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“Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God!

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Sermon on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 2, 2018

Let me share a little story about a lady I knew about 25 years ago – not here in Beaver Dam.   At the time of this incident I will relate she was about 75 years old.  She was a sweet, devout Christian lady.  As example of that, it was her and her husband’s custom to arrive at church about 45 minutes before Sunday service.  They had a key for the church and would open the doors.  When I would arrive about 35-40 minutes before worship I would find them sitting in “their” pew (same spot every week, just like many of you!) reading the Scripture lessons for the day printed in the bulletin, reading through the hymns and prayers for the day.  Her words were always kind and friendly.  Then … she got shingles on her head.   It was incredibly painful.  She went to the hospital emergency room.  To deal with the pain they administered a powerful pain medication intravenously.  Apparently, they gave her a dose that was a little too much for her body size (she was one of those people who probably “weighed 100 pounds soaking wet”).  The “overdose” of pain med sort of made her go “out of her mind”.  She was not herself.  The drug pulled down her inhibitions.  No longer was she the sweet, little lady we all knew.  You should have heard what came from her mouth!  She was mean and nasty to her husband and sister, who were both just as sweet and gentle as she.

As I later reflected on what I had observed coming out of her, and occasionally still do, I saw the “proof” of the truth Jesus spoke to his disciples and the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson today:  “There is nothing outside of a man that can make him unclean by going into him.  But the things that come out of a man are what make a man unclean.  In fact, from within, out of people’s hearts come all kinds of evil”.   Wow!  It drove home for me that if it was in her, IT’S IN ME! IT’S IN YOU!  Nobody had to put it in me, nor did it come from my surroundings!  All that evil stuff is in me from my very origins.  It’s in my DNA, so to speak!

King David knew that truth as he reflected on his streak of awful sin (recorded in 2 Samuel 11, and on God’s undeserved mercy to him (2 Samuel 12), which the Holy Spirit inspired him to put in writing in what we know as Psalm 51. He wrote words familiar to us – we sing them often after sermons… Create in me a clean heart, O God!

That prayer guides us as we apply to ourselves the truth Jesus puts before us today.

To get into it perhaps we need to refresh our memories on God’s ceremonial laws for Israel regarding “cleanness” and “uncleanness”.  Such laws affected many areas of Israelite life, though we tend to remember most how it affected their diets.  Through Moses God had declared some foods to be “clean” and therefore acceptable for them to eat, and some foods to be “unclean” and therefore forbidden to be eaten.  Regarding meats, “clean” meats came from animals that had a split hoof and chewed the cud (beef and lamb/goat).  Other meats, such as pork were declared “unclean” and forbidden to be eaten.  Other areas of life were controlled by these laws, too.  Touch blood, and you were considered “unclean” for a period of time.  Touch a dead body, the same.  If, by disobeying such laws a person became “unclean”, he or she had to be declared “clean” in order to interact normally in society again.  A person was to go through a “purification” rite after a period of time to be declared “clean” and to be allowed to interact normally in society.  These many laws were very precise and particular, and played a huge role in in every aspect of the lives of Israelites/Jews, and were very external and visible to all people.  But the purpose for them and what they were to impress on God’s people was, I believe, quite simple.  It was a threefold purpose, two of which we mention here.  One purpose for these ceremonial rules was explained in today’s Old Testament lesson, Deuteronomy 4:1-9.  These rules for Israel’s living set them apart as different and showed them to be the people of the LORD (JeHoVaH) their God.  The other purpose is very simple.  God was making it clear through their everyday life that in his sight there is such a thing as “clean” and “unclean”, sinless and sinful, right(eous) and wrong, holy and evil, deserving of eternal life with him and undeserving of that eternal life!

As with so many of God’s laws, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time saw the purpose of these laws as not to impress the simple truths mentioned before, but to give people the guidance for making themselves clean before God, rather than seeing the impossibility of that.  So, the Pharisees made additional rules to go along with God’s, to supposedly help the people in making themselves clean / right before God.  Ceremonial handwashing (and other washings, as Jesus mentioned) was such an additional Pharisee-made law.  This ceremonial handwashing probably amounted to what kids will do when in a hurry to get to the dinner table after being told to wash their hands: run a little water over the hands for a half second!  Doesn’t get any dirt off the hands!  The Pharisees’ handwashing probably began as purely symbolic, to REMIND them that God blesses his people, declared clean and holy by Him.  But eventually it became LITERAL for them – if you don’t do it you’re sinning and are “unclean” before God.  We also get the impression here that among the Pharisees it was also done more for show – to show how righteous they were before God.  (Note the Evangelical Heritage Version translation of Mark 7:3 – “scrub their hands with a fist”.)

Some Pharisees noticed Jesus’ disciples not doing the ceremonial washing before eating, and asked him why.

Jesus’ answer was basically, “Because it doesn’t help make you clean before God.”   In the first place, God never commanded this washing.  It’s a human / man-made tradition.  And more importantly, “uncleanness” before God begins within a person; it doesn’t result from eating food with some dirt under your fingernails!  The human heart / soul is “unclean” in God’s sight, from its very origins!  The heart / soul needs to be cleansed!!!   It’s in our DNA!  In his Psalm in which King David wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” he also wrote: “I was sinful from birth, sinful even from the time my mother conceived me.”  He understood it.  We need to as well!  We need to understand that all those evil attitudes and behaviors Jesus mentioned flow out from our hearts through our mouths and bodies!  And God’s laws make it clear I cannot make myself clean.

We need new hearts!   Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God!

Our second lesson (Epistle) for today from Romans 9 and 10 speaks to God’s gracious act of creating clean hearts.  The apostle Paul wrote about the “zeal for righteousness” in his own ethnic people, the Jews, as evidenced by the Pharisees.  They wanted to be right with the true God.  But they mistakenly thought it was something they could achieve.  Paul wrote that they “in pursuing the law as a way of righteousness, did not reach it” (Rom 9:31).  On the other hand, he wrote, “the Gentiles, who were not pursuing righteousness, have obtained righteousness, a righteousness that is by faith” (Rom 9:30).  The non-Jewish people to whom Paul brought the message of Jesus the Savior of sinners believed that God had given his one and only Son to rescue them for eternal life, to give them the righteousness / cleanness they needed to have life forever with the true God.  This is a “righteousness FROM God”.  It is purely a gift, received by believing what God says.   CLEANNESS / Righteousness before God begins with recognition of my total uncleanness within and without.  The “creating of a clean heart” is made complete by God giving us the righteousness of Jesus, the Righteous One in our place.

And, amazingly, those Pharisees picking on Jesus and his disciples could have known that joyous and comforting truth from those same ceremonial rules God had commanded his people, the same ones that showed them their uncleanness and their inability to make themselves clean before God!  That, then, is purpose #3 regarding those ceremonial laws, and in reality, it is purpose #1.  Every one of those ceremonies God commanded his Israelite/Jewish people – whether it was regarding “clean/unclean”, sacrifices and offerings, holy days and festivals, or how and when they were to worship him – all showed their inability to make themselves “clean” AND God’s process for making them “clean”.  Every ceremonial command pointed to their need for a Savior from sin and pointed them to the Savior that God was providing, the Christ!  The Passover Lamb, sacrificed and whose blood saved the Israelites in Egyptian slavery from the plague of death that came into Egypt, allowing them to leave and begin their journey to the Promised Land.  The commanded festival called “Day of Atonement” pointed to how the innocent life (blood) of the coming Savior would cover their sins exposed by God’s 10 Commandments.  The Sabbath (Rest) Day, observed every Saturday by the Jews, was God’s life picture of the never-ending rest and peace God’s people have through the forgiveness of sins found in Jesus.

So, Jesus taught the truth that out of an “unclean heart” will come unclean and evil attitudes and behaviors.  He mentioned a rather extensive list, didn’t he?  I suspect that each of us have seen some of those attitudes and behaviors often in our lives!  May we understand that these are our doing, not the fault of people around us or of our environments!  May that truth drive us to seek the “righteousness FROM God” in Jesus.

 

And, if all that evil junk comes from unclean hearts that we’ve had since our origins, what should be coming out of hearts created clean and new by our gracious God?!  Would it not be the opposite of every one of those evil attitudes and behaviors listed by Jesus?   With a clean and new heart guided by God’s perfect commands (the 10 of them), this is what will come out of our lives:  pure thoughts, sexual purity, contentment and helpfulness, care for others’ lives, faithfulness in marriage, truthfulness, kindness toward others, happiness in others’ blessings, honesty, humility, and true wisdom.

As we go about life sourced from a “clean” heart created by our God, strive to let those virtues come out!  May this be, so that what Moses told the Israelites in our Deuteronomy lesson would happen may happen in and around us:  “They {who hear these commands and see them in practice} will say, ‘This great people is certainly a wise and understanding people, because what other great nation is there that has a god as close to it as the LORD our God is to us whenever we call on him!” (Deuteronomy 4:6,7).

 

 

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