Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost August 26th, A.D. 2012
St John and Trinity Lutheran Churches Fairview and Sidney, MT
Mark 7:1-13 Vicar Jason Toombs
Grace, Mercy, and Peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Is it wrong to hold to traditions? This needs to be talked about now more than ever. There are people who like to claim that all traditions should be abandoned. They try to apply what Jesus said about holding to the tradition of the elders to all tradition. Is that what Jesus was talking about in today’s lesson? No. Jesus wants to know what His hearers will hold onto. Will they hold to the tradition of the elders or will they hold to Him?
Each one of us has traditions that we follow. Some of these traditions we realize when we do them, others we don’t. Some of our traditions are handed down by our families. My family celebrates Christmas at Thanksgiving on my dad’s side of the family so they can be with the other family at Christmas. Some are handed down by the culture in which we live. On the first day of school there is a special breakfast and pictures taken here in Montana. Others are handed down by our American forefathers. Even the church has traditions. It is not wrong to hold to traditions, but we need to know why traditions are followed. If traditions are followed for the wrong reason, then they could be wrong traditions, and should be though about before following them.
One of the traditions that needs to be avoided at all cost is blind tradition. Blind tradition is tradition that is followed without question. This is the easiest tradition to abandon. Whenever someone is following a tradition, they should ask, “What is the purpose of this tradition?” If they cannot think of an answer to that question, then it could be a blind tradition. But we don’t normally call something blind tradition, it goes by a different name.
The name that it commonly goes by is blind faith. This is when you believe something without any proof, any rational reason, or anything else. When you simply believe something without knowing why it is that you believe it. There needs to be a reason why something is done, otherwise it is simply a blind tradition, or belief, that should be abandoned if you cannot find a reason for it. You might not know the answer. If that’s the case, please talk to other people about it before abandoning it because there could be a good reason behind this tradition: phone a friend, poll the audience, or even do a web search. Even Wikipedia can get the answer right sometimes.
Today’s gospel lesson does not deal with blind tradition or blind faith. It deals with something closer to us. It deals with historical tradition, the tradition of the elders. “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders.” The Pharisees pointed out that Jesus’ disciples were eating with defiled, that is, unwashed hands. Their hands were not cleansed according to the tradition of the elders. No good Jew ate without washing their hands. But this isn’t the same as telling your kids to wash up because suppers almost done.
The Pharisees were talking about a ritual washing that was handed down from the elders. If you went to the marketplace you hands were considered unclean, defiled, or common. Money was traded for goods in the marketplace. Your hands had come into contact with money, with dirt, and possibly even with Gentiles, the common people. A good Jew had to ritually wash their hands to make them clean again. After all, they were the set apart people of God. They traced their lineage back to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. They were not common people, they were clean people.
In the Law of God handed down to Moses there were many ways to be considered unclean or defiled. A few examples include: touching any dead animal or person, going into a house where a leprous person was, touching an unclean animal like a pig or a mouse, and many others that were handed down by God. If you were unclean, you would be cast off from the people and had to make a sin offering before you could join the congregation at worship. But that’s where it ends with the Law of God. The only time that God specifically calls for a ritual washing is for the priests who served in the temple. Only the priests had to perform a ritual washing in order to serve the people.
The ritual washing that the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of not following was a tradition of the elders, not a tradition handed down by God. The disciples were not holding to the ritual washing handed down by the elders. They did not ritually wash their hands, not to mention the cups, the pots, the copper vessels, or even the dining couches. The disciples had eaten the bread with common hands. What a blasphemous action that Jesus’ disciples were doing in the eyes of the Pharisees. They had come to the table with unwashed hands. The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
Jesus answers their question with a reference to our Old Testament reading this morning, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Jesus heads right to the point of the matter, will they hold to the tradition of the elders or will they hold to what God hands down? Jesus rightly pointed out that in all of the Law of God handed down to Moses the ritual washing before a meal never comes up for the Pharisee and Jew. The Jews were holding to the tradition of the elders rather than to what God had commanded them. The Jews had played lip service to the Torah, the Law of God, but their hearts were far from Him. Jesus condemns them for it.
Are we any better off? We don’t hold to tradition for tradition sake, do we? Lord willing we don’t. There have been times that we have modified certain traditions within the church. We have updated the Bible translation that we use because of more modern language and wanting to stick closer to a natural translation, rather than a paraphrase. We have updated our hymnals to include some new songs that proclaim the gospel in song. Lutherans hold to certain traditions because they were handed down by God. The traditions that we follow fall into two different camps, those based directly on Scripture and those through Scripture.
We echo the words of St. Paul from First Corinthians 2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” We hold fast to Jesus, the crucified one. We cling to the cross because Jesus went there for you. He loved you so much that He suffered and was crushed by your sins upon the cross. He paid for your sins there and has taken them from you. You should no longer cling to your sins. Instead, cling to Jesus on the cross.
We also agree with St. Paul from Romans 6 because we were also baptized into His death. This tradition was handed down by Jesus in Matthew 28. He washes you clean of all of your sins. The word for the ritual washing is the same word that is used for baptism. But this washing is no mere ritual washing passed down from the elders. This was instituted by Christ and is His tradition. He has all the authority of heaven and earth and baptizes us with water and His Word. In your baptism you are baptized into Christ. You are made one body through Him, you have been engrafted into His bride, the church.
He also commands that we teach the baptized. We have the kids learn and recite Luther’s Small Catechism. Some claim that this is simply a tradition that has been passed down and should be avoided. They miss the point when they claim this. Luther’s Small Catechism is nothing but a basic summary of the Bible. Luther formulated this so that parents, godparents, and everyone could help the children learn what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. The Small Catechism keeps the focus on what God has done for us, sending forth His Son to die upon the cross for your sins. The catechism allows all people to know what the central teachings of the Bible are: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession and the Office of the Keys, and the Sacrament of the Altar. These six chief parts are summaries of what God has given to us, a true confession of what the Bible teaches.
This is also what the liturgy is designed to do. Some people like to claim that “Traditional, Liturgical Churches” are simply following a tradition passed down from men. They claim that the liturgy is “old fashioned” and should be avoided. This was a charge given to those who gathered to bring together the Lutheran Service Book. If you open the hymnal to almost any page you will see in smaller black print the scripture verses that are directly quoted or paraphrased. Even the hymns have this wonderful feature. Most of the parts of the liturgy are scripture verses that God has handed down to His people. The liturgy forms these into sections and puts them into the mouths of the speakers. We are basically saying, chanting, and singing the Bible, God’s Word, back and forth to one another.
We have seen that the church has been washed in the blood of Christ and made His bride. She has also been given His Holy Word to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. This is the chief reason that the scriptures are read in the service. We are to hold to Jesus by holding fast to what He has given us. He wants us to know His saving truth. This was the reason that God inspired the scriptures. They are not the musings of men, they are the very Word of God. They have been penned by the saints who have come before us, some who have seen God, while others have heard His voice.
The apostles heard God speaking to them in Jesus Christ. They were there with Him when He instituted His meal for His people. He took bread and gave it to His disciples. Over the last few weeks we have heard that Jesus is the true bread from heaven. Keep this in mind as His body is true food for His bride. He also gave true drink to His bride so that she would never thirst again. He poured out His blood on the cross for you and gives it to you in His Supper. We hold fast to Jesus when we partake of the meal that He instituted for the forgiveness of your sins.
The church holds fast to Jesus and what He has given to her. She holds fast to baptism, the washing of water combined with God’s Word. She feeds her members with Our Lord’s very body and blood in His Supper. The pastors proclaim the absolution because Christ has handed over the keys to loosing and forgiving these sins. Everything that is done within the church service is done to the glory of God. We do these things because we honor the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Everything that we receive from the Lord is His gift given for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.