Sunday, August 17, 2014

Life in Community: Mouth of the South - Matthew 15:1-2,10-20

Thank you for giving me space to share some of our story about Zia with you last Sunday.
Trasie and I took Zia to her doctor appointment Tuesday.  
A check-up on a procedure she had done when she was 7 weeks old;
it went well.
When we arrived, Daddy needed a bathroom break.
A restroom was conveniently located in the waiting area of the doctor’s office.  
I did my business then went to the sink to wash my hands where I found many in your face reminders of the importance of washing my hands:

I went for the soap dispenser and lo and behold, it was empty….
No soap in the bathroom at the doctor’s office.
I love ironies such as these we encounter in life.

I tell you, it’s a chore to get my kids to remember,
or better yet for me to remember to remind them to wash up before we eat….
The worst is when they’ve been playing out at a community playground swinging, gripping all kinds of bars, crawling up and down various platforms, and then we sit down for a meal,
I see them touching their food and licking their fingers and I ask, “Did yall remember to wash your hands?”  “No”
I can almost see the little germs having a party inside their mouths and bellies!  Gross

Wash your hands before dinner!
That’s all the Pharisees and scribes--
the keepers of religious law in 1st century Palestine-- are saying right?
Wash up! right?
Were the Pharisees simply concerned about germs?
When they see Jesus and his disciples, not washing up before supper, they quickly signal, “They’re defiled!”

They use the word, Defile.  
Implying not so much being dirty, but rather, not being holy and pure before God.
According to Jewish laws and customs, one needed to be clean before coming to worship...and one could become unclean for any number of reasons according to the law of Moses...

Any of you read through Leviticus and Numbers recently?

Jesus knows well the law of Moses, and he, like the religious leaders, wants people to be clean...

So he questions the spirit of the law….

Does washing hands before supper really make one clean?
Or, more precisely, does washing hands before supper put us in right relationship with God and with our neighbor?

Apparently, fall semester has begun for the disciples as well, and Jesus is taking them to school… a little biology 101. 

What goes into our mouths goes down our esophagus, into our stomachs, then through our small and large intestines and then, out the body into the sewer.  
But, what comes out of our mouths, our words, this comes from the heart.
It’s what comes out of the mouth, not what goes into it, that defiles,
what comes out of our mouths is what pollutes.

Jesus suggests maybe the practices of washing,
actually the entire purification ritual practices, aren’t cleaning people the way we really need cleansing.  

He points to the heart...

Some of you were here over the summer when I spoke about gardening and composting,
Suggesting that perhaps good compost for the heart is listening.
Again, Jesus is addressing matters of the heart. 

Time and again, Jesus, who is bringing in the good news of God’s kingdom on earth, is after our heart.  
Like a musician fine tuning an instrument…
Jesus desires that those who seek after God, tune their hearts to the rhythm of the heartbeat of their creator.  
Our hearts do much more than pump blood, this mysterious organ is a powerful communicator:
Our hearts sing when we’re joyful.
Our hearts flutter when we’re in love...especially that first kiss!  
Our hearts mourn when we’re sad…
Our hearts break when we’re disappointed…

Out of our hearts come passion and excitement…
But also out of our hearts come anger and bitterness, hatred and mean actions;
or as Jesus says it: “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”

I think we can agree, much of the way we interact with one another, comes from in here.
(fist pump - “I love you”
or….(I never want to talk to you ever again...I hate you)  

From the heart we communicate, be it through speaking, emailing, letter writing, sending emos, even signing …
And we all know a little sign language that can communicate loving messages ...or not so loving messages…

We use words….
And contrary to the song: sticks and stones may break my bones...words can hurt.
(Thanks to Rick Morley for pointing some of the following)
In Frederick Buechner’s The Son of Laughter, Rachel says to her son Jacob:
A word can never be unspoken once it has been spoken.
Do you understand what I mean?…
If you speak a word with the strength of your heart in it, you can never get that word out of the ears of the one you speak it to and back into your mouth again.
Once a word goes forth, it makes things happen for better or for worse.
Nothing you do will ever make those things unhappen even though you live for a thousand years.
Relationships come undone with the speaking of a word, families torn apart.
Congregations come undone with the speaking of words or the sending of a hasty email, especially when disagreements are reduced to battles over who’s right and who’s wrong...
And, it’s always ugly.
It always hurts–and the hurt is always bigger than one person, or one moment.
It’s the kind of hurt that lasts.
It’s the kind of hurt that makes you wonder if things will ever be ok again.
Jesus says, this hurt comes from in here.
Yet, the great healer seeks to heal our hearts--desires that our hearts may be made well-- so that we do not defile with that which comes out of our mouths.
As we think about life in community, Jesus hopes any community that seeks to be in healthy relationship may use gentle words when speaking to one another; even when there is disagreement!
Jesus hopes any community that seeks to be in healthy relationship---That out of our hearts come words of encouragement, words that build one another up, words that praise.
As we listen for the heartbeat of God and tune our hearts with that divine rhythm within each of us, we are called to embody love for one another.
This is all well and good Jesus,
but, I’m left asking, How do we root out that which is in our hearts which comes out from time to time through our mouths which can be hurtful?
Deep within are some very hurtful things, much put there from hurt we have experienced in our own lives,
it can be a bit frightening and disturbing when it rears its ugly head.
Sometimes we know when our hearts aren’t in a good place…we’re in a bad mood…:
we’re able to warm people…
”I woke up on the wrong side of the bed…”

And, sometimes, especially when in a highly emotionally charged situation…
hurtful things may come out of our mouths almost beyond our control may even shock us what’s in our hearts.

What the Pharisees required for purification..washing hands--that’s easy.
Jesus is challenging us to take a much more difficult journey along the path of purifying our hearts..

How do we begin this journey?
How do we stay on the path of this journey?

More and more, spiritual practices are being affirmed as ways to cleanse and purify our hearts.
At the same time, more and more, there are so many things that compete for our time and attention,
so spiritual practices may be harder to engage….

How can this spiritual community engage in spiritual practices so that out of our mouths may come words of love, or at least not words that hurt?
Reflect on spiritual practices you may engage or have a desire to engage.

What might be some examples?  
(daily prayer, silent meditation, working in the garden, walking in the nature, reading uplifting books,)

Time for a personal confession:
I’m pretty laid back right?
Well, I’ve been known to have a pretty short fuse...
When I get upset, as a knee jerk reaction, I sometimes yell;
I can say some hurtful things.
After it’s all over, I’m filled with regret.
I wonder, how did those things get in my heart? and how do I get them out?
I’ve worked on this off and on for a long time, it’s hard to get that stuff out of there.  

Over the summer, my parents drove my girls and me to the beach.  
About 30 minutes into our five hour drive, my girls, out of nowhere rat me out:
“My daddy yells.” Zia said.  “Yeah, daddy gets mad.” affirmed her sister.  
I tried to play it off, and said, “what? who me?” or something silly.
My gracious parents explained to them it’s not unusual for people to get upset.

It was a little while before I could resume normal conversation….
and what a powerful reminder that more heart work was needed…..

Down the street from our home is Athens Regional, where there is a Labyrinth. 
I don’t know if many of you have had an opportunity to walk a labyrinth.
A Labyrinth is an ancient spiritual resource used by Christian for centuries.  
Different from a maze, the idea is not to get lost, but to take us on a journey…
a journey as varied as their are people and ideas on the planet.
Intentions vary as well, as one follows the path to get to the center, and then moves from the center out.  

So, after my girls threw me under the bus :),
or perhaps spoke the truth in love….
I began a ritual in the evenings of walking to the Labyrinth,
then dedicated my prayerful walk through the Labyrinth to various things, with the underlying intentionality of seeking to purify my heart from the hurtful things that lie within, praying for peace within.
I would arrive at the center and offer those defiling things there, offer them to God;
and leave setting my heart on being filled with love and joy; forgiveness and kindness.

Ross Bishoff is working on becoming an Eagle Scout. I am one myself.  He said it would be okay for me to talk about his project a bit.  
He plans to install a labyrinth here on the church property.  
What a gift!
He doesn’t know how much use it may get…
But, once it’s in place, I plan to walk it, and I would encourage all of you, as you are able, to consider engaging the Labryinth as well from time to time as part of your prayer practice.
As part of his project, Ross plans on helping to educate us on ways it can be a spiritual resource for the community.  

Jim Bouchard told me about the farm he and Karen purchased from Ernest and Mary Nunn.
He told me Mr. Nunn, and probably Mrs. Nunn too, had a reputation for never speaking an unkind word about anyone.  

Wouldn’t that be awesome if that could be said about each of us as from this day forward.

By the grace of God may our hearts be made pure…so that out of our mouths may come words of: love and joy; words of peace and kindness, as we engage one another in this community of faith called Commerce Presbyterian Church.

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