Rules, Rules, Rules

The following is a rough transcript of an interactive sermon offered this morning between the Pr. Craig and the congregation at traditional worship.  The sections in bold parentheses are congregation responses to questions or prompts to read that were posed to them.

OK, tell the truth now … who here the game nazi in their house … raise your hand.  Come on, don’t be shy, I know many of you pretty well, and already suspect which of you are the game nazi’s under your roofs.  Game nazi’s interpret the rules, enforce those same rules, and level some control over the game being played. (Some hands go up immediately, others cautiously follow.)  I’m the game nazi in my house.  When we play Scrabble, I always want a dictionary at the side of the board to check whether words played are actually words.  I always want a sand timer at the side of the Trivial Pursuit board to make sure that everyone has the same amount of time to answer questions.  And when we play pinochle, I detest “talking across the board” as people offer clues about their hands through their supposedly innocent verbal banter.

It’s not all bad, of course.  Rules important in life.  They provide order and structure.  They create boundaries.  They allow one a sense of perspective and offer guidance.  Rules are important.  They are important in the 21sts century … and they were important  two-thousand years ago when Jesus lived.  Jesus’ world had rules, also.  

We know that because we read those rules in our Bible.  Help me out here.  Tell me some of the rules you remember being in the Bible.  (The Golden rule … the Ten Commandments … Rules about washing … the Greatest Commandment)  Nicely done.  These are all great examples of some of the rules in the Bible.  Have any of you ever read the books of Leviticus or Deuteronomy?  They are literally filled with rules that are said to have come from the lips of Moses, and they are said to be the basis for the 613 mitzvot that Jews observe as further expressions of the law of Moses.

Well today, in our Gospel Lesson, we also hear about rules.  and these rules have a particular theme for the day.  What do you think that theme is? (Washing) Right, today in our Gospel we read about rules of ritual cleansing.  Secretly, we love this.  Because we thrive on rules, as they create the illusion that we have control over our worlds.  But of course, even as we say this we know that Jesus sees us and our world far differently.  Jesus always goes deeper than we do, when it comes to the ways in which we live our lives.

Let’s take a look at our Gospel Lesson today.  I’ll suggest to you today that what appears to be a general critique of washing rituals, may be a more subtle conversation about holiness.  The distinction is found in the word we see in English as “wash.”  Read along with me, verses 2 and 3. (they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;)  The word for “wash” here is “nipto” in the Greek and it means exactly what the English says — to wash.  I am thinking that Mark is using that word to describe what the Jews do with their hands, because they have already been made “holy” by God, having been chosen as God’s people.  They don’t need to be “washed” into holiness — they are already the holy children of God.  Let’s now read verse 4 together.  (and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)  The English word “wash” in this verse, in the Greek, is “baptizo.”  We know that word, don’t we.  We “baptize” all the time, right here in our font.  “Baptizo” means literally “to sprinkle” … to “consecrate” … to “make holy.”  So maybe what we see here is a reminder that the already-consecrated people of God are reminded that we are to be baptizo-ing those in the world who do not know they are also the children of God.  That we are to remind them of their holiness and their call to live as God’s people.  This lesson may not be about separating the jewish people from the rest of the world, but instead reminding them of the call to see all of God’s children as our sisters and brothers in holiness.

Now admittedly, we are not very good at this.  In response to the call to see ourselves connected to all of God’s children, we instead tend to separate ourselves, don’t we?  We use words like “believer’s and unbelievers” … or “members and non-members” … or “sacred and secular” … or if you come from the deep south where fire and brimstone preaching still exists “saved and damned.”  And these divisions arise within the people of God … the Church.  It gets even worse, when we look to the world.  What are some of the words our world uses to separate us from each other (politics … sexuality … dualism — only two camps grouped on opposite sides of complex issues … race … economics … where we live … )

In the face of our divisiveness, Jesus steps in and always points us to where unity and connectedness can be found … in his own life, death and resurrection.  Jesus reminds us that we are never in control, in spite of all our fancy words and complicated arguments.  Jesus is always in control.  As a closing reminder of that reality, I’ll finish with a quote from Fr. Robert Capon.  I found this on an exegetical site years ago.  It is from an article entitled “In Us we Trust” and was found in a discontinued magazine called Wittenburg’s Door, written in the late 1980’s.  I have probably used this in an email devotion or a Wednesday Bible Study devotion, and maybe even in a sermon in the past.  I have always resonated with it.  Hear Fr. Capon’s words.

…Whatever the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is, it is not a religion. It is, in fact, the announcement of the end of religion. And what is religion? It is the human race’s age-long preoccupation with the notion that there is something we can or should do to set ourselves right with God, or to get God to be nice, or to make the universe go more smoothly…. Religion, in short, is an attempt at control — a kind of conjuring which, while it aims at desirable results, resorts to devices which, in fact, do not, and never have, produced such results. All of which is neatly summed up in the Epistle to the Hebrews: It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats — or orthodox opinions, or long prayers, or proper behavior [and I might add, washing hands in the right way] — can take away sins.  Only Jesus does that. And he does it by one simple device. He announces, in his death and resurrection, that whatever it was that religion ever tried to do or ever would do, he has accomplished once and for all.

May Jesus continue to remind us of our holiness, and the call to sprinkle that holiness all over the place … all over the world … in Jesus’ name.



Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.


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