Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In Charlotte, NC a lawyer bought a box of rare, expensive cigars. So rare and so expensive that he felt the need to take out insurance on his investment. A prudent investor, he insured them against; “decay, spoilage, theft and fire.”
Over the course of the few weeks he smoked all of the cigars. Then, he filed a claim with his insurance company, stating in the claim that the cigars were lost in a series of small . . . .fires. The insurance company rejected the claim. They lawyer sued.
The man admitted smoking the cigars, and the judge noted that the case was frivolous. Nonetheless the lawyer won the case . . .”the company declared the cigars insurable property, and did insure them against fire, and the Company failed to specify what sort of fire was excluded, therefore the claim is legitimate.” The man collected $15,000.
As he was leaving the courthouse, the man was arrested and charged with 24 counts of arson. His insurance claim and testimony in the civil case served as evidence against him. “the series of small fires” which had caused his loss of property were deliberate. He was convicted and sentenced to 24 months in jail and was fined $24,000. (News of the Weird)
Some days it is easy to be contemptuous of the law.
“Pharisee.” The word has become synonymous with “hypocrite” in our culture. (Literally. I checked the dictionary – the ancient Jewish sect was mentioned, but the more succinct definition was “a self-righteous person”, “a hypocrite”.) The pharisees were people of the law. They made it their life’s work to serve the law, every letter, every syllable.
We look at that ancient law and dismiss it. The Law the Pharisees defended so fervently seems now even crazier than our own – a burdensome set of standards and rules that simply do not apply: We stop far short of putting people to death if they work on the Sabbath, as recommended in Exodus 35:2 – they are more likely to get a promotion than an execution. We delight in the consumption of shellfish (forbidden in Leviticus 10:10). In spite of Leviticus 19:19, I admit I pay no attention to what is planted next to what in the garden and the only thought I give about wearing blended cloth is to avoid that sort of plastic-y sort of polyester so inexplicably popular in the 1970’s
We happily use passages like our Gospel to chuck it all, law and commandment, letter and spirit, baby and bathwater in to one big compartment labeled “Not My Problem”, to be pulled out only when it serves a purpose we want served.
Look closely at what Jesus is saying. He does not condemn the Law – He simply insists that the Pharisees understand and respect the gift that they have undertaken to protect. The Law is a gift, a gift from God to His people – designed to foster love and co-operation, to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry – to make sure everyone is fed, to promote health, and to allow a close, intimate relationship with a compassionate, just Creator. The pharisees that frustrated Jesus have forgotten that the Law serves the people – not the other way. Jesus does not scold them for up-holding the law, but rather for their failure to uphold its spirit.
Sesame Street has been on the air since 1969. It has long been known for the interactions it portrays between adults, children and muppets. In a documentary about the making of Sesame street, one of the producers was asked about how the children react on the set, particularly when the are working with muppets. Unembellished by the power of television, the muppets are essentially puppets with an adult crouched on the floor underneath them holding them up. The producer said The producer said the kids don’t pay any attention to the humans; they just talk to the Muppets. He went on to tell of one little boy who saw BIG BIRD take OFF his top half. An actor stepped out. He stared and then yelled to his mother, “Mom, Mom. Do you think Big Bird knows he has a [hu]man inside?” Jesus asks the pharisees, asks us, to remember the human inside. We do not always see the human inside. The humans inside the church. The human inside the stranger. The human inside the image that we portray to the world. (thanks to writings of Rev. Delmer Chilton)
We look into the misty mirror that reflects our lives. We see orderly lives, following the societal norms, making a living day to day. We look away and continue our way, unaffected by the view. “…they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”
Mirrors. The thing about mirrors….well. As the decades pass, does anybody else here take a long, searching look in the mirror and think, “Oh. No. There must be some mistake. That gray hair, that crazy gravity effect, that just isn’t right.”
C. S. Lewis wrote, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” Jesus calls us to the uncomfortable job of looking into the mirrors of our souls, calls us to an honesty we do not like – within that painfully human soul lies evil intentions that should not be ignored, impulses we would prefer to deny. We deny them at our peril. Their presence affects who we are. Jesus not only sets the arduous task recognizing the brokenness within, but gives an invitation to recognize that those broken, beautiful, damaged, lonely souls can open to serve God, serve God’s people, serve God’s creation.
We gather today to keep the Sabbath – in praise and thanksgiving, in penitence and forgiveness, eating and drinking in together the sustenance of Christ, to be healed and strengthened AND TO GO FORTH. To love as we are loved. To discern God in all the fellow broken, damaged souls around us. To remember the human child of God within the projected images. “Anybody can observe the Sabbath” writes Alice Walker. “Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.” May we make it so, ever and always, by the grace of God. AMEN