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August 26, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

Pentecost 13 Mark 7:1-13

A man went to see his doctor for a checkup and while he was there he expressed to his doctor a concern that perhaps his wife was losing her hearing.  “Here’s what you should do”, said the doctor.  “When you go home, when her back is turned, ask her a question, the way you normally would.  If she doesn’t respond, cut the distance in half and ask again.  If she still doesn’t respond, again halve the distance and ask again.  Keep asking till you get a response.  He thought this sounded like a good idea and decided to give it a try.
Upon arriving at home, his wife was at the counter in the kitchen with her back turned and seeing his chance, he said to her, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Getting no response.  He cut the distance in half.  Again he said, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”  Still nothing.  Half the distance – now practically right on top of her.  “Honey, what’s for DINNER?”  She turned around looking him in the eye and said, “For the third time, CHICKEN!”
And this is the way it is.  When we compare ourselves to others, when we judge and condemn, we are the ones condemned.
We see as much in the Gospel of Mark.  The Pharisees and scribes compared their piety, their holiness and their perfection to Jesus’ disciples.  It made sense.   After all, one would expect great students from a great teacher.  Yet upon comparison, the disciples were not so great.  They didn’t keep the traditions of the elders.  You probably remember from Sunday School the teachers of the law were constantly commenting on the Law of Moses, adding up rule upon rule to further explain and define what it was that constituted a sin, what you did and did not have to do to be a good and righteous Jew.  So there were reams upon reams of little rules to obey.  The Pharisees were experts at these rules.  They made it their business to keep every one of them.
Well, one of those rules just so happened to be washing your hands.  The Jews and especially the Pharisees, constantly washed their hands - but not to get rid of dirt or germs.  They baptized them to get rid of sin and uncleanness.   They baptized their hands – did a ceremonial washing to clean their hands from sin.  Sometimes their own but also and especially everyone else’s sin.  And they didn’t’ just baptize their hands.  They baptized their pots and pans and cups and even their couches; because, you never know, somebody sitting there might have been dirty, might have been a sinner, and a good Jew – (or a good Christian for that matter) can’t have all that sin just following them around.  It gets you dirty.  And so, you wash it off, you baptize it away.  And that takes care of the problem.
The problem is dirty hands.  Dirty sinful hands.  Hands that do sinful things.  Think of all the things you do with your hands.  The things they touch, the things they hold, the violence we do with our hands.  Our hands are dirty.  We have gotten our hands dirty.
Your conscience knows.  Your conscience knows your hands are dirty.  Your conscience knows where your hands have been and what your hands have done.  And your conscience won’t let you forget.  It constantly reminds you.  It constantly whispers in your ear that what you have done wasn’t right.  And you conscience needs to be satisfied.  You need to feel better about your sin.  You need to find some way to keep your conscience quiet.  What do you do when your conscience bothers you?
The Pharisees baptized things.  They knew they had dirty, sin stained hands.  And so they baptized them.  Over and over again they baptized their hands, their pots, their cups, their plates, their couches.  Everything!  They must have been desperate!
They must have been desperate for a good conscience.
What do you do when your conscience bothers you?
To have a bad conscience is a horrible thing.  It is a terrifying thing.  It tortures you and keeps you awake at night.  A bad conscience comes between you and your friends – you are constantly thinking about how you have sinned against that person and so you can’t carry on a conversation with them.  Or else, you are constantly thinking about how they have sinned against you and that can bother your conscience too!  We need a good conscience.  The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
When our conscience is bad.  When it is plagued and bothered by sin, when we look at our hands and see that they are stained with sin, we will often do what the Pharisees did.  Not that we baptize things, we don’t do that.  We know that doesn’t do any good, but we find ourselves behaving a lot like the Pharisees.  We compensate and we compare and then we condemn.
The Pharisees knew they had unclean hands.  They knew their hands were stained with sin.  They looked down at their hands and thought to themselves, “Oh no! What am I going to do!”  They had a guilty conscience so they decided they would try to compensate for their sin.  They decided to work it off, to wash it off,  to do enough good things so that they could make up for the bad thing.  You and I do this all the time.  You do something to offend your wife, and so you buy her flowers.  You do something to offend your husband and so you bake him a pie.  You make someone angry so you kiss up, brownnose a bit.  You do something to offend God so you spend some extra time at church.  You do all these things to compensate for your sin and hope that it will keep your conscience quiet.  But it doesn’t work.
You still know your sin, you still feel you guilt, you still have a bad conscience.  Compensating for it didn’t work.  Your conscience is still screaming at you because of your sin.  You need to feel better.  You need to  keep your conscience quiet.  So the next thing you do is compare.  Look at the disciples of Jesus.  Look at the things they do.  They don’t follow the traditions of the elders.  They don’t baptize their hands before they eat their meal.  They pick grain on the Sabbath.  Or what about Judas – he had a bad conscience  because of the way he handled the money and so when a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfume and broke it open on Jesus’ feet he compared himself to her.  He pointed his accusing finger at her and said.  “Look!  Look! Look at how wasteful she is.  She should have give that money to the poor.  Instead she poured out that costly perfume on Jesus.”  Don’t we do the same thing.  Don’t we compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we try to make ourselves feel better about our own guilt by pointing out the guilt of others?  The Pharisees did it.  Judas did it.  We do it.
And so, when we are done comparing, when we have sized one another up and determined that the other is guilty, we start to condemn.  We, just like the Pharisees, point out all the sins of others, we point out just how guilty they are.  We become hyper sensitive to the sins of others.  Hyper sensitive to the sins committed against us.  And so, to make ourselves feel better we condemn.  We see this very thing going on all the time.  Democrats and republicans with guilty consciences, are hyper sensitive to the sins of the other party and so they condemn.  Abortion activist have a guilty conscience for their blood stained hand and so the condemn others who harm spotted owls.  Fathers have a guilty conscience about the times spent away from home so they condemn their children for their bad grades.  Children have a guilty conscience for disobeying their parents and not doing their school work so they condemn their fathers for being so hard-nosed and judgmental.  Mothers and wives have a guilty conscience for nagging at their husbands to do something so they snap at their husbands for the way they handled their children.  It’s terrible.  A bad conscience is a terrible thing.  We feel sin.  We feel guilt.  We don’t know what to do about it.  We compensate, that is an utter failure.  We compare, but that doesn’t take away the sin.  We condemn one another and it just makes the sin worse.
Friends we look at our hands, we look at the mess we have made with our hands, and let’s face it, it is a big mess.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  No amount of water could wash our hands clean from the stains and the sins that are left because of all that we have done.  We know we are dirty.  We know we need to be clean.  We want our conscience to be silenced, to keep quiet and leave us alone but there is no way we can keep it from accusing us.  Because your conscience is right.  We have sinned.  WE are guilty.
We are guilty, but Jesus was not.  Jesus lived his life with no sin what so ever.  He was pure and clean and holy from the moment he was conceived.  There was no sin, no evil in him that could defile his conscience.  His hands.  His hands were holy and clean, there was no violence in them, no jealousy, never an impure or selfish touch.  Always his hands were used to love, to help, to heal, Jesus had clean hands.  And so when he performed his works, they were truly works of love.  When Jesus used his hands, those sin free hands of Jesus, he fed the hungry and picked up the lame so that they could walk, he touched the eyes of the blind man so that he could see.  And his motives were pure, filled with love, not some effort to compensate for his own sin, only to love.  And when he walked through the streets and saw those he came to save, it was not to compare.  It was not to point out the sins of others, it was not to condemn.  In fact, when an adulterous woman was brought before him and all those who would have thrown stones were gone because of their own guilty conscience, Jesus did not condemn her.  Jesus let her go free.  “Go and sin no more” he said.  And so the hands of Jesus, the healing hands, the forgiving hands, the helping hands were perfectly clean.
But what about you?  What about your guilt and your guilty conscience?
The Book of Hebrews says of Jesus that “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:12-14 ESV)
The perfect and sin free hands of Jesus that had only been used for good and never evil were stretched out by Roman executioners.  They were secured in place and then pierced through with spikes.  And then, the perfect hands of Jesus began to bleed.  Blood flowed from the hands of Jesus so that he could cover and clean the sins that were committed by your hands.  Your hands are dirty.  Jesus hands are clean.  Jesus’ hands bled to offer himself to God and to purify your conscience.
Hebrews 10 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV)
The Pharisees and the Jews according to the traditions of the elders and in an attempt to compensate for their guilt spent their time washing and baptizing their hands and their pots and pans and cups and utensils hoping that this baptizing would make them clean.  It didn’t.  It was a washing done with dirty hands.  But you have been washed and made clean by Jesus himself.  Those same hands that were used to help and to heal, that were pierced through with nails were used to wash you in your baptism.
A self-baptism a self-cleaning can’t ever do the job, you need to be cleansed by Jesus.  And so he does, he did.  When you were baptized your heart was sprinkled clean from a bad conscience as your body was washed with water.  The Lord did this for you.
A bad conscience is a terrible thing.  It fills us with guilt and it tortures us and terrifies us.  It destroys our relationships and tears apart families and homes and relationships and friendships.  But Jesus heals them.  Jesus heals bad consciences by taking away the sin and by cleansing the sinner.  Your sin is washed away and you are clean.
“Baptism now saves you,” writes Peter, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Peter 3:21)

Amen

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