Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9 / Ephesians 6:10-20 / Mark 7:14-23

By Deacon Rex E. Watt

“Appearances Can Be Deceiving”

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

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  Appearances can be deceiving.  A young mouse begged his mother to let him take his first look at the world outside the mouse hole.  “Very well,” she answered, “but don’t stay long, and come back and tell me everything you see.”  The little mouse had not been gone five minutes, when he came dashing back into the mouse hole as fast as he could run.  “My dear, whatever happened?” asked his mother.  “Oh, mother,” said the little mouse, trembling all over, “there are such strange creatures out there!  First I saw a pretty animal, with soft, striped fur and yellow eyes.  When she saw me she waved her long tail as if she were glad to see me.  But then I saw the most terrible monster!  His head was all red, and his feet had long claws.  And when he saw me, he opened up his mouth and let out a horrible shriek of ‘Cock-a-doo-dle-do!’  I ran away as fast as I could.”  “My dear,” said his mother, “that pretty creature you saw was a cat, and she likes to eat young mice like you for dinner.  And that terrible monster was nothing but a rooster, who only eats seeds and grain.  Next time you go out, be more careful, and remember never to judge others by their looks.”  [The Cat, The Rooster, and The Mouse; Aesop’s Fables]

Yes, appearances can be deceiving.  Some of you have probably encountered situations where appearances were deceiving.  The house you purchased may have looked really good to you when you first walked in, but over time you discovered hidden problems that cost you a bundle of money to fix.  Maybe it was that used car you bought that turned out to be a lemon.  We’ve all heard stories about art forgeries, counterfeit designer clothing, purses, and watches.  We’ve even read stories about people who try to pass themselves off as one thing only to discover that it’s all a sham, like Rachel Dolezal, the former President of the NAACP in Spokane who claimed African-American heritage despite being born to white parents.

It’s a theme we see all around us in our modern culture.  People wanting to look successful, or caring and compassionate, maybe even pious when they really are not.  It’s not just a modern thing.  It’s what we’ve been seeing in our Gospel lessons for several weeks now.  People following Jesus only because they wanted more bread for their belly, but not the Bread of Life for their soul.  Religious leaders who are more interested in following the letter of the Law, rather than the Spirit of the Law.  I’m sure you’ve met people like that.  I have.  I’ve been one of them.  Maybe you have too.

Jesus, in our Gospel text for today, gets to the heart of the issue, no pun intended!  After chastising the Pharisees and scribes for being hypocritical in their application of the Law, Jesus calls the people to him and tells them “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him,” but it is “the things that come out of a person [that] defile him.”  When the disciples get Him alone, they ask Him what he meant by this.  Jesus goes on to explain in a little more graphic detail that people like the Pharisees, like the disciples themselves, like you, and like me, focus on the external, rather than the internal.

We are just like the Pharisees!  We put on a pretty good show.  Jesus called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Mt 23.27)  Like the Pharisees, we are quick to notice, and maybe even comment on the external sins of others rather than the sins that lurk deep within ourselves.  You know what those sins are which lurk deep within your hearts.  Jesus rattles off a list that brings embarrassment and shame to each one of us.  “Evil thoughts; sexual immorality; theft; murder; adultery; coveting; wickedness; deceit; sensuality; envy; slander; pride; and foolishness.”  How many of those sins have you committed this week?  This weekend?  Today?  This morning since you walked into this church?  “All these evil things come from within [out of the heart]” Jesus says, “and [it is] they [that] defile a person.”  The Pharisee’s problem, your problem, my problem isn’t whether we wash properly before we eat (although that is a good thing to do; and I don’t want any of you young people to go home and tell your moms and dads that Deacon Watt said that it’s ok not to wash your hands before dinner!); our problem isn’t whether we wash properly, or what we eat or don’t eat, whether we go to church on the “right” day of the week, dress in the right clothes, don’t drink, dance, smoke or chew and don’t go with girls that do!  Our problem is our heart.

Our hearts, your heart, by nature is evil and corrupt to the core.  We call this condition, Original Sin.  We inherited it from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Death was the ultimate penalty for Adam and Eve’s sin, and the fact that all mankind experiences death is evidence that we all inherited this Original Sin.  David wrote in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  David was not confessing that he was born out of wedlock.  There is nothing in scripture that gives any indication of that.  He was confessing that from conception, he was a sinner, a person infected with Original Sin.  Many people think that they are a sinner because they sin.  Scripture teaches, as does our catechism, that we sin, because we are a sinner. (LSC Question 20; 2017 edition)  Did you catch the difference?  I’ll phrase it a little different:  Are you a sinner because you sin?  Or do you sin because you are a sinner?  You, dear saints of Redeemer, sin because you are a sinner.  And that’s a problem.

Jesus tells us in our text that there is nothing from outside of us that by going inside can defile us or make us unclean.  He also tells us that the things inside of us, in our corrupt and evil hearts, defile us and make us unclean.  It is our natural state according to scripture.  What on earth can we do?  Nothing!  It takes something completely outside us to wash us clean on the inside.  God looked at His heart, not ours, to devise a plan for our salvation.

It wasn’t anything inside us that paid for our sins – no good, pure thoughts of the heart, no outward action that would please the strictest Pharisee.  It was the God of Heaven, infinitely above us, completely outside us, in the person of Jesus Christ, who came to earth and took on our flesh, your flesh, your corrupt sinful flesh, and paid the price for your sin by giving His life for you, and me on the Cross.  Look away from yourselves, and all the masks and fronts that you put up to impress people and hide your sins, and look to Jesus – up there on the Cross – see His pure, undefiled, sinless heart broken, pierced through for your sin, my sin, the whole world’s sin.

And then, the Holy Spirit, from outside us, comes into our sinful hearts and brings the cleansing balm of Jesus’ death on Calvary’s Cross.  He comes to us in the waters of Baptism, which washes away our sins in a miraculous way.  He speaks to us, not in a whisper from within (our sinful hearts could play all kinds of tricks on us with that!), but in God’s external Word – in the preaching you hear from this pulpit; in the words of absolution spoken to you after your confession of sin; when you hear, read or study the Bible – and that Word declares you clean, pure, holy, forgiven.

And there is something else from outside you that you can receive into yourselves which will cleanse your hearts.  Every time you come to this Altar and receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus, your Jesus, He purifies you and brings you forgiveness so real that you can taste it and touch it.  Here, like Moses, you stand on holy ground.

Dear saints of Redeemer.  Appearances can be deceiving.  But you, who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with His righteousness.  You have put on Christ.  You are clothed in His armor and are “able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  You have not only put on Christ, you have Christ in you – literally.  When you stand before God the Father on the last day, there will be no deception of appearance.  When He looks at you, He will see His Son, Jesus, and say, “Welcome home.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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