The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Let it Out
They thought they had a problem. They thought they had an employee productivity problem. They thought that in this tech driven, data based world, their employees weren’t hitting their peak potential. Workers should be able to collaborate, work together, let their ideas cross-pollinate. They thought that their workers needed to beat the competition, to work harder, to work faster, to work together. And what, did they think, was stopping their employees from working together? Walls.
So they ripped them out. You’ve seen the pictures of offices in Silicon Valley. Not a wall to be seen. Not an office in sight. Just one big room with ping pong tables, espresso machines - and everybody just right there together sitting on groovy looking chairs. Sharing their ideas and collaborating on the newest, most cutting edge technology. Working faster and working together better unencumbered by walls.
Except, they’re really not working any better at all. Employees in open offices actually report less productivity because of the constant interruptions. Seriously, who wants to hear every single phone call your co-worker makes? Workers in open offices actually report taking more “sick days” simply because they need a break from the environment in which they are constantly being watched by everybody else. You can’t blame them - the open office concept is based on the same design as a famous nineteenth century prison.
They thought they had a problem. They thought their employees weren’t working hard enough or collaborating enough. And they thought they could solve the problem by simply changing the external things around. Like a giant shell game. But it was never the external stuff, was it? It’s always been about what’s on the inside.
And Jesus knows, Jesus knows that we, too, have a problem. Try as we might, we have a hard time opening our hearts in love. We say that we will love our neighbors as ourselves until, that is, we come up against somebody we don’t like. Try as we might to let in the light, our hearts are overshadowed by darkness.
This has been the trouble with all of humanity. And we’ve tried a thousand and one ways to solve the problem. The Pharisees were trying their own way. Like us, like Jesus, the Pharisees understood that there is something deeply amiss with humanity. That, even though we were created for love we are given in to hate. Like all those tech entrepreneurs, the Pharisees try to solve humanity’s problem by changing the external stuff. They are hoping that by washing their hands, their cups, their plates, in just the right way then maybe, maybe the darkness will go away. Maybe then their hearts will be set right. It’s important to note - the Pharisees were not terrible people. They were simply doing what we all try to do - to live better lives.
The Pharisees are following these traditions because they hope that these customs will help them break out of those cycles of darkness. And at the end of the day, none of those traditions or customs were bad. This was the mistake the Pharisees were making - the mistake made at Silicon Valley. You have a problem, you try to solve by moving around some external stuff, but that doesn’t really help at all because the problem is deeper than that. The open office will not necessarily make your company into the next Google. Jesus was not condemning the washing of hands. He was condemning the belief that washing your hands was all you needed. That’s what Jesus is getting at, because the problem is below the surface, the problem is in our hearts.
You already know this. Just because you have a big house and a new car does not necessarily mean you’re successful or happy. Just because you go to church does not necessarily mean you are a righteous person. What we have here is an issue of the heart. Jesus says it’s from the heart, it’s from within that you can tell a person’s character. The exterior stuff is just that - stuff. The true measure of your heart is what comes out of it, not what you on top of it.
And this is true for every aspect of our lives, every aspect of our lives. There is no part of your life that you can separate out from your Christian faith. There is no part of our lives that can remain hidden in darkness if we want to follow the light. Try as hard as we might, we cannot paper over the cracks. No, what Jesus demands of us is that everything that comes from us - our thoughts, our words, and our deeds are thoughts, words, and deeds of love.
So, how you spend your money is a matter of Christian principle. It just is. How that money flows from your account is the true measure of who you are. What comes out of your wallet is an indication of what is coming out of your heart. Anybody can talk a big game about charity; anybody can put their name on a plaque. But remember, none of that external stuff matters. What matters is your heart. Look at your bank statement, does your money glorify God?
And how we vote is a matter of Christian principle. It just is. When we vote, what is coming out of us? We cannot vote for one party or the other and think that is good enough. Because your vote is a measure of who you endorse. As your vote, is it love coming out? Or hate? That will show us where are our hearts are. Is it darkness or is it light? Do you vote with Jesus on your mind? When you post on Facebook about politics, because I know you do, are you merely trying to prove yourself right? Have you shut your heart or opened it?
And on this Labor Day weekend, we must remember, what we work for is a matter of Christian principle. When you go to work, when you labor, are you doing it to enrich yourself or to enrich the world? What gets you up in the morning? Is it only to chase that next dollar, or is to make the world a more loving, a more just, a more beautiful place? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t earn money. By all means, a laborer deserves to be paid. But as the work comes flowing out of your heart, what are you doing it for? Who are you doing it for? Because your purpose, not your paycheck, will be the true measure of your work. It is not how much money you make but how much of a difference you make that really matters. Dare I say, that the laborer who works to grow our food, clean our buildings, drive us around - and who does it honestly - serves a higher purpose than the achiever whose only aim is to magnify themselves. Your work shows us who you really are.
Elisabeth Johnson, a Lutheran theologian put it this way: “We can try to project a squeaky clean image, but one way or another, the evil within will find its way out. The highly edited version of ourselves, the façade that we present to the world, will crumble sooner or later.”
You know how I feel about Lutherans, they also seem to be so down on themselves. So I would add - the good within us will also find its way out. Whether it be charity or kindness or courage or love or grace or mercy. When these things come out of our hearts in our work, in our votes, in our money then they will show us to be true disciples of Jesus.
Whatever is in us will find its way out, whether it be good or evil. God will not judge us by what is on the outside. In a way, God will not even have to judge us on by what inside. We will judge ourselves by what comes out of us. Because that is the true measure of a human heart.
It is time then, to do that inner work. Get rid of that highly edited version of your self. It’s not doing you any good, and God sees right through it. It really doesn’t matter how the office furniture is arranged. To confront the problem that besets every human heart, you must truly consider your purpose in life, and to consider what is flowing out of you. It is time then, not so much to let the Holy Spirit into your heart, but to let the Holy Spirit out.