Diana Ross' biggest single was her 1980 "Upside Down", but the lyric that has always stood out to me was "inside out you're turning me." Being turned inside out is worse to me than being upside down. Jesus tells the Jewish Pharisees and scribes they've got their insides and outsides turned around.
"Teachers of the law", was a religious profession. Pharisees were a religious party. They were informally but strictly in charge of the popular piety outside of Jerusalem. They were the religious conservatives of the day as compared to the religious liberals the Sadducees who were the religious party in charge inside of Jerusalem. They cooperated with the Romans. You'll recall that Nicodemus and Paul were Pharisees before they became followers of Jesus. No Sadducee that we know of was.
What did Jesus say the leaders of conservative Judaism did? The insert has Jesus saying "their teachings are but rules taught by men." The literal is stronger and reflected in the NASB. They're guilty of "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." This is verse from Isaiah and is also in Matthew 15:9. It's foundational for Confessional Lutherans. No less than 10 times do our Lutheran Doctrinal Statements refer to it. From 1530 to 1577 we reject "teaching for doctrines the precepts of men" (FC, X, 8). We still do.
When you regard manmade doctrine as divine your worship is "vain", says Jesus. The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses a form of this word in "Vanities of vanities all is vanity" The Hebrew word being translated means "vapor, breath." It's the cloud your breath makes on a window pane in winter. That's even less than dust in the wind. A manmade doctrine only lasts till another man or men decide to change it.
Most people believe organized religion, denominational Christianity does teach manmade doctrines as those of God. My gut tells me many of you believe this. Let me modify that. My experience shows me that most of you have no defense against the person who says, "You're confessions, your catechism, your doctrines are just what a bunch of men decided on years or centuries ago." You are susceptible, if not tempted, and your kids even more so, by the non-denominational, by those who have no creed but the Bible, by those saying deeds matter more than creeds, by Spirit-led churches. What you don't see is that all of these statements are creeds, are confessions of faith, are statements about what God's word says that bind together people no less than the creeds they reject. There is no such thing as a doctrine-less church, a denominational-less one. The question to ask yourself is this: is your confession of faith based on men or God's Word? Are such things as infant Baptism, the Real Presence, a 6-day creation, a male-only pastorate of God or men?
You must know the answer to this. If you're not sure, get sure. If you're not convinced what is believed, taught, and confessed here are doctrines of God and not manmade, leave because what we're doing here is vain, empty, useless worship. Jesus gives you a simple but far-reaching teaching of man that the church of His day was holding as a doctrine of God. That defilement, sinfulness comes from the outside. You can be made morally guilty by your environment, by parenting, by being abused. Jesus doesn't specifically say this last one, but it's one that really matters. Follow me.
Jesus rejects the idea that you can be defiled, made unclean, made sinful, by anything from the outside. He says, "Nothing outside a man can make him unclean' by going into him." The Old Testament church was taught that certain foods were unclean to teach them the extensiveness of sin, to show them they were guilty before God every which way they turned. The problem was the conservative party wrongly concluded the law was doable. If a person avoided all those foods, washed this way, they could remain clean. The answer to guilt was right living, cleaning the outside.
When you feel guilty because of something that happened on the outside, you inevitably believe you can do something about that. So, you become locked in an endless and vain quest to relieve that guilt. You will be a better person. You will not feel guilty for being abused. You will tease out from this knot of guilt what is from God and what is from men. And the more you try the tighter the knot of guilt gets because if you think you're guilty because of something that happened to you, then you think you can undo it by doing something yourself. You can't, and the knot tightens.
Beware of going from the frying pan into the fire. You can do this when you hear Jesus' say, "It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean." Hooray!' says the genetics crowd, AA, and anyone else with a medical understanding of moral guilt. Alcoholism is a disease; pornography is an addiction. My lusts, homosexual and heterosexual, flow from fallen genes. And, therefore, if I just control my outward behavior my drinking, my sexual behavior, my words and deeds my guilt is answered.
One of the litmus tests for a doctrine of men other than if it is contrary to God's revealed Word is does it have a doable law? Does it make you guilty in a way that you can do something about it? Jesus says what makes us guilty is not what someone else did to us or just our wrong actions but what's within us, evil thoughts. The devil's lie has always been that wrong deeds are sinful, but you can book passage on the Lust Boat and no harm, no foul. Yes, Jesus does mention sinful acts: theft, murder, and adultery. But greed, malice, envy, lewdness which is unbridled lust -, and arrogance are all feelings, all evil thoughts. And these flow non-stop from all men, and make all men guilty before God. When we make only homosexual acts guilty and not the lusts, the desires, we are giving them a doable law and making homosexual guilty in a way we are not. No, their guilt is ours, and neither they nor we can do anything about it. Go on try it. You'll find evil thoughts, greed, envy, malice, and lusts flow from the fallen heart like sugar sand through your fingers. This is the common guilt that infects us all.
Our Lutheran confessions say, "The hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that reason cannot understand it. It must be believed because of the revelation in the Scriptures" (SC, III, I, 3). And, "Repentance is not partial and fragmentarynor is it uncertain. It does not debate what is sin and what is not sin, but lumps everything together and says, We are wholly and altogether sinful.' We need not spend our time weighing, distinguishing, differentiating" (Ibid., III, 36). Our guilt is no less than the most flaming transgender or violent criminal you can think of. And that is what we confess each Sunday: not other people's sins, our own. We don't try to divide up how much guilt is or is not ours. We confess it all, everything: acts, words, thoughts.
Our text shows us the doctrines of men that wrongly identifies guilt on the outside and the doctrine of God which convicts us all from the inside, but it doesn't tell you what is to be done about it other than you can't do anything from the outside and you can't reach the inside. It takes the God who became Man to go there. If you're convinced that your sins and sinfulness are more than the numbers of hairs on your head, know God took on hair, and flesh and blood, in the Second Person of the Trinity. God the Son became Son of Man in the womb of the virgin Mary. That's a miracle. Don't try to get your head around it. Worship and adore it. Let this truth wash over you. God the Son came down out of heaven to be incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in a virgin named Mary.
Because He had no human father, He was not corrupted by Adam's fall. He had no original sin, but He was tempted in every way we are, yet He never sinned. He was tempted to lust but didn't. He was tempted to profanity but didn't let loose. There is not a temptation that you've ever given into in the past or today that the God-Man Jesus didn't successfully resist into. There is no word, deed, or thought that makes you blush to recall that Jesus did not stand firm against.
"But wait there is more." No, God doesn't offer free shipping, to double the offer, or to add this or that just pay a separate fee.' No, God didn't just send His only beloved Son and hear the import of the words only' and beloved' into your flesh and blood to live a perfect life. He sent Him to suffer what you know you deserve, what you fear, and what you have nightmares about: being exposed, being naked before God and man with your guilt and shame evident to all. This is Jesus before the bloodthirsty crowd instead of Barabbas. "Behold the Man" says Pilate. We're Isaac tied to the altar, Abraham is about to slit the knife of judgement across our throat, but God calls from heaven. He's provided a sacrifice in our place.
Not what we do or say, not what we feel or think, can redeem us, can save us from the fountainhead of sin welling up in us that sometimes overflows into actual deeds, but whether or not it make us guilty for men to see, it makes us guilty before God. And that is what haunts us, stalks us, and draws the bow of judgment we see aimed at our face. Pfft the arrow is loosed, but lo and behold it hits Jesus. And not just sorrow and love flow mingled down, but Water and Blood. Look, it flows into that baptismal font and into that chalice there. Baptismal water washes sinners clean of their sinfulness and gives them the robe of Jesus' holiness. The Blood of Jesus whether in the Font in Baptism, from my lips by Absolution, or with the Wine of Communion covers your sin and sinfulness.
Here's the takeaway. You've noticed we're starting with a new crop of acolytes. We're having trouble finding anything but half surplices. That is white gowns that only cover half the acolyte. You know why I don't like them? Because that is how most of us feel about our sin and guilt. Our guilt and sin whether inside or out is only halfway covered. No Jesus doesn't cover your sin or guilt halfway but all the way. His blood and righteousness flow over you non-stop in waters that you can feel the wetness of on the outside, in Words that vibrate your eardrum on the inside, in Wine that you can smell on the outside and taste on the inside. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20180902); Matthew 7: 1-23