15th Sunday after Pentecost September 22, 2019
231, 45, 430, 151
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the peace of God fill your hearts and silence all doubt or uncertainty that you are not only loved by him, but that you are and will remain a part of his eternal family. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Have you ever read the writings of the man who is called “The last of the five good emperors of Rome,” Marcus Aurelius? The more you study this man the more difficult it is not to be a fan—as much, at least, as we can be fans of any man who, as far as we know, lived and died outside of the Christian faith. The man was obviously gifted, and yet despite incredible fame and fortune, he seemed to be able to remain grounded and real. In fact what initially drew me to want to know more about the man was the fact that he is said to have conscripted a slave to ride with him in his chariot whenever he was to receive public acclaim or adoration for his successes. The slave’s only job was to whisper in his master’s ear: “Remember you are just a man. Glory is fleeting.”
What misery would be spared the children of this world if they would but follow suit, if they could be so reminded, so grounded. It’s just sad to see those who were once famous scratch and claw and grovel to maintain or regain their fame—to remain “in vogue.” How pathetic to see 70-year-old drug-addled rock stars pretending to be 20; to see aging starlets cut, stretch, and tuck—all in a vain attempt to create the illusion that they are still young, or to see once great athletes beg to be noticed by playing too long or by opening their big mouths and allowing all of that stupid to fall out. Fame for many seems to act like the ultimate drug, from which withdrawal plagues them for the rest of their lives.
This attitude is not just limited “those guys." Christians, to our own peril, imagine that we are immune. Conversion does not render us immune from sins like pride and vanity. In fact, Satan seems to redouble such temptations among God’s children. You see flashes of his success in the myth of Millennialism, where Christians are taught to look forward not to heaven, but to the day when they will one day get to be the rich and powerful who rule the earth as do the godless today. You see it in so many “televangelists” as they grossly compromise the truth of God’s Word for social acceptance and popularity. And, in general, you see it in Christians who seem to want to be both in the world and of the world.
Make no mistake. All such sentiments are of the devil. They are born of pride and greed, and, as we will hear in our text for this morning, they are the very human characteristics that God himself sees as loathsome and repulsive. Our text for this morning is found in the Seventh Chapter of Mark’s Gospel:
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (ESV)
So far the very words of our merciful God. Thanks be to God for giving us such perfect truth and guidance. In asking our God to bless us through the study of these words this morning, we pray simply: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
The all-consuming desire the world shares to be popular, modern, and “in vogue” is anything but a new phenomenon. You may find it as surprising as I did, for example, to hear that the magazine that bears that very name (Vogue Magazine) was actually founded—when? When would you guess? The ‘60’s? It was founded 126 years ago, in 1892. Its writers and editors have been pushing the envelope of modesty and propriety ever since. One cover featured Lady Gaga wearing only slabs of meat. Seriously.
I bring this to your attention for one simple reason: like virtually everything else the world produces today, apparently lust is the predominant selling feature, with the shallowness of high fashion a close second. In the struggle to be and remain “in vogue,” the children of this world have demonstrated that they will eventually learn to justify the entire list of perversions that our Savior enumerated in our text for this morning. Read the list again, where Jesus tells us exactly what defiles a human being in God’s sight, and it reads like a perfect description of the entertainment industry.
Is this current? Is this really a problem today? You tell me. Again, the list from our text: “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Without the inner change that comes with conversion, man is enslaved by all of these things. Every single item in this list can be justified, rationalized, accepted by those who would do pretty much anything to preserve and perpetuate the glory, power, and adoration that they have tasted even once—that seductive drug that is human adoration.
Yet here’s where this whole thing takes a turn into the surreal, for even while these folks are awash in evil thoughts, sexual immorality, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” they will, at the same time, talk endlessly about their obsessions over, and firm rules concerning, what they put into their bodies. All of this takes us to that strange place where an immoral, adulterous, pro-abortion actress is celebrated in large part because she also happens to be an animal rights vegan.
Get the connection to our text? Jesus here makes it clear that the world has it exactly backwards. As the Jews of Jesus’ day were awash in sin even while they justified themselves by eating only kosher foods, so the people of our day evidently believe that what goes into the body is far more important than what comes out of the heart. Form always trumps substance in the view of the godless.
Why do we even talk about such things? Why do we waste our time talking about the godless and what they do? Good question. We do not talk about unbelievers to make us feel better about ourselves or because we are more righteous by comparison. We talk about them for two reasons really. First, because a part of each of us is just like them. There is no evil in the world that does not also lie crouched and waiting in our old Adam. The only difference between us and them is Christ in us. Day by day the child of God puts on the new man. Part of that process is beating into submission our old Adam or sinful flesh. Understand well that our sinful flesh never goes away, which means that the evil within is always there, always deadly, always eager to rend and tear. Know that you will need to mow that lawn every single day of our life on earth. The proof is obvious every time we give that inner beast some slack on the chain and prove that what is inside of us is no different than what is inside of them.
Christians are therefore certainly not immune to losing sight of the lesson taught to us in our text. We too are fully capable of forgetting that what comes out of our hearts is infinitely more important that what goes into our bodies. In fact, what the world does should always serve as sort of a marker buoy that warns us of what lies just beneath the surface in our own old Adam. Remember how he Pharisee in the temple said: “I thank God that I am not like other men, for I fast twice each week…” Just as Jesus said, the man was comforted by what did (or didn’t, in this case) go into the stomach, regardless of what came out of his heart. The southern version of that same folly is “I drink no alcohol and I don’t use tobacco in any form.” Or the northern version: “I have given up meat for Lent.” The Middle Eastern version: “It is Ramadan, so I fast during daylight hours, and I never consume gum, alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine.” The Jewish version: “I eat nothing that has not been blessed by a rabbi and is therefore kosher.” The New Age version: “My body is a temple of Gaia, therefore I consume nothing but what comes naturally from Mother Earth.” It’s all the same, and it’s all a perfect example of the problem Jesus identified in our text. What is “in style” or “in vogue” in God’s sight is never trendy, never fashionable or appealing in the opinion of the godless. “In vogue” in God’s eyes is when his children obey his will and honor him in all they say and do.
Yet why even talk about sin when we know that the payment for every single sin was paid by Jesus? Let me ask you this: Have you ever tried to straighten something that got bent? What do you do? Everyone who had tried this knows that you need to bend it past straight, knowing that it will spring back a little bit. Maybe a lot. Do you think the devil doesn’t know this? He wants sin in our lives because he knows that sin is the one thing that can corrode or destroy the saving faith by which we are saved. He therefore uses a myriad of forces or entities in the world to bend Christians well past their point of comfort—knowing that we will naturally resist and snap back. Yet what we find is that the more he bends (the greater the perversion we see all around us) the less we are inclined to snap back to God’s standard of straight.
Don’t allow Jesus’ words here to remain superficial, as though Jesus is just advocating behavior modification. Don’t fail to recognize the real, underlying point that Jesus is making, which is that sinners require a savior. Faith alone saves, and faith is degraded and eventually fails when it is allowed to remain in contact with sin. Ask yourself this: Even knowing now as you do that it is what flows from the heart that defiles rather than what goes into the stomach, even now are you able to stem the flow of what comes from your heart? Even with this new information can you now make yourself clean and pure in God’s sight? Obviously not. In fact, all we do now is sin with greater knowledge that what we are doing is sinful in God’s sight.
That’s why we need Jesus; that’s why we need our Savior. We can be warned, but we can’t do what needs to be done. We never could and never will be able to be anything close to perfect. Thank God that that’s not how anyone is saved. We are saved by the goodness of Jesus Christ. We were rescued by God’s Son, who paid for the sum total of all my failures and perversion on the cross of Calvary. I am forgiven in God’s sight because of what his Son did.
That’s the greater point Jesus is making in our text. It is the central truth of all of Scripture and it represents the only path to heaven: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting that he paid for your sins by his perfect life and innocent death, and you too are a fully forgiven heir of eternal life.
Could such news ever be out of vogue? Though trends and superficiality come and go, God preserve us in this one true faith—which is and always will be the only path to life. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.