SCRIPTURES – Ps. 26; Isaiah 29:11-19; Eph. 5:21-33; Mark 7:1-13
Our readings from the Bible today contain some rather uncomfortable words, words which might make you squirm with embarrassment and discomfort if they were read when you were in the company of people who do not share your high regard for what God says. Shoot, you might even have been squirming inside a little bit when you heard them this morning! Just imagine being at a gathering of diverse people. Would you be comfortable standing up before everyone and reading these words:
“O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells!”
What? Were you thinking of some other words from today’s readings? These words from Ephesians 5, perhaps?
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
We have a problem with critical words, with words that challenge and judge our thoughts and actions, don’t we? In fact, we have a twofold problem. We speak critically when we shouldn’t, and then we do not speak critically when we should!
The first problem is perhaps more prevalent. Oh, how critical and judgmental we are!
Recently I ran into a guy my age whom I hadn’t seen in a while. “Boy, he’s looking old,” I thought when I saw him. Of course, I’m not! I mean, I know I’m older, too; but I know that I haven’t changed very much!
We spend billions of dollars every year on clothing and on products that will make us look better to others. And, to a point, that’s ok. Looking your worst isn’t a virtue! But, God is most concerned with your heart. A heart that is critical of others, filled with a quick and constant judgmentalism, makes you ugly in His sight.
Consider the Pharisees and the scribes. They were highly regarded by the people of Israel, for they were devoted to God and to His Word, to learning it and living it. Mark’s Gospel points out, “the Pharisees do not eat unless they wash their hands when they come from the marketplace.” They weren’t concerned with dirt or germs, however, but with the possibility that they had brushed against a Gentile sinner and so been stained by his sinfulness and uncleanness. It is this critical, judgmental attitude that led them to question why Jesus’ disciples ate without properly washing their hands. They were quick to see sin where there was no sin. For this Jesus called them hypocrites. Their critical words were not directed by God’s Words but by their own selfish motivations, and so they were impure and unholy.
We too easily and quickly judge on the basis of how we perceive and feel about outward, external things. This is so even in the Church! This is why I said that David’s statement in Psalm 26, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells!” is shocking. What was God’s house in David’s day? It was a portable structure made of animal skins, and a place where animals were sacrificed daily. Just imagine how hot and smelly it was, and how many flies and other bugs were buzzing around! And yet, David cried, “I love this place!” He looked beyond what he saw (and smelled) to what God said of it, to His promise that He was present with mercy in its sacrificial ministry. We must do the same. It’s easy to find faults in a church: in the building; in the programs; in the pastor; in the people. Faults are ever present! Look deeper and see God present and working salvation – giving Christ’s glory to you, and also to those gathered with you! – through His Word and Sacraments. This is the proper judgment. You will then love His house, and God will help you to overlook faults and love also those who worship with you.
If you love the Lord’s house because you love Him and His Word, He will then help you to be rightly critical and judgmental – as you should be. If you ever wonder whether or not it is right to judge, consider Jesus. He was being incredibly critical and judgmental of the scribes and Pharisees! He rightly condemned them for wrongly condemning His disciples. And so, we see that there is a time for speaking critically and judgmentally. We are to speak up with the truth. There is a need for pointing out sin and error and calling people to turn from it. This is the work of Christ. It is the necessary preparation for speaking of His mercy and forgiveness.
But, before you open your mouth to speak critically, consider your Savior. Take to heart what is said of Him in Ephesians 5:
Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Jesus sees and knows our sins clearly, far better than we see them and know them. He who knew the judgmental hearts of the Pharisees knows our judgmental hearts, also. But, He came as our husband, to take us to Himself “in sickness and in health.” He came above all not to condemn us but to lay down His life for us all, taking upon Himself the judgment that our sins deserve to save us from being judged and condemned by God for them. He came to pour out His forgiveness upon us in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, bind us forever to Himself, and make us beautiful, pure and holy and without sin before God. He always had this in mind, especially when He spoke critically. Jesus never spoke in anger, with the intent to get back at someone or simply make them suffer. When He spoke critically it was with the desire to turn people from their sins and bring His Father’s blessing to them.
May it ever be so with us! Whether you are speaking critically to a friend; to your child; to your spouse; or even to someone you don’t really know, simply because you must speak up; speak with the desire to honor your Savior and lead people to Him, and not to yourself. Desire God’s blessing for others! Christ will then be pleased to dwell in you, and others, with His glory and build you up as His house. “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells!” This is what He speaks over you, His baptized and cleansed and beautiful Church: His bride. This is what He wishes to speak through you. Bring this about, Lord, to the glory of Your name and the blessing of Your Bride, Your holy Church! Amen.