Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8
Ephesians 6: 10-20
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
In light of the last two years, today’s Gospel might hit a little closer to home. Whereas we have always heard the saying, “wash your hands before you eat,” and many good parents would demand such before you come to the dinner table, these last two years the fervor for handwashing and other medically sound practices escaladed. Now it is true that the situation changed, and I will give you that, it is also true that many have mishandled such good practices by elevating their value to deism.
I have heard many pastors go stark-raving crazy at other pastors for not adopting medical practices in their churches by accusing such pastors of wanting people to die, only to laugh malevolently at congregations who get sick because they did not properly prepare. I have heard many damn to Hell others because they would not say wear a mask. I and many others have been attacked wrongfully for not emotionally elevating safety precautions above God-given rights, such as the right to religion and freedom of assembly of all things. I have been accused of going against God for stating I will never ever withhold a service, in other words close down the church when I am woefully capable of coming and officiating worship. I have been attacked by a Roman Catholic Priest who accused me of killing his mother
because, one, I defend the conscience of those who won’t take the vaccine, and two, because he himself admitted His mother to hospice that for medical reasons was against the vaccine. All of these are examples of those who have emotionally lifted medical practices far beyond rational thinking and to the point of deism. Most especially for the Pharisaic Pastors who accused me of defying God for having worship, thus obeying God, I repeat the words of Jesus, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Now don’t misunderstand this spiel to be anti-science or sound medical practice. Many human-made traditions are indeed good, for example washing your hands before you eat, that is most definitely good. My problem, which is Jesus’ problem in scripture, is lifting up human traditions to the point of doctrine. Again, many of our human made traditions are indeed good, but they are just that, good human-made traditions. No amount of obeying these traditions will gain you favor in the eyes of God. No amount of observing human commands will merit you anything from God. And nothing created by human hands should be treated on the same level as that which was given to us by God. They all might be good, but nothing pales in comparison to that which comes from God. Above all else, nothing created by human hands will ever earn you salvation. Only the free gift of faith which eternally comes to you through the Holy Spirit, faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrifice he made on the cross will ever provide you salvation. Nothing made by human hands will ever accomplish this.
This is why Jesus got so mad at the Pharisees, and he was indeed furious. After Moses provided the Laws of God, the high elders who came after him years later added to the Laws what are known as the traditions of the elders. Obviously the traditions of the elders are not the traditions of God, nor is there anything in God’s Law that can be confused to allude to the traditions of the elders. That is why these traditions were added, and added they indeed were for next to the Laws are the traditions. The traditions of the elders are not the Law, but the elders added these traditions to the Law and the Jews then lifted these traditions to be observed as faithfully as the Law of God. In our first reading, Deuteronomy says, “You shall not add to the word that I command you,” yet that is exactly what the elders did and what the Pharisees and all the Jews are currently doing.
It says in scripture with regards to the washing of hands, “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly.” Well the disciples are Jews, and there is that royal “all”, so why didn’t the disciples according to tradition wash their hands? We don’t know, but what we did know is that Jesus didn’t chastise them for not cleaning their dirty hands, and they were eating with filthy hands, but rather chastised the Pharisees for ridiculing the disciples for eating with defiled hands.
When the Pharisees saw the defiled hands they sneered and, acting like pumped-up pompous pricks, said, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” That is like sneering at a man who wears a suit to church when everyone knows you are supposed to wear flannel. That is like getting offended when one person in church
decides to sing alto when it has been agreed upon by the church elders that the church will only sing soprano. That is like saying, the only way you can enter a sanctuary and be allowed to worship and receive communion is if you wear a mask.
To the Pharisees who lifted up man-made laws, Jesus said, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Again, the commandments of men are not bad, so far as you do not treat them like doctrine. We can all agree that washing your hands before you eat is good and should be encouraged. But what happens when you meet someone who doesn’t? Obviously you tell them quiet plainly that if they wish to be healthy then maybe they should wash their hands, and do not act like the Pharisees.
So what happens when you live in a world that wants to be like the Pharisees and lift up human-made beliefs up above God? And this can be any human-made belief such as the false notion that you are born sinless, or the improper order of loving they neighbor more so than loving the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, or the idea that you don’t need Christ to enter Heaven thus avoiding Hell. There are many heretical teachings out there crafted by the world that will be used against your faith. And the world will always try to lift up these human made traditions to the point of doctrine, daring to replace God’s commands with its own commands. Martin Luther had his fair share of this when the Roman Catholic Church created and still use to this day the belief that you can merit yourself salvation
through human-made traditions. That is exactly, in the words of Jesus, “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Martin Luther and his fellow Lutherans had some choice words against this practice that had infected the Churches for in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 15, titled, “Of Human traditions in the Church,” it reads, “If the adversaries defend these human services as meriting justification, grace, and the remission of sins, they simply establish the kingdom of Antichrist. For the kingdom of Antichrist is a new service of God, devised by human authority rejecting Christ… Thus the Papacy also will be a part of the kingdom of Antichrist if it thus defends human services as justifying.”
So what should we do when the world starts demanding we lift up human traditions, effectively establishing the Kingdom of Antichrist, we rebuff all of Satan’s flaming darts. We rise up against the schemes of the devil and, standing firm, we say, “How dare you try to replace God with man-kind.”
And as we are standing, let us not stand alone, but instead stand firm with the armor of God defending you from all the vicious attempts to cause you to kneel to human traditions, rather kneel to God. For to God and for God alone I kneel, but to the world I stand firm. Take on God’s truth, not the truth of humans, which is a belt that fastens all together. Wear His righteousness, not your own, which is a breastplate which covers your heart. Be ready in the Lord, which is given not by human scripture but God’s Scripture, by wearing his boots. Always hold up the external faith that comes not from within but from the Holy Spirit,
which is a shield that protects you from all the flaming darts of the Devil. And then respond with your own weapon, not a human sword, but the Sword of God which is Jesus Christ Himself, the Word of God. Take on God’s salvation, not human-made salvation, which is a helmet that crowns the head. Take on all these pieces of God’s armor, relying not on Human-made armor for such is worthless against the devil and may even be fashioned by the devil, but rather God’s armor which is steadfast and will never fail. So when the world presses it’s ungodly tactics upon the Church, while wearing the Armor of God, in accordance to Ephesians, stand firm in the Lord and boldly speak the Gospel. It has been my practice to end with a prayer, but if I may I would like to end with words from Martin Luther:
“Since your most serene majesty and your high
mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.” – Martin Luther, Diet of Worms