Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Market Place

I saw a report about the spread of AIDS in black America on the PBS show Frontline.
On the show they interviewed a man that was going out into the community to hand out needles and condoms on the streets.
There were of course people who are critical of such programs.
A lot of that criticism comes from the church.
That is was allowing and encouraging sin.
That it was corrupting.
The truth was that the program was saving lives.
One of the pastors on the program said, “This is where the church should be. We have missed the mark.”
He goes on to say, “This is the mission of the church. We should put a cross on it.”
Going into the market place is indeed messy and ugly.
It is filled with compromise and sin.
The question that I want us to wrestle with this morning is can we avoid not being in the Market place?

Our Gospel this morning is about an argument that Jesus is having with the religious leaders who came out from Jerusalem to check up on his teaching.
But in order to understand the controversy in its fullness we have to back up a bit.
Before this encounter Jesus has with the scribes and Pharisees from the national headquarters, Jesus and his disciples are in the market place healing the sick.
A few verses before our Gospel for today we are told, “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
Jesus had been touching sick people in the market place.
We are told in our Gospel today that the Pharisees and Scribes “Do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it.”
So the issue here is not just about eating with dirty hands.
It is about where our hands have been.
What have they touched?

One of the things that religion tries to do is keep us away from evil.
If we just don’t do certain things, or go to certain places then we will be clean and pure.
If we listen to the right kind of music, read the right kind of books, see the right kind of movies, hang out with the right kind of people.
Then our lives will be undefiled.
We will be right with God if we just avoid the marketplace.

But we can’t avoid it.
Most of us work in the marketplace.
Perhaps some of you make compromises in your dealings in the marketplace.
Perhaps we allow ourselves to think something is ok because, “everyone else is doing it.”
Or, “That is just the way business gets done.”
That is the thing about the market place.
It is messy, the lines of good and evil are not clear.
The market is filled with competing and contrasting ideas.
Its motives are always suspect.
Like the needle exchange.
Is that really the best response the Church can come up with?
Is that really the best way to serve God and neighbor?
It is a controversial issue, and one that needs series people to wrestle with the serious problem of HIV and AIDS.

But Jesus this morning is telling us that is exactly where he is.
Jesus is in the market places healing, redeeming and breaking down walls.
Jesus is saying that the people in the market and us are really the same people.
Because it is not what goes into us that is evil, it is what comes from within.
That is a harder reality to face.

If all I have to do is avoid certain places and things to be holy that is relatively easy.
I can keep myself and my kids away from those things.
But it is whole other thing to have to deal with those evil things that lurk in me.
The evil that comes from the heart is harder to deal with than merely keeping ourselves pure from noticing the contradictions of the market.

My aunt used to have a rule that my cousin was not allowed to play with guns.
It is a good rule. (I have a similar one with my kids.)
It is good intentions to try and keep our kids free from the influences of violence.
However, my cousin did what most young boys do; he made guns out of everything.
Every piece of wood he picked up would become a gun to shoot others with.
In fact, when he was asked after a day of kindergarten what he did that day his response was, “Shoot people.”
You see we could come up with all the rules we want, we can keep ourselves far away from the negative influences of this world.
But until we deal with our own heart, until we realize that inside of all of us evil lurks, we will never be able to defeat it.

That is what I think happens to the scribes and Pharisees.
Out of a good place, out of love and passion for their religious beliefs, they set up rules in order to keep everyone clean before God.
The problem is they make the outside things more important than what happens on the inside.
They make secondary things primary.
It is something all religious people have to be on guard against.
That the outward signs can become what it is all about.
That our devotion to God becomes about what music we play, what clothes we wear, how often we go to church, or the rituals that we perform.
Instead of being about a deep relationship with a God who knows so well that with God there are no secrets hid from.
Whatever we are on the outside becomes secondary to what is really going on inside.

Because the truth is all of our hands are dirty from the market.
We all contribute in some way shape or form to what happens in our politics, our economy, our schools, our culture, or places of business.
And that is exactly where we will meet Jesus Christ.
Look if we can make ourselves holy and righteous merely by avoiding certain things than you have no need for Jesus.
But if you realize the complexity of your own sin, if you realize that being a part of the market is part of what we do in our lives, then you realize that you need saving.
You need saving from yourself as much as from the world.

There are these three women who used were the matriarchs of the Church I served in Long Island.
Maple, Anita, and Solveig and they were three of the loveliest devoted Christians I have ever known.
They were in worship every Sunday, they came to every Church event, they went to Bible Study every week, they would tell me weekly that I was in there prayers every morning.
They sat three rows from the front on my left side.
Every Sunday I knew I could look over and they would be there.
One Sunday they were not there.
It was odd, and I took note.
Well, later I was watching MTV.
There was a reality show about Jessica Simpson and Nick Lashey.
They were in Atlantic City and they went to a buffet at some German festival.
You know who they were eating with?
That is right Maple, Anita, and Solveig.
They had missed worship that Sunday to go to Atlantic City.
I would always joke with them about missing worship to go and gamble.
But here is the thing they were not any less Christian because they missed church to play slot machines.
God did not love them any less.
In fact, when they came back they were still the same lovely, devoted, faithful followers of Jesus I had always known.
Because it was their hearts that mattered and not what happened on the outside.
What made them who they were was a deep relationship with God that they had fostered over the years with that made them who they were.

So it is with all of us this morning.
Yes, we all have our hands dirty, but Jesus Christ has saved us, and cleaned our hearts, so we can go into the market places and not worry about our dirty hands.

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