Brian Hiortdahl, Overland Park, KS

Warm-up Question

What is inside you?

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Scientists at MIT have developed a prototype “GPS” for locating things inside the human body with a marker that can be swallowed instead of surgically implanted.  It is hoped that this technology can eventually be refined to a level of accuracy which can be used reliably to detect tumors and inform cancer treatments:

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think is it easier for us to locate and track items and movements outside the human body than inside it?
  • What are the potential benefits and potential drawbacks of this technology?
  • If there were a GPS inside you to map your thoughts and feelings, whom would you trust to use it?

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The Pharisees worked hard to transform the ordinary into the sacred, to make everything in daily life holy and acceptable to God.  This involved rituals to change “unclean” into “clean” and common into special.  One of many ways they did this was with carefully prescribed washings of utensils and hands before eating, which was only to be shared with others who were faithful enough to eat only “clean” foods prepared and served in “clean” vessels.  At its best, this practice was a careful way of honoring God; at its worst, it divided people, diminishing some while making others feel superior.  Jesus sees and names a sad hypocrisy beneath the shiny exterior of this practice.  Clean hands don’t excuse dirty hearts.

As usual, Jesus turns everyone’s thinking inside out:  Listen to me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.  The real threats to our relationship status with God aren’t germs or forbidden foods or other people’s opinions or anything else outside of us; the real threats are the sins festering in the heart that leak out of us in unholy words and actions.  (Jesus pushes this so far with his disciples that some verses are omitted from polite worship…read and visualize verses 18 & 19!)  Washing the dishes properly to be right with God is like trying to fight cancer by wearing nicer clothes—or like trying to improve my own life by controlling someone else’s behavior.  It’s not really getting at the problem.

Centuries before this gospel episode, God told Samuel:  the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (1 Samuel  16:7). That’s where Jesus is focused.  And as the scientists at MIT can tell you, it is much easier to track and treat things outside the human body than inside it.

But remember the good news from recent readings in John 6!  We already have an ingestible treatment for the diseases of the human heart – the flesh and blood of Christ in the common looking bread and wine of Holy Communion.  Through our mouths (and also ears), God gets inside us to diagnose and overcome the real threats to our well-being.  Jesus turns what everyone assumed completely inside out:  we are most threatened by what is inside coming out, and we are healed and saved by what is outside going in.

Discussion Questions

  • Discuss this quote from Jaroslav Pelikan: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead.  Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
  • What religious traditions or practices draw you closer to God?   Which ones get in the way?
  • Identify some well-intentioned ideas that end up separating and hurting people.
  • Where do you see hypocrisy in yourself?

Activity Suggestions

  • Spend time in silent prayer as a group, with each person quietly examining her/his own heart.  Silently invite Jesus to heal and cleanse specific things inside you.
  • Invite a medical professional to talk about new technologies and how they can either bless or backfire.  Are there parallels in church life?
  • As a group, identify one Christian practice that annoys you or seems stupid.  Research and learn about how it started and the good intentions originally behind it.
  • Write a thank you note to the people in your church who prepare Communion – and always in clean cups

Closing Prayer

Wise and loving Jesus, enter our hearts and minds and bloodstreams.  Heal what is unhealthy, cleanse what is dirty, remove what is harmful, mend what is broken, and strengthen all that is good, so that what comes out of us in words and actions is your love and grace.  Amen