending the BStA Triennial in Austin, I told you that I was proud to be an Episcopalian and mentioned some of the good that we as Christians have done, for example the establishment of hospitals and universities. And I am proud to be both Christian and Episcopalian, but that doesn’t mean that we Episcopalians are doing everything right. There are areas that we need to work on. Evangelism is one; discipleship is another. One of our speakers, The Rev Matt Marino from the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine in Houston, provides these statistics;
85 percent of all US teenagers definitely believe in God. 72 percent of all Episcopalian teenagers definitely believe in God.
51 percent of all US teenagers feel very strongly close to God. 36 percent of all TEC teenagers feel very strongly close to God.
51 percent of all US teenagers say faith is very or extremely important in their daily life. 40 percent of all TEC teenagers say faith is very or extremely important in their daily life.
56 percent of all US teenagers have committed to live a life for God. 32 percent of all TEC teenagers have committed to live a life for God.
To Father Marino this demonstrates the importance of discipleship, and a portion of discipleship is mentoring.
Matt Marino was one of our main speakers. The other was the Reverend Canon Scott Gunn, the editor of Forward Day By Day. Both are really good speakers and both topics relate to the Gospel lesson of being authentic. Canon Scott’s topic was “Let’s Stop Whispering about Evangelism”. Scott told us about telling everyone he knew about this great new car wash that he used. He said that he thought that he told about 100 people about it. Then he thought, “Why don’t I tell that many people about my faith, which is the most important thing in my life? Why not share it?” For Scott, this was the beginning of a personal ministry of evangelism.
Scott explained to us that the Episcopal Church is losing one percent of its membership per year – a figure Canon Scott said could easily be reversed. How could the declining trend be reversed? According to Scott, if a significant number of Episcopalians invited two people per year to church, this decline could be turned into a revival for the Episcopalian Church. Good Shepherd has a lot offer. We have great music, beautiful liturgy, good preaching, a loving congregation and great opportunities for helping others and doing outreach. And as Father Matt Marino put it, “Everyone deserves a chance to meet Jesus. I’ve made it my goal to invite two people per year to church. Will you make it your goal as well? Let’s together start the revival. Amen.