Defiled? – August 30, 2015


Song of Solomon 2:8-13   

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


“…now the winter is past,


the rain is over and gone.


The flowers appear on the earth;


the time of singing has come,


and the voice of the turtledove


is heard in our land.


The fig tree puts forth its figs,


and the vines are in blossom;


they give forth fragrance.” (Song of Solomon, 2:11-13, NRSV)




That’s certainly not how the Pharisees saw

it.  They didn’t see Jesus and his disciples

as vines in blossom that give forth fragrance. The way the Pharisees saw it you

might want to say that faith and religion were dead and ritual and human

tradition were alive and well. 

Christians also add traditions and ritual to

the essentials of the faith, apply them legalistically, and treat them as if

they have been ordained forever by God.

The famous last words of a church or an individual…both failing at

ministry are “We’ve always done it this way.”

They feel no less troubled or angry than the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day

when anyone challenges or undermines those traditions and rituals.  Today let’s look at the concern for purity,

the problem of establishing boundaries, and the danger of hypocrisy that are in

our world. 

Most Christians today do not believe

that food is likely to be religiously defiled.

Most of us eat pork sausage and cheeseburgers…forbidden by the old

law.  Some may worry about high cholesterol

or chemical additives, but not about the religious law when it comes to food. 

Yet…the issue of purity…so important to the

Pharisees…is a part of contemporary life.

Purity has to do with the way a person orders and classifies other

people…things and time…often in ways that are unwritten.  Purity regulations label people…objects…and

places as pure or polluted…fit or unfit…likely to become impure or to cause

others to become impure…defiled or not defiled. 

The idea behind today’s impurity laws is

familiar in the phrase “a place for everything and everything in its

place.”…often acted out as “a place for everyone and everyone in their

place.”  Impurity occurs when the wrong

thing or wrong person appears in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For example, many enjoy firecrackers

exploding on the Fourth of July.  These

same people, however, have problems with firecrackers exploding on the fifth of

July.  Another example…some will tell us

that women do not belong in the pulpit…or in other leadership roles in the

church…family or nation. 

Many people have clear ideas about what is pure

and impure…what tradition says is right or wrong…whether we are fully conscious

of them or not.  The universal dislike

for dirt…disease and death causes these concerns.  What a person regards as “dirt” can take many

forms.  The danger is that a person can

develop a defensive religious belief…as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did…and

become all-consumed in keeping out…or away from what they might see as

“dirt”…rather than focusing on what comes from their heart. 

Many people engage in heated religious arguments

over what they regard to be life and death issues that to the outside world and

to the average Christian are much ado about nothing.   The root issue has to do with what a person

considers proper or pure…which becomes a person’s sacred tradition…and what a

person considers improper or impure.

Jonathan Swift made fun of this pettiness in the Lilliputians’ war on

whether an egg should be cracked at the big end or at the little end.  Garrison Keillor does the same when he

describes his religious heritage in Lake Woebegone Days.  He wrote that he came from an “exclusive”

group that believed in keeping itself pure of false doctrine and avoiding

association with the impure.  He wrote,

“We made sure that any who fellowshipped with us were straight on all the

details of the Faith.” 

This kind of attitude results in a church

devoted to turning Christianity into a fortress by building all kinds of walls

that keep those seen as pure in and others considered impure out.  This concern for purity has a direct and negative

effect on evangelism…on our ability to do as Jesus commanded…”Go! Make

disciples.”  Such a closed system often

shuts people off from fellow human beings and from fellowship with God.  God meant for the church…and its members…to

get mixed up in messes and with people who have messed up their lives.  Unlike the Pharisees we are to involve

ourselves with those who don’t wash their hands in the ritual manner…and who

eat food that might violate religious law. 

Jesus wants us to run the church for those who

do not yet attend…as well as for those who are here every time the doors

open.  How do we include them in the

family rather than find reasons and ways to exclude them? 

Jesus’ teaching had a profound impact on

Christian missionary practice when Paul told the Corinthians to eat whatever

was placed before them and told the Romans that no food is unclean in

itself.  He wrote that we should quit

judging others.   Quit put stumbling

blocks in their way.  Learn to live in

harmony.  Build one another up rather

than build walls of separation. 

We can imagine how we would respond if guests

turned up their noses at the food we offered them because it somehow did not

meet their religious standards.  What if

their rejection of our food also suggested that we were somehow impure…or

untouchable?  If so we would hardly be

interested in hearing their message.  In

applying Jesus’ response to the Pharisees to our daily lives we should ask if

there are subtle and not so subtle ways in which we communicate to others that

they are “dirty” and unfit for contact with us.

How might that get in the way of our ministry with them? 

The Pharisees believed that others would know

they were God’s people by seeing their purity…washing hands…cups…pots…eating

kosher…keeping the Sabbath.  Paul

understood the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching when he said, “For the kingdom

of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and

joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

We sing the words “they will know we are Christians by our love.”  The inner purity of our heart that radiates

love and morality is what should make us stand out in the world in which we

navigate…not ritual and tradition that are visible. 

Jesus accused the Pharisees of being

hypocrites.  The Pharisees did not corner

the market on hypocrisy…hypocrites continue to plague the church…and

society.  Jesus wasn’t against the overt

act of doing God’s will…but he refused to cotton to any attempt to reckon something

as moral and pleasing to God that was not a true expression of God’s love of

and for…all of His creation…all in His creation…and God’s grace-filled


The greatest hypocrites are those who try to

cloak the evil within them with a show of external piety.  Judas best fits that category of hypocrite in

the Gospel.  He went to Gethsemane with a

show of affection and honor…but it was all a sordid ploy to capture the

Master…Jesus.  Other hypocrites deceive themselves

as much as others.  The Pharisees best

fit this category.  When Jesus called

them hypocrites…he revealed how easily sincerity and a desire to do precisely

what God commands can go astray and ignore what God requires…when visible

tradition and ritual are the determining factors.  The Pharisees’ lip service and religious gestures

fooled others and themselves into thinking that they were pious…when they

were not. 

It’s so easy for religious people to obey all

the regulations and believe all the correct doctrines in a visible way…yet

their heart is not in it.  They might

also concentrate on executing religious actions that demonstrate their external

purity while totally neglecting issues of inner purity.  Hypocrites may fool themselves into thinking

that they have done all that God requires by being seen doing this or that act

with the greatest care.  They play by the

rules but allow their interpretations of the rules to run roughshod over

others.  How many times do Christians

ignore the vices that Jesus listed and concentrate on minor actions and rituals

that appear to make them pious?  They

wind up with a religion that affects only the hands and that never touches the

heart.  The church needs reminding again

that it can be correct in outward form and theology but not have the spirit of

Christ.  Goodness comes from inner

purity…a life transformed within…rather than the pure observance of rules and


It’s not about political correctness.  It’s about Christian candidness…that comes

from having a heart filled with love and God-given grace…to share…with the

least among us. 

Over the next few weeks…as we discuss and

evaluate our current ministry…and consider new ministry possibilities to reach

out to our current church family…those in our community in need…and those

brothers and sisters who could become part of our church family…how can

we…individually and collectively…become vines in blossom that give forth