Toning our buts…
by Jacob Juncker
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, September 2, 2012.
7:1 The Pharisees and some legal experts from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. 2 They saw some of his disciples eating food with unclean hands. (They were eating without first ritually purifying their hands through washing. 3 The Pharisees and all the Jews don’t eat without first washing their hands carefully. This is a way of observing the rules handed down by the elders. 4 Upon returning from the marketplace, they don’t eat without first immersing themselves. They observe many other rules that have been handed down, such as the washing of cups, jugs, pans, and sleeping mats.) 5 So the Pharisees and legal experts asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples not living according to the rules handed down by the elders but instead eat food with ritually unclean hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far away from me.
7 Their worship of me is empty
since they teach instructions that are human words.
8 You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” 9 Jesus continued,“Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules. 10 Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and The person who speaks against father or mother will certainly be put to death. 11 You say, ‘But, if you tell your father or mother, “Everything I’m expected to contribute to you is corban (that is, a gift I’m giving to God),” 12 then you are no longer required to care for your father or mother.’ 13 In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.”
14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.”
17 After leaving the crowd, he entered a house where his disciples asked him about that riddle. 18 He said to them, “Don’t you understand either? Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? 19 That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer.” By saying this, Jesus declared that no food could contaminate a person in God’s sight. 20 “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” he said. 21 “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, 22 adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.”
Mark 7:1-23, adapted from The Common English Bible
When I was planning today’s service, I thought I’d be working with the sermon title: “Excuses are like…” It comes from a saying I heard often when I was a kid: “excuses are like butt (holes) everyone has one, they all stink, and no one wants to hear them.” As I researched and read about this morning’s text a new title came to mind. I’d like to change that working title from “Excuses are like…” to “Toning our buts…” Let’s pray.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
I’ve got a big but. It’s gigantic. And, if I’m to be totally honest, I’ve got several big buts. Now before you dismiss me and this idea as inappropriate for church. I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest that perhaps you’ve got a big but too. It’s not something we like to hear, but it’s probably true. And, let me tell you something else, everyone we know has a big but. And, more often than not our big buts get in the way of living a consistent life with and for Jesus. I think you know what I’m talking about. Let’s see if you can identify with some of these buts:
But I have to work more. But my favorite TV show is on. But my kids have practice. But it’s such a beautiful day. But I’m just not in the mood. But I deserve a break today.
There are many things that compete for our time and attention: things that keep us from growing in love with God and neighbor. And, sometimes, the littlest of buts can be distracting. I know. I now have a little but at home. Little buts make us say, “I’m not gonna pray today.” “I’m not going to think about God or my faith today.” “I’m not going to deny myself or pick up my cross.” “I’m not going to read my Bible, go to worship, or join in Christian community.” Big but. Little but. But. But. But. BLAH. BLAH. BLAH. Whatever God asks us to do, we seem to have a but that “allows” us to get away.
But I’ve gotta check my Facebook account. But the game’s on. But I was just in church on Sunday. But I don’t like Leviticus. But it’s too hot. But it’s too cold. But I…I just don’t like books. But its boring. But what does something so old have to do with today?
Those are some ugly buts. Let’s just call ‘em like they are: ugly buts. And that’s not all the buts. Here is a list, though not exhaustive, of the most common buts we use:
But I don’t have enough money yet. But others will think I’m a nerd if I carry the Bible. But they won’t like me if I talk about Jesus. But I don’t know if God will do what I ask. But I just can’t get motivated. But I’m afraid. But I don’t have all the answers. But small group Bible study is on the same night as Monday Night Football. But can’t I just let my life speak for itself. But I’m not happy. But that’s not my gift. But that’s the pastor’s job. But I don’t know how to pray. But I can’t believe that. But I don’t know where to start. But everybody else is having fun. But I’m too young. But I’m too old.
Buts abound. And, the most overused but of all time? But I just don’t have enough time. Really? O come on, we have a lot of buts.
What God asks us to do is really pretty simple: grow in love with God and neighbor. And, continue growing until we reach a point of perfection where our entire lives—all that we are and all that we have—are given in love to God and neighbor. Love is the motivating factor behind all that God asks us to do. All we’re called to do is love. But all too often our big buts get in the way.
So here’s the point I’m trying to make my fellow but lovers, it’s that if our buts are bigger than God’s infinite plan and purpose, then our buts are too big.
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus reveals at least one of the Pharisees’ buts. Jesus and his disciples had just made landfall after, what was for the disciples, a traumatic boat ride (see Mark 6:45-52). Once they had hit shore,
people immediately recognized Jesus and ran around that whole region bringing sick people on their mats to wherever they heard he was. Wherever he went—villages, cities, or farming communities—they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.
The Pharisees, or religious leaders of the day, were intrigued by all that Jesus was doing, so they too came out to see what Jesus and his disciples were up to. When they arrived, Jesus was, presumably, taking a break from healing and eating with the disciples. The Pharisees were astonished to see that the disciples (why did they not question Jesus’ hand washing habits?) had not properly washed their hands before eating. Now listen kids, remember this,
There is no biblical law about washing hands before eating, but there is a requirement that priests wash hands and feet before ministering at the altar (Exod. 30:17-21). This was understood to include washing hands before eating holy meat from the sacrifices. The Pharisees took seriously the command of Exodus 19:6, “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” They argued that this meant that all Israelites should be as holy as priests, and that consequently all Jews should wash their hands before eating.
The Pharisees thought, I’m sure, that this wise traveling rabbi called Jesus, would appreciate the reminder of the elders’ teaching. After all, they (like Jesus) were just trying to live according to God’s law. Jesus’ response was not what they were expecting. He exclaimed, You want to pick on my disciples. You hypocrites!
You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you. Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules. Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and The person who speaks against father or mother will certainly be put to death. You say, ‘But if you tell your father or mother, “Everything I’m expected to contribute to you [to help take care of you] is corban (that is, a gift I’m giving to God),” then you are no longer required to care for your father or mother.’ In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.
You see, the Pharisees had buts too. And, in this passage of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus uncovers one of ugliest, smelliest buts of all: “But I don’t want to care for anyone but myself.” Now the Pharisees were smart. They covered their ugly, smelly but in religious clothing. But, Jesus, uncovers it. He reminds them that God is most concerned about our motivations. God cares about what comes out of our hearts. God could care less about what goes into the stomach and out your…(butt).
Jesus stole away with his disciples in a house and said,
Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has power to contaminate? That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer. It‘s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight. It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.
It is responding to our thoughts that make us unclean or not.
So, I want you to do something today, preferably once you leave this place. Hold a mirror up to your buts. What’s motivating you? What thoughts are you really acting upon? What is it that keeps you from living the life God is calling you to live? What’s your ugly, smelly but’s excuse?
And, when you’ve identified those big buts that keep you from fully committing to a life of love toward God and neighbor, work on toning them down. No one likes big buts; except for Sir Mix a Lot who wrote a fairly obscene song in 1992. Big buts just get in the way of living the life we were called to live. So, let’s begin, today, toning our buts…
Let us stop making excuses for not growing in our faith and love toward God and neighbor. Pray regularly, every day. Be present in the community of faith by attending worship and Bible studies regularly. Gather with the community as often as you can. Give of your time and resources so that all who are in need—whatever and wherever that need might be—will be satisfied. And, share your faith with a world that’s desperate to hear and experience the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do these things—support the mission of God—through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness—and, leave the buts out. No one likes big buts: not even God. Amen.
As you prepare to go forth from this place, it is my prayer that you’ll tone down your buts and live the life God has called you to live: offering yourselves freely in love toward God and neighbor. As you go, tone down your buts so that more of God’s will might done on earth as it is heaven. Amen.
 Mark 6:54b-56, Common English Bible (CEB).
 Douglas R.A. Hare, “Exegetical Perspective: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23,” in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 21.
 Adapted from Mark 7:8-13, CEB.
 Mark 7:18-23, CEB.