The Three Words that Lead to Salvation
The Three Words that Lead to Salvation
A sermon by the Rev. Susan Bek
Proper 17, Year B
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Ventura, California
September 2, 2018
Today’s gospel lesson comes from Mark chapter 7. In it Jesus is pointing out how corrupt humanity has become. On the surface, it seems that this passage is about whether or not people should wash their hands before they eat. That’s not really what it’s about. What it’s really about is the tendency we humans have to put road blocks between us and God.
This morning’s sermon is simple. The main point consists of only three words, but the message is vitally important to our salvation. I’ll start with a brief introduction and then let those three words speak for themselves.
Let’s start with this, God came down in the form of a human; was made man. Jesus is God incarnate, God with us. This is how God decided to reach out to be in relationship with us.
What Jesus is trying so hard to teach in this lesson, is that every time you do anything to make it harder for people to connect with God, you are doing the opposite of what Jesus came to do. You are working against his mission, against his purpose.
In our brokenness and confusion, in our longing for something more and the criticism that the world teaches us to have of ourselves, we end up making things harder on ourselves and others. Jesus is trying to help us focus on what really matters.
God has been upset about this for a long time. We can see God’s frustration and disappointment in this morning’s reading from Isaiah (29:13).
“This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
In the gospel lesson, Jesus stands incarnate among the people and calls to the crowd again and says to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand…There is nothing outside a person that by going in and can defile, but things that come out are what defile.”
So, it’s not about keeping the ritual laws of purity, it’s not about a strict concern for what is clean and unclean that matters most to God. Though washing your hands before you eat is a good idea, it’s not the key to salvation. It’s not the most important thing to focus on. The key to salvation, it turns out, is something far different from what they expected.
Even today we worry that we’re not worthy. We throw up roadblock after roadblock between us and God. While insisting we aren’t good enough or ready enough, we’ve locked God out, shut the door. Then, angry and frustrated that God seems so distant, so hard to please, some speak out and act out in truly evil ways.
I think that the root of much of the evil in the world is fear, loneliness, and an intense anxiety that comes from the thought that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t perfect enough for God to love. And what happens when we feel inadequate? We often turn to our neighbors and criticize them. It feels much more comfortable to think about how unworthy they are than worry about, or have to change, ourselves.
What we need to learn to control isn’t the actions of others. What we need to learn to control is ourselves. We need to learn to control our evil impulses, our short tempers, our self-indulgence, our scheming our manipulation, and our insistence that other people are getting it all wrong.
It’s time to stop putting up roadblocks, stop insisting on making this more complicated. Let’s set aside our fear, our anxiety and, our self-centeredness. We will be much better people once we do. But until then, the message I’m about to share still applies. Our becoming better people is important, but it’s not the key to salvation either.
The key to salvation is simple. It depends on 3 little words. The only thing that really matters is this -- God… Loves… You.
Sit with that for a minute. I’ve asked for some music to inspire you as you let that sink in. God loves you.
Listen deeply and you hear God saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” God loves you.
Now, look around at all the people in this room, God loves them too.
Now, think of all the people in the world. Some are walking down the street. Some are driving along. Some are sitting with a sick family member. Some are sick, themselves. Some have to work today. Some are walking on the beach. Some are shaking their fist at someone to cut them off in traffic. Some of them are arguing with their parents. Some of them are angry and always so difficult to deal with, but you know what? God loves them too. All of them.
Remember who created you from dust? God loves you. Remember who gave you life and allows you to do with it what you please? God loves you. Remember where you came from and where you will return? God loves you.
God loves you.
In today’s gospel passage we see Jesus turn the ways of the world upside down again. The same God who thinks that justice means that the last will be first wants us to know that what defiles us, what makes us less than holy, isn’t what we eat or how or when we wash. What defiles us, is our words and actions. We need to be careful about what we say and what we do. We need to use love as the measure by which we make our decisions and plan our actions.
Do you want to know what you have to do to get God to love you, and think that you are good enough? Do you want to know what the other people in the world have to do to get God to love them?The answer is, nothing.
You, and they, don’t have to DO anything. It’s not up to you, it’s up to God. God chooses to love you, and God chooses to love us all. That’s it. The three little words that lead to salvation are God loves you. Period. End of sermon. Amen.