Pentecost 14 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 29, 2021
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, Mark 7:14-25

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            Last week we talked about what a husband should do if he is confronted by an angry dog while out walking with his wife.  This week you are walking alone and confront the same angry dog but this time the dog has a partner that comes up from behind you.  Now you won’t be fighting one dog, but two.  You will be battling the enemy on two fronts.

            This two front battle is what we learn about in our Epistle lesson from Ephesians and our Gospel lesson from the Gospel of Mark. In Ephesians 6, St. Paul gives instructions about one of the enemies.  Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

            One enemy is the devil and his fallen angels.  The devil is certainly active in the world and along with his minions causes no end of trouble.  The devil and his minions are your enemy, but as we read about the armor of God it becomes apparent that you do not put on the armor of God in order to go on the offensive against the devil.  You are only called to stand your ground.  Ephesians 6:13–14 (ESV)  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore…”  And you do not stand alone.  You stand together with all the saints wearing the armor of God to protect you from the assaults of the evil one.  The devil has many strategies.  He lures, he accuses, he elevates.  By luring you he tempts you to sin.  By accusing you of the sin you commit he tempts you to despair.  By showing you other people’s sins he tempts you to become self-righteous and believe you are better than others.  Beware—do not underestimate the devil, he is clever and has thousands of years of practice.

            The bad news is that the devil knows all your weak spots.  The good news is that the devil does not know what you are thinking, but only can detect what you say and do.  So battle sin in your thoughts and do not give the devil a foothold.  The even better news is that you do not need to defeat the devil because the devil has already lost the war.  Jesus has defeated the devil and the evil one has been restrained. The devil cannot just come up and seize you.

            The devil is like a big angry dog, but this dog is on a chain.  The devil has been thrown out of heaven.  This dog has been defeated by the Lamb of God and now is restrained.  The chained dog cannot pursue you, he cannot seize you, but rather has to tempt you to come close enough for him to bite you.  So stay alert.  Stay on guard.  You have the armor of God.  You have the sword of the spirit.  You can resist the devil.  James 4:7 (ESV) 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  The devil has no power over you, he can only tempt you. 

            The one dog is on a chain.  He cannot grab hold of you if you just stay away, but he knows your weaknesses.  So you need to know your weaknesses.  Be brutally honest with yourself about your weaknesses.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 

            The battle is on two fronts.  Your greatest weakness is the second dog.  The devil is the dog in front trying to lure you, accuse you and elevate you, but he is chained.  The other dog is actually within you.  The second dog that you battle with is your own heart steeped in sinful thoughts and desires.  This battle can be far more difficult than battling the devil himself.

            In last week’s Gospel reading Jesus confronted the religious leaders about their ceremonial washings which they thought would help win them salvation.  In our Gospel lesson today Jesus confronts food laws.  Mark 7:14–16 (ESV)  14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 

            How often do you hear that you should, “just follow your heart?”  After hearing Jesus’ list of evils coming from the heart it is pretty clear to see that following your heart can be terrible advice.

            Jesus is making a radical declaration.  He is changing Old Testament teachings.  Why can this teacher from Nazareth do this?  By what authority?  He can do it, only because He is God in flesh.  The disciples are perplexed.  When alone with Jesus, He explains further in pretty earthy terms.  Mark 7:18–23 (ESV) 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” 

            Out of the heart of man come all these evil desires. This is the second front that you have to fight.  The second dog is your own heart.

            How often do you hear that you should, “just follow your heart?”  After hearing Jesus’ list of evils coming from the heart it is pretty clear to see that following your heart can be terrible advice.

            In the novel “Hammer of God,” by Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz, an old pastor is greeting a new, young pastor arriving at the parish. The young pastor has fallen into a theology in which it is believed that a person must make a decision to believe and give his heart to Jesus.  Fridfeldt is the young pastor who is talking to the old pastor, also called a rector.

“I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer,” [Fridfeldt] said. His voice was a bit harsh.

He saw a gleam in the old man’s eyes which he could not quite interpret. Was approval indicated, or did he have something up his sleeve?

The rector put the lamp back on the table, puffed at his pipe, and looked at the young man a moment before he spoke.

“So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that. What do you believe in?” 

Fridfeldt stared dumbfounded at his superior. Was he jesting with him? 

“But, sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer.”

“Yes, I hear that, my boy. But what is it that you believe in?” 

Fridfeldt was almost speechless.

“But don’t you know, sir, what it means to be a believer?”

“That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy. I ask only what it is that you believe in.”

“In Jesus, of course,” answered Fridfeldt, raising his voice.  “I mean–I mean that I have given him my heart.”

The older man’s face became suddenly as solemn as the grave. “Do you consider that something to give him?”

By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.

“But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”

“You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy,” he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor’s face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit oneself to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is.”

            Don’t follow your heart.  Follow Jesus. 

            We see here in this passage from Mark how Jesus declares all foods clean.  This was a big part of Old Testament teachings and it might seem that this is a big burden lifted off the people.  They no longer have to be concerned about whether or not they are eating clean foods.  They no longer have to be worried about whether or not they are washing their hands properly.  This is a big burden lifted.  It would be a relief, except Jesus tells the people that they do need to be concerned about the sin that is coming up from inside of them.  What are they supposed to do about that?  How can you stop your sinful heart when you are, by nature, sinful and unclean? 

            As you well know, the struggle against the sin bubbling up from inside you is real and never ending — and you have failed to control it.  It would be a lot easier to wash your hands a certain way, and not eat bacon and shrimp, then to control your heart.  Jesus does not lessen the law; instead He makes you realize it is impossible to keep the law.  You cannot be good enough.  You are indeed a poor, miserable sinner.  You need a savior.

            And you have a savior.

            Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You are blessed for eternity when you know that you cannot be good enough but Jesus is.  Knowing you have nothing to offer God, you are blessed because you know that even though you did not earn it, you are covered over by the blood of Jesus and you have been given the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. 

            In this two front battle, the devil knows about your sinful heart and tries to use it against you.  He tempts you, he accuses you, he tries to get you to climb up on your high horse to look down on others who are “worse” than you. 

Knowing you are poor in spirit disarms the devil.  He tempts you and you know, “Ah ha!  It is that crafty devil trying again to get me to take the bait.” He tries to accuse you and you reply, “Devil, you are absolutely right, I am a sinner.  But I am baptized.  Jesus has paid for my sin.  Go talk to him.”  The devil tries to get you up on your high horse of self-righteousness and you just slap that nag on the rump and get it to run away because you know you are sinner like everyone else. 

            Strangely, knowing you are sinful to the core and you cannot stop being a sinner makes it easier in your battle against sin.  You can battle sin in your thoughts without being surprised at your sin, battle them knowing Jesus has already paid for those sins.  Knowing you are a baptized child of God. 

            You can stand your ground against the devil and his demons because you have the armor of God.  You can withstand his fiery arrows because you are protected by the truth of Jesus.  The devil has no power over you.  You are on the side of the victor.  In Christ you have victory over the devil and over your own sinful heart.  You gather here each week to be fortified for the battle against the devil and against your own sinful desires.  Here you receive forgiveness of sins in abundance in the words of absolution and in Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion. You again put on the armor of God and are strengthened for the battle.  As you declared together (at a baptism), and for little Elijah Pirn, you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  You are a baptized child of God wearing the armor of God. Stand your ground.  Amen

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