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Faith From the Inside Out

Read Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Do you remember the opening scene in Fiddler on the Roof? Tevye (Tev-ee-a) a Jewish milkman in Russia, begins, “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here in our little village . . . you might say that every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. . . And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word—tradition! Because of our traditions we have kept our balance for these many generations. We have traditions for everything—how to eat, how to sleep, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, ‘How did this traditions get started?’ I’ll tell you—I don’t know! But it’s a tradition—and because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Next Tevye (Tev-ee-a) and his entire village breaks into song: “Who, day and night must scramble for a living, feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? And who has the right as master of the house to have the final word at home? The papa, the papa—tradition. Who must know the way to make a proper home, a quiet home, a kosher home? Who must raise a family and run the home so papa’s free to read the holy book? The mama, the
mama— tradition.” At the conclusion of the song Tevye (Tev-ee-a) offers a final comment. He says, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

I think the Pharisees would have loved Tevye (Tev-ee-a). You see they, too, believed that traditions hold everything together. The Pharisees has a tradition for everything—how you eat, how you clean, how you sleep, how you work, how you wear your clothes, how you style your hair, how you play, how you pray, and how your worship. When their traditions were not observed, the poor Pharisees panicked. This is what happened that afternoon when they noticed Jesus’ disciples ignoring the well established ceremonial tradition of washing one’s hands before eating. The book of Leviticus insisted that priests who ate food dedicated to God must first purify and cleanse themselves. That’s why they washed their hands before eating. The Pharisees reasoned that if priests needed to be holy, then everyone else should be holy as well.

This ritualistic washing of the hands was just one of a thousands of different ways that the Pharisees worried about doing what was right. Throughout the years they had developed an elaborate code of behavior around the Laws of Moses. The Pharisees were zealous in keeping every rule. They were concerned about tithing even the tiniest portion of their produce. They worried about the precise words used to make a promise. They had a well-established set of rules concerning what was and was not considered to be work on the Sabbath. They were careful to eat only to eat kosher food. They always ritualistically washed their hands before eating. You can almost hear them singing: “Tradition, tradition, tradition.”

Now it would be fair to say that Jesus and his disciples were from the back woods. There were from a region in Palestine where the people were not so rigid. Fishermen, accustomed to having their hands in water so much of the time, didn’t bother with ceremonial cleansing. When there was food to eat, they picked it up and ate it. This greatly disturbed the Pharisees. “If Jesus is such a great teacher,” they reasoned, “why do his disciples break the rules?”

Now let’s not be too hard on the poor Pharisees. Their reaction is not too difficult to understand. In fact, I don’t think we are much different then they. We are just as dogmatic about our traditions as were the Pharisee? If you don’t think so, let me ask you this: How would you feel if I—as your pastor—came to your home today for lunch and began eating without even waiting for the blessing to be said? You would probably be a little shocked. That’s how the Pharisees felt as they watch the disciples eating without first washing their hands.

We are all a little bit like the Pharisees, aren’t we? We all have a set of sacred religious traditions that we feel ought to be observed by any normal, decent human being.

We know how to go to church.

We know how we are suppose to dress.

We know when we are expected to arrive. We know the questions we’re supposed to ask in Sunday school and the ones that will be met by embarrassed silence.

We know how to attend worship. We know when the service will begin and when it is suppose to end.

We know what will happen. There will be one or two scripture readings and three or four hymns. Three or four scripture readings and five hymns would be way too much. We know when to stand and when to sit. We know how much we are suppose to give when the offering is collected.

Inside and outside the church, we know how to conduct ourselves as Christians are expected to conduct themselves. We know the words to say and the words to avoid. We know what we are supposed to do and what we are not to do. We know how to judge others by how they meet our expectations. We are like the Pharisees—we know our traditions quite well.

So what’s wrong with the traditions? Nothing! There was nothing bad about the Pharisees’ ceremonial hand washing. In fact, most parents would be thrilled if their children picked up this habit.

Do you know the Pharisees problem? Their problem was that they turned a helpful ritual into an extra burden. There mistake was believing that the divine gift of salvation was a process of looking religious and obeying the rules rather than responding by faith to God’s mercy and grace. Their mistake was that they began to judged the worth of others based upon how they lived up to their pharisaic doctrines, dogmas, rules, and regulations. Are these not some of the same mistakes we make each day as we rigidly cling to our own religious traditions?

Like the Pharisees we’ve learned that going through the motions is easy.

It is easier to look like we are worshipping than it is to give ourselves completely to God.

It is easier to sing melodious hymns in a worship service than it is to actually , genuinely praise God with our whole selves.

It is easier to study the Bible on Sunday than to let the Holy Spirit to lead us into the lives of the poor in loving service on Monday.

It is easier to take care of a church building than it is to surrender ourselves to the Spirit so that we be built up as the people of God.

It is easier to pray for missionaries than to become engaged in God’s mission.

We try to make ourslves look acceptable. It’s easier than living out of the acceptance that really changes us.

Christianity does not consists of attending church, going to Bible study, giving money, and staying out of jail. If that’s this Jesus’ thing is all about, let’s stay home next week – cause it is not worth the time.

John Wesley wrote, “I am not afraid that the church should cease to exist. I am afraid the church will exist only as a dead gathering, having the form of religion without the power.”

I was recently introduced to a book by Ferrol Sams titled The Whisper of the River. It is a story about a young boy, reared in Georgia, as a part of the Southern Baptist tradition. In the book Sams speaks about being “Raised Right.” He says:

The child who had been Raised Right was not only Saved but had spent a large part of his formative years in the House of the Lord. Attendance at piano recitals did not count, but everything else did. From Sunbeams through BYPU, from Sunday school to prayer meeting, from Those Attending Preaching to Those With Prepared Lessons, everything was counted. So was everybody. In the midst of all this score-keeping, the concept of being saved by grace was a nebulous and adult bit of foolishness not to be contemplated with anything approaching the fervor accorded perfect attendance. A pin with added yearly bars swinging like a sandwich sign on an adolescent chest proclaimed indisputably to the world that its wearer had been Raised Right.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Do you ever fear that we have established in this place a form of religion devoid of any true spiritual power? Have we replaced genuine faith with religious tradition? Have we substituted salvation by grace through faith with a process of being Raised Right? Are we more concerned with appearing religious than with actually worshipping the one true living God?

If we are not careful we will begin to believe the lie that image is everything. Though it sounds like a contradiction in terms, pretense can become second nature. We get used to acting concerned, behaving like a friend, and sounding kind and gentle. Churchgoers end up as Pharisees, more concerned with their reputation than God’s will.

Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote that she had been to a party where everyone seemed to have left themselves at home. Sometimes church feels like that—like everyone left themselves at home. We can act so nice, like people meeting our in-laws for the first time. We end up feeling like a collection of mirrors, reflecting what everyone else expects of us. At their worst churchgoers are merely performers acting the way they assume Christians are suppose to act.

Masquerading as anything other than what we are destroys us from the inside. Pretending to be something that we’re not is a deadly sin. People waste their whole lives asking “How do I look? What do people think of me?” Jesus’ angriest condemnations were given to those who fake it. “In vain do they worship me.” The spirit of pretense keeps us from genuine faith.

But I would share some good news with you today. We don’t have to settle for looking like Christians. There is a better way. Jesus speaks:

“Listen to me, all of you, and understand: It’s not what can be seen that matters. It’s what’s in your heart. It’s what’s inside that either gives life or keeps you from living.”

What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that his gospel works from the inside-out.

It’s hard to guess how the people heard Jesus’ words. Like today, most probably paid him no mind. But there must have been some in the crowd who truly listened to him that day because some remembered.

Maybe there was a young father in the crowd who had been Raised Right by his parents—and now was trying to see to it that his own son was Raise Right. He had taught his boy to attend worship, to tithe, to say his prayers, read the Bible, and obey the rules. Now he was looking forward to his son’s bar-mitzvah—the ritual that would make him an official part of the synagogue. But on that day he heard Jesus say, “It’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside—in the heart.” As he listened to Jesus words the man realized that being Raised Right was not enough—neither for his son nor for himself. He wanted more. He wanted a genuine relationship with God.

Maybe there was an elderly widow present that afternoon—one of the prominent members of the local synagogue. She was from an important family—one that had a long and prestigious history in the synagogue. Before his passing her husband had been one of the religious communities greatest leaders. When Jesus spoke perhaps she realized—for the first time in her life—that she had always been more concerned with living up to her families history and heritage than with obeying the Spirit of God. Perhaps that afternoon was spent in shedding bitter but cleansing tears as she experienced a personal encounter with the one true living God.

Perhaps there was a young woman in the crowd—only eighteen years old. She was a brand new bride raised in the Jewish traditions. She had learned to say her prayers at bedtime and before meals. Religious practices had been an important part of her life. But now she and her new husband were out of their parents’ homes. They had to decide for themselves if they would go to church, or pray or read the Bible. As she listened she heard Jesus say, “It’s not what’s on the outside that determines who you are, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference.” She heard Jesus say that faith was not simply way to act. Genuine faith comes from deep inside. Perhaps true faith developed in her that day as she responded to Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Mayy ther is a oung Rabbi also present that afternoon. He was listening as Jesus taught. He had received his education. He had earned his degrees. He felt prepared to changed the world. His primary problem was that he spent too much time worrying about how he would be perceived by others and not enough time focusing on the call of God. As he listened to Jesus speaks perhaps his ministry gained true spiritual power as he realized that a heartfelt commitment to God was more important than the perceptions and judgments of his congregation.

I don’t know what type of people were in the crowd that day, but I am sure of one thing: you and I are among the crowd who hears Jesus’ teaching today.

We have heard him say that our tradition, history, and heritage is not sufficient to earn our salvation. We’ve heard Jesus say that being Raised Right is not enough to obtain God’s favor. We’ve heard him say that smoke and mirrors are not adequate—that appearances are not acceptable. We’ve heard him say that faith begins on the inside and works it way out. Faith begins at the core of our being where our Triune God is working out grace, love, and adoption in our loves.

So what will we do with this message? Will we be content with a form of religion—or will we seek the power that comes from life in the Spirit?

With Christ’s help, we can live genuinely. We can move beyond old habits to a new way of following Christ. And as Christ leads us to new life, he will bring life to our old traditions. Our traditions without Christ are like a tea bag without water. Something crucial is missing.

Bring an authentic experience with the love of God to bear and things change.

Realize that God really loves you and worship becomes an occasion to celebrate the gift of fellowship with the Father that is a gift in Jesus.

Realize that God really love you and studying the Bible becomes an avenue by which we hear God’s voice.

Realize that God loves you and serving and evangelism become expressions of joy not obligations and expectations.

Let me tell you something my friends: Lives meant to look Christian pale when compared to the actual live of Jesus being expressed through us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God delivers us from the tyranny of tired hypocrisy and leads us to life in the spirit.

May we be so overwhelmed by the love of our Triune God that we find that wwe have no use for merely trying to look like a Christian. Instead, we can know the joy of Jesus life being lived through us – from the inside, out.

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One Response to “Faith From the Inside Out”

  1. Terry says:

    AMEN! and… oh me!

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