Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
One day God was looking down at earth and saw all of the bad
behavior that was going on. So, God called one of angels and sent the angel down to earth for a time. When he returned, the angel told God, ‘Yes, it’s bad. 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are being good. God thought for a moment and said, ‘Maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another opinion.’ So, God called another angel and sent her to down to earth. And when the angel returned she went to God and said, ‘Yes, it’s true. The earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.’ God was not pleased to hear this so, God decided to e-mail the 5% that were good to encourage them and give them a little something to help them keep going. Do you know what the e-mail said? No? That’s Okay, I didn’t get one either.
Now, I know this is a just a joke (thanks Roger) but it does point us toward some interesting questions. Questions like: Who are the 95% and why are they… we… misbehaving? Who are the 5% and what are they doing right? And, finally, what does it really mean to “misbehave”? Well, there are probably as many answers to these questions as there are people in the room here today. And this is nothing new. These questions go way back.
The religious leaders, in our passage from Mark’s gospel today, had one definition of what misbehaving looked like and Jesus had another. The Pharisees though misbehaving meant breaking the laws of Moses. Keeping all 640ish of them to the letter was the key to holiness. The laws were clear, black and white, and often practical. I mean, who can argue with washing your hand before you eat? Cleanliness is next to Godliness, right? But the problem was that the Pharisees, over the centuries, had weaponized these laws. And in this case, were turning those weapons on Jesus.
But he responds in a very interesting way. Jesus said, “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come.” In other words, there’s no outside contaminant causing us to sin. He was advocating for what we would call today “personal responsibility.” So, when you make a mistake, when evil words cross your lips, when you’re not as compassionate or kind as you could have been, don’t try to place the blame anyone or anything else. Take responsibility. Ask for forgiveness when it’s you’re fault and be forgiving when someone else has wronged you. If we can teach this concept to our children, this world might be a little better off.
“Now,” you might say, “not all bad things come from inside us, some evil is beyond our control.” And you would be right. But as Jesus teaches, most of our problems come as the result of our own transgressions; our own insecurities, our own fear; it’s our own bad thoughts that lead us astray and causes us to misbehave.
But, let’s stop here for a moment and consider the opposite. If evil thoughts come from our hearts, that must mean we are also capable of producing good thoughts; things like joy, compassion, and grace must also come from within us. So, if this is true, then we might say, “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that loving thoughts come.”
That means we have a choice. We can choose to good over evil, we can choose to listen to our inner compassionate voice rather than the fearful, negative one. We can choose to misbehave, or we can choose to Be Love.
What does it mean, to be love? Well, here’s an example of what I mean. This past week I saw a picture of our former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn working at a new Habitat for Humanity work site in Indiana. I posted the picture on my blog.[i] Remember now, President Carter is 93-years-young and Rosalynn Carter is now 91. It was announced this week that the President’s cancer has spread, but there they were, beginning their 31st year of Habitat, still out there, still wearing their blue hard hats and t-shirts, still building houses, still serving the poor; still being love.
President Carter once said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”[ii]
My friends, what a beautiful statement of faith. We are called to “Be Love”; to be God’s hands and feet, Christ’s heart and the Spirit’s voice in the world today. And we can do this! We can do it if we let the good that is within each one of us burst forth! We can do this if we let our faith challenge us to do whatever we can, wherever we are, whenever we can, for as long as God gives us the strength to try and make a difference in the world. That’s finally what it means to be faithful individuals; that’s what it means to “be” the church; and, that’s what it means to be love.
So, my friends, as we depart this service today, may any evil thoughts that might be lurking below the surface, may our misbehavior in whatever form it may take; be overcome by the better angels of our being and the goodness that dwells within each of all our hearts.
May it be so.