The Rev’d Roger Elks
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Hello, this morning’s reading is from Mark’s Gospel. How long do you think it takes a person to make a good impression, to form a first impression of someone else? We’ve heard maybe that it’s within the first 10 seconds or in the first 3 seconds. Well, there’s been some research by people at Princeton University in America. They reckon that we form an impression of another person in about a tenth of a second. So none of us really stands a chance, do we, anyway? Let’s have a look at the reading mark, 7 vs 14 to 23.
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
So here we have another parable of Jesus. Remember, a parable is a comparison of something that we know to something that we don’t know. And here it is, the comparison between the stomach that we understand its function, and the heart, which, of course, is far harder to understand. But it is the heart that is important to God.
When Samuel is called to choose a king for Israel, he goes to see David and God says to him, 1 Samuel, 16v7, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. So here we have this heart. It’s not a comfortable thought, is it, that God looks at the heart. We prefer to be assessed for what can be seen on the outside of us.
This is how we assess others, isn’t it? What clothes they’re wearing, what hairstyle they have, their countenance. Remember that study from Princeton? A tenth of a second it takes for us to form that first impression. All of us are reluctant to reveal our true selves, our inner self, and we cover our inner selves that we want to hide with a cloak, and that cloak is that first impression of the things we wear, the things we do. And the Pharisees covered there in selves with a cloak. And the cloak was the observance of the law, the culture, their identity. And particularly here Jesus is talking about that part of the law, about different foods that they were allowed to eat. And he’s saying actually it’s not about eating different foods, it is about the heart.
So God looks at the heart. And that’s bad news, isn’t it? Because as we read this list of things that come out of the heart, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly, we recognize that some maybe all of those things reside in our hearts even as potential bad works, if not in action. And God sees, those, so that’s the bad news. I guess that if we were honest, we’d have to admit that some of them were there within us and they defile us.
But the good news is the same, that God sees our hearts and the things that we hide even from ourselves. He sees the good things that we hide from ourselves and don’t want to admit. And he also sees the bad things that we hide from others and don’t want to admit to them. He sees the bad things and still loves us.
One of the big questions that every human being asks is, am I acceptable? Am I included? I loveable? And the answer is, well, maybe, perhaps in human terms, we are acceptable, acceptable to some people, but certainly not to everyone. You can’t please all the people all the time. But you are always, you and I are always acceptable to God because he sees us exactly how we are. And loves us as we are, “My dear child”, he says to us, “Come to Father”. God does accept us because he’s able to forgive us. So let’s accept ourselves and accept each other and accept his love. Amen.
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things,
now and for ever. Amen