A sermon with the St. Paul’s Anglican congregation, Kingston, Ontario, August 31, 03
by Robert Brow
To day we look at two huge changes that undermined the Pharisee approach to religion. The first was a change in the Jewish kosher food laws. The second was Jesus’ way of dealing with the human heart as opposed to trying to change externals.
Read Mark 7:17-20
This section reminds us that Jesus has freed Christians all over the world from rules about what can be eaten or not eaten. The Jews are still bound (in theory) by kosher food rules. Religions love to make rules about eating. Hindus can’t eat beef. Muslims can’t eat pork, or have a glass of wine. Buddhists can’t even eat fish. In the west we have all sorts of rules for dieting to lose weight. In the past many Christians ate fish rather than meat on Friday.
As Jesus said, "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer" (Mark 7:18-19). Then Mark (who was interviewing Simon Peter) added "Thus he declared all foods clean."
That leaves us free to decide in every country what is good for us, unhealthy, or best avoided because it is tainted or impure. Sugar is not sinful but you don’t indulge in it if you have diabetes. And you avoid snacks between meals if you are overweight. But what we eat or don’t eat is not a matter of guilt, or a reason for writing others off because they eat different food from us.
Then immediately Jesus went from the Pharisee externals to the heart of the matter. Look at his list of twelve things that defile the human heart. In a moment we will see how God’s love deals with them from the root.
Note that Jesus does not list these twelve kinds of defilement to make us feel guilty. These are thoughts of the heart that God’s love will change from the inside. Notice the words "It is from within from the human heart that evil intentions come. In each case there is an unloving thought that expresses itself in wrong behavior. Trying to change our behavior doesn’t work, and if we do manage to improve a bit we become horribly self-righteous.
Jesus’ way is for the love of God to change the thoughts of our heart one by one, and soon our behavior changes. This is the opposite of Pharisee legalism where you make rules, make people feel guilty, and threaten them on the assumption that if they feel guilty enough they will change for the better.
FORNICATION means sleeping around without love or commitment. When God’s love comes in we love people. We don’t view them as sexual trophies, like a fisherman seeing how many bass he can catch.
THEFT means taking what belongs to another. When we love a person, our love results in prayer respect for the other person’s rights and property.
MURDER always begins with angry murderous thoughts in the heart. "Oh I wish he were dead." If all hearts was filled with the love of God, we wouldn’t need the Kingston Penitentiary for murderers.
AVARICE is a Scrooge mentality. All that counts is how much money we can pile up, with no concern for the needs of others. We do need money to pay the mortgage, take care of our retirement expenses and to care for our family. But when the love of God is poured into our heart we also have compassion for others.
WICKEDNESS is taking pleasure in making other people miserable. These are the people who love to mess up a wall with graffiti, break bottles on a sandy beach, throw garbage on other people’s lawns. And these days there are brilliant young hackers who long to design a virus that will ruin the computers of people all over the world. When the love of God comes in we long to give joy and improve the environment for others
DECEIT is taking advantage of others by telling lies. These are the confidence men who talk you into parting with your savings. When someone is filled with the love of God, how could you think of defrauding someone to feather your own nest?
LICENTIOUSNESS includes taking pleasure in watching others being sexually humiliated. That is the essence of pornography. The love of God gives us a respect for the dignity of others.
ENVY is a form of covetousness. The envious person resents it when others are honored and blessed. The love of God makes us content with simplicity and enables us to appreciate what others have been given to enjoy.
SLANDER includes gossip designed to cut others down and destroy their reputation. When we are filled with the love of God, we want others to be honored and built up.
PRIDE looks down on others as inferior. With the love of God in our heart, we will be unable to despise anyone however poor or humble.
FOLLY is the kind of senseless behavior that humiliates and makes fools of others. Love can go with a sense of humor, but never at the expense of others.
Just by listing these twelve kinds of evil intention, we can see that they are not dispelled by good resolutions or merely human effort. Nor does it do any good to feel terribly guilty about them. We are not changed by guilt. When we recognize these thoughts coming up from deep in our heart, we look to the Holy Spirit to fill us with the love of God.
PRAYER Now let’s go over the list that Jesus gave us. As I list them, pick out one or two heart attitudes that need changing in your life, and ask for the love of God to come in and do what is needed to make you a beautiful person:
promiscuous sex without love and commitment
stealing what belongs to others
avaricious love of money
the compulsion to make others miserable
lying, deceitful behavior
delight in the pornographic humiliation of others
envy of what others are given to enjoy
cutting down the reputation of friends
the pride that despises others
engaging in stupid senseless behavior.