Our August 29 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The September 5 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
We are glad to share our worship with you. Click on “Contact Us” above to find out more about our faith family and what we believe.
Deut. 4:1-2, 6-9 | Psalm 15
James 1:17-27 | Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” If I were Jesus, I think my answer to the Pharisees would have been, “Why not?” And though that may sound a bit flippant, that is basically what Jesus does answer them. The issue isn’t the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. It isn’t the 613 laws which the Jews developed and brought with them out of captivity in Babylonia. No, now they are wondering about the tradition of the elders – which was probably the weakest of Jewish religious practices. The issue isn’t over cleanliness, but tradition. Although, it does entail what is called the “Jewish Cleanliness Code.”
Yes, you should wash your hands before you eat, whenever they are dirty, or “defiled.” They are right there. And, there is an irony here which relates to present times. When the Black Death hit Europe in the 14th century, and it had a 96% mortality rate, the Jewish communities were not hit as hard as the Christian communities. Why? They were cleaner, largely thanks to the rules on cleanliness. So, there were less germs in their communities. They washed their hands. They didn’t have hand sanitizers back then. Another irony with the Black Death and present times, what did people do? They “social distanced,” mainly out of fear that they might catch the plague. And they wore masks, not because of germs. They didn’t know about germs. Rather, to prevent them from inhaling the “bad vapors.” Indeed, the doctors and the clergy wore hoods when they were out in public or visiting the sick to prevent catching the plague. I find it interesting that many of the techniques used 700 years ago to prevent catching the plague are still what is recommended now. I also find it interesting that some people resist these simple measures. I won’t even go into those who won’t get vaccinated, which is so much more effective than these ancient means.
Back to Jesus, no, the issue isn’t over cleanliness, nor law, nor really over religious practice. The issue is over the “tradition of the elders.” There can be few things more dangerous than a tradition, especially in a religion. As a professor told us in seminary once, “One man’s tradition was another man’s idiosyncrasy.” And by and large, it is true. That idiosyncrasy grows into a tradition. And the problem with traditions are that they may become just as important, if not more important, than the group’s actual rules – and within a fairly short period of time, people will even forget why the tradition exists. I read a piece this week on the Amish. Amish men grow and don’t trim their beards. But they all shave their upper lips, no moustaches! Why? In the 1800s, politicians and military officers grew their moustaches, and it was seen as a point of style and pride. So, to avoid the sin of pride, the Amish started shaving their upper lips, required it of all the men. Thinking about it now, I really can’t bring up to mind very many military officers or politicians that have moustaches, just a couple. But, the Amish continue to shave their upper lips. BTW, Amish women aren’t allowed to shave anything.
Some of you may have grown up in Christian Churches with such rules. My favorites are no drinking, dancing, card playing (and usually theater). Why? Because these things are sinful!! Why are they sinful? Most people don’t really know how to answer that one (except the drinking – no one likes a drunk). They don’t know their history. Even many of the Church leaders and pastors don’t know. These things were frowned upon, historically not for moral reasons, but for religious reasons – and really for spiritual or idolatry reasons. No drinking! Not for drunkenness originally (except of St. Paul), but because it was used sometimes, with other mind altering substances, to enter trance to contact the “Spirit realm,” the occult. No dancing! Not because it is construed as a sexual expression (usually by the sexually repressed), but again, to dance to the point of exhaustion, was also used to enter a trance, and so communicate with the spiritual realm. No card playing! (Or dice throwing for that matter) It wasn’t because of gambling. It was against the use of Tarot Cards, and fortune telling, again a spiritual prohibition. And Theater! At one point in history, the Church forbade all theater productions for a number of centuries, not years but centuries. If you read most history books that cover the subject, they will say that drunks and prostitutes hung out at the theaters. See, somethings don’t change. That’s not the reason. The Church condemned all of the old pagan religions, with their myths and legends. Guess what most of the theater productions or plays were about? They either mentioned the old pagan gods, or were stories about them. So much for traditions! Of course, that’s another problem about traditions in religions: the littler or weaker the rule, the more the group comes up with other rules and excuses to protect and justify it. Even if they have forgotten why!
That’s why Jesus says, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. 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.” That’s the point! Forget all these little rules that you’ve come up with – these forced outward expressions of piety. Far more importantly, remember to have a clean heart! If your heart and soul are clean, then you don’t need these manmade rules. It is the unclean heart which produces evil intentions, and Jesus even lists some of the more obvious ones.
A number of years ago, some members of the congregation got upset because someone gave a pool table to the Youth Room. I asked why? The response was that it was sinful, it doesn’t belong in a church (although my home church has always had one, and they were mainly Norwegian Lutheran pietists) – ah, a tradition. There’s nothing sinful about a pool table. Their problem was where a pool table is usually found. If it weren’t for a pool table, it would have taken me a lot longer to pass physics class. It was on a pool table that I came to understand: action and reaction, vector analysis, motion, spin and angles. No, the problem is always with the heart, that is where sin resides and evil intentions are formed.
I believe that most people need rules, and laws. And there are very real reasons for having them. But many people need them for their own sake. They don’t trust their own hearts. They need them to protect themselves, from what they are afraid that they might do. Lutherans make a distinction between Law and Gospel. Law is with a capital “L” – God’s Law, not a little “l” for human law or tradition. God’s Law is necessary. It shows us that we are sinful, have fallen short of the glory of God, and ultimately cannot trust in our own devices to be right with God, nor our own laws and traditions. It is God’s Law which speaks to our heart, soul and conscience and drives us to our only hope: the Gospel. It is the Gospel which cleanses our hearts and souls, restores us to the image in which God created us, and makes us right with God. It is a cleansing from within. Being so cleansed by God’s grace, by faith in Jesus Christ, then we know that we are freed by the Gospel, and free to live Christian lives in praise of God, without fear of becoming defiled by that which may surround us. And that, is our doctrine, and understanding, of salvation.