Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pentecost 13 - Proper 16

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of man. Mark 7:8

Almighty and merciful God, defend Your church from all false teaching and error that Your faithful people may confess you to be the only true God and rejoice in Your good gifts of life and salvation.

Do not use religion to avoid the demands of faith. Leadership of Jesus day built for themselves a religion of traditions and proceeded to use tradition to escape the demands of faith. Jesus has a word for this – hypocrisy. Whose voice will you listen, the voice of God or the voice of the church? That was the issue of the 16th Century. Certain reformers repudiated those traditions that they found contrary to the word of Scripture. Is the church today in need of another overhaul? Some believe that a reformation is long overdue. If so, who is to be the arbitrator? At all costs, we need to avoid making religion our religion.

  1. There is a religion centered in man’s traditions.
A.      Traditions can become a substitute for true religion.
1.       The leadership of Jesus’ day – they were godly, they had it right, they fulfilled the very letter of the law, including the traditions. They were convinced that the external cleanliness of their lives, as was exhibited by their ritually clean hands, pots and pans made them clean before God.
2.       When tragedy strikes our lives, do we not sometimes wonder why God seems to take no notice of our godly and clean living? After all, we are faithful in our church and communion attendance. We are regular in our witness and generous with our offerings. We work hard at our jobs and try to raise our children rightly. We’re upright and moral people. When such thinking occurs, we make self the object of our worship, making tradition our religion, and fall into the trap believing external living in compliance with God’s law somehow makes us clean and godly before Him.
B.      When we live for tradition – customs and ceremonies can soon lose their significance and meaning.
1         We may wake up finding ourselves following practices and ceremonies not even knowing why we are following them.
2         This happens when we follow blindly never questioning why we practice such rites, rituals and ceremonies.
3         Cleanliness before God must flow from the inside out. From the heart out. It is the condition of the heart, not the position of the body that concerns our Savior. It is the state of your heart that determines whether you are clean before God.

We dare not let tradition become like barnacles that gradually grow on a ship and impedes its progress.

  1. We need a religion based on the clear word of the Lord

A.      His Word will not fail. What does His Word teach us? It teaches us that mere ritual, washing, or clean living will never do. However, His washing will always make us clean. St. Paul reminds us, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into His death. We were buried with Him by our baptism into death that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we were united with Him in a death like His we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”[1]

In Baptism you were incorporated into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is the only one who has ever live a perfectly good, clean life before God. He alone is the spotless Lam of God. He never soiled Himself with the stain of sin, even though He was tempted as you are.

B.      His Word gives salvation and life. Jesus chose to cover Himself with the entire dirt and filth of your sin. The Father chose to give Him your punishment for that sin and to give you His cleanliness.  Now in the waters of Baptism the Father give you Jesus’ clean, holy life as your own and washes away the stain and dirt of your sin.

This is the Father’s idea of godliness. Not what we can do to look impressive before God rather it is what He has done for you. The power of forgiveness in Baptism we are able to really do what the leaders of Jesus’ day and our own hypocritical nature can only mimic – offer a life to God that is also externally clean and godly.

In Jesus Christ all our actions as God’s people – from the rituals of our worship to the duties of our daily lives are now clean in God’s sight. No wonder the Scriptures call Baptism a “washing of regeneration” and “a renewing of the Holy Spirit.” 

[1] Romans 6:3-5

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