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The Sign of Cleanness

St. Matthew 15.1-20


Lent III Midweek
Lutheran Senior Services at Meramec Bluffs  
Ballwin, Missouri

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 My mother has a little plaque hanging in her kitchen that says, "Cleanliness is next to godliness."  That saying has always bothered me, because if it's true, then I'm in trouble.  My car is a mess.  My office is hopelessly cluttered.  And my desk at home might best be described as a disaster area.  Thankfully, though, the Bible never says, "Cleanliness is next to godliness."  The Law doesn't say it.  The prophets don't say it.  And Jesus doesn't say it.  So all the neat freaks, and all the slobs, and everybody in between can all rest easy.  Right?  Not exactly.  Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but to be godly, we must be cleansed.

2 In our gospel for today, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don't wash their hands before they eat, according to the tradition of the elders.  Jesus' answer might best be summarized like this, "You are all unclean.  You break the commandments of God.  You substitute your own commandments for the doctrines of God.  You worship me with your lips, but your hearts—your hearts are nowhere near me.  And you're worried about some guys who didn't properly washed their hands before they ate?" Jesus never says, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," but he makes it perfectly clear that to be godly, we must be cleansed.

3 We must be cleansed because we are unclean before God.  And this uncleanness is not just a matter of being messy or dirty or untidy.  It's worse than that.  It's worse than having germs or grit or grime on us that needs to be washed off.  The uncleanness that clings to us cannot be taken care of with a little soap and some hot water.  Instead, our uncleanness demands a thorough cleansing by God himself, a cleansing of our hearts.  You see, deep down in our inmost being, we are just as unclean as the Pharisees.  Jesus says of them, and of us:

[St. Matthew 15.11, 18-20]

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. . . Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.

4 During Lent, we focus intensely on the sin that defiles us and makes us unclean.  To sharpen that focus, we fast in an attempt to lessen the effects of unclean and unhealthy appetites.  We increase our charity to lessen the consequences of unclean and unholy greed.  We dedicate ourselves to prayer, to sap the strength of unclean and ungodly desires.  The great value of these pious practices is that through them we come to see that we will never completely cleanse ourselves and achieve godliness by any effort of our own.  The point of these holy disciplines is to remind us that we will always stand in need of cleansing.  We will always harbor evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication; we will always harbor theft, false witness, and blasphemy within our hearts—even if we don't bring them to completion with our hands. 

5 Faithfully keeping the commandments of men will never fully cleanse these sins from our hearts.  Faithfully washing of our hands will never totally take away that which makes them unclean.  Vain and shallow worship done with lips alone will never purely purge the impurities from our unclean hearts and sin-stained souls. 

6 Indeed, Jesus' words reveal that we need someone else to clean us up.  We need someone with a pure heart; someone with a godly soul to clean up the mess in our hearts.  We need someone who knows just how filthy we are—but also how clean we're called to be—to come and cleanse us through and through.  Our fasting and our charity and our prayer reveal all that.  They help us see that we need Jesus.  We need him to do what we can't do, and only he can do: We need Jesus to cleanse our hearts, and purify our souls, and thus make us clean before God our heavenly Father. 

7 Christ alone can make us clean, and the Scriptures make that clear.  Moved by the Spirit, the blessed David prays:

[Psalm 51.7]

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

The prophet Isaiah reveals God's cleansing in Christ when he proclaims the gracious invitation of God:

[Isaiah 1.18]

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

St. Paul reveals that Christ gave himself for us

[Ephesians 5.26-27]

that he might sanctify and cleanse (us) with the washing of water by the word, that he might present (us) to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that (we) should be holy and without blemish.

And by his Word, Christ himself comes and cleans us up: heart and soul, mind and body.  He says:

[St. John 15.3]

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Christ's word that cleanses is his word of forgiveness.  By his word of grace he scrubs our souls and purifies our bodies.  By his word of redemption he removes the impurity of our hearts and washes our bodies clean.  By his word of forgiveness, Christ proclaims us godly and clean at the very same time.

8 Is your home a mess?  Are your clothes covered in dirt?  Is your room or your car or life unclean?  Good as it is, physically cleaning up those things, will not bring you closer to God or increase your godliness.  However, confessing that your heart is unclean is indeed a godly act.  Confessing that your mind and your heart, and your hands, and your mouth are in need of divine cleansing brings godliness beyond measure.  In response to such repentance God Almighty has promised to increase your holiness through the cleansing word of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Christ will not come to clean your house or wash your clothes or soap down your car.  But rest assured, he has come to make you clean—inside and out; physically and spiritually; heart and mind; body and soul. 

9 A leper—a man who lived his life yelling, "Unclean, unclean," whenever anyone came near him—this leper once prayed to Jesus, face to face:

[St. Luke 5.12]

If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

Jesus' answer to that leper is the same answer he gives us today, as we pray for cleansing and cleanness from God.  He says:

[St. Luke 5.13]

I will: be thou clean.

10 To strengthen our faith and remind us of Christ's cleansing word, God has given us a sign.  That sign is the holy cross, with Christ crucified upon it.  Christ, suffering upon the cross is our heavenly Sign of Cleanness: For by the word of his mouth and by his precious blood, flowing down from his head and hands, feet and side, today we are cleansed of all our sin.  By Christ's mercy, we are made clean.  By Christ's death upon the cross we are made godly by our Lord.  St. John makes this clear in Revelation, chapter 1.  He speaks of Christ

[Revelation 1.5b-6]

who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.  Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

11 Our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ has indeed made us clean by his sacred Word and by his sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary.  By his cleansing, he has welcomed us into the royal family of the saints of God and made us priests in his holy Church.  Thus cleansed, we shall live in purity with him throughout this life, and we shall live with him forever in the perfect purity and cleanness of heaven above.  Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but because we have been cleansed, we are now godly.  And by cleansing us, Christ has welcomed us into the presence of God by his holy word and his precious blood.  God grant that we may always see in the cross of Christ the sign of our godliness, and the sign of our cleanness before our God.  Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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