August 17, 2014 “In and Out of the Kingdom of God” Matthew 15:10-20
I realized after the bulletins were printed this week, that the title of my sermon might be a little bit misleading. It would be easy to read my title “In and Out of the Kingdom of God”, and take it to mean that I’m going to be talking about who’s in, and who’s out, of the Kingdom of God.
That’s not my intention, because I think our time and energy is better spent on other topics.
But it’s an interesting direction to go, isn’t it?
That’s a tack we easily take, I think, right?
It’s pretty natural for us, when we start thinking about or talking about a group of people, such as a kingdom, or a club, or a family, or a church…it’s pretty natural for us to pretty quickly begin to tease apart who’s “in” and who’s “out”.
Our government has pretty clear guidelines…who’s “in”, and who’s “out” as it relates to citizenship or residency.
We might agree or disagree with the guidelines, and we each have to choose how we’re going to respond to the guidelines as they’re stated…but the fact remains that it’s clear to those in power who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.
The same goes for clubs, businesses (no shirt, no shoes, no service) social groups, our small groups…churches, denominations, Kingdoms…each one of these circles has some kind of understanding within itself as to who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’… and for the most part, the deciding factors have to do with outward appearances, behaviors, beliefs, and the like.
And like I said, that’s not what I meant when I gave that title to Beth to print in this week’s bulletin.
So why am I spending so much time talking about what I don’t want to talk about?
It’s because I think this kind of thinking is such a natural part of who we are and how we think, that if I don’t spell it out clearly, I’m afraid you might end up hearing things I’m not saying.
Because what I’m saying is the Kingdom of God is a different kind of Kingdom, with a different kind of structure.
The In and the Out that I’m referring to is the inner life, the transformation that happens there when we encounter Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and then the outer changes that happen as a result of that inner work that’s being done by God.
This is the “In” and the “Out” of the Kingdom of God.
It’s not about what you eat or don’t eat.
It’s not about what you wear or don’t wear.
It’s not about the rules that you follow, or how you spend your time, or the people you hang out with.
These are not the things that make you clean or unclean, Jesus teaches those with ears to hear.
The condition of your heart is more important than any of those outward expressions, because your heart influences those outward expressions!.
In other words, clean up your heart, and the rest will fall into place, for it’s out of the heart where come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander…these are the things that do not belong in the Kingdom of God.
But see, just like the Pharisees and the Scribes, just like so many other people all throughout history, we get so hung up on the idea that we need to define who’s in and who’s out..that it’s easy to miss the mission we’re to be about.
In this morning’s passage, Jesus teaches the crowd that it’s not what goes into the mouth, but rather what comes out that makes you unclean…he’s re-defining more than some simple notion about cleanliness (even though that was a HUGE debate at the time).
What he’s essentially saying is that to enter his kingdom, that is, to enter the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, (which, by the way, was another way that ancient Jews would sometimes talk about the earthly kingdom that their long-awaited military Messiah would bring)…to enter the Kingdom of God, it matters more what comes out your mouth than what goes in.
Because what comes out of your mouth is a sign of what’s in your heart. Unless Christ rules first of all in your heart, the rest means nothing!
This was a problem for the Pharisees.
They were concerned with the traditions and the requirements of the law, and all this external stuff…they were deeply concerned about all these external signs of faithfulness to God, not because they were just nit-picky old codgers who wanted to throw a wet blanket on anyone who didn’t do things their way…(I think that’s how we often view them, isn’t it?)
No, it was more because they cared deeply about the traditions, and about the outward signs of faithfulness, for many of the same reasons our conservative, or Amish cousins care about how they dress and what kinds of vehicles and what kind of technology they can or can’t use.
It sets them apart!
You know someone is Amish, because they dress a certain way, they drive a horse and buggy, and they probably speak Dutch, right?
Those things are all very important things to the Amish people. They’re traditions they have that set them apart as a people group. It’s pretty clear to most of us, who’s Amish, and who’s not.
It was the same way…maybe even moreso…for the Jewish people living under Roman occupation.
Their identity was wrapped up in these traditions, these rituals, these outside markers that set them apart.
So it seemed, to the religious leaders, that Jesus was being lax in making sure his disciples followed the traditional eating rituals. There was a lot more at stake here than a few people possibly getting sick.
This was a matter of identity.
How religious Jews ate, how they worked and didn’t work, how they dressed, how they did or didn’t cut their hair, what they touched and what they avoided throughout their daily life…every action they took or didn’t take, all of it was full of chances to proclaim that they were squarely within the Jewish circle of acceptability, which was also God’s circle of acceptability.
There was a system of “Ins” and “Outs” that were very particular and very clear.
Do this, and you’re in…do that, and you’re out.
What I love about Jesus is the way he flips it all around.
See, his kingdom is not of this world.
It never was, and it never will be.
So for Jesus, our Living Christ, all that external stuff, it’s not the primary aim of his message, his reign, or the salvation that he offers.
All that external stuff matters…but truly changing any of it begins inside, in our hearts, in our souls, down where our motivations live, where greed is first conquered, where malice and envy and lust can become generosity and kindness and humility.
Your heart is where the rubber meets the road on the path of discipleship. For if the kingdom of God were an earthly kingdom, then Jesus would have focused his efforts on the things that earthly kings and presidents and governors care about…that is, influencing behavior, and being clear about who’s in and who’s out and what the requirements are.
But the true battleground lies within the hearts and the minds of the people God loves.
For what’s inside will work itself out on the outside…
and if that doesn’t make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, then you’re not hearing Jesus right.
I’m a firm believer that you can come to church every Sunday for a lifetime, you can burn through your Bibles, you can say and do all the right things at all the right moments with all the right people…
I think you can do all that while still missing out on a fundamental point, that is that God loves you, that he cares about transforming your life from the inside-out, and that there is no way you can earn any of it.
It’s not what goes in that’s fundamentally important.
It’s what comes out that we need to pay attention to.
Last Sunday I had you take up rocks to symbolize your burden. (afterwards I heard some jokes about how much courage it must have taken to give the whole congregation stones at the end of a sermon!)…I invited you to come up and lay your burden at the foot of the cross.
This Sunday I’d like to invite you to turn your attention inward yet again, to consider the state of your own heart in the presence of our Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Reflect upon the past week, and what’s proceeded from your lips.
The language you’ve used…the jokes you’ve made…the messages you’ve shared…
How have you been choosing to use the breath that you’ve been given?
We are meant to manifest God’s Kingdom, Christ’s reign, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
That means we show it, through our actions, how we live, how we relate.
But we cannot show it unless we know it, first of all for ourselves.
The good news is for all people, everywhere…and we are not the judge of who’s in and who’s out. Only God can see the heart, only God can make that call.
But if you find within yourself this morning, that you’re at a point of wanting somehow, to claim a part of this journey for yourself, to take a step into this kingdom, whether it’s a first step or simply ‘another’ step…I invite you to pray with me right now, and then talk to someone after the service, whether it’s a friend, or an elder, or Christine or me.
For the Grace of God is there for the taking and his kingdom truly knows no end.
Let’s pray together…