May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A number of years ago, when I was serving in Watertown South Dakota,
I would go to the little town of DeSmet once a month.
DeSmet South Dakota, is well known as the “Little House on the Prairie” town:
Where Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family settled.
(That fact is irrelevant to this sermon, but is nonetheless, a fun fact.)
I lead a service in their small nursing home.
We would worship in the nursing home’s little chapel.
Sometimes we would light the candles on the altar:
Sometimes we didn’t.
But I ALWAYS wore a stole.
On one particular Sunday:
I was half way through the Eucharist prayer:
At the part where Jesus says, “do this in remembrance of me.”
And I realized that I didn’t have on a stole.
I didn’t even bring one.
I totally forgot.
It absolutely didn’t matter.
Not one bit.
Because what mattered:
Was what was in our hearts:
To be gathered together,
To worship the living God.
It didn’t matter if the candles were lit,
Or the priest was wearing the appropriate vestments,
Or the people responded with the right words
Or that we went through the motions.
Or in the case of today’s Gospel reading:
that the disciples washed their hands.
In today’s story:
The Pharisees are upset that Jesus and his disciples aren’t following the so called “rules”
Jesus says to them:
“Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
Even further: Jesus says:
“You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
This is as true today, as it ever was.
And sometimes, Christians in the church,
Are just as guilty as the Pharisees during Jesus’ time.
Now, don’t get me wrong:
I’m not saying we should be like the disciples, and not wash our hands.
For multiple and obvious reasons, we should be washing our hands more than ever.
But this isn’t about hand washing.
This is a warning about “going through the motions.”
It’s a warning about doing things for the wrong reasons,
Or for no reason at all, except for “we’ve always done it that way.”
And God knows we need to hear this.
And I can’t help but be amazed that we should get this Gospel story on the day that we decided to shake things up, and have church outside.
(I see what you did there, God!)
God is reminding us about what really matters:
God is reminding us that what’s important is us gathering together:
With open minds, open hearts,
Ready to love.
Rather than being worried about the candles, or the vestments, or in the case of the Pharisees, the washing of the bronze kettles because their ancestors “always did it that way.”
In preparation for this outdoor service,
A number of you asked me what we needed to set everything up.
The real honest answer to that is, not much.
We need some bread and some wine if we’re going to share in communion.
A table is nice, and makes it more convenient but it’s not necessary.
Candles are pretty, but not essential.
(As a matter of fact, we really only have candles on the altar because “we’ve always done it that way.”)
Because churches didn’t have electricity and the priest needed light to read the book!
The only things we really NEED
Are not things at all.
We need God.
And we need each other.
We need very little else.
The church has a real fancy word for this.
A Greek word called “Adiaphora”
Adiaphora are those things or matters that don’t really matter!
Things that are not essential to our faith:
But might be nice little “extras”
Things that are allowed, or permissible, but not essential.
It’s a really important distinction:
To think about, and consider those things that are adiaphora.
It’s not that we Can’t or shouldn’t do those things:
But that we shouldn’t make those things into the most important things.
Candles on the altar are nice and pretty.
Vestments are reminders and markers of priesthood.
(But I purposely didn’t wear a collar today, just to make the point that the things we wear are adiaphora: and totally non-essential.)
When the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why do you let your disciples eat without washing their hands as the law requires?”
Jesus basically replies,
You are hyporcites if you only worry about clean hands,
When you don’t even have clean hearts!
When you are worried about the things that don’t matter,
When your hearts aren’t in it,
When your heart isn’t yearning to be delighted by God’s beloved embrace!
When your heart isn’t craving to give and receive love from others!
But our longing:
The murmur in the center of our very being:
To be united to the God who calls us beloved.
To be united to each other:
Who we see as beloved:
Where love received is love shared.
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