The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s134g15  Sunday 22  30/8/2015

‘Why do your disciples .. eat with defiled hands?’   Mark 7:5

For the last 5 weeks we have been reading from John 6 - the feeding of the multitude and Jesus being the bread of life - and today we return to the gospel of Mark.   It is perhaps curious and co-incidental that we return to a controversy about eating.   The real question to Jesus is why does he eat with this unwashed rabble at all ..

There can be a multitude of reasons to avoid eating with others, some are based around hygiene, others have to do with ritual and ‘god’.   We in the first world have to be aware that we live in a highly sanitised society, where we are susceptible to illness simply because we haven’t built up immunity.   There is good reason for toddlers to eat dirt!   We are risking serious pandemics as bacteria are building up resistance to antibiotics, through overuse and misuse.

Recently my attention was brought to the ‘Communiqué from the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation 2015’ one of whose roles is now ‘to promote the deepening of communion between the Churches of the Anglican Communion’. (1)   It seems the Unity, Faith and Order Commission has become the Anglican Curia to make sure that the current boundaries around the reception of Holy Communion remain, lest our ‘Anglican’ identity be jeopardised.   Why is it that our aim is not to promote communion between all people of whatever faith, or lack thereof?   If this were our aim then surely the world might see the church as contributing something useful to society!  

The things that come out that defile are words that marginalise, alienate and condemn others, and so often these emanate from pulpits, as they did in the days of Jesus and the ‘tradition of the elders’.   Our celebration of the Holy Communion continues to be identified by who cannot eat.   Others are thereby marginalised, alienated and condemned.   It does not matter what the justification, scriptural or tradition; the tradition of the elders just as surely had their own proof texts.

I have to look back on my life with much thanksgiving.   Our children went to a public school where they were encouraged to be up front and make their contribution.   And how they responded!   They are both more socially adept then me, more talented musically, more accomplished academically, and they earn more than I ever did! :-)   Of course this is not universal, and regrettably so, yet I find it significant that this has happened in a secular setting.

I suspect that modern private denominational schools also have these ideals and approaches to education, yet I am sure that the change has not been inspired by doctrinal orthodoxy: teaching scripture, prayer and church attendance.   I have considerable misgivings about the introduction of some charter schools in NZ, where ‘religious’ principles like corporal punishment, teaching creation rather than evolution, the subordination of women and the condemnation of those who are not ‘christian’ like them, may be taught by stealth.   All of these are based around differentiation rather than incarnation and they only offer the world a return to the 1950’s.

St Paul speaks directly to affirm modern democratic and egalitarian principles when he says: ‘what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.   Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’  (2)   He goes further saying: ‘When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves.   They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.’  (3)  This is in stark contrast to the religion of his upbringing which he describes as ‘inventors of evil’  (4) and their fate: ’For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.’  (5)

Again, why is our ‘holy communion’, that most distinctive activity of ‘christians’ known chiefly for who cannot partake; who are defiled and therefore excluded?

The church could be an amazing institution.   People brought together, the only purpose for which is to proclaim and make a reality an affirmation and inclusion of all.   Instead we have been turned into a club celebrating our own status, praying: Lord, we thank thee that we are not like other people - those who sleep in on Sundays, mow their lawns and wash their cars. (6)   People are brought together for no other purpose, no political agenda, no moral crusade, no guru-worship, but just to proclaim, to one and to all, that all have a place at this table, because all are human, because all are precious.

Do we not see that the words of St Paul I quoted above are the precise opposite of my text today?   Instead of saying: Why are your disciples so ordinary? St Paul says of society, that in being egalitarian and democratic they are fulfilling the royal law of love.  (7)  For I want to suggest that until all are equally welcome at this table, it doesn’t yet qualify to be God’s table.

2.  Romans 1:19-20
3.  Romans 2:14-16
4.  Romans 1:30
5.  Romans 1:26-27
6.  Luke 18:11-12
7.  James 2:8