PROPER #17…Series B
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (September 2nd, 2018)
Title: You Can’t Follow CHRIST and Not be a Liberal!!
Text: Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23.
You Can’t Follow Christ and Not be a Liberal!!
That is the title of a fascinating article written by an Anglican priest named Howie Adan who serves as chaplain @ Heathrow Airport in London. I read Fr. Adan’s article as part of my sermon preparation and reflection on our Gospel reading for this 15thSunday after the great feast of Pentecost.You Can’t Follow Christ and Not be a Liberal!! The author was quick to point out that you can certainly be a Christian…you can describe yourself as a conservative Christian or a progressive Christian; a Bible-believing Christian; a Charismatic Christian; an Evangelical Christian; a Catholic or a Main Line Protestant Christian…you can claim Christianity as your “Religion of Choice” when you are admitted to the hospital…you can adopt any of a number of very different expressions of the Christian faith, but you can’t follow in the spiritual footsteps of the Carpenter from Nazareth if you are not a Liberal!
The key to understanding Fr. Adan’s argument is to realize/understand that the kind of LIBERALISM he is speaking about has nothing to do with politics…Political Liberals. Political liberals believe in an expanded role of government in advocating for social change and promoting social justice and equal opportunity for all people (especially the most vulnerable in our midst). Fr. Adan is not saying you must be a Democrat (or a member of the Labor Party in the UK) in order to follow Jesus. Fr. Adan is not talking about Political Liberalism…he is talking about a response…a way of thinking about the inherited religious tradition…tradition handed down for generations…a tradition which shapes and defines a people’s “practice of religion”. Conservatives cling tenaciously to the inherited tradition…they won’t change it no matter what. Liberals, on the other hand, are more suspicious of the inherited tradition…more suspicious of the “conventional religious wisdom of the day. Liberals are willing to evaluate sacred religious traditions, and if those traditions are no longer relevant…no longer connect people to the Living God…no longer advance the “Mission of the Faith” then Liberals would say, “Discard the inherited tradition and replace it with something new…something different…something that serves the religious needs of the people”. So, Fr. Adan argues, when it came to the inherited religious traditions…traditions handed down for generations…traditions which no longer connected people to the Living God…Jesus of Nazareth was a LIBERAL!
Do you know why the fastidious Pharisees got so upset…so stressed out when they discovered that some (not all, but some) of Jesus’ disciples sat down at the dinner table without washing their hands? It really wasn’t about personal hygiene or proper table etiquette or even the physical act of washing their hands. Jesus argument with the Pharisees was much deeper and more urgently important than that. Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees was about what defiles…what ruins a person’s relationship with God…that is what this conversation with the Pharisees was really all about!
You see the Pharisees (reflecting thousands of years of sacred Jewish religious tradition) believed and taught that what defiles a person…what ruins a person’s relationship with God is coming into physical contact with people and things that were believed to be UNCLEAN (like
eating pork or shellfish or women who were menstruating or who had just given birth to a child or Gentiles or anything that was dead). And so the Pharisees developed an elaborate system which divided the world into two large categories: people and things that were UNCLEAN(and therefore disgusting to God and to be scrupulously avoided by righteous people) and people and things that were CLEAN (and therefore pleasing to God and to be embraced by righteous people).
Friends, we need to know that Jesus totally and completely rejected this way of thinking…this way of looking at and understanding the world. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were wrong…the problem was more serious than they suspected and the solution more radical than they prescribed. Jesus reminded the Pharisees (the religious “know-it-alls” of the 1stCentury) that no law or religious tradition can protect us from the darkness that lurks within the human heart. And then, Jesus tried to teach them something that shook the very foundations of their sacred religious tradition…something that challenged their conventional religious wisdom…something they had never considered…Jesus said: NOTHING THAT ENTERS A PERSON FROM OUTSIDE CAN DEFILE A PERSON…what defiles a person is having a heart that is as cold as ice and as hard as granite…a heart which has never been warmed/touched and transformed by the fierce, relentless and unlimited love and amazing grace of Almighty God. That’s what defiles…that’s what ruins a person’s relationship with God!!
Friends, here is the Good News in today’s Gospel…when we follow in the footsteps of the carpenter from Nazareth…when we (to the best of our ability) live the strenuous life of Christian discipleship…when we make His priorities, our priorities…His values, our values…when we do the things He would do if he were here to do them, our closed hearts can be opened…our hard hearts can be softened…our cold can be warmed!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only accurately diagnoses humanity’s basic/fundamental problem (Spiritual Heart Disease) but he also offers an effective cure…Jesus offers what the Pharisees needed most (even though they didn’t know it) and what the world needs most and (if we are honest) what we most desperately need: not more religious rules and regulations to follow…but the equivalent of a SPIRITUAL HEART TRANSPLANT…Friends, thru the words of the Holy Gospel and thru the visible Word of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus addresses not the symptoms…but the “heart of the matter”…and he offers to change us…to change us from the “inside out”…to create within us new, clean, healthy, humble hearts…hearts which are , finally, capable of responding to the steadfast love…the unconditional love…the fierce and relentless love and the amazing grace of Almighty God.
Nothing that enters a person from outside can defile that person!!
And that is because it is really a matter of the heart!!