Monday, August 31, 2015

Sermon on Mark 7:14-23, for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, "What's in your heart?"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Some of us are the types who dread an unexpected visit to our homes, where someone drops in unexpectedly, and discovers the mess or the chaos you live in. For some, that’s an embarrassment we’d do everything to avoid. Others just don’t mind whether their home is cleaner or messier, and if anyone sees it.
What do we do when Jesus pays an unexpected visit to our hearts? When He opens up all the closets and checks out the garage and our storage areas, and sees what we’ve been keeping in our hearts? What do we think or feel when Jesus lays our hearts bare, with everything to see in His plain sight? Vulnerable? Exposed? Ashamed? Or defensive? Defiant? Or we act as if we simply don’t care?
Think of another context—in relationships. Whether it’s a very close friendship, or in your marriage, between you and your spouse. In the best of marriages, a husband and wife can have true transparency and openness with each other, so that they each see one another’s vulnerabilities, their strengths and weakness, their faults and fears—and they protect that vulnerability. They love the person in return. The same deep transparency can happen in a close friendship, between people who hold each other accountable. But few reach and few dare this kind of transparency and openness with another person. We fear what letting a person seeing that deeply inside of us will mean. Perhaps they would respond in shock, or in laughter, or in rejection. Maybe if someone saw me as I truly am, with nothing hidden, they wouldn’t want to know me any longer. If they heard my darkest thoughts, or saw my embarrassing sins. So we hide our heart, we have walls, we wear masks. Not very often do people allow such deep intimacy and openness in their lives. And if they ever did and were betrayed, or rejected or hurt because of it, it makes them all the more likely to raise those walls and defenses.
So back to Jesus. He’s able to immediately see through all those walls and defenses and masks. His presence unnerved those who had sin and hypocrisy to hide, and realized that Jesus saw right to their hearts. For some it feels like the unwelcome and unexpected visitor, we’d rather not see right now. For others it might prompt a defensive attack against Jesus for seeing who we really are. But what does Jesus say? What does He see? What’s in our hearts?
Jesus pinpoints the heart as the root of all our problems. The sins and the things that make our lives defiled and unclean, all come out of our heart. Jesus lists them: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). Jesus sees and finds these things in our heart! A pretty scary thought! Let’s look briefly at these sins.
Evil thoughts come from our heart. We are always trying to justify our sinful behaviors, words, and actions. Sometimes we get really good at arguing our case and can be quite convincing. But our heart is contriving cover-ups for evil. Next is sexual immorality, which covers the broad range of sexual sins that the Bible prohibits. It’s much simpler to speak of the positive, God-pleasing ethic and design for sexuality, than the many ways in which we humans go astray from God’s plan. God intends sex to be the faithful expression of love exclusively between a man and a woman in marriage. The Bible celebrates this love in marriage as a wonderful thing! We complicate our lives and sin against both God and ourselves when we go astray from God’s good design.
Theft is the stealing or destruction or wasting of property, especially that doesn’t belong to us. But even what we think is ours, like our own body and possessions, are really gifts from God to steward or take care of. So we must not destroy or waste even our own property or lives, as though they were ours to do with as we please. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6, you are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body Theft is born at least partly from a discontent heart. It seeks what doesn’t belong to us by dishonest means.
Murder, the 5th commandment, is the taking of an innocent life. There have been horrendous revelations recently, about Planned Parenthood, that go far beyond what we already knew was happening in their clinics. Innocent blood cries out to heaven, as millions of unborn still die every year across our country. Murder, when it’s an act of hatred or violence, is the final outcome of anger and hatred taking root and growing unchecked in our hearts. Murder, takes away what God has declared precious—human life.
Adultery returns back to the 6th commandment and sexual purity. It begins with a dissatisfied heart that lusts or covets after what isn’t rightfully given to us. Looking to another person than our spouse, to whom we are married, to provide that love. Adultery sins against the one-flesh union that God creates in marriage, and threatens to break the marriage apart.
Coveting is the sin of the 9th and 10th commandments—when the heart desires what does not rightfully belong to it. Coveting leads to schemes and evil ideas to steal property, to manipulate to get things in a way that appears good but is evil at heart, or to break the loyalty of spouses, family, or workers, from those to whom they should be loyal.  
Wickedness is a broad category for sin that is particularly malicious or evil. Deceit is lying or deliberate manipulation, to cover sinful actions or motives. It’s a sin of the 8th commandment. When we are deceitful and lie, we hurt people. Good people can’t do the right thing in a given situation, if they are being lied to. False information often leads people to unintentionally do harm, or causes them to be taken advantage of.
Sensuality or license, is a desire for pleasure that can never be satisfied. It is when we pursue pleasure and self-gratification with no restraint, ignoring all laws or conscience, and exercising no self-control. Sensuality is the pursuit of things in excess—sex, luxury and wealth, food or alcohol or drugs, or anything that gratifies the body. It turns pleasure into addiction.
Envy is literally an “evil eye” in the Greek. When we look jealously or with envy on a person, we have an “evil eye” toward them, because they have what we want, or we resent what they have. Slander is evil speech against a person. Slander may start small with gossips, rumors, insinuations. It grows when we believe and encourage those little lies, and in the worst form, it attempts the total destruction of someone’s reputation. These things too, come out of our hearts.
Arrogance or pride is thinking too highly of oneself. It has little or no love for others and their value, but claims we are most important. It is the opposite of humility, and blinds us to our own sins and flaws. Finally, foolishness is the abandonment of wisdom and truth for following our own sinful desires. Folly does not try to understand right or wrong, but blindly does what passion leads us to. It is to be unthinking, like the animals, and driven by lower desires.
Jesus says all of these things come from within, from the heart, and they defile or make a person unclean. It’s not a pretty picture. And while we’d rather watch or be entertained by having someone else’s dirty laundry aired out—Jesus sees these and other sins that spring from our heart. If we face those same sins with honesty and humility, we may be shocked at what comes out of our hearts. It’s too late to scramble to clean up, or hide the mess. Jesus has already seen and already knows. So what does He do?
The surprise, is that with all that Jesus knows about our hearts, and all that He knew about His disciples’ hearts, and the betrayals and denials, and fears that would overrule their better decisions and actions—He still loved them to the very end. Even when they scattered and fled when He was arrested and tried, and sentenced to death on the cross. We expect or fear that Jesus would back away from us, maybe even run from us. Reject us or turn away in disgust. But instead with piercing eyes, and with nail-pierced hands and feet, He comes to us, welcoming us. Offering us His pure heart, and the forgiveness of our sins, in exchange for our broken heart and our sins. He knows every evil thought and inclination of our heart, and He comes to help us. To heal and forgive. To take away the shame, the uncleanness, the guilt, and to pay for it on His cross. He calls, “Here, let me come in, and clean this heart of yours. Be still, this is beyond your power to fix. Let me do my work.”
And Jesus takes sin-filled hearts, and replaces them with a living heart, that trusts in Him. He answers the prayer of repentant David, that becomes our prayer also, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me! Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and renew me with your free spirit.” Jesus, you’ve seen the mess in my heart. You’ve seen right through all my masks, and know my innermost sins. Cleanse me as you have promised! Don’t take me away from your presence! Stay with me! Renew and restore me, so I know your true joy. This is life with God. This is life with Jesus! An amazing love and transparency that God sees so clearly to the depths of our soul, and wants only to heal and forgive our brokenness and sin. Jesus takes it all away, so that His love for us is unchanged and unhindered. He makes us new and clean, and lovable again. He lives in our hearts, so that we are a new person, and that transformed from the inside out, something new and good will flow out of our hearts, instead of what is evil. By Jesus living in our hearts, by forgiving and cleansing them by His blood, we have the source of a new life and of good thoughts, words, and actions to flow out of our hearts. Jesus! Make me yours forever! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus taught the Pharisees that the external traditions of ceremonial washings did nothing to transform the heart, but produced an “empty worship” where their heart was not in it. In 7:14-23, what does He explain is the true source of what “defiles” a person, or makes them unclean?
2.      For the Jews, and the laws they followed from the Old Testament, a major concern was clean and unclean foods. In Mark 7:19, what did Jesus declare about all foods? What did this mean for the relations between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews)? Acts 10:14-15; 10:28-29; 10:34-36.
3.      Jesus describes what “comes out” of a person in Mark 7:21-23. How are evil thoughts and motivations already sinful? Matthew 5:22, 28; James 1:13-15. What does sin that starts small in the heart, grow into?
4.      Several of the things that Jesus says come from the heart relate to sexual sins of all types—sexual immorality, adultery, coveting, sensuality. Why are sexual sins harmful to us and others? 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, esp. vs. 18. How should we live properly concerning our sexuality? Hebrews 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4.
5.      How are theft, coveting, and envy sins against the 7th Commandment? What is the right attitude to have towards our own possessions and those of others?
6.      Slander and deceit are sins against the 8th commandment. What is each of those sins? What are we to guard and protect in the 8th commandment? How are we to speak, so as not to break it?
7.      Murder is the taking of an innocent life. How are the lives of innocent humans placed in danger ever day? Who are the weakest among us, whose  lives need our special help and protection?
8.      Does Jesus turn away from us when He sees all the evil and unclean things that come from our hearts? What does He do instead? How does He cleanse our hearts? What does He give us?

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