Sermon Pentecost 14 year B
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rules are good. I like rules. They help us know if we are doing things the right way. They help us see if the game is being played fairly. We all want things to be fair, right? If you want fairness, you have to have rules.
Every family has rules. If you are the mom or dad you get to decide what the rules are. When my kids were little, and they would ask why they had to do something, I would just say it was a rule.
If you are a child, you want to be sure the rules apply fairly to your brothers and sisters. You don’t want them to get to do something you don’t get to do. You compare rules with your friends to be sure your parents are not stricter than the other kids’ parents. You want things to be fair.
Rules are for safety, too. Don’t run in the hallways. Stop at the red light. Look before you cross the street.
We even make up a set of rules to govern ourselves when we meet in groups. We set dates and times. We decide who is allowed to be there. We decide on an agenda. We decide to follow Robert’s Rules of Order or we make up something less formal.
Rules provide comfortable boundaries for us. Let’s face it. Sometimes it is easier when we know what to do and how we are supposed to behave. You stand when a judge walks in the room. You curtsy or bow to the queen.
We are more comfortable when we know the basic rules – like when to stand or sit in church.
Those “church rules” even have a special name. They are called rubrics. That’s because they are always printed in red ink in our worship books. Rubrics, like ruby red. I love the rubrics. I like to know that I am doing things the way they have been done for 2000 years, or at least the way the ELCA commission on worship says to do it. After all, if pastors have held their hands a certain way for a certain prayer for 2000 years, who am I to try to change it?
The Pharisees and scribes called their rules the traditions of the elders. The elders were the ones who were the experts on interpreting and applying the Jewish law. Their intentions were very good. They wanted to help their people understand and obey the law that God had given them.
The reason behind the traditions of the elders was to point the people to God. The traditions were meant to help the people live in relationship with God.
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as a gift. They were not given as a list of things you have to do in order to earn God’s love. They were a gift from God because we belong to God. The law is all about the relationship of belonging.
God shared them as a way to help us understand how the world works. We all want to know what we need to do to have a better life. Follow the ten commandments. Your days will be long in the land the LORD your God has given you.
One problem with the law comes with the details. Nowhere in the ten commandments does it say when I should stand or sit or how to hold my hands when I pray. It would be easier for us if God gave us more details.
God didn’t give details, so humans have been filling them in since the beginning of time. The traditions of the elders and the rubrics fill in some of the details for us.
It is easy to understand the attraction of religions that have lots of little rules. I think they are like those occupations where people have to wear uniforms. You sacrifice a bit of freedom, but your life is easier because there is one less thing you have to think about. And you have the comfort of knowing you are doing things the right way.
So what was the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees and scribes? Because he really gets upset with them. Well, the Pharisees and scribes were criticizing the disciples because the disciples didn’t follow the traditions of the elders with regards to washing hands and food and pots and pans.
Before we get concerned about the dirty disciples – it isn’t that the Pharisees knew that washing your hands and food and cooking vessels prevented disease. This is before the time when everyone knew that germs make you sick.
The Pharisees had ritualistic ways of washing that took a long time and made a big show of how pious they were. They had rubrics to follow before each meal.
Remember the law was given as a gift to help us live in relationship with God and each other. It is all about the relationships. It isn’t about the rules themselves.
It is definitely not about how other people follow the rules. That’s the problem Jesus has with the Pharisees. They use the rules to accuse others. They use the rules to point out how others don’t measure up.
They use the rules to show that they are better than other people. They think their lifestyle is the only god-pleasing way to live. They judge everybody else by the measure of their tradition, their interpretation of the rules.
Jesus says the issue is not whether other people follow the rules we humans have made. The issue is our own hearts. We need to examine our own hearts.
Did you ever wonder where evil comes from? Jesus says human heart is the source of the evil in this world.
We don’t want to examine our own hearts too closely. We might just learn that Jesus is right and that is very uncomfortable. It would be easier to try to follow a list of detailed rules about washing our hands and food and dishes.
Jesus does know our hearts. He died for us while we were yet sinners. He didn’t die for us because we we righteous already, or because we tried to follow all the little rules.
God’s law is a gift. It helps us understand how the world works and our places in it. We follow the law well when we use it to remember our relationships with God and our neighbors.
The law also reminds us that we are all sinners. No one can live up to every detail of it. When we use the law to judge others, Jesus knocks it out of our hands. He reminds us to hold it up as a mirror for our own hearts.
The law is a gift. It is meant to show us how to live in relationship with God and each other.
We celebrate our relationship with God this weekend as we welcome Jace and Marvin into the family of God through this sacrament of water and the word. When we are baptized, we are assured that we belong to God. That relationship is forever.
We celebrate the relationships we have with each other in God’s family this weekend as we welcome Elizabeth and Joan into this congregation.
We are all baptized children of God. Whether we are the ones who eat with hands defiled or the ones who scrub every little thing according to the rules, Jesus eats with us. He gives us this meal and invites us to join him at the table. Amen.