First Congregational Church
September 2, 2018
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When I was a kid, before my parents got divorced, when life was more like Mayberry for our family, Saturday nights belonged to my dad. There were no remotes, but he absolutely controlled the tv viewing. It didn’t matter that Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Leslie Ann Warren or Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was airing on another channel. Saturday nights were for All-Star Wrestling and Hee-Haw.
Come to think of it, maybe it’s really my dad’s fault for my goofy love of humor, forcing me to sit through those episodes of Hee-Haw. And for those of you who don’t know my dad, if Waldo were here, I’d say the same thing and he’d be grinning from ear-to-ear.
Anyway, there was a snippet during one of the Hee-Haw shows that has stayed with me for over forty years, and I was forever looking for the script of it, because it was just pure genius - in my humble, tasteful opinion. I am pleased to say that I finally found it, and I share it with you, from Archie Campbell’s lips to your ears.
Once apon a time, in a coreign fountry, there lived a very geautiful birl; her name was Rindercella. Now, Rindercella lived with her mugly other and her two sad bisters. And in this same coreign fountry, there was a very prandsom hince.
And this prandsom hince was going to have a bancy fall. And he'd invited people from riles amound, especially the pich reople. Rindercella's mugly other and her two sad blisters went out to buy some drancy fesses to wear to this bancy fall, but Rindercella could not go because all she had to wear were some old rirty dags. Finally, the night of the bancy fall arrived and Rindercella couldn't go, so she just cat down and scried. She was a kitten there a scrien, when all at once there appeared before her, her gairy fodmother. And he touched her with his wagic mand ... and there appeared before her, a cig boach and hix white sorces to take her to the bancy fall. But now she said to Rindercella, "Rindercella, you must be home before nidmight, or I'll purn you into a tumpkin!"
When Rindercella arrived at the bancy fall, the prandsom hince met her at the door because he had been watchin' behind a woden hindow. And Rindercella and the prandsom hince nanced all dight until nidmight...and they lell in fove. And finally, the mid clock strucknight. And Rindercella staced down the rairs, and just as she beached the rottom, she slopped her dripper!
The next day, the prandsom hince went all over the coreign fountry looking for the geautiful birl who had slopped her dripper. Finally he came to Rindercella's house. He tried it on Rindercella's mugly other ... and it fidn't dit. Then he tried it on her two sigly usters ... and it fidn't dit. Then he tried it on Rindercella ... and it fid dit. It was exactly the sight rize!
So they were married and lived heverly ever hapwards. Now, the storal of the mory is this: If you ever go to a bancy fall and want to have a pransom hince loll in fove with you, don't forget to slop your dripper!
I share this story with you, because there is a part of this morning’s scripture passage that sounds a little like this backward fairy tale. At least until you understand a little background.
Back in the day, there was a word for dedicating something as an offering to God, and the word is corban. To declare something to be corban would be like putting money in the offering plate, dedicating that money, as an offering to God. People used to think that giving things like old pianos or organs or worn furniture to churches would be corban, dedicating them as an offering to God, but that practice is more like giving your hand-me-downs to God and calling them exquisite. The problem with corban is that it can sometimes appear to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
In regard to our scripture passage, Jesus was referring to the practice of corban to when a person was afraid of losing too much by having to care for his or her own parents in their old age. The offspring could declare some of their assets as corban, dedicated to God, even though that person had no intention of offering the assets to either God or parents.
Even back in the days of Moses, God gave the Jewish people “rules” to set them apart, sort of like knowing that we are Christians by our love. Their observance of the law was meant to be a witness to the nations around them, to give glory to God. Some of those rules had good, basic hygiene concepts behind them, which have become validated over time. Washing hands and feet and cookery and clothing were not just about personal cleanliness, but they were an outside representation of what the Jewish leaders held in their hearts, as dedicated people to God.
Incidentally, you will hear the phrase, tradition of the elders. Some of those “rules” for the Pharisees and other religious leaders were somehow transferred as being relevant to everyone, rather than just those in leadership positions. It was sort of the idea of cutting off the ends of a ham, because you thought that was how one baked ham, the tradition being handed down through the cooks in the family, when really, your great-great grandmother cut the ends off her ham because the pan wasn’t big enough.
Mark 7:1-23 NIV
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  [f]
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Thank you, Bill. If you followed along in a pew Bible, you may have noted that some of what Bill read was encased in parentheses. These pieces have come to be known as editorial snippets. Near the end, when it said that “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean,” there is no place in the gospels where Jesus said, “all foods are clean.” In this little piece, I wonder if people, over time, have understood those words to mean that Jesus actually said those words, rather than it being something that the writer of Mark inserted.
There are a lot of things that come from the “outside” that are not good for us, from pornography to submersion in violent reading, viewing or gaming, to sound and noise used as torture. In terms of this passage, it seems that Jesus is making his point using food and a long-held tradition. And for this morning, it seemed that the point of congruency made a lot of sense.
Merriam-Webster defines congruent as having the same size and shape, as in congruent triangles. The Cambridge Dictionary defines congruent as “similar to or in agreement with something, so that the two things can both exist or be combined without problems.” In the Dinah Dictionary, congruency is doing what you mean and meaning what you do, not because it such a high and noble concept, but because it is a lot simpler and less work.
It has always been a temptation, in trying to live faithfully, to judge those who don’t live the same way, setting ourselves above others. The thing is, if we do that, we miss the greater part of our calling - to monitor what is going on within - more than what is going on without - because by our fruits, they will know us - as Matthew noted Jesus saying.
Elisabeth Johnson, a professor at Lutheran Institute of Theology in Cameroon started her commentary on this passage with these words. “In the Gospels, it seems that Jesus saves his sharpest words, his most pointed criticism, for the most religious.” She ended her contribution thusly: “No law or tradition can protect us from the darkness that lurks within our own hearts. We can try to project a squeaky clean image, but one way or another, the evil within will find its way out. The highly edited version of ourselves, the façade that we present to the world, will crumble sooner or later.”
Like a good preacher, Ms. Johnson also reminds us of the “gospel” in this passage. “that Jesus sees clearly the ugliness of human hearts, yet he does not turn away. He sees right through our highly edited versions of ourselves, knows what lurks in our hearts, yet loves us still. In the larger story of the Gospel, he shows us what true faithfulness is by daring to touch those considered unclean, by daring to love those who are social outcasts, by loving and serving and giving his life for all people -- tax collectors and sinners, lepers and demon-possessed, scribes and Pharisees, you and me.”
Jesus’ outside actions were congruent with his inside motivations and feelings. He didn’t stop to evaluate anyone’s worthiness or value. He wasn’t foolish in testing God, but simply lived out God’s love. It’s actually a very simple call that he gives to us - to do like him - to live lives with the same shape and size of Jesus’ love - as much as we are able, and then just like always, a little bit more.
So let us pray. Holy and Perfect God, may we be vessels of your love today. We are all of us a little flawed and a little inadequate, but you have chosen to bring your love into the world through us. No matter our own fear or shame or the resistance of others, let your love shine through us. Help us to heed your call - to the intimate and the stranger, ally and enemy, welcoming and bristly, let us convey your love for their sake, which is your sake, and not our own. Fill us to overflowing, filling our skinny passions, with your deep, life-giving love that is not ours for the keeping. Thank you, for those who have shared such passion and depth of love with us, and may we simplify our lives in the singular quest of offering not only the magnitude of love, but of grace and forgiveness - whenever and however you enable us to do so. For such gifts, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.