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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly 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 human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

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 are what defile.” 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 they defile a person.”  (NRSV)

Yikes. For someone who has devoted much of their adult life to understanding and growing in the Christian liturgical tradition, this passage makes me nervous. Honestly, I really enjoy some of our “human traditions.” I love singing “Silent Night” in a candlelit sanctuary on Christmas Eve. There is nothing sweeter than hearing the echo of brass and organ on Easter morning. My favorite part of Sunday worship is watching the congregation rise to sing the Doxology. These practices and traditions have come to be part of my spiritual DNA.

So it’s unsettling to hear Jesus blast the Pharisees for holding fast to human traditions. After taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulders a bit, I hear Jesus offering a pretty important challenge to the Pharisees—and to us! Jesus wants us to ask ourselves if our traditions are aiding in our mission: to bring about the reign of God.

We all have traditions that are more than traditions, and the church is no exception. How many times have we said “We’ve always done it this way”? Traditions can be markers of what has been accepted as right and wrong. They provide a sense of stability and timelessness. And sometimes they reveal who belongs and who doesn’t. Jesus challenges us to examine our own hearts and discern if we are worshiping our traditions or the Living God. Are our traditions and practices becoming stumbling blocks for newcomers to our faith? How much are we willing to change in order to reach a new generation with the gospel?

O God, you alone are the one I yearn to worship and adore. Keep my heart and mind fixed on you so that I might live my life for your sake and not my own. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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