Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23 Human tradition and God's commandment
There is a famous quotation about acting attributed to various people which goes like this:
The key to acting is sincerity; once you can fake that you have it made.
If you’re like I am, you laugh at the quote, then you think about, and then you get very serious and quiet. There are far too many things in the world that seem to be all wrapped up in fake sincerity. Acting? Of course! But also
• Love and courtship;
• Relationships with family and friends;
• Politics and patriotism;
• Religion and faith.
Margaret and I have gone to a number of marriage workshops over the years. I remember a good point that was made at one of them. The presenter said that you should never stop affirming. Every day you should tell your partner, “I’m very fond of you and I appreciate all the little things you do.”
I remembered it. The next day I said to Margaret, “Margaret, I’m very fond of you and I appreciate all the little things you do.” She beamed and gave me a big hug and a smooch. The second day I said it again. “Margaret, I’m very fond of you and I appreciate all the little things you do.” No hug, no smooch, but a nice smile. The third day I said it again. “Margaret, I’m very fond of you and I appreciate all the little things you do.” She just said, “All right, cut it out.”
What happened? Well, don’t you suppose that the form had been repeated at least one time too many, and she doubted the sincerity. Carry the same thing over into our faith walk, and something interesting happens. Sincere devotion to God is Faith. Jesus encourages it. Insincere devotion to God, devotion with faked sincerity – well, let’s call that religion.
Many times I have heard people tell me that religion is the biggest problem in the world today. Wars! Terrorism! Hatred! Most of it comes straight out of religion. They say that if we got rid of all religion, the world would be a better place. Yo which I respond by telling them that I’ve never had much use for religion either. But I have a very high regard for faith.”
That’s an important distinction. How do you feel about religion? How do you feel about faith? What do you think the difference is?
Some people think God is just interested in rules, requirements and rituals that people should keep on doing to be pleasing. That’s very much like working for a factory – let’s say, Bega Cheese Co-op. Suppose a man in a suit is standing by the time clock. He poises his pencil and he says, “I have just one question. Do you love Bega Cheese?”
If the fellow looked official you’d probably say, “Love Bega? What’s that all about? If I’m supposed to, then put down, ‘Yes.’”
But if you were honest, you’d probably say, “Love Bega? Who cares? I don’t even eat cheese. I just work here. I put in eight hard hours of work for eight hours of pay. Frankly, I don’t care if who signs my paycheck, just as long as I get my money.”
So is it surprising that people carry that attitude over from their work to their church?
“Join the church? Okay, just tell me the minimum requirements. How often do I have to come? How much do I have to give? Do I have to sing or dress up? You don’t have any diet rules do you? Do I get to vote the way I want to? If I do all this junk, then I’m a member in good standing, right? Are any retirement benefits? Okay. I guess I can live with that.” And there you have religion. Oh, you can throw in a little God-talk too, if you want to. You see, ‘the key to religion is sincerity. If you can fake that, you have it made.’”
That’s the kind of attitude Jesus had no time for. He looked at the self-righteous Pharisee in the front of the temple, an example to everybody in Jerusalem of what it meant to be pious. Jesus frowned and said, “Religion.” He saw the outcast, sorrowful tax collector back in a dark corner. Jesus smiled and said, “Faith.”
All those people dropping the silver and gold into the poor box outside the temple – Jesus watched without much emotion. But when that poor widow who ought to have been given money, came by and dropped in her one, solitary coin, Jesus saw “Faith!”.
You see Tevje in “Fiddler on the Roof,” walking down the road talking to his unseen friend and respectfully taking the Living God to task for not fulfilling his expectations, and, if you’re like I am, you feel warm and you say, “There’s a personal relationship. That’s “Faith!” Maybe it’s foolish sometimes and simple, but it’s faith nonetheless.
Or take Father Abraham – the everlasting example of Faith. God said, “Go!” and Abraham went. He didn’t know which land was the Holy Land, which day was the Sabbath or which foods were Kosher, but he was the first Jew, and the world would wait thousands of years for a greater one.
When the one finally came who was “greater than Abraham,” the experts on religion were sorting through all 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures...
...and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Do you notice? They asked him about Religion and he answers with a definition of Faith.
Today, it’s the same subject but with a slightly different twist. The Religious people come to Jesus, all worried about whether he was doing a good job with their religious rules. Basically, they’re saying, “WE are religious and you are not religious, but we would like to make YOU religious too.” Isn’t it interesting? Jesus will have nothing to do with their religious rules and rituals. He knows that you can train your hands and leave your heart untouched, but if you change the heart, the feet and hands follow. Training the hands – that’s religion; but tuning the heart to God – that’s faith.
We notice, of course, that the obnoxious Religion in our gospel is the Jewish brand. Rules for Jews that leave the heart untouched and unchanged. But most of the obnoxious Religion we see today is the Christian variety. There’s at least one special brand of obnoxious religion for each denomination. Our denomination has several. If I’m not careful, you might hear one or another brand of religion from me. That means YOU have to be careful, just in case I’m not. You need to try to hate religion as much as Jesus. Jesus is saying, “Hate Religion; love Faith, and know the difference.” What’s the difference? I hope you discuss it at the dinner table today. So here’s a starter.
What is the church stuff that’s all about you and the rites and rituals you perform, the outward behaviour that you exhibit, without ever touching on your personal relationship to God? That’s Religion. You don’t need it.
What is the church stuff that’s all about God and God’s desire to be close to you – in your heart, and to influence your outward behaviour from there. That’s Faith. That’s what Jesus modelled and that’s what we need.