More than Lip Service ~ The Rev. Deacon Joshua Hatten, OPI


St. Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.   —For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders.  And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves.   And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”   He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”   He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.   Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.  “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus calling out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy – the fact that they placed more importance on man made rules and regulations rather than purity of the mind and heart.  I wonder how many of us Christ would find ourselves guilty of the very same hypocrisy today?

So often, too often, many Christians sew their wild oats Monday through Saturday and then find themselves praying for a crop failure on Sunday.  Sure, we may wear our crucifixes or crosses, have all the right bumper stickers and even do volunteer work for this organization or another – all the outward show to identify ourselves as Christians – but is it in vain?  Just for the show?  Really meaning nothing because of the conditions of our hearts?

Do we harbor hatred in our minds?   Lusts in our bellies?  Unforgiveness?  Addictions?  Do we gossip or spread rumours?  Do we murmur and complain?  I think you get the gist; we know the list could go on and on.

While we know that, for us, perfection in this life is an impossibility,  we ARE to strive for it.  We are called to be in this world, but not of it.  We are called to be holy as our God is holy.  After all, we are made in the divine image!  But, we will fall.  We will fail.

So what is the point?  It lies in this:  that when we do falter, when we do fail – that we get back up, seek out forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings and get back in the race toward holiness.  Keeping our focus on Jesus Christ, with the aide of the Holy Spirit, that is GOD within us, we can accomplish what is pleasing to the Almighty.   What finds favour in His sight we can choose to do, but only with His help.  We must seek out, with humility and singleness of heart and a hatred of what is unholy, to do what makes us truly the sons and daughters of God.  Not merely putting on an outward show. But, truly, in our heart of hearts desiring that which is pleasing and good in the eyes of the Lord.

I spent nearly a decade as a raging alcoholic.  During that time I never missed a church service, I always sang the loudest in the choir and I volunteered with many, many different organizations… but for what?  It was all a song and dance – pure show.  Internally, I was rotten.  My life was as far off the tracks as it could be.  And with all that show, I was only fooling myself.  I wasn’t right with the Lord.  I was not pleasing Him.   I was a Pharisee.  So long as other people could see the “great” works I was doing then I felt holy and most of the time holier-than-thou.  It was all in vain.  All for naught, nothing, nada, zip, zilch.

Once I turned my inner life around and stopped drinking and put God back where He belonged, as the most important part of my life, then everything changed.  I wasn’t any longer concerned about putting on the “show” for others.   No more did all the “lip service” matter.  I had to take a long and painful and difficult look at my life.  At the way not only did it affect me, but how it effected others.  The show mattered, not in any good way.  Not in any way that was gainful spiritually.   It hurt me and those I loved and those I associated with – most of all, it hurt God.  I was letting Him down.  All the outward folderol was costing me a true relationship with the Almighty.  It was making a mockery of the cross – of the work, the price that Christ had paid for me.

Now I ask each of us to take our finger of deep introspection and turn it toward ourselves.  WE typically have no problem pointing out the faults and hypocrisies in others, but it is much harder to be honest with ourselves about our shortcomings.  However, when we do get honest with ourselves about ourselves, then – and only then – can we take a moral inventory and see what was purely lip service, eliminate it and live our lives for Christ and in Christ and BY CHRIST, be victorious!

This is the lesson of today’s Gospel.   This is what Christ is teaching us.  Not simply to have a pretense of honoring him with a great outward show – what does it matter if your hands are dirty or clean when your mind and emotions, that is, YOUR SPIRIT, is filthy??  Take that first step of trust in Christ, and allow the divine guidance to lead our thoughts into line with the thoughts of God.  To have our actions FOLLOW what we are internally.  To truly love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.  By doing this, then we are really the children of God and please Him with our works.  And then, we can be led onto His path of peace.  Amen.

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