Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)
September 2, 2018
Text: Mark 7:14-23
If you follow your heart, as is the conventional wisdom, where will it lead you? The heart can only lead you in what it knows, and Jesus teaches us this morning what the heart of man knows and that with which it is filled. “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” (Mark 7:21-22; ESV). So your heart will lead you in these things. “Evil thoughts” is the heading, and then follows a list of the works of the flesh, vices that correspond to the Ten Commandments, in no particular order. First, sexual immorality, and then specifically adultery, the Sixth Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.” But our hearts do not fear and love God so that we do this. Instead, we lust. We look. We desire the bodies of those who are not our spouse, and we desire them for our own pleasure. Jesus tells us, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Increasingly, Christians see nothing wrong with fornication, which is to say, sexual activity prior to marriage, in spite of the clear Word of God prohibiting sex outside of marriage. Young people live together prior to marriage, and this is not only condoned by their Christian parents and families, it is celebrated, and now older couples are following suite. It is considered the normal course of action. Beloved, this should not be. Let it not be so among you. But that’s where the heart leads you. How many of us condone or even celebrate same-sex relationships because our hearts tell us that is what is right and good. We allow our hearts, which our Lord tells us are full of sexual immorality and adultery, to inform our ethics instead of the Commandments of God.
Then we have theft. There is, of course, outright theft, where a criminal robs a fellow citizen of their rightful property. To be sure, the Commandment forbids that, but I suspect most of you in the room are not guilty of this apart from the occasional cookie or candy bar as a kid. You already know that is wrong. But you also know as a Christian that the Commandment goes so much deeper. “We should fear and love God,” not only “so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in a dishonest way,” but also so that we “help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.” We should actively promote his prosperity and rejoice in the blessings God gives him. But we don’t, do we? We are jealous. We envy him. We begrudge him. We boast of our poverty, and our contentment in our poverty, though we are anything but poor, and we despise our neighbor for what we consider to be ill-gotten gain. Christ have mercy upon us. That is where our heart gets us.
Next is murder, the Fifth Commandment. Sure, maybe we haven’t actually, physically taken the life of a neighbor, but Jesus tells us whoever is unjustly angry with his neighbor or calls him a fool is guilty of sinning against this Commandment (Matt. 5:22), and the Apostle John reminds us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” Have you ever hit your neighbor? Embittered his life with your words or actions? Despised him in your heart? Failed to help him in his time of need? The heart leads us to look out for number one, not for the next guy. Full of murder is the heart. If you don’t believe me, consider how so many wonderful people you know and love justify the slaughter of babies as a right to be protected by the state at all costs. People who wouldn’t hurt a fly insist on the right to murder, of all God’s creatures, human babies. That’s where the heart gets you.
There is coveting, the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. Coveting is to desire a thing you do not have in such a way that you do not believe you will be happy or complete without that thing. St. Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). There is the First Commandment. We should have no other gods. When we covet, we make that thing or that person we are coveting into our god. That is where the heart gets you.
Then there is wickedness in general. We bring shame upon the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we bear in Holy Baptism, when we engage in wickedness. That is the Second Commandment. There is deceit, which is the Eighth Commandment. We give false testimony, bear false witness. There is sensuality, which is the worship of the self over against the worship of God. There is the Third Commandment. Envy, the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments again. Slander, the Eighth. Pride, the Fourth, for I have authority over myself and need not respect or obey the authority any other, and the First, for I fear, love, and trust in myself above all things. And just to wrap it up with a nice bookend, there is foolishness. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1). Well, so much for following the heart. That is the ultimate foolishness, and we plaster it all over our daughters’ t-shirts and apparel. It is the conventional wisdom, but it is not the wisdom ancient and true. The Prophet Jeremiah declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Here is the thing about us, if we’re being honest. We’re so worried about the things going in, that we fail to see that it is what comes out of us that defiles us. We diet. We watch what we eat. We worry about germs. We don’t want to touch things that are gross. We carry around hand sanitizer to kill off anything we touch. We wash with antibacterial soap. Now, this is not all bad, but we do sound and awful lot like the Jews with all their dietary laws and distinctions between clean and unclean. Those were good laws that set them apart from the nations in the Old Testament, but they did not make the person righteous or unrighteous. They were signs of a righteousness given by God to His people Israel, a righteousness from outside of them, the righteousness of God Himself, received by faith, which is credited to them as righteousness. No, the unclean things coming in do not defile a person. The sin coming out from within, that is what defiles a person. And that is all the heart has. Sin is deadly heart disease. And what is needed to cure this heart sick unto death is nothing less than a heart transplant, the heart of Another donated, given to the sinner to be his own.
And there is such a One. You know Him, and you love Him, because He has first loved you. It is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He has a heart for you. He has the heart of a man, for He is a man, born of the Virgin Mary. But because He is God of God, of one substance with the Father, His heart is not infected with our disease. He is not defiled. He has no sin. Unlike us, what comes out of Him is good and pure and holy. And that is what He gives us, by grace. When we pray with King David in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (v. 10), God answers us with Jesus. Jesus is our clean heart. Where your heart is full of sexual immorality and adultery, Jesus is faithful to His Bride, the Church, you. He gives Himself up for her, to make her holy, spotless, adorned with His own righteousness. Where your heart is full of murder, Jesus is full of compassion. For the sinner. For you. Barabbas and you go free while Jesus is murdered for your sake. Where your heart is full of greed, envy, and theft, Jesus gives up everything to prosper you and give you eternal life. He who knew no sin becomes sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The heart of God’s Son was stilled in death on the cross to pay for the filth of your sinful heart. And it is enough. The sacrifice is complete. It is finished. It is the end of all that defiles you. And it is the beginning of life cleansed and made new. For the heart of the Savior in the tomb beats again on the Third Day. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
And now He puts what is new into you. His Word in your ears, the Holy Gospel, the Absolution, forgiving your sins and declaring you righteous, justified. His Baptism, killing you and making you alive, ripping out your heart of stone and putting Jesus in its place. His Supper, the Bread of Heaven, the medicine of immortality, Jesus’ very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, placed on your tongue and poured down your throat. Far from defiling you, what goes into you, when Christ feeds you, purifies you, enlivens you, justifies you, sanctifies you. It nourishes you and makes you whole.
There is more good news. Jesus here declares all foods clean (Mark 7:19). That means you can eat bacon. That’s not a sin. Thanks be to God. But there is more. There is a food that cleanses. It is Jesus Himself. What comes out of you defiles you. What comes into you from Jesus saves. Don’t follow your heart. Follow Jesus’ heart. Repent of what comes from you. Rejoice in what comes from Him. And so rejoicing, come and receive it now. For you, for the forgiveness of sins. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.