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Create in us clean hearts, O God . . .

Sermon: August 16, 2020

11th Sunday of Pentecost; Lectionary 20

Matthew 15.10-28

[10[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 

14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]  21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Let us pray . . . “Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a right spirit within me.”

Did you recognize this prayer? It is from Psalm 51, a psalm of David, written at a time when David really needed God’s forgiveness for a whole lot of things he had done. And in our worship, this psalm is used many times in our offertory and in Lent.

Create in me a clean heart:

We tend to think of a heart as the source of emotions; We speak of giving our hearts to God, to each other, of broken hearts, of cold hearts, of hearts of gold.

For people in biblical times the heart was thought of as more than the seat of emotions, but the source of every bit of life, which when you think about it, is pretty accurate. For people in Jesus’ time, the heart was the source of thought, of action, not just emotions. And I wonder if this psalm about asking God to create new hearts was in Jesus mind at the time in which our Gospel takes place.

As our gospel begins, Jesus is teaching the crowds-including some Pharisees, and his disciples that a person is defiled, made unclean, not by what they put into their stomachs but by that which originates in their heart and is manifested in their lives.

Now the Pharisees would have seen it differently. They lived their whole lives trying their best not to be contaminated, made unclean, by outside things and people. They ate only certain foods, they spent a whole lot of time making sure they were physically clean, and, they made sure that they did not come into contact with people who they considered to be unclean; people with illnesses and disease, people who were outsiders, who had different customs regarding food and language and religion.

And Jesus comes along and does almost a complete 180. He teaches that a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or class have nothing to do with making a person unclean. It is what is in a person’s heart and what comes from that heart that matters. Jesus says:

14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

The Pharisees lived their lives trying to be right with God, which is good, of course. But Jesus comes along and says, in a way, “You want to be clean before God, then pay attention to how you treat other people.” Every one of the evil intentions Jesus lists; murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander; every one of these impacts other people, children of God.

The biblical scholar, Mitzi Smith, says: “Too often we cannot or refuse to empathize with people whose experience is different from our own. If the oppression, injustice, or pain is not happening in our house and neighborhood or does not impact our race, gender or class, or sexuality, then we dismiss it as unwelcomed, unjustified noise.”

This is what happens when the Canaanite woman comes before Jesus and the disciples. The disciples want to get rid of her; she is a woman, she is a foreigner, she is just about everything a good religious person would think of as unclean. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” they say to Jesus.

But the woman persists, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” “Lord, help me!”

Talk about a clean heart, talk about a loving heart; filled with a powerful love of her daughter that sent her to find Jesus. That drove her to her knees, that compelled her to cry out in her pain and desperation, “Have mercy on me!”

Talk about a strong heart; when even Jesus seems on the verge to send her away, saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And then says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And Jesus responds to her persistence and faith. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In a powerful way, Jesus teaches those who were present, and those of us here right now, using a person who would have been considered unclean, what it means to be right before God. Jesus uses this unknown, unnamed Canaanite woman as an example of what a clean heart, what a heart of faith and persistence looks like.

We are living in a time, when I worry, we are losing this understanding. It sure seems to me that murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander are the norms. But we are called to be better than that, to live a life of faith that comes from the heart; a life of seeing others as fellow children of God, a life of prayer and action that is from this heart, which is also the heart of God in Christ.

Let us pray, create in me a clean heart, O God.


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