IN NOMINE JESU
We are a society that eats a lot of so-called junk food, foods that are reputed to not be the healthiest for us. We like this food because it tastes good, not because it is good for us. Potato chips, candy bars, hot dogs, and donuts offer us a lot of satisfaction and no shortage of calories. We are bombarded with warnings that whatever we eat is not good for us, that we should avoid these foods. We have encountered warnings from alleged animal-rights activists who dared to compare the slaughter of animals for human consumption to the Holocaust that occurred during World War II. These zealots dare to compare the killing of animals for consumption purposes to the killing of millions of innocent people because of the decree of a raving lunatic dictator. God has given us the animals. He has given us the right to eat them. God created the animals to serve man, not man to serve the animals. Animals are not the crown of God's creation; man is. Yet we are called murderers by these extremists for eating a steak or a pork chop.
A few weeks ago some of these people who seek to upset God's order of creation were in Bismarck, leading this act of lunacy, decrying an industry, which, if halted, would severely damage the economy of North Dakota. These people pretend to be for the so-called "ethical" treatment of animals and even decry the milking of cows because they claim it is bovine abuse. I was not a farm kid, and even I know that cows really need to be milked; the real abuse would be in not milking them. This fringe element of our society was met in Bismarck by a hostile crowd, people who rely on slaughtering animals for their survival, physical as well as economical, people who may well be familiar with the creation account in Genesis 1, in which God gives man dominion over all the animals of the earth, with the laws in Leviticus 11, in which God tells the Israelites that certain animals may be eaten, in our text from St. Mark's Gospel, in which Jesus declares all foods clean and, therefore, suitable for human consumption, and in Acts 10, in which God reminds Peter to not call common, that is, unclean, what God has declared clean. I am reminded of a quote from longtime entertainer Tommy Smothers: "Red meat is not bad for you. Blue-green meat, that's bad for you."
The gist of this is that eating certain foods does not defile a person, as the Pharisees continued to believe. Then again, the Pharisees had such a complex and exhaustive code of conduct that went well beyond what God commanded His people, forgetting the words of the Lord given in our Old Testament reading for today: "You shall not add to 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" (Deut. 4:2). The Pharisees had 613 rules in their code, a code that was strictly enforced, and in their zeal for external purity they made their code more important than the commandments of God. They believed that by merely carrying out the code, or by following the letter of the Law of God, they were clean. But their cleanliness was only on the outside. Inside they were empty of any love for God and for their neighbors. Theirs was a Law-oriented religion. Mark notes in the verses preceding our text that they also had other strict practices: "And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches" (v. 4). The Greek verb for washing is the root of our English word baptize. They were so busy baptizing these things, washing them so they would be ceremonially clean, that they paid no attention to the uncleanness of their hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, '"This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.' And He said to them, 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." But you say, "If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban" (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do'" (vv. 6-13).
The Lord then called the people to Himself and catechized them, and here our text begins. He says, "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" (v. 15). Eating certain foods does not defile a person, for these go through the body, as our Lord notes in our text. The uncleanness lies within the self; it is already there. The Lord says, "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 person" (vv. 20-23). The evil, the uncleanness, the sin originates in the heart. Of all these things we may plead guilty. In fact, we must plead guilty of all these sins, for we have all committed them at one time or another.
The blessed Reformer, Dr, Martin Luther, teaches us in his Small Catechism regarding the confession of our sins. "What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord's Prayer, but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts." Luther then asks, "Which are these?" And he answers this question thus: "Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?" The answer to all of these questions is yes. We recall our own sinfulness when we come before the Lord as we did earlier this morning, confessing our sins to God our Father, imploring Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness: "Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess to You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed. Therefore we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet our sinful nature would not have us pray these words out of genuine contrition and repentance. The devil would only have us rattle off these words because they are printed in the hymnal. The words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees ring true for us this day as well: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me'" (v. 6).
But you may say, "But we are here; doesn't that account for something?" But, as an early 20th-century evangelist named Billy Sunday once said, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile." What we see around us this day is what we know as the visible church. In this visible church are believers in Christ as well as hypocrites. We do not know with absolute certainly which are the sheep and which are the goats; only God knows, as does each person regarding himself or herself. In the Explanation to the Small Catechism, the visible church is defined as "the whole number of those who use the Word of God and profess the Christian faith, but among whom, beside the true Christians, there are also unbelievers" (Q. 177). Yet, "there is only one church—all believers in Christ. The visible gathering is called church because of the believers gathered around the means of grace in an assembly in which there are also hypocrites" (Q. 178). We each know whether we are a true believer, one who craves the gifts that God offers in the Means of Grace and looks forward to dining at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end, or a hypocrite, one who despises the gifts and makes a mockery of God's Word and Sacraments and places his soul in danger of perishing in hell into all eternity.
In our text, our Lord says, "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?" and Mark parenthetically adds, "Thus He declared all foods clean" (vv. 18b-19). We do not defile ourselves by what we eat, for God has declared all foods clean. What enters into us is clean, for the Lord has decreed such. In fact, we can only become spiritually clean from without. We need to be made clean, and this cleansing comes only from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. His means of cleansing us are external; that is, they come from outside us, from God, and into our hearts. Water, combined with the Word of God, was applied to us in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Through this Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts, working to create and sustain within us saving faith in Jesus Christ. We live this Baptism each time we confess our sins to our heavenly Father, and we again receive this heavenly cleansing as the Lord speaks into our ears and declares to us that He has forgiven our sins for His Son's sake through Holy Absolution and through the public proclamation of His Word. In response to this proclaimed Word of God, we, moved by the Holy Spirit, ask God to create in us clean hearts and to not take His Holy Spirit from us. The Lord of the Church has acted through His bride, the Mother Church, to bathe us at the font and to wipe us clean from our sins. Your mother, the Church, bathes, changes, and feeds you with what her Bridegroom has entrusted to her, His Means of Grace. He bathes you at the font, changes you with His Word, and feeds you on His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To all the faithful, the Lord says to you this day, "You are clean. You are forgiven. I forgive you. I have made you clean. I made you clean from without when I said to you as I was dying on that cross, 'It is finished!' There on the cross I won forgiveness for you this day and always. I paid your price by dying in your place. I did this because I love you, and there is nothing that will change that, as the Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write that there is neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, that will be able to separate you from the love of God in Me, Christ Jesus, your Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
We have the iron-clad certainty of this hope through the resurrection of our Lord, which gives His Word and Sacraments their power. We have hope, not as in desiring an uncertain outcome, but as in having great confidence that our Lord will continue to do as He has promised, that He will continue to cleanse us. We hear this great message each Lord's Day. Yet there may some among us who may not be able to wait until next Sunday to hear and receive the Lord's forgiveness. To such I people I extend this invitation: Come see me, and say, "Dear pastor, hear my confession." Then I, by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, will hear your confession and, by virtue of the vow I made when I was installed as your pastor to never divulge the sins you have confessed to me, will ask you, "Do you believe that the word of Christ's forgiveness I speak to you is from the Lord Himself?" And you, remembering what you have been taught to believe and confess regarding the Office of the Keys, respond, saying, "Yes, I do." Then in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I will forgive you your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You will be made clean as the Lord causes me to speak into your ears the very forgiveness God grants to you. You have this available to you, for the Lord desires to give this gift to you at all times. We dearly wants to make you clean. We come before Him sinful and unclean, just as was the leper who came to Him. As Mark notes, "A leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, 'If You will, You can make me clean.' Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, 'I will; be clean.' And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean" (1:40-42). The leper was made clean from without, by the very words the Lord spoke to Him. By His very Word our Lord makes us clean, too. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
"When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us--but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people." --Martin Luther (1/19/1538 [LW 22:202])--
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