Most of you know that Paul and I live across the street from Dairy Queen, and it provides lots of entertainment for viewing. I’ve noticed that the manager arrives quite early, and makes it part of her routine to clean the patio tables, and then she walk around the building and through the drive-through and parking areas with a broom and a long handled dust pan. She carefully sweeps cob webs from windows and awnings, and then proceeds to sweep up discarded cigarettes and litter. And I wondered if the cleaning she was doing was a written rule for managers, or if she was doing it because it is the right thing to do. It was interesting to think about, and I suspect she was doing it because she cared. Her attention and care makes me think that she doesn’t need a written rule.
Following the rules is important, but doing so with our heart is a measure of our honest commitment.
The elders in the religious community took Jesus to task for the actions of his followers, suggesting that he might not have taught them properly.
The practice of ritual washing before eating was meant for leaders in the temple, but over time, in their zealousness, many Jews took up the practice, and to be honest, washing one’s hands before eating is always a good practice.
By calling Jesus out on the keeping of rituals by his disciples, they were actually showing how much better they were.
But Jesus knew what was in their hearts, and since they raised the subject, Jesus pointed out the failings of the religious leaders in their responsibility. They did what looked good, and neglected what really mattered, such as loving God and others, such as caring for the poor and protecting the vulnerable.
Rules are interesting that way – they can be followed, and still not accomplish what was intended.
I recall quite a few years ago, reading an account – and I’m not sure where I read it, but it was a story of a meditation leader who had a new puppy, and he brought it with him. Of course the pup made a lot of fuss that first time, so the leader tied the dog outside the meditation area. This went on for over a decade and people got used to having the dog tied up outside the meditation area.
Eventually, as happens with faithful companions, the dog died. The people were quite distraught and upset – and their main question was “how will we be able to meditate if the dog isn’t outside”. J
This was a ritual that people misunderstood as being a rule. You can’t worship unless the dog is outside.
Rules are the laws that keep society running smoothly – good rules anyway accomplish this. This week, coincidently, one of the young people in confirmation class handed in an assignment they had been working on over the summer. They chose to write a sermon and the topic was “Rules: How they have helped and hindered society over the ages”. Of course, there was a section on the rules governing covid safety –
The young person from the confirmation class concluded that some rules, such as residential school enforcement, were severely damaging to people, and sometimes the rules, such as covid rules, help society, even if they create some difficulty in the day to day living.
The disciples understood that they did not need to dip their hands in water to earn God’s love. God himself is the water that cleanses us. Jesus addressed the crowd, explaining that the source of defilement is not around us, but comes from within. The reasons we become unfit for God’s presence come from within our very selves.
This is the good news/bad news part of our lesson today. The source of evil begins within our own self. Sometimes the rules are used for shaming, or as barriers, keeping out non conformists, and sometimes they are used to elevate a personal appearance of goodness.
Jesus knew what was in the heart of his critics, and brought it to their attention. Where do we see Jesus nudging us to recognize the rules that get in the way of sharing the Gospel story?
The good news is that we are filled with goodness too! Goodness which bursts forth when we listen to and recognize the word of God implanted in us. The greatest rule we need to keep in mind is to love each other and to love God.
The human condition is to engage in a constant wrestle between the good and evil within us each and every day. Thoughtful acknowledgement of this helps us recognize our weakness.
We are promised God’s love as a small child in the water of baptism. Each week as we gather together for worship we re-live that washing and are reminded through word and prayer that God continually makes us clean. As we gather together we hear again the words of promise, words of hope and words of love; the words that shape our response to the rules surrounding us.
Today we hear from James: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (Pause) Hold these words this week. Taste them and live them.
James goes on “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” \O/
“Rid yourselves of all sordidness and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”
These words assure us that we are loved unconditionally, and assure us that when we seek forgiveness it is granted. These words lead us to share the grace of God, whether the rules allow it or not. May it be so. Amen