WORSHIP SERVICE AUGUST 29 2021 “It’s What Comes Out That Counts”
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, August 29, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “It’s What Comes Out That Counts.”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
MARK 7:1-23 “IT’S WHAT COMES OUT THAT COUNTS”
Jesus is not talking about matters of hygiene in as he criticizes the religious leaders in today’s Gospel from Mark. He is talking about spiritual matters or matters of the heart. The handwashing Jesus is referring comes from a tradition where the ancient priests were called to purify themselves before they entered the holy place of God. In Exodus chapter thirty, the Bible says the Lord spoke to Moses “You shall make a bronze basin with a stand for washing.”
You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with the water, Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet.
When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering… to the Lord, they shall wash with water…”
Although this law first applied only to the priests who went to the altar, later on there were religious movements like the Pharisees who took such laws and began applying them to all of the Jewish people. They were calling all believers to the same kind of ritual cleanness as the early priests. The washing of hands then, was not so much about washing to get the dirt off, but rather it was a religious practice to symbolize purifying oneself before God in preparation of meeting the Lord.
Such practices can be good for centering the soul and getting one ready for a mindset of worship. However, the rituals are a tool, they are not an end in themselves. They can be helpful in getting a person to focus, but it is what comes out of a person’s heart that really matters. A ritual is just an empty symbol if it does not actually influence a person’s deeper motivations. This is why Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah as he says, “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me…”
Jesus points out that it is hypocritical for the religious leaders to be criticizing his disciples for not doing the ritual hand-washing when they themselves may not really be following God’s commands. Jesus is trying to show that they are missing the point by overly focusing on the physical ritual as opposed to how the spirit of the person is being affected and whether or not they are actually living out their beliefs.
A little bit of physical dirt on peoples’ hands or in their food is not going to defile them. It is the attitudes of their hearts which will make them impure and negatively affect their actions. Jesus goes through a list of sins and bad behaviors that result from the inner motivations of people. This includes things such as slander, theft, envy, deceit, and other wickedness — things that can come out of our hearts.
The bad news Jesus delivers today then is that we have met the enemy and it is us. Jesus reveals the depth of human depravity. He reveals that much of the world’s wickedness lies within ourselves and it is not just a simple thing to wash it off. At the same time, you might say that the good news is that Jesus calls out the kind of religious hypocrisy that puts on a nice face, but does not actually lead to a real change in attitude or behavior. He levels the playing field between the people and those who think they are morally better or who tend to judge or condemn others because they are not doing the correct religious rituals. By expanding the notion of what makes someone pure or able to approach God to be a matter of the heart or an intention of the spirit, Jesus also expands the notion of who can be included in God’s grace.
We see how this plays out in the story in Gospel of Mark immediately following today’s conversation with the religious leaders. In this passage Jesus is outside of his home territory when he encounters a Syro-Phoenician woman. Although she is of different culture, and country she approaches Jesus asking for help in healing her daughter. Jesus hesitates because the woman is a Gentile, she is therefore unclean, not of the pure Jewish faith. Her persistence moves Jesus, however, as well as her love for her child and the trust she has that Jesus can do something to help. She might not be technically pure in the religious sense according to the tradition of Jesus, but he seems to see within her a purity of heart that connects him to her. He decides to respond to her request and heal her daughter.
It’s interesting to me how the woman in this story reacts to the situation she and her daughter are in. From what it sounds like, things were not looking good for their family. The daughter had some kind of demon in her. We do not get the specifics, but I we can probably safely assume that this has brought confusion and shame upon them. This has probably strained the relationship between the daughter and mother, not to mention the relationship between other family members, friends, and neighbors. What has gone into the woman is a sense of anger, hurt, and pain, which may have led to a feeling of hopelessness and fear.
Yet, those feelings are not what come out of the woman. The woman seems hopeful and confident that Jesus can help. She shows courage in approaching him and remaining persistent even when he appears to dismiss her at first. The woman is not angry at Jesus or God. Instead, she seems trusting and faithful. All the emotional stress and anxiety that was going into the mother could have defiled her. It could have twisted her heart and embittered her soul. Somehow, though, her spirit was resilient and what came out of her was a sense of hope and courage.
This kind of resiliency helps me feel not so hopeless or discouraged when I hear news, like what is happening in Afghanistan. We have been hearing reports and watching images the last two weeks of desperate people trying to flee the country because of the recent takeover of the Taliban. The mass evacuation has led to horrific scenes of people crowding and even trampling over each other. This last week the scenes got worse with a bombing and the death of American military members along with Afghan civilians. The situation is leading to a humanitarian crisis with many people now becoming refugees.
Such news is incredibly sad and disheartening. There is so much pain and trauma that is going into those involved in this crisis. Yet there may be glimpses of hope for those who manage to make it out. To show how this can happen I want to share with you the story of local refugee who fled from another war, the war in Syria.
Rama Youssef was in sixth-grade in Damascus when Syria’s deadly and destructive civil war erupted in 2011. For a year, she lived in a war zone, passing through checkpoints under the watchful eye of armed militia and growing accustomed to the sound of gunfire in the distance. When bombs started to fall close to Youssef’s school, her mother decided it was time to flee.
“It was really horrific and only getting worse,” she said. “We were scared.”
She came to the United States to live in San Diego with her older sister, who is married to a Syrian-American. With her mother seeking asylum in Germany and her father still trapped in their war-torn country of origin, Youssef settled in her new country alone without knowing a word of English, she felt like an orphan.
Now twenty-one-years old, Youssef said she largely raised herself, first in Southern California, then in Portland, Oregon. But when her high school in Oregon put on a college fair, Youssef felt drawn to Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. She had one question for the CLU representative, “Do you consider people like me?” she asked.
The rep assured her that her refugee status wouldn’t hinder her prospects. She applied, even though she was unsure of how she would pay if admitted. To her surprise, her application was accepted in December, and she was awarded CLU’s first-ever International Leaders Scholarship — essentially a full ride, covering the cost of tuition and fees. When she called to tell her parents, they wept for joy.
“With so many hopes that they’ve lost over the years because of the war and how we all got separated, that’s the best news we’ve heard for a long time,” Youssef said. “My dad was crying. I’ve never heard my dad cry before.” Youssef’s scholarship was made possible through CLU’s participation in the Institute for International Education’s Consortium for Syrian Higher Education in Crisis. The association connects Syrian students whose education was disrupted as a result of the war to a network of more than 80 U.S. universities.
CLU joined the group after a recent graduate, Kellie Warren, urged the university to connect with the consortium and do more to help refugees. Warren, who graduated from CLU in 2017, said she’d been touched by images of the unfolding crisis in Syria and had spent the past few years contributing in small ways, like making donations to relief organizations, but she felt called to do more.
“This seemed like such an effective way to make an impact,” she said. “Even if it’s just one or two refugees at a time, it’s an important thing for someone to say, ‘You can come here, you can be safe, you can change your life.’”
Dane Rowley, CLU’s director of international admission, said Youssef was selected for the scholarship because of her fortitude to succeed in the face of dire circumstances. “The biggest thing is her incredible enthusiasm for learning and for her future and the resilience that she has that’s clear when you first start talking to her,” he said. “She’s overcome global as well as personal setbacks.”
Youssef has recently written a book about her story called “Arose from War” and is looking to get it published. The most important part of her book is to educate the readers about the background of Middle Eastern women, especially the ones migrating for a better life.
What went into Rama Youseff as a child were the horrors and trauma of war. Yet what has come out of her life is a hope for the future and the courage to tell her story to raise awareness and help other refugees. Jesus tells us today that it is what comes out of us that counts. We may wrestle with sin and our hearts may be impure, but when the love of God comes in, we become purified by God’s grace. We can become people who are hearers and doers of God’s word. We can become people who seek to care for the widow and the orphan. We can become persistent in our prayer and trust that Jesus can bring signs of healing even out of the most dire of circumstances.
-Pastor Erik Goehner