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Church of the Holy City

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Such Righteous Decrees


Such Righteous Decrees
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 30, 2015

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Psalm 15

All our Bible readings this morning speak of doing good deeds, and of not doing what is bad. There is a payoff for this. Psalm 15 says that if we do these things, we will be close to God,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
What this Psalm says, is that when we do what is right, we will dwell on God’s holy hill and travel in God’s tent. This is a symbolic way of saying that we will be close to God when we do what is right. The tent referred to is the tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them in their wanderings. God was thought to dwell in the tabernacle. And the holy hill is Mount Zion, where the temple built by Solomon stood. The temple and the tabernacle were the most holy places to the Israelites. The temple and the tabernacle represented God’s presence in the midst of the people of Israel. The temple and tabernacle meant God Himself.
The tabernacle was in the centre of the camp when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. And the Temple was the focal point of the holy city Jerusalem. So God was physically near the Israelites in the tabernacle and temple. But God was also near to them in prayer. Deuteronomy says,
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us when we pray to him? (4:8)
The same is true for us, even today. Jesus is always near to us whether we pray or not! The only distance between us and God is when we throw up blocks between God and ourselves. But God never draws away. It is we who distance ourselves from God by doing bad things. It is a paradox. God is always intimately near to us, but we don’t feel God’s presence when we distance ourselves. It feels as if we were distant, but it is never the case that we are distant. I think of that reassuring Psalm,
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee (Psalm 139:7-12).
But for us to feel God’s love and presence, we need to clear our thoughts and hearts. This is what Jesus is talking about in Mark 7. The Pharisees ask why Jesus and His disciples do not follow kosher purity rituals when they eat. The Pharisees had a practice of ceremonial washing before they eat, and also they ate only certain foods. Also food was prepared in a special way to keep all diary food separate from meat.
Jesus calls these rituals “traditions of men”–not commands of God. Jesus probably has in mind the passage from Deuteronomy 4 that we heard this morning.
Do not add to what I am commanding you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (4:2).
Jesus lifts our thinking above rituals and calls our attention to what is in our hearts. He tells us that it is not the food that comes into us that makes us clean or impure. Rather, it is what comes out of us, from our hearts.
Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean” (Mark 7:15-16).
This teaching is timeless. We don’t have anyone telling us to follow kosher laws, since we are in a Christian environment. But Jesus’ teachings are just as true for us as they were in the first century A.D. Jesus gives us a list of what kinds of things make a person unclean.
Out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean” (Mark 4:21-23).
These evils deeds are the things that distance us from God. For when we are involved in these things, we remove our consciousness from the source of everything that is good.
Paul has a similar list of evils that come out of a person’s heart, only it is a little longer. He calls these things, “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). But Paul also gives us a list of good things that can also flow out of our hearts. He calls them “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:19-23).
These are the things that bring us close to God. These are the things that show us to be Christians. In a broader sense, these things, these fruits of the Spirit, show us to be Godly people. This is true for Christians and for Jews, and for every person of faith whatever it may be. People notice these things. And people who are good hearted appreciate these attitudes and behaviors. They like being around believers who practice these principles, whether they themselves are believers of not. Moses tells the people of Israel to practice the laws that God has given them as a witness to the nations around them,
Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. . . . What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today’ (Deuteronomy 4:6, 8).
Acting in the best way we know how; following the laws of right behavior that we have learned; loving God and our neighbor will make us children of God and bring us nearer my God to thee. As the Psalmist says,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
That will be us, making our way through life covered by God’s holy tent and living on Zion in our hearts. Though we may never attain it, we can still strive to walk blamelessly and do what is right.

PRAYER

Lord, you are near us when we pray. In fact, you are always near us, you are closer to us than our own parents, children and friends. It is we who put distance between us when we wander from your teachings. But even then, you are with us. The distance we seem to put between us is only an appearance. You are intimately close to every soul that lives in this world or in the next. As the Psalm says,

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me (139).

Thank you for your continued presence. Stay with us in this world until we join with you forever in the next.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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