"BEEP! Stand Up For Jesus!" Sermon for the 15th Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

"BEEP! Stand Up For Jesus!" Sermon for the 15th Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

Sep 02, 2018

Passage:Mark 7:1-23

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Faithfulness

Keywords: conformity, forgiveness, love, ritual


The Pharisees criticize Jesus' and his disciples because they do not follow closely the ritual hand washing before eating--a requirement according to the Law of Moses. Jesus harshly rebukes the Pharisees' criticism. So where does this leave us as people who participate in rituals (baptisms, communion, other forms of liturgical worship)? This sermon discusses what Jesus was REALLY getting at with his discourse with the Pharisees and Scribes.


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I love the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees in today's gospel from Mark.  The Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem and gather around Jesus. But they are just there to talk. They have been watching Jesus and his disciples. Specifically, they've been looking at their behavior.

What the Pharisees and Scribes particularly take note of is the fact that "some of his disciples” had not gone through the process of ritually washing their hands before eating. Mark explains to us that “the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it.”

So, now the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus about this situation: "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands, that is, without washing them?"

Rituals and traditions are so important in society.

As humans we crave to do things conform to a group have rituals.


A few years ago, I was watching a TV show where they had an experiment about group conformity.

Here's the setup:

There are a bunch of people waiting in a doctor's office. Hidden cameras cover their every move.

Everyone in the waiting room is "in on" what's going to happen, except for this one young lady who enters, gets checked in, and sits among the crowded group.

Then, a "beep" plays on the intercom. Every person in the waiting, in unison, stands up together. Then they sit back down again. The young lady looks confused. What just happened?

About thirty seconds later..."beep." Everyone nonchalantly, but in unison, stands up again where they were.

Again the young lady remains seated, but is clearly uncomfortable and wondering if she is supposed to stand as well.

Everyone sits again.

The next time the beep comes, everyone stands, and this time, the young lady stands with them. She's now part of the crowd. She has joined the ritual. She doesn't know why. But she is a part of it.

Then, one by one, each of the other people in the room get called to the back. They leave the waiting room.

All the while the beep keeps going at regular intervals. The dwindling crowd keeps standing and sitting every time they hear the beep.

Finally, the young lady is sitting alone in the waiting room. What will happen now?

"Beep." She dutifully stands up. Then she sits back down again.

Then, another patient comes in from outside, who nothing about this ritual. He checks in and sits down. "Beep." The young lady stands. She convinces him he should stand, too. "It's what we're supposed to do," she says. He asks why. She says doesn't know, but "we're supposed to."

The man joins in.

One by one, new patients come in. The waiting room fills up. Each new patient learns the ritual. Before long, the waiting room is full of people who now know the practice of when to stand at the beep.[1]

I love this story! I think it's rich. There’s so much about it we can pick apart and pay attention to. We in the church need to ask where we are tied to our rituals--what do they mean...where do they come from?

Now let me be clear. I am not saying that rituals are bad. In fact, one of the points of the TV show was to highlight how important human interactions and rituals actually are for social learning and for relationship.

BUT, I think Jesus is honing in on a specific point about rituals when he answers the Pharisees and Scribes. The key to this passage from Mark is not that the Pharisees and Scribes were simply following antiquated human traditions. In fact, I believe that Jesus also generally followed the Purity laws as a faithful Jewish leader. Jesus followed the rituals of the Jewish faith. Let's remember that Jesus taught in the synagogues and at the Temple.

What's happening here is that Jesus and the disciples are hanging out in the dirty marketplaces. And the power of God is at work. Jesus is healing and making whole those who had been living on the fringes.

But that's not what the Pharisees and Scribes choose to comment on when they arrive from Jerusalem. They certainly could have said: "Jesus, you are doing such wonderful work on behalf of God! The healing power of God is so evident in your ministry!"

But instead, when they interacted with Jesus and the disciples, they didn't do so out of a spirit of love and companionship. They didn't seek to foster relationship and communion with Jesus and the disciples at all.

Instead, they looked past the good being done and focused on the "fact" of hands being "ritually unclean" or defiled.

Jesus tells the crowd that "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile...."

He explains: "For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Jesus is changing the lens through which he wants to have this conversation.

Jesus didn't have a problem with ritual hand washing. Ritual is part of the culture, as long as you know why you are standing up when the beep happens!

In other words, make sure your heart is in the right place.

In the ritual, you should be focused on God. You should be focused on your neighbor. You should be focused on forgiveness. You should be focused on love.

For Jesus, human tradition--ritual--is all about creating a path for God in this world. It's about being in relationship with one another and with God. 

Last week we unveiled at this church "The St. Andrew's Way"--our statement of who we are and what we are called to be.

As part of the St. Andrew's Way...

We are called:

  • to worship God [in ritual] with joyfulness, music, and tradition...
  • to teach God's reconciling love...
  • to serve all who have spiritual and physical needs...
  • and to pray without ceasing.

Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, this is our reaction to Christ. When we worship, teach, serve, and pray, we build relationships. We use our rituals to deepen our faith and our connection to God. We continue the reconciling love of God in the world. And we do all of this with God's help.  



[1] To see a clip of this TV show go to