A myHT Fortress

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hearts and Lips: A Homily on Mark 7:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wow! More hard words from Jesus! He lashes out at the scribes and Pharisees for honoring God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God.

And here we go – lining up as fast as we can to condemn the Pharisees. “Oh those nasty men! Why wouldn’t they listen to Jesus? They were so full of themselves and trusted their own works. They deserved to get a tongue-lashing from Christ!”

And so we sound like the well-meaning but misguided parishioner telling the pastor, “Good sermon, Pastor. That really told ‘em. That’s just what they needed to hear!” All the while our Lord compassionately shakes His head, knowing that every last one of us needs to see our sin in the mirror of the Law in order to receive His Gospel.

It is not just the Pharisees who have honored God with their lips, but had their hearts far from Him. You and I fall into that same trap. Before Baptism, that was a great summary of our whole lives. From the moment you were a single cell inside your mother, you existed in this sinful, flawed condition that keeps its distance from the Lord and His Word. Even though you might have kept the appearance of wanting to do good for the Lord, your heart was far from Him.

But our good and gracious Savior has worked forgiveness of sins, rescued from death and the devil, and given eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. He has redeemed you from all of that, and rejoices in making you children of the Heavenly Father.

We seem to have had a run on baptisms recently. What a joyous gift to our congregation! The Holy Spirit has been hard at work, rescuing many little ones from sin, death, and the devil. He has been entering their hearts where even now their little lips utter cries of faith! He has done the same with each of us, and will continue doing the same until Christ comes again.

Yes, we do slip up. Yes, we do fall back into moments of honoring God with [our] lips, but [our] hearts are far from Him. We show up and sit through church, but maybe we let our mind wander. Maybe we entertain other thoughts in our head: “What’s for lunch?” “Isn’t she wearing a cute dress!” “That baby is so precious!” “What time is it?” “Boy, I’m sure glad we didn’t tack on those extra ten minutes for Communion today!” Indeed. There we are honoring God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him.

So here we are, knowing that we cannot do a thing to change the situation with our lips and hearts. We stand condemned as Christ declares: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) With hearts like that, it’s a wonder that we can say anything with the lips that even sounds good.

At Holy Baptism, God worked through His Word and the water to purge out the evil and plunge in the Holy Spirit. He transformed you, using the ultimate in power-washings to cleanse your heart and place Christ there. In spite of Old Adam wanting to wallow in the filth of sin, our Lord Christ has claimed your heart and made you His.

The Holy Spirit comes to you week after week as you hear the Gospel preached. He gives you Jesus as the Word of God enters your ears! He gives you Jesus as you kneel at this altar and taste and see that the Lord is good. And as He gives you Jesus, He forgives, renews, and builds up the faith He places in your hearts. He is the One who gives you to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead,” so “you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

We have a great joy and privilege here at St. John’s. Christian families are given a great gift in rearing their children in the faith. “St. John’s Lutheran School exists to help families pass their faith in the Lord Jesus to their children through a Christ-centered educational program and to help children fully develop their God-given gifts.” With the blessing of a parochial school, Jesus Christ daily builds upon what the children hear on Sunday. He constantly is making His home in their hearts, and the Spirit is giving them the words to say, confessing their faith.

This morning we celebrate, thanking God for the gift of those whom God has placed here to ensure that this keeps happening. We rejoice in the Lord that He has called and placed Nancy Bowman as our 7th grade teacher, and that He has assembled a great team of principal, pastor, teachers, and support staff to serve Christ’s kingdom. These individuals work together for Christ our Master Teacher, tending to His children and youth, that they may know the Lord who dwells in their hearts, and that they may confess with their lips the faith He gives.

Our loving Lord continues to bless St. John’s with a loving family in Christ that nurture our youth to speak their faith and live out their love – truly living “in faith toward [God] and in fervent love toward one another.”

Today we thank God for the great opportunity He places among us – the mission of this parochial school, where He proclaims His Law and Gospel 5 days a week to His young ones, continuing what He works each week among us in the Divine Service. This joyous mission is a fabulous cause, in which Jesus is constantly bidding His Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify our students, families, and staff. Praise God for this gift!

Of course, we also thank the Lord that He leads us to confess with our lips at home as well. That is what the “Parish at Prayer” bulletin insert is all about. This is given to be a helpful tool in your home devotional life. On this page, a common Bible verse and Catechism passage are provided for the entire parish. Everyone from school families to church families, from senior citizens to college singles may all refer to this with their daily prayers. And as we all continue through this earthly life, we continue to learn His Word by heart and reinforce the catechesis we have received.

Today Jesus forgives you through the Gospel you are hearing! He renews you as He absolves your sin! He continues to send His Spirit that He may dwell in your heart, that it may not be far, but rather close to God, and indeed honor Him with your lips! Yes, it’s a miracle – God keeps His Word holy in your minds, on your lips, and in your hearts! Amen!

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