What goes in does not defile
SERMON – 10.15am, Emmanuel Church, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
Sunday 30th August 2009
Revd. Canon David Pickering
Mark 7. 14&15; Then he called the crowd again and said to them, 'Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out defile.
As this morning's gospel reading is a selection of verses from Mark 7, I found it difficult to read it smoothly and I suspect it may not have been easy to follow in the pew bibles. On the other hand it is almost as confusing to read the continuous text as here we have another example of Mark's literary style of interspersing his text with vaguely related subjects.
Thankfully the composers of our lectionary have selected verses to make a reasonable coherent gospel reading for us. This arises out of the question about washing hands before eating.
I find it interesting that a number of my sermon resources for today's readings focus on the subject of how traditions and laws should be observed and interpreted. But for me a more immediate interest and even relevance is the subject of what defiles us.
When I came across this morning's text about what goes in does not defile I was not so sure about it.
In the light of a recent bout of food poisoning I am very much aware that what goes from the outside in can defile.
In one of my former parishes whenever I came back from holiday, Gilbert, the organist, always said he looked forward to a holiday story in the sermon.
So here is what happened on our way back from France….
After three weeks holiday at our home in the South of France, Christine and I drove north to the UK. On the way we stopped at our regular port of call, Lille in the north of France, and went to our usual restaurant for a meal. Sadly they must a have a new chef or something, as we were both ill that night from what we had eaten. I had eaten more of the meal so I was in the worst shape vomiting all night long. The next morning, not being able to face breakfast we drove the further hour to Dunkirk. As we waited for the ferry to Dover I began to feel worse.
Had the to be wheeled off the boat
Nearest hospital at Ashford 20 miles up the M20
2 hours stayed settled me enough to continue with the journey.
Toxic food poisoning, who says what goes in does not defile?
So what is Jesus talking about here or more to the point what does Mark thing Jesus is talking about?
Verses 18 and 19, which are not included in our reading would seem to be about Jesus moving on from the Levitical teaching about some foods being unclean.
But for us this morning, from the verses appointed for our reading, it would seem to be about the source of our sins, our evil behaviour and all those places and ways in which we fall short of being the human beings God intends us to be.
As for the list in final three verses, For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride folly. All these evil things come from within and defile the person. This list of inner thoughts and actions is typical of many Hellenistic ethical instructions of the first and second centuries.
It is a wide and comprehensive list and if we are honest more than one or two may apply to most of us. Hopefully not all of them!
But why do they come from within, how do they get there?
Is it about what some people call Original Sin?
The question is, are human beings innately good or evil?
Genesis 1 tells us that what God has created is good.
Genesis may have little historical value but it does have an important theological truth in the constant refrain, and God saw that it was good.
Yes we are made good. So what goes wrong?
My daughter tells me that my grandson is going through the terrible twos stage, where he is try to assert his own will by refusing to do certain things, and insisting on doing others. And, of course, often they don't fit in with what else needs to be done. How's she now managing with a two week old baby as well, I dread to think.
So what goes wrong?
For a scientific explanation we should perhaps leave it to the psychologists and paediatricians.
From our point of view we know that we have fallen from grace.
We have marred or impaired the goodness of God in us.
When we consider the ethical list in this morning's reading, taking it perhaps in reverse order, we know that there can be folly, pride, slander, envy and some of the others in us even if thankfully we don't quite to the top of the list.
I don't think we are as wretched as we sometimes think we are.
We may not always see it, but God always sees the good that is in us, and the potential for good.
One of my favourite prayers is the collect for the Sunday after Christmas.
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
This is what we are like inside, far from defiled, wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us and sharing in the life of his, Christ's, divinity.
This means that we should not only hold all humanity in high esteem, but also ourselves.