01 August 2010

Jesus Prescribes Life Under God Not Man

Mark 7:1-23

Each of us is made in God's image.  We are not to try to create a god in our image. 

Why do we try to fashion God in our image?  For those who can convince others that their image of god is the true God, then they can control them.  For those who put their hearts into a created image of god, it may be easier and make them feel better about themselves if they are able to choose any course of religious actions instead of follow the God they are not in control of.  For many, it is much easier to assume a "proper" posture of the body when praying to a deity than come to know the one, true God and the one that He has sent.

Several years ago, I went to Montreal.  In Montreal, I went to a place called St. Joseph's Oratory.  Inside this shrine was a preserved heart of a saint who performed miracles long ago.  All kinds of people would line up to light a candle, pray, and be blessed by the heart.  For the truly devoted, they would climb up many stone steps that led up to this shrine perched on the side of a hill on their knees.  Then they would truly prove to God that they were worthy of whatever blessings they wished for Him to bestow upon them.

But, what have they truly proven?  Nothing has changed except their knees.  This ritual hasn't helped them know God more or love him more.  This ritual hasn't led them to love their neighbour as themselves.  Ultimately, the ritual results in scraped knees and little else.  And there are countless, empty rituals around the world where people are showing their devotion to a god made in our image.

Here, we see Jesus sternly warning against such empty religion.  Jesus' disciples did not wash their hands before eating.  These young men, who worked with their hands in their professions (since they were not picked to be teachers) did not wash their hands before eating.  This caused consternation within the religious community.  Jesus was one religious teacher among many.  They all had disciples (students).  Religious teachers would discipline their students into following all kinds of rituals so that they would know God better.  But, there was no external evidence that Jesus' disciples had any religious discipline.  What kind of a religious teacher would have such undisciplined disciples?  Especially one with the growing reputation of Jesus?

Jesus, however, makes it very clear to the religious critics and to his disciples, that he has no regard for any form of foolish, empty, external religious shows.  Jesus is not interested in scraped knees or washed hands, he's interested in clean hearts.  Jesus replied,  “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours 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.

How crazy is it to devote our lives to practices that are in vain?  How foolish is it to extend time and energy on any religion that is in vain?  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  For people who want to leave behind mindless, foolish religion this is indeed good news.  We can now spend our energies on our Father in heaven who loves us and desperately wants us to know and love Him.

How can we know Him?  He has carefully crafted His Word over thousands of years through several different authors inspired by God's Spirit.  He has given to us His Son, who has lived among us in order to show us who His Father is.  He has given to us His Spirit who works in concert with His Word and His Son in order that we may live the life that He has given to us to the absolute fullest.

Jesus is not interested in the contents of our stomach or the scars on our body or the cleanliness of our hands.  He is deeply concerned about the cleanliness of our hearts.  "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 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.”

Father in heaven, thank you for freeing me from vain religion and worship.  Thank you for helping me to truly know you and love you through the gift of your Son, Jesus.  It would be foolish of me to try and craft you in my own image.  Thank you for continuing to transform my heart into one that truly honours you and loves all others.

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