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LSB Proper 17B Sermon – Mark 7:14-23

August 31, 2015

August 30, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

What makes a person defiled or unholy? Jesus answers that question as He continues the discussion between Himself and the Pharisees and scribes who had accused His disciples of being “defiled”. You recall from last Sunday the charge leveled against Jesus and His company of followers: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” During that discussion, Jesus directed the scribes and Pharisees away from their established customs and back to the LORD’s commandments as the standard by which defilement and unholiness are determined.

Jesus continues that discussion, but He doesn’t leave it as a private conversation. Instead, He begins to speak publicly: “He called the people to Him again and said to them, ‘Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Jesus was setting the matter straight for all people to grasp. The Israelites had a dietary code spoken in Leviticus. That dietary code marked them as the LORD’s people. But the food did not make them holy or unholy; their meals did not make them clean or defiled. Instead, the matter was much deeper than that. Even with the Levitical Code, unholiness and defilement was an internal matter rooted in what the LORD said and what the people believed about His Word.

Jesus explains the matter to His disciples: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” Jesus’ statement discusses what theologians call the depravity of mankind, original sin, and concupiscence. Jesus exposes the cesspool that lies within every human heart. That is where defilement is found. No one needs to ingest something unholy to defile them; unholiness already lies within.

But Jesus’ statement also reveals another uncomfortable truth: not only does such unholiness lie within the heart of man; that unholiness manifests itself. Note again that Jesus doesn’t just speak about evil thoughts being found within human hearts. He says that these secret or inner thoughts make themselves public in external actions. Jesus’ list of vices include physical acts—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, and slander—alongside mental acts—coveting, pride, and foolishness. When those physical acts are done, the unholiness of mankind is displayed.

So how is this unholiness to be overcome? How is this defilement to be cleansed? From Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees, it should be clear that holiness is not be obtained by following the tradition of the elders. But how about following the LORD’s Law? You heard Moses address the Hebrews before they entered Canaan: “You shall not add the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you…. What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” That appears to be a way of obtaining holiness.

But keeping the LORD’s Law is not accomplishable. Recall again how Jesus spoke of the unholiness that lies within mankind. That list of vices are thoughts and activities that violate the LORD’s Law. As you heard them, you should have been able to identify the various commandments from the Decalogue that speak against them: 5, 6, 7, 5, 6, 9 & 10, 6, 7, 6, 9 & 10, 8, 1, 1. These violations of the LORD’s Law are found within mankind. By nature that sinfulness is present, even in you. Because that is so, no true hope is found in telling people to keep the LORD’s Law to obtain holiness.

Instead, the hope for humanity is found in the Holy One and being connected to Him. The LORD prohibits all those vices in His Law because they are contrary to His nature and identity. Looking at Jesus’ list of vices, you can see the opposite of what is found in the LORD, particularly as He manifests Himself among humanity by taking flesh and dwelling among us. For in Jesus, the LORD shows Himself to be truly virtuous: compassionate, pure, generous, providing health and life, faithful, forsaking what is rightfully His, righteous, forthright, having His mind set on the LORD’s things, content, speaking the truth, humble, wise. These are the characteristics of the Holy One. Within Him there is nothing but cleanness. The holiness that mankind lacks is found in Him.

So how is that holiness obtained? First, the Holy One makes it possible to be obtained by giving Himself for humanity. That is the great narrative of the Gospels—showing how the Holy One comes to the world brings His holiness for mankind to receive. That is the theme of the Gospels as you hear each Christmas Day: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth…. And from His fulness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This Holy One offered Himself to atone for the sins that lurk within all men’s hearts.

But that is not where Jesus’ acts end. No, He makes His righteousness and holiness available to be received by mankind. Recall Jesus’ statement: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” Jesus notes that food cannot defile a person because it does not go to where holiness or unholiness is found. But the righteousness of Jesus does go to where all vices are based. Your hearts ingest this as they cling to the declarations of the Gospel about Jesus’ holiness and His acts of salvation. As you hear of His atoning work, as you are joined to His death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, as you receive His words of absolution, as you eat and drink of what He offered for your salvation, Jesus’ righteousness enters you. It does not go to the stomach, but to the heart. That is how the Holy Spirit creates clean hearts within you.

Your holiness is found in being connected to the Holy One. The cleansing act is part of Jesus’ identity of being your Great High Priest. His sacrifice has restored holiness to you. Your hearts are sprinkled clean by Jesus’ sacrifice, just as Aaron sprinkled the sacrifices offered on the altar over the people of Israel. With cleansed hearts, you are then able to have holy things come from within. That is what the Holy Spirit brings forth from you and all who have been made righteous through Jesus’ work.

As you heard Jesus list the vices found in human hearts, you may have recalled the words that Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” That list is quite similar to Jesus’ list. of vices. But just as Jesus shows Himself to be virtuous and the opposite of these things, so also Paul mentions the virtues which the Holy Spirit brings forth in a person who has been joined to the Holy One: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Those are the virtues that the Spirit brings forth from your purified hearts.

The LORD’s commandments address both vice and virtue. As people who are connected to the Holy One, you are called to abide in His holy will. Moses’ statements are applicable to you: “You shall not add the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you…. What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” Moses isn’t pointing out how you obtain holiness. But his declaration is your charter for living as the LORD has set you apart, making you holy people who share His character.

Being set apart as the LORD’s people means that you have opponents in this world, individuals who are dedicated to the vices that Jesus listed. Not only that, but there is the situation that Paul revealed in the Epistle Reading for today: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, adjacent the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” These rulers and spiritual forces of evil are desirous to have you return to the vices that are part of fallen humanity’s nature.

But the LORD knows your plight. In these situations, you are provided with the ability to call upon Him, just as Moses declared: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?” You are able to call upon the Holy One again. When you do, you receive His righteousness and the other virtues that He bestows upon His people, so that you can take up your holy lives, even in the face of these opponents: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might…. Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

So what makes a defiled person holy? Being connected to the Holy One. That has happened for you already. That same connection is provided over and over again. Through preaching, baptism, absolution, and meal, the righteousness of Jesus is ingested, so that your hearts are cleansed. You are taken from being creatures of vice to people of virtue. That is the holy work done in you by the Holy One. It plays out in this life. And the LORD who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

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