Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 29th, 2021

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 29th, 2021

Proper 17

Holy Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Bret Durrett

“Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

Jesus was talking to the crowd after calling out the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Jesus is making it crystal-clear that it is what we put out into the world that matters and not what the world puts out to us. We can then choose to follow the example provided by us from Christ – to love without reservation, to forgive those who have wronged us in ways real or imagined, to build bridges, to find paths of healing or we choose to defile – to foment discontent, to live in hatred, suspicion and blaming of others, to hold grudges.

James speaks to this as well in the Epistle reading today where he equates those who are only “hearers of the word” to those looking in the mirror who forget what they look like. They are paying lip service to the teachings of Christ but once the words leave their lips, they are forgotten and the hearers return to their old ways. They have neither learned anything nor have they done anything to change the situation that they are complaining about. Instead, James exhorts the reader to, to steal a slogan from a major sports clothing maker, to “Just DO it!” – to be DOERS of the word and to take action.

What could “taking action” look like in our world? How can we be “doers” and not just hearers of the word? James calls the reader to care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Is that realistic, especially that last part, in the world we live in? I don’t know about you but I have so many “stains” from the world that I probably look like a Dalmatian to God. We interact with the world every day we are alive. As soon as we wake up in the morning we are assaulted by the dealings of the world.

We have our unconscious biases that we have grown up with or have formed based our experiences and interactions with the world. We have those that we love and cherish and we have those that we would much prefer to hang by their toes from the ceiling fan. Much the same, there are others that would have the same opinion of us.

The one overarching fact that remains, the one big Truth (with a capital T) is that we are ALL, every single one of us, beloved children of God. This means that we are all, in some way, shape or form, related – we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

We were all created and have our existence because God spoke the Word. God created us to be in the image of God. Since God IS Love, we are created to love and meant then to walk in love on this planet. That is how God created us to be. Love is NOT a reaction to someone’s looks, to someone’s social standing. It is not a payment for behavior or a reward for achievements. Love is gift, NOT a transaction. When Love is reduced to a transaction, when the question becomes “What’s in it for me?” we are reduced to being hearers of the Word and are no longer DOERS. We distort and debase love when we use it like a transaction, like a currency to be earned for “right” thinking or “right” acting.

Jesus came into this world to remind us though of who we truly are – the image of God – by showing us who God REALLY is: LOVE! And we need that love to survive. Food nourishes our physical earthly shells – we have to eat to survive but there is more to living than just surviving. Our souls too have a deeper spiritual hunger, a longing for fulfillment. We long for something that makes this life worth living. Giving love unreservedly, unguardedly is what makes life worth living. But we can’t give what we don’t already have. So our souls hunger for love.

Jesus came to shows us that God’s love is limitless and unconditional. It is always on offer. It is always there for us. Wherever we are. In whatever state we find ourselves. We just struggle to see it and feel it sometimes. That is where James exhortations to be “doers” comes back to mind. To be “Doers” means that, even when we struggle to see and feel God’s love ourselves sometimes, we continue to show God’s love to the world around us. We are the ones God chooses and sends into places of suffering, to do God’s work of healing, liberating and restoring, to reveal God’s love – and our weakness is no excuse. When we protest the call, citing our own inadequacies, God says to us what he said to Moses, “I will be with you!” We need not be afraid. It is always God’s work, not ours and God will be with us. Jesus teaches us that to act wisely is to emulate him. To follow the way of love as best we can. The way of love—devoting ourselves to the well-being of our neighbor and to the healing of the world—is the way of God. That is what Jesus is telling the crowd – what we get from the world is not what defiles us. It is what we choose to DO with what we get and thereby what we put back into the world that determines whether or not we are defiled.

When we love, we draw upon and participate in God’s own infinite, world-creating, life-redeeming love. Ultimately God’s love wins. Believing in that inexhaustible supply of Love is the basis of our faith. Belief that God is around us and not someplace far away, that God is within us every day, every hour, whether we can feel it, recognize it or not. This love is a determination of the will that no matter who the other person is, no matter what kind of relationship we have with them, no matter how they treat us, no matter if they injure or grieve us, we will seek their best. It is love to those whom we may or may not like. This is tough love, not a feeling of the heart but a resolve of the will. It’s the love God has for all of us, love no matter what, and this kind of love empowers us to be “Doers” of God’s Word.

Let us Pray:

Creator God,
you call us to love and serve you with body, mind, and spirit through loving your creation and our sisters and brothers.
Open our hearts in compassion to the world around us, help us to see your word in the world around us and to spread that word in our own lives.



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

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat  anything from the market unless they wash it;  and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”