Sunday, June 10, 2018

Manuscript Mark, Week 24 -Simplify the Commands of God

You know what some of the best movies are? Movies made for kids. And some of the best story telling that’s out there, movie wise, right now, is from Pixar studios. Their the ones with movies like Toy Story, the Incredibles, Wall-E, Monster’s Inc., Cars, and a whole lot of others. The reason these stories are so good, is because they work on multiple levels. Kids love them because they are fast paced, have funny dialogue, and some great visuals.
Adults can love them too, because they have great life humor that you can relate to, they deal with deep personal real life circumstances, and they keep the kids busy. What’s not to love.
I mean think about this. The movie the Incredibles is about superheroes. What kid doesn’t like superheroes? The Incredibles has the strong guy that can beat up anyone, kids can relate to wanting to be that guy. It has the two kid superheroes, as a kid, who didn’t dream of having superpowers. And they use them, just like a kid would. Then you have the action, and everything that goes with it.
Now I can watch that same movie as an adult and not only enjoy what the kids are enjoying, I can also enjoy the flirtatious banter between a husband and wife. I can relate to the father who is dealing with the stress of work. I can laugh at the joke between a wife and husband about her being the greatest good he’ll ever have.
A kid can watch a Pixar movie and take away a fun time. An adult can watch a Pixar movie and take away a fun time, and the deeper meaning of the film.

Today, we’re going to look at something similar from the Gospel of Mark. The childish way of looking at God’s work in our lives, and the adult way. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, starting in verse 1. And as you open your Bibles to Mark 7:1, let’s recap where we are in the Gospel.

When we got back into the Gospel of Mark three weeks ago, we talked about the disciple’s return to Jesus. When they got back, Jesus went off into a boat with them to get them refreshed. But when they arrived at where they were going, people wouldn’t leave them alone. And when the disciples pressed Jesus to send those people away, using the excuse that they needed food, Jesus challenged them to provide the food. They protested, and Jesus multiple five loaves and two fish to satisfy the hunger of over 5,000 people. 
Throughout the whole thing, we saw how the disciples missed their time of refreshment in the boat, which led them to not being prepared to respond to Jesus’ challenge. And we talked about how we need to take advantage of the mini-refreshments that come our way in our relationships with God.
Then last week, we picked up right with their failure and embarrassment as Jesus sent them off on the boat alone, while he went away to be refreshed. While they were on the boat, they began to fight against the wind. Jesus saw this from the shore and walked out onto the water, with the intention to pass them by. But as soon as they called out to him, he immediately got into the boat. We saw in this event, that the disciple’s inner struggles were keeping them from performing everyday tasks. Something that we allow to happen as well. We can also allow the inner turmoil that we feel in our spiritual lives, to keep us from calling out to Jesus and getting things back on track.

This brings us to chapter 7, starting in verse 1. Now this passage comes in two parts. Let’s look at the first part.

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 

This first part deals with the Pharisees, those teachers of God’s law that were very strict in their following the rules. One of those rules was a tradition that started hundreds of years before and was past down orally from teacher to student. It was a ceremonial washing where water was poured over the hands and the person would make a fist with one hand to rub into the other to clean every nook and cranny of the palm.
Since the disciples were not doing this, the Pharisees were upset that they were not following the tradition. Did it matter that it was not directly given by God through his word? No, to them it was an accepted practice that kept the people from following other gods, and therefore just as important as the Word of God.
Because here’s the thing, the Pharisees get a bad rap overall. We look at them as the opponents of Jesus, which they are, but there’s a reason why they were that way. Thanks to the Babylonia exile, and later Alexander the Great’s influence, there were a lot of Jews becoming more and more like the other nations. So the Pharisees as a religious group arose to keep the people on the straight and narrow. Adding additional rules to keep the people from becoming like the other nations. Maybe the thought was this, “our people didn’t do very good with just the Torah, let’s enhance the commands already there.”
So these additional rules were meant to keep people from straying from God. But Jesus takes issue with this idea of “enhancing” God’s word. To him, when you add anything to what God has said, you dilute both the message, and the application. We see this in Jesus’ bringing up a quote from Isaiah 29:13. When you add to God’s word, thus diluting both the message and application, what ends up happening, is that you set up a system of incoherent and contradictory rules for people to follow. And by doing that, you create a system by which the rules that govern the outside actions of a person, become more important than the God who you worship.
Jesus gives an example of this. God’s command of honor your father and mother, is simple and straight forward. I need to respect my parents, even when they do things I disagree with, or even if they hurt me. But the tradition circumvents this simple command. There was no social security, or retirement plans in the ancient world, so you had lots of kids so that they could take of you. But the tradition that was passed down in order to get people to focus on God, actually took God’s commands and threw them out the door. By the tradition, you could actually get around honoring your parents. 
Say you felt like the parent didn’t treat you well enough, well the command of God said that you had to honor them anyway. So guess what? When they got old, you had to take care of them, and do so with respect. There was no wiggle room there.
But now thanks to the tradition, you could actually circumvent the command of God, by giving, what you should have used to take care of that parent that you didn’t like, to God’s work. And you could feel perfectly good about it, because hey, God needs money.
But what happens to that straight forward command of God? It’s diluted to the point where a person can break it, thus breaking their worship of God, yet feel like they are doing the right thing.
This is where we pick up the second part of this passage, with Mark transitioning from this encounter with the Pharisees to a teaching Jesus gives to a group of common people. By doing this is, Jesus is taking the falseness of the tradition and exposing it to the population. Let’s pick up in verse 14.

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
If the tradition of the elders is circumventing the commands of God, how do you fix it? Jesus gives that answer. You come to realize that doing this stuff on the outside, so that it makes you feel good, is not what God wants from you. Because it’s what’s found inside of us that’s the real problem. 
Jesus gives a list of things that defile a person: “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” All these things have physical consequences, but all of these things have a root within the heart and the mind of the person. And that’s where God’s commands focus on. To honor your father and mother, has an outward application, yes, but it forces you to deal with those inner feelings of hurt you might be experiencing. Have you been hurt? Are you dealing with unforgiveness? Guess what? You have to confront those hurts and feelings, because you have to show respect to those that have hurt you.
But the tradition of the elders allows a person to continue in those feelings, to continue in those hurts, and then let you do something physical to make it seem like everything was alright. When in actuality, everything was wrong. The heart is still in the wrong place, the mind is still in the wrong place, and the actions are still in the wrong place.
It is so easy to do something that allows us to push aside our inner struggle, so that we can numb it down, by making ourselves feel better. That’s what alcohol can do, that’s what drugs can do, that’s what cutting can do, and that’s what traditions can do. They can give us a way out of dealing with our inner struggle. But that’s a temporary fix.
But God is in this for the long haul. He wants to deal with that hard stuff, the stuff in our hearts and minds that take a long time to heal.

And this what we need to wake up to: We can’t get a inner fix, by masking it with a physical patch.
It would be so nice if we were like Stuart Smalley from that Saturday Night Live Sketch, that if we could just say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” It would be nice if I could just change a habit and then everything would work out. That my life would change, that my relationships would be fixed, that everything would work out. I wish I can say, here are five or even twelve steps to your spiritual fix, but the reality is this: until we stop adding things to God’s word, and instead start implement it into our lives what his simple commands are, our inner struggle is never going to be fixed. Because all we’re doing is putting a physical patch on a spiritual problem.

So how do we do that? How do we start the process of keeping God’s commands simple, and allowing them to work on our inner struggles? Well, here’s the challenge for this week. I challenge you to take an inventory of your life. Take the 10 commandments from the book of Exodus chapter 20. The plain clear and concise commands of God, then, going through them one by one, ask yourself this simple question: have I added anything to this command? Am I circumventing it, by trying to add more to it, to make myself feel better? Am I following it’s simplicity, or am I making it more complex so that I can find loop hole that I can exploit so I don’t have to deal with the simple nature of it? Take that question before God and ask him, what needs to be fixed, and how is he going to fix it?

Because I have to tell you, the commands of God are so simple, that it makes this harder, because my inner struggle, wants to find a loop hole. It wants to say, here’s a way that I don’t have to have an inner fix. If I can just side step the command by a slight deviation from it.
But all that leads to is more hurt on the outside, and more turmoil on the inside.
Yet if we follow the simple commands of God, inner struggle will be overcome and physical victory will occur.
        May God bring you to a point of simplification of his Word, so that in his simplicity, you can face your struggle, and he can overcome it. Amen

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