Christian Foundation: The True Primer for the Heart
Sunday, August 30, 2015
St. Timothy’s UMC – Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Mark 7:1-23New International Version (NIV)
That Which Defiles
7 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.”
One of the greatest gifts of the church that is presented to us each and every Sunday is the gift of education. Education that embodies the life, meaning, and function of what a Christian is called to do. Yet at the same time, it is one of the gifts that is most overlooked, most underrated, and the most ignored by many local churches. Hence, the importance that I think must be placed on such an event in the life of the Christian.
Most of us think that our Christian education comes from the realm of the Sunday school classroom. It makes sense because we have been engrained with the idea that education comes from within the confines of a classroom setting. I want to emphasize this morning that the necessity, the importance, and the strong implication for Christian education starts in the classroom but is not confined to the classroom setting and reaches into the world and the surrounding arenas of the church.
I attended a great Quaker undergraduate college and from that four year experience came to appreciate the importance of a great liberal arts education. I can remember upon graduating from college many of my friends asked me, “Did you learn a lot while at Earlham?” After struggling through that answer for almost a year, it became clear to me that the real answer to that question was “Yes, but what I really learned was how to learn.”
So often in the realm of education, whether it be on the public, secular level, or within the confines of the Church, we often assume that we are going to receive the answers while being educated and then be able to spit them right back out at the appropriate time. When that is not the case at all. The case in point, during the idea of Christian education and (I believe secular) education as well, is to form within the body of the pupil the ability to formulate how one finds the answer and then communicates that answer to those around them. Hence, education (Christian or otherwise) becomes a way of communicating not only knowledge but rather how to find that knowledge and apply it to the questions we see and experience in the world.
In our Gospel text today we see the great concern for clarity and ethical virtue being addressed. Jesus in His teaching and instruction in the first part of the lesson explains to those who have gathered that the implication of religious law and teaching has been “tortured” because the Pharisees have taken into their own own account how to interpret God’s law and commandments and put it into their own words and actions. This becomes a “sore” spot for Jesus when in v. 8, He says, “For you ignore God’s specific laws and substitute your own traditions.” Hence again the necessity for the people of God to understand the workings of God’s law on inner purity is twisted and turned by the idea of human understanding and comfort. Often times our problems with education do not come from the actual theme of what we are to learn about, but with our own human interpretation of that knowledge. This truly is the premise for all education.
When it comes down to addressing Christian education we must understand that we have a set of principle values that we operate around, the Christian scriptures. Unfortunately, as we all know, the human interpretation of scripture is “up in the air.” Even in this Gospel text from Mark, the interpretation is up in the air because the Pharisees have seen it one way and Jesus explains that it is to work another way.
One of the advantages to this text is that it is dealing specifically with understanding of “inner purity.” The Pharisees seeing it as your inner purity being the defined by “what you eat” and Jesus is concerned that your “inner purity” is is defined by what you “say and do.” When I look at the concept of Christian education and all that surrounds it, I’m more and more convinced that the way in which Christian education is understood in the local church is not so much by the implied “content” of the education but more so by the interpretation and living out of that content.
Having been married to a Christian Educator for 28 years, I heard a lot about the “make up” of curriculum and what was “good” and “bad” curriculum. There was a certain criteria that made up “good” curriculum for Christian education as well as things that made up “bad” curriculum. Yet when the decision process was over, it came down to the understanding that it was more important to focus on “how” people taught and how they allowed their pupils to digest this curriculum and how they were going to “quote” spell it out to the world, that was important.
We all have a lot of bad information within us, how we dispel, hide, and not proclaim that bad information is what I believe Jesus is concerned about in this text and what is ultimately important in what we call Christian Education. Jesus, in the last two verses (21-23) makes it clear to those around Him, that all of these evil patterns of our life that come to the surface—greed, lust, envy, pride etc.—are what make us unacceptable to God. It is not our ability to teach and labor intensely for the work of Christ within our understanding of education and learning about Jesus and the Gospel narratives and the workings of the Old Testament. What is ultimately important is that we seek to teach and proclaim the Word of God with the utmost integrity and knowledge that we can gain, in order that the world and earthly Kingdom in which we live will be a better place to live and exist for the proclamation of the Gospel.
Christian education in our lives is a formula that never stops. From the time we entered the nursery as a child in church, or the time we entered an adult Sunday school class, the formation of our Christian values in forming who we are as Christians has never stopped. It is an ongoing journey. To me, that is what is exciting about Christian education: It never stops! We have new and wonderful adventures in children’s worship, youth Sunday school, adult Sunday school, and in worship and preaching. Christian education is not just held to the classroom. It has to take place outside the church, within the church but most importantly, outside in the world.
I believe that one of the most integral parts of Christian education is to put it “into action!” To make it part of your daily life. One of the most important elements of Christian education is to put it to use! To take what we have learned, and put it into action in the streets of our society, to be an “active” Jesus in the lives of those around us. All the education in the world will do you no good, unless you put it to use. Jesus wanted his people in the Gospel of Mark to put it to use, Jesus wants us at St. Timothy’s to put it to use. Jesus wants us to be educated in the ways that will change and transform the world and that begins every Sunday, every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday when we impact the life of someone around us in the name of Christ.
It is my hope and prayer, that we just don’t think about Christian Education once or twice a year. Not only during the time of strong Sunday School or UMYF, but all the time. That we keep it at the forefront of all that we do in the Church and not just something we do from 9:30–10:30 on a Sunday morning.
We are an educated people, we need to to put that into practice each and everyday.
AMEN and AMEN.