Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2018
Mark 7:1-8, [9-13] 14-15, 21-23
On Life and Tradition
‘If I were a rich man, Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb’
So some of us may have gone to see Fiddler on the Roof – you’ll excuse me I hope for my none attendance, but I was privileged many years ago now to see Chaim Topol on stage in Leeds reprise his performance from the film . . . suffis!
I guess, if you know the film version of the play of Joseph Stein’s 1971 book, you may perhaps expect that in the light of Jesus words, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” I might reprise the words of the song ‘Tradition!’, and say, ‘if only Tevye had listened to Jesus . . . but I’m not going to, for frankly that would be a cheap shot and an ignorant one – not least because the story is written through the filter of Modern assumptions about the nature of reality, and Modern assumptions tend that ‘Tradition is a bad thing – we must throw off the past’
[Whenever we read modern books or films about ‘The Past – which as LP Hartley reminds us, ‘is a foreign country – they do things differently there . . .’ we need to remember we read books or see films, and the books and films are usually written through our own cultures assumptions about what is good . . . and our culture is not shot through with a Christian vision of the nature of Life . . . but like those of us who wear glasses we usually forget we have them on . . .]
Instead, of ‘Tradition!’ – my song text from the play would be L’Chaim – the Wedding blessing – To Life! It is no coincidence that our Jewish forbears sing ‘To Life!’ for the God of Israel who is The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Commands us ‘To Life!’ His Command is a call To Life!, to Life from death, to Light from darkness. ‘You Must be born again!’ . . . yet it is a command we resist.
Last week I mentioned our grand daughter Naomi, and how she like any young baby doesn’t like having clothing pulled on over her head, because Birth was traumatic enough – she doesn’t want to be born again . . .
What is birth but the calling forth at God’s Creative Command ‘To life!’
The Command of God is always ‘L’Chaim! To Life!’
As we heard from Deuteronomy – ‘So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.’ . . . give heed . . . so that you may LIVE! . . .
Which is why Jesus is So angry with the Pharisees – for “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” . . . Responding to the Loving Command of God which is to Life, you reject it . . . you reject Life!
And Again we reject part of the command – the text is again butchered . . . SIGH . . .
What we didn’t hear was Jesus’ example of this – not watching hands, but the following
Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’
But you say that if a man says to father or mother, ‘Anything that might have been owed by me to you is qurban’ (that is, a consecrated offering)— then you no longer allow him to do anything for a father or mother. So you Make powerless the word of God why your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things of the same kind . . .’ [Following DBH translation]
Well this sounds strange to us, a little obscure, although the command to honour Father and Mother isn’t . . . so perhaps that’s why those who devise the lectionary excluded these words, but in reality they go right to the very heart of what Jesus is talking about
The Command of God is a Command to Life – this is why Jesus is angry with the Pharisees – they have Set aside the Command that gives life – and thus they have chosen the alternative to Life, to Existence . . . death, non existence
They have done this in two ways – firstly in not honouring Father and Mother they reject their own life!
What is your Life – where does ‘your life come from?’ Can a person truly cut themselves off from their whakapapa? . . . it is like the branch off a tree cchopping down the tree – honour your father and mother, honour your Life coming to you from God.
The Command of God is not as it were a set of obscure and arbitrary demands of a lazy and capricious deity – the Command of God is the Word which calls us into Life and Love, into Grace and Mercy and it is revealed in and amongst us. ‘Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’ What does parentage, whakapapa tell us – how does it help us to understand and See God?
Why did Moses say ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’ . . . well that’s not very loving!! But all that the law enacts is the choice you have made – not because of the law itself, but you have cut yourself off from life abusing your father and mother, abusing your own life . . . the source of your existence
And we know this – we know this as Christians for it is shown plain to us in the very centre of our faith – What do we see when we see Christ dead upon the Cross? We see the outcome of our rejection of God’s Word of Life. When the human rejects the Command of God, we die . . . there it is on the Cross . . .
Well this comes back again to what we have been considering over and again these past weeks and months – that is we direct our Lives, we Orient them towards God, Life Comes to us from God. And that flows out through us
Here is the second problem with the way the Pharisees conducted their affairs – in their turning from the life giving command of God which embodied in the person of their whakapapa, they then hoarded the life – like those Israelites who clung onto the manna – they ‘consecrated it’ – they told a story about why they couldn’t obey the common of God – they spoke a death sentence not only to themselves but to those around them
Repentance is that turning from non life, a life which denies its life and hoards – towards God in Christ who Is The Way of our Life, towards God, the Truth of our Life, as Children of God, and the very Life of our Life. A Life that enjoys all things but possess nothing knowing that it is given in order to flow through them.
James speaks of The seed of the word – which is planted. it is like a tender shoot, this life giving command of God – it must be nurtured – it needs to be placed each day in the light of the Sun and thus it grows to bear good fruit – the outflow of the heart.
What is that outflow? Again we have missing verses. Jesus tells us nothing going into us can make us unclean – it is what comes out – and he refers to what happens to food when it passes out of the body – but we perhaps are a little to sensitive to think about sewage . . . 🙂 And then speaks of the outflow of the heart – the heart which is not oriented to Light and life but to darkness and death, which does not give place to the Command L’Chaim, to Life, but which is directed towards itself and death
This Life comes to us from God – it is His command – it is embodied in our whakaapa – and James the brother of Jesus and Moses in Deuteronomy echo one another –
‘take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children . . .’
L’Chaim! To Life!