Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
I don't know if
anyone noticed the sermon title this morning? I already heard one person
say she wasn't going to come to church this morning :)
I assure you it has nothing to do with the music, nor does it have
anything to do with a political convention this past week, or this
coming week (in case you were wondering). In fact, I got a great quote
from the convention this last week that is a very positive illustration
to use this morning from one of the candidates (in a bit).
No, that sermon title -- "Vomit from the Heart" -- was not inspired by a
political campaign, but is actually a direct quote from out of the
scripture. What? What scripture are you reading, huh?
Last time I got in trouble for doing this, using a direct quote in this
way for a sermon title, was a number of years ago in 1994. The sermon
was on Psalm 50, and in the New Revised Standard Version, we read "I
will not accept a bull from your house". Only I didn't use the NRSV
version, I used the Revised Standard Version (older, done in the 1950s),
which says "I accept no bull from your house". So, I title the sermon
"God accepts no bull", I figured it was a great title, who could be
offended, right? Well, someone was, I had to apologize, but I felt
redeemed with Ronald Osborne, my mentor, wrote me a note and said it was
one of the best sermons he heard from me.
This is a quote that comes out of our
text for this morning, albeit not from the Revised Standard Version or
the New Revised Standard Version or the King James version, but from
Eugene Peterson's paraphrase "The Message". I want to start with the
beginning of chapter 7, to give the full context here. You may wish --
in fact I encourage you -- to follow-along in your pew Bible so you can
kind of check this paraphrase with what's there:
Pharisees, along with some religious scholars who gathered from
Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of his
disciples weren't being careful with ritual washings before meals.
The Pharisees (Jews in general, in fact) would never eat a meal
without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an
especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market,
to say nothing of the scouring they would give jugs, pots, and pans.
The Pharisees and religious scholars asked "Why do your disciples
flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?".
Now, note the explanation that Mark,
our gospel writer here, gives for a Jewish tradition. This is one of the
indications that scholars point to, to suggest that Mark most likely is
writing primarily for a Gentile audience. A Jewish audience wouldn't
need an explanation of this kind. In this case, the disciples are
criticized for failure to engage in hand-washing before meals, that
horrible ritual inflicted by mothers on five year olds the world over :)
And if you read earlier, you'll note in the story, in Chapter 6, this
comes right after the feeding of the 5,000. The presumption here is that
in feeding the crowd, the disciples did not take the time and effort,
didn't have the proper facilities, to go through that ritual of
hand-washing. Which should be quite understandable. So the religious
leaders here, you know, are being a little bit picky, ignoring the
impractical circumstances. Now, while we fault them for their legalism,
we should note that it is precisely their legalism around this issue
that would save the Jewish community during the plague. And one of the
reasons people suspected Jews as instigating it is because they weren't
affected by it because they were so clean. So, legalism in and of itself
is not always a bad thing.
The religious leaders here criticize the
disciples for 'flouting the rules' (is the way Peterson puts it in his
paraphrase). The rules in question are not rules from the Torah, that
central body of the first five books of the Bible that is the central
tenet of Jewish faith. Doesn't come from the Torah. The New Revised
Standard Version translates this as the tradition of the elders. That's
part of the oral tradition of that time, and is now known as the Mishna
(since written down), in which much of the purity codes of the Jewish
faith are found.
Thus, when Jesus responds to the charges against the disciples, he is
not refuting anything from the Torah, or the central tenet of Judaism,
but rather one of the interpretations given to it by the Pharisaic
movement. And here is the response that he gives, again reading from The
Message, in verses 6 and following]:
Jesus answered "Isaiah was right about frauds like you. Hit the
bull's-eye, in fact. These people make a big show of saying the right
thing, but their heart isn't in it. They act like they are worshiping
me, but they don't mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching
whatever suits their fancy, ditching God's commands and taking up the
Now, just to be sure that we're all clear on this, the 'frauds like you'
(or "hypocrites", in most translations), does not refer to people of
Jewish faith. Rather, he is only referring to particular religious
leaders who make their doctrinal views a litmus test to exclude those
who do not meet their standards of purity. Sound familiar at all?
There's a very interesting parallel that I have to comment on, if you
were following the Republican convention this week. It was described
this way by one of the moderate delegates of the party who was
interviewed on NPR, who said "We can either be a church that seeks to
welcome the converts or one that is about excluding the heretics".
Interesting choice of words, particularly for a party that's just chosen
a Mormon and a Catholic to be their standard-bearers, two groups that
traditionally those on the religious right have excluded as heretics!
But thankfully, no longer so.
Now, the religious complexities in this particular election, I find
absolutely fascinating. In fact, I'm writing a paper on it for a
theological discussion group in February. But of course, we never mix
religion and politics here, so I'll refrain from further comment on that
:) And I have property to sell you in Florida :) Like I never root for
the Ducks in church, either :)
So Jesus takes on this doctrinal purists by chastising them for skirting
the 5th Commandment -- honor your father and mother -- by declaring that
their financial resources are being dedicated to God and therefore
exempt from any obligation that they would have to pay for the social
security of their mothers and fathers. And that's all in the next
section in the text (that I'm skipping over). And that's the deadly
"3rd-rail" of politics that you dare not touch, as Jesus himself says in
verse 10: "Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die".
Today, we would surely paraphrase: "Whoever messes with Medicare will
surely die", right? Hell hath no fury like senior citizens in defense of
their entitlements, but I said I wasn't going to mix religion and
politics, so I won't comment on that either.
So, we come at last to the text, the quote for which you were waiting
that comes here in verses 14 and following:
Jesus called the
crowd together and again said: "Listen now, all of you, take this to
heart: it's not what you swallow that pollutes your life, it's what
you vomit. That's the real pollution". When he was back home, after
being with the crowds, his disciples said: "We don't get it. Put it
in plain language". [As if
that's not plain enough]
Jesus said: "Are you being willfully stupid?".
[What a nice guy :)]
"Don't see you, that what you swallow can't contaminate you? It
doesn't enter your heart, but your stomach, works its way through
the intestines and is finally flushed"
[This is what we call
bathroom-humor, that 5th-graders love :)]
That took care of
dietary quibbling, Jesus was saying all foods are fit to eat. He
went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes:
obscenities, lust, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity,
deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance,
foolishness. All these are vomit from the heart. There is the source
of your pollution".
So all of the evil of the world, you
know, comes from vomit from the heart.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Vomit from the heart.
The attack on 9/11, wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria? Vomit from the
Carbon dioxide emissions, climate change? Vomit from the heart.
Mass shootings, more people killed in this country by guns that all of
the Western World combined? Vomit from the heart.
Mudslinging in political campaigns? Vomit from the heart.
In Matthew's version, the disciples respond to Jesus: "Did you know the
Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" You think?! I
mean, nobody likes to offend others, right? Like all-American icon Clint
Eastwood talking to an empty chair, right?
We think we Christians are supposed
to meek and mild like Jesus. Have you read the gospels lately? The last
time he was meek and mild, he was wearing diapers! I'm not saying he was
channeling Clint Eastwood, but he has no qualms about taking on the
religious establishment for manipulating the law for their own benefit.
As if anyone would do that today :) And only just when you expect him to
tell the crowds to lynch the rascals (that's what Clint would do, not
sure why I have Clint Eastwood on the mind, maybe something in the news
recently :), Jesus gets personal. He brings it home.
The problem, he says, is not with those other guys. It's not with the
system. It's not with the laws. It's not even with the government. The
problem, he says, as Pogo so infamously said, 'we have met the enemy,
and they is us'. It's right here -- it comes from our own hearts.
That personal desire to get even, or to get rich. To see that other
person get what's coming to them, or to make ourselves important, above
others. The evil within -- that's the vomit. That's what we have to fear
the most. The corruption that begins inside of us.
And we might quibble with Jesus about those things we digest that are
unhealthy, from fatty foods, to all the sex and violence in popular
media today, but the point of Jesus is it's not what goes in that is the
problem, it's what comes out. Whether one is a drug dealer or a drug
manufacturer, the critical issue is not just what you do with and to
your own body that is harmful, it's what you do to the body of others.
To the body of the church. To the body of our community. To the body of
the planet, the world. It's what comes out of us that pollutes, that's
harmful to others.
And all the evil that we might name -- sex trafficking, and addictions,
and mass shootings, and domestic violence, and rape, and hate crimes,
and war crimes, all begins you see, right here.
So the quote I love from the convention came from vice president nominee
Paul Ryan. It was the second best line of the convention. Commenting on,
and dismissing, his differences with the nominee (Governor Romney), he
says "Whatever church you go to, the best preaching is by example". And
he's exactly right.
Now, if you're wondering what was the best line from the convention . .
I thought it also came from
Representative Ryan, commenting on their differences about music, and
their differences in age. He noted that he'd been listening a lot to the
playlist on Romney's iPod (give him credit for having an iPod :), he
said "I've been listening to it on the campaign bus and I've been
listening to it on hotel elevators :) I may not agree with his budget
plan, but I like his humor, I can relate to that. And he's right about
preaching. It's what we do, it's what comes out of us that counts the
My daughter tells me the best TV show right now is "The Newsroom", only
on HBO. My daughter, for those that don't know, she's in the film
industry, so we take her word for it that she knows what she's talking
about. I ran across a clip of it on Facebook, from episode 10, that sent
chills down my spine. Jeff Daniels plays a news anchor, who is not
ashamed to be a Republican, but he is ashamed to what the Tea Party has
done in denying Dorothy Cooper, an elderly black woman, the right to
vote because she does not possess the necessary government issued ID.
So, just as Jesus takes on the leaders of one faction within his faith
tradition, Daniels takes on one faction within his party, defining what
it means to be a Republican by listing traditional Republican values
(but that's not what got me) and contrasting those to statements by Tea
Party leaders. It's how he sums it up that sent chills down my spine. So
let's just watch and listen:
So that from a secular T.V. show.
And there's a lot more to the clip that I've left out because it got too
political even for me. But see, the best preaching is from example. And
when religion is perceived as taking over the political establishment to
promote a particular social agenda, rather than doing what Jesus did --
healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the weakest among us,
praying in private -- we have problem.
Alright, so I said I wouldn't mix politics and religion -- I lied :)
What worries me most is not who wins or loses in this election. What
worries me the most is that so many claim God for their side. That if
you are a true Christian, this is how you'll vote. And when you do that,
regardless of who wins, Christianity loses. When national elections
become a referendum on personal faith, we do a terrible disservice to
both God and country.
Our faith depends on what is on our hearts, not on who is in the White
House. About who leads are lives, not who leads our country. We follow
our conscience and vote not because we believe in God, but because we
believe in democracy.
Follow your heart and do good. And lead by example. Because you believe