Majoring in the Minors (What’s in Your Heart?)
Are you aware of how people choose what church to attend? It should be based on if they have honest passionate worship and look for ways to meet the needs of others. But, it usually has little to do with the beliefs of the congregation and more to do with things like the church music. Is it too slow, or too fast, too loud; what if they choose something that you don't know or is just the wrong style? What about care of the building and parking-I just don’t want to walk too far. People choose between formal and informal, how the church baptizes and serves communion, whether people are friendly or not, and sometimes churches are not chosen because the people are too friendly. Are there people there that look like me? And of course there's the pastor. What if they are too young or too old, or doesn't wear the right clothes or is the wrong gender and of course the length of the sermon.
This choosing of where to worship was practiced in ancient Judaism. Every community had a Synagogue with a rabbi who interpreted the Ten Commandments and the 613 Jewish rules that explained how to follow the Ten Commandments. Each rabbi would help the people decide how exactly to live out the Jewish laws by integrating temple rules into everyday living. The traditions of the elders referred to specific and very detailed regulations handed down by rabbis in the oral tradition which was considered binding to observant Jews. If people did not like the interpretation of their local rabbi, they would shop around to find one that agreed with their belief and then declare that they were a follower of rabbi so and so.
Add this to the layer of movements within Judaism. Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews of the Roman province of Judaea were divided into several movements, sometimes waring among themselves: There were the Pharisees who demonstrated how to practice the Jewish laws, the Sadducees who made sure people were punished if they did not follow the laws, the Essenes who thought that a relationship with God came through total understanding of how God works, the Zealots who wanted to kill the Romans who occupied and ruled their country, and of course, Jewish Christians. The movements differed in their views on various issues such as the level of observance, the methodology for interpreting and understanding Jewish law, biblical authorship, determining which texts were most authentic, and the nature or role of the messiah.
The Pharisees and Essenes required that their followers eat food in a state of ritual purity. This included hand washing before and after meals which was not even a requirement of the old testament even though, it was prescribed in great detail by the oral traditions of the rabbis.
The Jewish leaders asked Jesus a question. The implication of which was that if Jesus does not teach his disciples such rules of piety, he cannot be a religious teacher.
Jesus was wildly popular in the rural areas among the common people. People would recognize Jesus and they would start running about, gathering the sick on mats and bringing them to him and begging him for permission to touch the fringe of his garment so they would be healed. These people and even the non Jews were desperately seeking Jesus. In marked contrast, the Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem came as critics and spies. They saw the little things that they accused him of, never concentrated on the big things that really mattered.
You will find what you are searching for. If you seek happiness, you’ll find it. If you seek sadness, you’ll find it. What have we been experiencing in our lives? What does the eye pick up most readily, the big things or the little ones? They found fault which was to be expected since they arrived with their minds already made up.
Do we ever approach issues in the same way, with our minds made up, so that we never really examine the situation at all? The Pharisees wanted to embarrass Jesus in front of the crowds and thus undermine his authority as a teacher. When they spied some of Jesus’ disciples eating bread without ceremonially washing their hands, they were quick to point out this technical infraction of tradition.
One of the reasons the Jews were so insistent on people following the rules were that the laws were seen as central to Jewish identity. External rules reminded the Jews that they are different from other nations. The Israelite community needed to remember that they were different from other nations in order to preserve its faith in God as the true creator, ruler, and judge of the world.
Most Christian readers today normally think of purification rites and kosher food rules as evidence of an unenlightened Jewish legalism and how the Pharisees were more interested in exaggerating the power or reputation of the institution of Jewish worship, than they were in either preventing or alleviating human misery. They concentrated on the minute details that made for separation from others. Their eyes were blind to everything except what threatened their traditions, their vested interest, their authority, and their prestige. The legalists mistook lip service for heart service.
They never took an open look so that the true nature of Jesus and his teaching might come fairly before them. They never considered the many people who had been blessed by Jesus.
Jesus' response to the elders which we did not read this morning was to quote some verses from the prophet Isaiah that severely reprimanded the people because they substituted human teaching for true devotion to God.
The exchange between Jesus and his enemies centered around the belief that what is in our hearts forms the basis for our actions. Jesus was representing a new way of relating to God. Belief and faith over action. This put the traditions of the elders in opposition to radical obedience to God´s new way of believing and living.
When a great vision of God and God's kingdom disappears or grows faint, religion can dwindle into a mean and petty concern for the insignificant and non spiritual etiquette. The moral force of God's law is annulled by their hair splitting technicalities and trivial conduct.
People often hold on to merely human traditions, rules rituals and ceremonies as if they were divinely revealed. At the same time, the very basic virtues of love, reconciliation and the good news that God has come among us as a savior get lost.
Blindness to the big, with a keen eye for the little, continues to this very day. In every century people have been blind to the authentic work of God because their tunnel vision took in only the violation of some tradition. There were those in the church who were blind to the revivals in the church in the 1800´s, the early 1900’s and the 60's and 70's within the lifetime of many of us. I think that part of the problem is that we have confused traditions and customs. I understand a custom as an action specific to a particular society, place or time. It makes you who you are. It is a long established practice considered to be unwritten law. A tradition is an inherited, established pattern accepted as historical though not provable. Customs are handed down by word of mouth without written explanation. A tradition would be prayer. A custom is how we sit, hold hands or the words you use. A tradition is that we do things to worship God. A custom that some follow is to wear long skirts, have their hair up, and no make-up or jewelry. A tradition is to have a day once a year in November set aside to give thanks to God. Our custom for many years was to eat smoked turkey along with mom's macaroni salad at my folks. Dad died 8 years ago and Mom is in assisted living, so we cannot gather there and someone else makes the macaroni salad. We still gather to thank God for what we have; we just do it at a different place and in a different way. We keep the tradition, even though we don't have the same customs.
The most dismal and bloody chapters of history have come from the repeal of God's commandments in favor of peoples customs. The persecutions and killings in the name of religion, the cruelties, the barbed wire fences of exclusion, the obscene wrangling over trifles all are part of the story.
Great faith can degenerate into mere motions without religion or ethical significance. The result is that the motions, of scouring, the cleansings become a substitute for the truth. We must choose daily between the commandments of God and man-made customs.
In the Old Testament, there were cases when people could be released from a promise (i.e. care for parents) by making a special contribution to the temple. What is your personal nullification issue?
What part of the bible would you rub out, the part about forgiving 70 x 7 or maybe the one about turning the other cheek or loving enemies?
It is easy to say how terrible this was of the Pharisees and so hard to say, how true this is of us.
Instead of concern with external categories, Jesus is probing the causes of evil behavior. He pushes the disciples past the form to the substance, past the substance, to the symptoms to the causes.
Jesus insisted that impurity comes from within, that behaviors defile, but that the source of evil behaviors is our heart. From our heart comes evil thoughts that lead to evil deeds of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, slander, and arrogance based on our egos, pride and greed. Jesus made it clear that what matters most are the moral and spiritual commandments of God. Compared to that, nothing else matters at a
There were some commercials about Vikings that ended with—what’s in your wallet? I want to suggest that the better question is what’s in your heart? Is it the same as what people see on the outside? Are you clean on the outside, but not on the inside or is your heart pure? Is it filled with love and forgiveness and patience and peace and compassion and understanding?