Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

Sept. 2, 2018


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Our lesson from Mark’s Gospel today is probably the most controversial of the teaching that Jesus gave to the people in the 1st century.  Why?  Because it touched the nerve of religious law…the nerve of religious practice.

Thirty years ago I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the Chief Archaeologist at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.  We spent good time together on several subjects and one of the subjects we talked about was animal bones.  The old city of Jerusalem had gone through some major archaeological digs and of course there is always an interest in what ancient people ate.  He said that sites of where the citizens of Jerusalem who lived near the Temple Mount were often sites where pig bones were dug up and were from the first century.  But in the Galilee region very few pig bones were discovered.  What that suggested to him was that the food laws of not eating pork were not being adhered to in Jerusalem while they were being honored 100 miles away in the Galilee region.  In other words, the people in Jerusalem, probably including religious authorities, were violating the food laws while telling others to follow them.  And, so, Jesus recognizes the hypocrisy and challenges the authorities in the teaching today.  And it got him into a lot of trouble.

He challenges traditions and it threatened to undermine the authority of the Pharisee and Sadducees.

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:…there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach.”

What each of us is experiencing all the time, every moment of time, is what it means to be a human being.  It is not what we eat that makes us human, it is what we smell, taste, hear, see, and touch that allows us to process how we are to act as a human being.

How do we develop as human beings?  As a child, there are moments that we will never remember…the care of a mother or father…being held, nurtured, from the earliest of moments to our point of death where a loved one may hold our hand or touch our face and offer words of love and care as the last words we hear on this earth.

We are less than human when we loose sight of the other and spend all of our time and energy on our own self-needs.  We in effect can destroy the good around us as well as that good within us.  The word narcissism comes to mind.

As an individual, as a community, we are challenged to be human.  To Love.  To love God, to love our neighbor, to love ourselves…the Trinity of Love.

Keith Moore, a developmental psychologist who has studied infants for decades and is a very special friend of mine from St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle, has spent his career in understanding the development of children from infancy to three years of age and into adulthood.  I asked him to comment on this scripture and the following comes from that conversation:  “As human beings we develop from early infancy of seeing the other as like oneself.  Our moral development is built on a realization, which begins in infancy and we probably experience it as parents as we watch our infant babies imitate us…like sticking out your tongue and your child responds to you by imitating you.  We laugh because it is cute.  The child laughs back and communication has occurred.  They cannot see their own tongue or face yet they realize that your face and tongue are like their own and they copy.  This ability can be shown in many facial gestures and even newborns.  The implication that this innate “God given” ability to see the other like me is the root of all later understanding of moral development.”

When I was in seminary I remember reading about experiments that went on in Nazi Germany regarding how to perpetuate the super race that Nazi Germany saw themselves to be…the ultimate in white nationalism.  They found the perfect people who represented for them all they could define within the culture.  Men and women were paired to have children.  It was like a manufacturing process.  Men would impregnate many women and many children were born.  They were raised without parents to become the super race of the Third Reich.  The children were seldom held, did not receive nurture and did not feel loved.  They were born to perpetuate the super race.  After the war studies were done to define these children and their lack of development.  It showed the lack of development in infancy and early childhood that are natural to adults who raise children in love and nurtured their growth.

We define ourselves and others as we receive gifts into our inner life that makes us human.

How do we receive these gifts into our lives?  Primarily, through our five senses.

We have ears to hear, to listen to the other is such an important part of knowing the other and learning about ourselves.

We touch…we touch the other in order to share intimate moments and to allow ourselves to be touched by the other.  I can remember when the passing of the peace in the liturgy of the church began in the 1960s.  It was difficult for people to touch another person at that time.  An interview on NPR yesterday with a POW that had been in the camp with Senator John McCain was asked how they survived.  His answer was, “We held hands.  We held each other.” 

We taste…we have taste buds that help us to enjoy the food we eat, the wine we drink, the bread we eat.  We share meals together.  Community is formed around how we taste life with each other.

We see…we are able to look into the eyes of the other.  We see beauty, we see terrible events that we do not want to remember, we look in a mirror and are often surprised at what we see, we see the other in ourselves, we see ourselves in the other.

We smell…we smell the very fragrance of creation.  We breathe in the fresh air at the beach and smell the ocean.  We smell the flowers in our garden, the food that we eat and we also smell the pollution that we smell in today’s world. 

We know creation through all five senses.

And, then we speak to others out of our experiences and by doing so we share our inner thoughts, our inner struggles and our inner fears, our goodness, our badness, our own development and on and on and on as we share our lives with others.

And so the person of Jesus speaks to us today in the Gospel of Mark.  He teaches us what is means to be human.  He is able to touch people and they find healing.  He tasted the food and bread with the crowds that he traveled with.  He celebrated life with them…he rejoiced, he wept, he laughed, he challenged them.

He saw them as individuals who were on a journey of life and wanted them to know that God was with them on their journey.

He listened to their fears, their hopes, their confusions, their lack of understanding.  As a reflection of the God of Creation, he used all of his five senses to relate to each of those who came to him.  He modeled for them the very human aspects of life that is in relationship… relationship to the God of Creation…in relationship to neighbor…in relationship to his own inner self…all of it reflecting Love because Love is and always will be the reflection of God.

So here we are today.  Sitting in a pew at Grace Memorial….listening to the One who challenges us to reflect our human life and not give in to the evil impulses that surround us and betray us.  “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.”

We begin our lives in infancy in being able to know our own selves through how we are to know the other.  We defile ourselves and the other by betraying ourselves as well as the other.

So it is true that by our fruits, we shall be known.  What we do, what we say, how we live our lives so that others may know the meaning of life because we have learned it for ourselves and want other to join us in the journey.  To be able to touch, to be able to taste, to be able to smell, to be able to listen, to be able to see, helps us to stay human.  We can enjoy the journey as it opens up surprises and hope.


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