Year B Proper 17 Mark 7
Creeds or Deeds
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Rev. David Chadwell posed a rather interesting question: Which would you prefer for a next-door neighbor: a person of excellent habits or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a good friend: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a husband or a wife: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a child: a child with excellent habits, or a child with a good heart?

It is wonderful to have a neighbor who conscientiously cares for his property while respecting your property. It is wonderful to have a friend who always treats you with consideration. It is wonderful to be married to a husband who always is thoughtful and courteous, or to a wife who always is gracious in her comments and deeds. It is wonderful to have a son or daughter who shows respect and uses good manners.

As wonderful as those situations are, none of them compare to having a neighbor, a friend, a husband, a wife, a son, or a daughter with a good heart.

When you discuss good behavior, you are discussing the quality of a person's self-control. When you discuss a good heart, you are discussing the quality of the person.

This is the focus of today’s Scripture. Pharisees and teachers have come down from Jerusalem and, interestingly, they are gathered around Jesus watching the disciples. The disciples, it seems, are eating lunch. They have come in from the day’s work. Too tired and too hungry to care that their hands and faces were dirty, they immediately sat down to eat without washing.

The Pharisees cease upon this ceremonial oversight and question Jesus: Why don’t your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders and clean their hands before they eat? This is all that Jesus needs to hear. He sticks up for his disciples, turns on these teachers and says in essence, "Why do you not live according to the traditions of God and clean your hearts?"

What mistake did these Pharisees make? What is Jesus trying to convey, not only to them, but to us as well. For you see, it is just as easy for us to fall into a good habit and leave behind a good heart. What is Jesus' warning to us?

  1. We prefer creeds rather than deeds.
  2. We look at the outside not the inside.
  3. But God requires good Creeds, Deeds, and Hearts.

The "Gratitude Salute"
James 1:17-27

Why are you here?

Why did you come to church this morning?

What made you voluntarily choose to spend the last summer Sunday -- before the too busy, too crowded Labor Day weekend -- inside a church?

Why aren’t you lolling on some beach? (Okay, okay--maybe you will be later this afternoon!)

Maybe you are here out of habit.
Maybe going to church is “what you do” on Sunday morning.
Maybe you are here because your parents dragged you into the car, kicking and screaming, and you would rather be anywhere else.
Maybe you are here because you are lonely.
Maybe you are here because you feel something is wrong or missing in your life.
Maybe you are here hoping that something in here will make you different in here (point to heart).

None of these are bad reasons to be at church on a sunny August Sunday (nope, not even being brought by your parents). But here’s the reason we Christians gather for worship week after week: We worship to wake up. We worship to come alive and take notice of the presence and power of God in the world, in our lives, in everything we see and do and touch and feel.

The Latin “re-ligare” from which we get our word “religion” has the root “lig” — which scholars have traced back partly to meaning “pay attention.” Any religious service, any religious act, should make us sit up, shake our heads, and focus in on the divine. When our lives adhere to a set schedule of work, when everyday routines can be acted out without even thinking about them, we loose consciousness to the wonders that surround us.

The wonder of God’s creation.
The wonder of love.
The wonder of family.
The wonder of breathing in and out. The wonder of life.

G. K. Chesterton, one of the most important writers of the last century, put it like this: “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder.”

This week’s epistle text is from the Letter of James, the letter Martin Luther famously pooh-poohed as “an epistle of straw.” Luther’s words gave a lot of us a “free pass” on James. James was seen as “weak sauce” — not worthy of much attention. But skipping James lets us slip by to our peril of slipping up and missing some of the most real life, faith-in-action admonishments in the New Testament. Could that be the real reason it is so tempting to keep James on the back burner? James won’t let us get away with some things we like getting away with? presents Leonard Sweet