Saturday, September 17, 2016

Feeling Devastated? Jeremiah Could Relate

Have you ever felt devastated? Hopeless? Heartbroken? Persecuted? Have you suffered? Ever felt that feeling like things were happening that were out of your control and that there was nothing that you could do to stop it?
In those times, did you feel an absence of God? Or perhaps did you ask, “Why God?” Why me? Why this? Why now? 

If not, then you have been blessed. If you have felt this way, which I bet most, if not all of us here have, then you are right alongside of millions of Christians struggling with this, even this very day, and of a majority of figures of the bible. Including the prophet Jeremiah, whose sad and mournful words we heard this morning.
In fact, if there is a prophet of the OT that understands pain and trouble, it would be the prophet Jeremiah. The weeping prophet, he would later be called. A person who really felt the pain of others, the pain of his nation, a mourning and a sadness for his nation that had stepped away from God and stepped towards the idolatry of their times. And so the prophet was called and raised among the people. And it is from Jeremiah that we get the book of Jeremiah, as well as the book of lamentations.

Which is what we read this morning. A lamentation. An agony brought forth before the Lord. Raw emotion. Brought on by suffering. Weeping, wailing, crying, sobbing, moaning, lament, grieving,  and mourning are all examples of what we refer to in the church as lamenting. And the prophet Jeremiah was one who was not afraid to show it.

Why?
You see, Jeremiah was called up to serve in the office of prophet to a people who had strayed from God. Had abandoned God. Had, like we touched on last week, taken on other gods. Had broken the commandments of God. In their times it took form partly as doing sacrifices to baal; but can mean anything that we put in front of God. In our day it can look like the love of money, chasing our own wealth and prestige, or something such as an addiction. To sex, to drugs, to alcohol, even to adrenaline. A rush. Anything that stands in between our relationship between us and God.

The people of Israel had done this in a big way, even to a point of offering sacrifices of children.  And so the prophet preached. And stood up against injustice, was faithful to his mission and calling. He challenged those who were greedy and corrupt. He did what he was supposed to do. And he knew the consequences that would occur if the people did not turn from their ways and return to God. He was given by God the foresight the predict the 70 year Babylonian Captivity. And he warned the people of it.
But unfortunately those words fell on deaf ears. And the idolatry continued. Jeremiah even suffered for preaching against it. Was made a mockery. Was later Attacked. Beaten, Jailed. Even thrown into a cistern. But all along Jeremiah holds the truth of what was to come and did his best to serve God. So, in his moments of suffering; in the moments that he felt like a failure; in the moments that everything seemed to be out of control; he wept. He cried.  He did the only thing he could do in the situation. And he brought it to the ears of God in a raw and real way. And although he wouldn’t know it then, God was listening.

Brothers and sisters, I have had a Jeremiah kind of week and I am sure that I am not the only one. And I am sure that there is no coincidence at all that this very week, this would be the scripture that was selected in the lectionary.
This week I found out that a man I know, whom at one time I regarded as a friend; whose children I know; who I have known for years and years, since childhood- Died. Overdosed by Heroin. 
In fact he makes the fifth person that I have known whose life has ended early by this- which has become nothing less than an idolatry of our generation. 

I have had mixed emotions this week. At times feeling plain out angry- angry at him, angry at the person who gave it to him. Angry at the dealer. Angry that his beautiful little girls were the ones that found him dead that next morning. Angry that as a nation we continue to struggle with this epidemic. Angry that he would make such a terrible decision when all of us who knew him knew how hard he had been working to overcome the bad decisions that he had made.  But most of all I have wept. I have wept and wept. Like Jeremiah I wept. For his family. For his little girls. For our entire generation. Yet another person gone. Yet another life wasted. Yet another family lying in devastation and ruin. Lord have I wept. Because it was all that I had left that I could do.

Like in the days of Jeremiah, the truth, as it was right in front of the people of Israel, is right in front of us. And yet, despite this, they walked themselves into a season away from God and into captivity. And brothers and sisters, I lament that we are doing the same; as a generation that has forgotten the ordinances of God and walked away from his offer of mercy and grace, and towards captivities of every kind.

Yet there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. A lesson of faithfulness, and it is God’s message to us this morning. A lesson to be like Jeremiah. A promise of God’s character. A promise that, when we are in these moments of desperation, that God hears our words. That when we cry out to God with whole hearts, and ask those tough questions- we can live with the promise that He is walking with us. That our crying isn’t falling on deaf ears, but instead is falling on the heart of a God that loves and cares for us. Pursues us, as we talked about last week.

And today he encourages us- that when our strength is weak, when we feel like we are failing, when we are in a position of retreat or the world feels like it is crashing in around us- to remain faithful like Jeremiah. To keep the mission at hand. To continue to do the will of God always. In this we live to inherit the promises of God, found later in Jeremiah chapter 29: 10-14

"For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive."


What we walk away with from this account of Jeremiah is this- that if we remain faithful, if we do our part. If we answer our call. If we continue to fight through what is tough and difficult and consumes us- on the other side lies deliverance. On the other side is blessings. On the other side of if we will find growth- for us, and even for our entire society.  It may mean that we for a time will suffer. We may grieve, we may be burdened. But we are neither alone nor abandoned. And as for us today- whether that means stepping into the presence of God in heaven, or taking us out of the bondage of sin and addiction as a society- that promise sounds pretty good to me. Amen. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restoring the Power of Prayer, Part 1

ACTS 3:23-31, Luke 18:1-8

There is one thing that makes a strong church stronger; one thing that revitalizes fledgling churches and communities. The same thing that transforms hearts and mind, heals the physically and spiritually sick and has been the VERY basis of EVERY SINGLE major spiritual revival that has happened both individually and collectively throughout history; yet is something that we so often overlook. That we so often shy away from, that we are even embarrassed to do in public or out loud.

It is prayer.

We are at an interesting and troubling time in our faith. An interesting and troubling time in our world. A time that, when we look around, is very scary for a lot of people. For Christians and the world alike. A time that is both the most technologically advanced ever in history; yet at the same time, we seem to be in a time when people almost seem to be reverting back towards earlier, or some would say “primal” times. There are many contrasts. We have more information, support, and materials to aid relationships than ever before- yet relationships are falling apart faster than ever. We have the best and most advanced equipment in history, yet we have increases in violence and the acceptance of cage fighting and other aggressive and violent things. We have more ways to connect to each other and as a community than ever before- yet the idea of community and even knowing our neighbors is becoming harder and harder to find. We have churches of Christians aching to grow, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to transform hearts and minds, yet we have large percentages of Christians that either don’t know how to pray, or are even afraid to for fear of “seeming weird” or “social pressure’ or even low-level persecution.

Crazy right? We are afraid to pray. We don’t know how to pray in many cases. One of the most important, influential and transformative features of Christianity- and we simply aren’t doing it. A recent research study from the Pew Research Center showed that 55% of Christians are praying regularly, and let’s face it- probably 10% might be fibbing just a little bit. Not lying- cause we don’t do that as Christians- but praying on Sunday, at a bible study during the week and another day might classify as “every day”, you know. Close enough. But nonetheless only HALF of Christians are doing it.

Now, before anyone starts feeling dreary about that point, that’s not what I am here for. I don’t believe in that. I don’t want to guilt you, shame you, condemn you- I am merely pointing out that we, as a faith, have become a little lax on the essentials- Instead what I want to do in encourage you.
Encourage you to understand that we as Christians have a legacy of powerful and transformative prayer. The kind that heals; that mends broken hearts, that ushers in incredible acts of the Holy Spirit and has changed and shaped the entire world, even against terrible odds. Even against the threat and reality of persecution and death. And to show you by the grace and direction of the Holy Spirit that it can happen again at any time, if we will only embrace it.  To know to the bottom of your heart that if you will hold onto this and walk confidently and boldly in prayer that God will continuously use you and us in ways that we could never imagine.

This morning we look at the account in Acts, Chapter 4, verses 23-31 when the believers prayed together for courage in the midst of threats of jail, beatings, and death for speaking the name of Jesus. You see, leading up to this event, when the believers gathered in prayer, Peter and John had gone to the temple to pray; and this is when they come across a crippled beggar, who was carried to the temple every day to beg. The man was healed in the name of Jesus, which draw a lot of attention in the temple. People had known the man for many many years, and suddenly this man who had a clear deformity or condition could stand, walk, and even leaped. This disturbance to the regular flow at the temple and people praising God caught the attention of the High Priest and guard, who confronted Peter and John. The two apostles declared this victory in Jesus Christ, and were subsequently arrested and were held overnight in Jail, to be tried by the council in the morning.
It’s important to remember that just 6 weeks prior to this event, where these men faced an entire council of priests and religious officials, Jesus faced the exact same people. Who had him beat and crucified. Something that these arrested apostles had witnessed first-hand. Something that they knew could be in store for them. That was still very fresh in their minds. Made for a very long night in jail I imagine.
In fact, I bet those men spent most or all of the night praying; which on a side note was very common in our faith until recent years. And they faced their accusers, and spoke the truth that the miracle came through Jesus with courage and integrity. Peter even spoke boldly to educated religious officials. A fisherman with absolutely no formal religious training, gave a bold sermon to a room full of vengeful, educated religious leaders- who had the propensity to kill, and confidently proclaimed the Good News. The same man who just weeks earlier had denied Jesus to a young girl.
And they are shocked. They cannot deny that something miraculous and powerful happened; so they choose to give them a very stern and strict warning- mostly due to the fact that they don’t want to start a riot among the people who witnessed the miracle.

Soon after, they are released, and join up with the other believers in what becomes an incredible moment of prayer, and the scripture from this morning. One that shakes the meeting place, and further validates the faith and fire of the early saints and causes them to carry on in boldness.

 They were intimidated. Yes. They were scared. They were praying for courage, after all. The council didn't play around. They would kill for the sake of maintaining the status quo. But together the early believers prayed. In all things they prayed. And so the early church grew and grew until in stretched into the Christian faith we see today, into every corner of this world. Because Christians did what Christians do- prayed, were anointed by God, and put faith into action.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to that same faith. The one that stands boldly to the accusers. That challenges the status quo of today. That looks into the faces of killers and stands boldly. That prays in all things.  That passes the blessing of anointing and healing through prayer to others.

So LET US PRAY, as we say. Let us say it with conviction. Stand ready to pray. Pray ceaselessly and endlessly. Pray with all our hearts and souls. In fact, when we even say LET US PRAY, let us say it like we’ve been waiting all day for the chance to pray together. We should all sigh of relief- like “Finally” we get to bring our problems to the only one who can fully and truly do something about them.
Let us pray, with passion and conviction. Boldly. With proclamation, that we are not in defeat. Instead, in the certainty that the very gates of hell will burst apart and not be able to stand against it. Because that is the faith that was through Jesus Christ for Peter and John, and it IS the faith that we have today.

Amen
(Delivered 7/31/2016 at the Varna United Methodist Church)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Adopting a Character of Mercy

Let’s take a look at a lesson from the Gospel of Luke, found in Chapter 10: Verses 25-37. In this passage Jesus is talking to a lawyer, or a “legal expert” in some translations. And it reads:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is the word of God for the people of God.
In this passage the lawyer is challenging Jesus, likely testing his ability as a teacher and hoping to cause him to stumble. Jesus in good fashion responds to his question with a question, to which the man responds with two scripture references, one from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the other from Leviticus 19:18 Surprised to hear Jesus reaffirm and restate the teachings of the Torah- he quickly tries to justify his initial question and save a little bit of face by asking another- “who is my neighbor?”, which elicits the parable and response by Jesus.
First off, can I get an Amen? Could there have been a better lectionary scripture chosen for this week? This week, as Jesus reaffirms our duty and calling as Christians. This scripture, pertaining to social justice and the expected response of Christians, chosen out months and months ago just happening to fall on a week that has just been drowning in injustice and suffering? Anyone here think that this was merely a coincidence- or was God reaching into our lives to tell us something? Could it be, that our God, nearly 2000 years ago had a message that challenged Israelites to bypass the lines of race and religion to provide compassion that holds true to this day?
I would like to retell the story, if I may, to draw light to the scriptures, in today's terms. In places that we are more likely to understand, ways that we are more likely to understand.  Can we do this, can we imagine this together?
I don’t know if you knew this, but locally, there was a situation like this. A man, a white guy, who worked in middle management in a corporation in Syracuse. Every day he commuted up the I-81 corridor from Cortland to Syracuse for work. He got off at the Salina exit, and drove up South Salina through the valley to get to his office in the city. He never really liked the route, as down in the valley the streets are just full of shady looking people…. But he had to go that way to make good time so he just tried to be aware of his surroundings.
A couple of months ago, he was stopped at one of lights, when some gangbangers from the High Street gang jacked his car. Two of them took off with the car while others beat him up, stole his Iphone, his dress shirt and shoes. They pulled him off into the bushes by one of the houses and left him for dead.
You know what the crazy thing was? All of it was captured on a red-light camera. Car after car went by not even noticing. Some people from the neighborhood saw what was going on, but no one saw anything since no one snitches on the high street gang, and no one trusts the police anyway. Some other people who were walking by snapped a picture and uploaded it to Facebook with the hashtag “#Onlyinsyracuse” and “
#nakedhomelessguysleepingdrunk”, not fully understanding what had occurred. But one of younger black women on the block who had witnessed the event felt bad, glancing over again and again, and knowing that she risks her own life and the life of her family from stepping on the gangs toes, borrowed her grandmother’s car, and brought him to University Hospital. Though she wasn’t a church person, wasn’t white, wasn’t of the same social class, instead she had a character of Mercy, a heart of compassion, and she acted.

My story is made up, but it certainly could be possible, couldn’t it? We aren’t sure If the parable that Jesus told was an actual event or an example, but the focus of it remains. We are called to have a Character of Mercy. We are called to have compassion; even if it costs us something. 
The priest from the parable may have avoided the situation for fear of touching something “unclean” and defiling his rituals. The temple assistant was most likely looking to check out what was going on for some gossip. Either could have kept moving for fear of being attacked themselves, as the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was infamous for robbing and violence. They had their excuses, their own lives to worry about, even their own religion to bar them from helping. But the one that Jesus chose to highlight as “getting it right” was not even Jewish. Was mixed race. Was outcast. Was despised, even, by some. Who Jesus highlighted in the parable was the Samaritan. The one who Jesus saw as being righteous did not even have the faith. And he did this as an example to all of us. We are called to have a love so deep, a compassion so wide, mercy so great that it transcends the evil of this world. So vast that it overshadows the hopelessness of today.
Right now, and in this very community there is a single mom struggling to find a free or inexpensive sitter for her children so that she can go to work. There is a black man with a record trying to get his life together and get a job- if he can only get the chance. There are elderly individuals with food insecurities not sure where the next meal is coming from. There are kids who are in the system without a secure family to take them in. There is a police officer feeling more and more nervous about if they will make it home safely tonight.
Like many people I started this week on a good note, to learn early in the week that an old friend’s child of only 8 years old lost her arm and leg in a horrific boating accident. Then to hear of situation and situation of senseless violence. Bombings, terrorism police shootings, and shootings on Police. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are people in the road right now. Suffering, in pain, defeated, scared, robbed of life everywhere around us. Jesus is calling us this morning to answer our faith with more. A vibrant faith and love in and with God, yes, but also to take on a lifelong character of mercy. Of compassion. To give of ourselves. To a point that it even costs us something. To cross the lines of social status, race and even religion to spread the Grace, Peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

PENTECOST- REMOVING THE SHACKLES

ROMANS CHAPTER 8, Verses 14-17, CEB
All who are led by God’s spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit, that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry “Abba, Father” The same spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.  
This is the word of God for you the people of God. 
I’ve got to keep it short, so I am not going to dive too far into the theology of this morning’s scripture. So instead let me ask you- what is the purpose of these?

To restrain you. To hold you in bondage, to hold you hostage, to HOLD YOU AGAINST YOUR WILL. As soon as they go on you are in realization that you are no longer your own, but are held in submission and being held under another. You feel and in some ways become a slave to them.

And how do we know that we are being held as slaves, being held against our will? We can feel them. We can feel the cuffs; we try to move, and we can’t. We are being restricted, right? We are held in submission to the will of the one who possesses the keys.  And on our own we can do nothing to break the chains.

We can worm our way into a more comfortable position that allows a little more freedom. Maybe we could even get a friend to help and even temporarily have a short term escape, or release; only later to encounter the bounty hunter when we least expect him. But we aren’t truly free. In this way we would never be truly free, but are instead merely “on the run” so to speak.

We know we are restricted because there is something holding us back. Something that is keeping us from a full and freer life. But what about when we don’t feel it?

So many people, even our brothers and sisters of faith, even some of us reading this very post are being cuffed right now. By sins of the flesh, by pride, by discontentment, by anger, by complacency, by holding on to grudges that we were built to give to God. Even though we know we shouldn’t, even though we have a God who desires so much to set us free. But often times we don’t realize it because we don’t feel the weight of the heavy, cold steel on our wrists. We don’t realize just how much we are being held back from having a TRULY free life. One filled with joy and purpose. Filled with an entirely new dimension of love.

We are reflecting this Sunday, on the descending of the Holy Spirit. Where the power and strength of our faith comes from. Brothers and sisters, this is no small deal. The power that set 3000 people free in the first day of the birth of the church is available to you. Is in your church. Is in your outreach ministries. Has the power and the flexibility to move through any person and in any place. Don’t take it lightly. You are never too young, too old, too under-educated or too over-educated to be used by God. To be like his children. Learning and growing. To be heirs! You didn’t receive a Spirit of slavery. You received the keys to remove the bondage of this life! Have courage! You have already won the battle through Christ, accept the prize!

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was written to encourage spiritual growth. Both theirs and ours. Reminding us that we are freed from the bondage of sin. That we are to grow to be more like Christ. Let us take that example from the early church in Rome, who had the boldness to claim faith in Jesus, even in the face of torture and death.

Let us walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, that can speak all tongues and even grow faith in Jesus Christ in places where you could literally be thrown to the lions for it.
Let us break the chains of sins and worldly desires and claim the only true and worthwhile prize, salvation and eternal life with Jesus Christ.

Amen. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Mark 12:30 Pledge

Recently I saw a post on Facebook in which a dad has his son do his own pledge before he goes to school. I came up with my own version, I'm Calling it the Mark 12:30 Pledge. I take credit for this, but any person or institution can use this, change it, take it, etc.

I decided to share it thinking that it could have some use in a Christian school, in a family, or etc.

THE MARK 12:30 PLEDGE

TODAY IS going to be a GREAT DAY! 
I thank God for giving me this day;
For the opportunity to learn, grow and 
become the Christian leader he intends for me to be. 

God gave me a good heart:
I pledge to use it to love Him as well as others to the best of my ability. 
God gave me a resilient soul:
I pledge to use it to follow Him, 
and to see each challenge as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. 
God gave me a capable mind:
I pledge to use it to learn HIS ways and work hard as a student and as a leader. 
God gave me strength:
I pledge to use my strength to lift up the fallen, and glorify God in all that I do. 

With these tools; and with the help of God, 
Nothing is impossible.
So I will walk in faith through the open doors, and 
NOT be discouraged when some doors close. 
Instead, I will push on. I will persevere. 
I will stand with integrity on the promises of God. 

This is my pledge. 

Copyright- Alan McCormick 3/21/2016.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Do you know the muffin man?

Scripture: Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN MAN?

This email was sent around the entirety of the Cortland Regional Medical Center (a local hospital)

I am very sad to report that our “muffin man” volunteer Ken Brong has unexpectedly passed away. I know many of you saw him just yesterday, it is truly a shock. I know that over the years he has touched many lives here at CRMC in his various volunteer capacities, I know that CRMC, the community and the Volunteer Department especially will not be the same without him. Do you know the muffin man? I did, and he was a great man.

Notes like this have circled various community service agencies in this last week.

I am lucky to also have known the muffin man. Ken was a great man- though you wouldn't initially know it by looking at him. He didn't drive a Mercedes, didn't live in a McMansion or wear designer clothes. He instead looked like a very normal grandfather figure. Yet agencies and people all over, even on multiple continents, grieve his passing.

He was a man that shook the earth. Not by the force of his hands, but instead in love and service. He was humble, kind and steadfast. He walked with integrity and lived a servants life. Yet his impact has been great.

Ken volunteered for a dozen local agencies. Everything from delivering muffins to raise money, giving tours at a local history museum, and dedicating his life towards Alzheimer rehabilitation and awareness. He hosted children from around the world in his home, taught kids to drive and was always a part of whatever was happening in service to others around our small city.  

Why is this important to you?
If you are reading this, you probably never knew the muffin man. But you have an opportunity to a muffin man or woman. To receive the torch from people like Ken and to carry through our generation To live in love, and to support and spread love in a very real and special way.

As we are into the end of January, we are in a season of personal re-evaluation. A time when we dedicate ourselves to our goals, to becoming a new person. Will you look into the mirror with me, and take a look at the legacy that we will leave behind? What we will be remembered by, or, how we will make this world a better place than how we came into it. What can we do to get involved? Effect social change? Build disciples for Jesus Christ?

Its never to late to start to make the hands and feet of God move.

God Bless!
Alan McCormick


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rules, Rules, Rules

There are a lot of rules in our lives. From the time that we wake up, to the time that we go to sleep, we are subject to thousands of written and unwritten rules. The social rules; that say that we need to brush our teeth and look presentable. Go to work on time, be pleasant, and responsible. The legal rules; ones that say that we need to drive the speed limit (whether we choose to follow that one or not), drive safely, and even to not steal our morning coffee but pay for it. 
Yet we know that these rules have been put into place for a reason. If we drive dangerously, or on the wrong side of the road, we know that we are likely to cause an accident. We brush our teeth because we know other people expect us to if we want to engage in conversation. And it keeps up from getting cavities. If we decide to line up and drag race through town after church today, we may gain a reputation for being a fun church; but we would also be putting ourselves and other people at risk.
In this morning’s scripture, Jesus is again being confronted by the Pharisees. Always trying to knock Jesus down, this time they are trying to discredit him by highlighting that some of his disciples aren’t following an ancient ritual of hand washing before they eat. I believe that it’s important to say that in this context, they are not saying “Hey Jesus, your guys aren’t washing their grungy hands before they eat!”This is not the case. It’s not that the hands of those disciples were particularly dirty. Rather, the people were offended that these disciples hadn’t fulfilled a man-made tradition that was considered customary in the day. They felt CROSSED that these disciples had the AUDACITY to break the rules! To go against the grain. And though the Pharisees were in the midst of the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD, they just could not get past it. They could not see what was going on RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, because they were fixated on the rules, rather than what is possible with God.
Jewish tradition has been one of many rules; since long before Jesus. Hundreds of rules had been established at the time when Jesus physically walked alongside of us. Around 613, set, mainline rules had been enacted for members of the Jewish faith on everything from justice to eating food. These rules were set to maintain and accomplish purity among the people. To set the people apart. And so much of faith was determined by the rules you kept or didn’t keep. Utter devotion to the code was demanded.  In fact, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time spent a great deal of time debating the rules- and ascribing “weight” to them; based on the offenses. This is what it MEANT to be Jewish- what it MEANT to be a person of God. How you attended to the rules was to some regards the very essence of faith. But then God changed everything. And we can begin to understand those changes, by looking at how Jesus responds to their accusations.
As the Pharisees attempt to rip into Jesus on the rules, Jesus responds with a call for inner purity. Real purity….. Not obedience to rules, but for a heart that is truly right with God. That truly yearns to be with God.
The Jewish people had a good and thorough understanding of God. I would argue that it was better than many people today. They understood that God was pure, God was holy. Unblemished. Perfect. And they understood the need for atonement. For reconciliation for sin. And so the goal of the laws was to make themselves pure. Hoping that THIS would make them acceptable to God. This would pave the pathway to God and eternal life. In fact Jesus isn’t saying that the rules are necessarily wrong in their intentions. But they are misunderstood. Jesus is saying that God cares less about the fact that we are making all of the right motions and following a code, than he does that He has your heart. God doesn’t care that you are perfect in the eyes of other Jewish people. Or even today in the eyes of other Christians. The point is this: If we aren’t giving God our heart- our all- its meaningless. THAT is where he makes us right. That is where we gain our inner purity.
In that moment, they didn’t know the mission of Christ. They didn’t understand that the final sacrifice to put us right with God was on the horizon. Jesus was about to fulfill the law. Jesus demonstrated it again and again during his ministry. In Matthew 22: starting in verse 37 Jesus tells us: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A Second is equally important. Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He said that the most important law of all was a law of love. You want to find purity in God? Then you must love Him. Then you love His people in the same way.  That is how you come into the favor of God.
Jesus fulfilled the rules. It doesn’t mean that the rules have no purpose. They are there to guide us. But God changed everything through Jesus by demanding more- our hearts. Jesus took the rules to a new level.
Since I have made several analogies to driving, and the road this morning, I implore you to think of the rules that God asks us to keep as guardrails. God knows we are broken. That we are going to break the rules. They we will sometimes swerve to the right or left. So he gives us the direction that we follow in the Bible as a means of guiding us. Protecting us.
We know that on the other side of the guardrail, something exists that is worse for us than staying on the road. The guardrail guides us when we stray, when we get off course- whether intentionally or unintentionally. It keeps us safe from what is on the other side. And so it is so with the commandments. With the directions that we find in the Bible. The important thing- is that we don’t lose track of where we are going.
God cares that he has our hearts. We are his children, and he loves us. Yet we fall away. We drive through the guardrails. We worship other gods. We are idolatrous. Often our idolatry is not in the sense that we go to a strange temple and offer sacrifices to Malek, but there are indeed other gods in our lives that we worship! So Jesus calls the Pharisees of the past, as well as his people of today, to examine our inner purity. Our hearts towards God. To find out where we stand.
I would like to share some ideas on idolatry found within the book Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, written by Bishop Kenneth Carder. Carder describes some of the major things that are idolatrous, yet widely accepted by Christians and society everywhere. He talks about the three major “gods” of today. So let us examine and go through them to look behind the curtain of our outward faith, and determine where our hearts are:

The first god is Success. God bless America. Yet isn’t the “American Dream” synonymous with success? Millions of people focus on success to the detriment of everything else in their lives. As sad as it is- our society values PEOPLE in terms of possessions, having, titles, looks, degrees, or power. Yet this is not a theme of the Bible. Jesus emphasizes living as servants. Of dawning meekness. Undoubtedly when you apply the diligence and conservative principles taught to us by the Bible, you often come to have greater wealth, this is not the issue. The issue is when you make your success a bigger focus point in your life than God. Or your family. Or your neighbor. Do you know someone who might be worshipping success? 
The second god is Consumerism. Our market economy is completely based in consumerism. A god that contends that everything from goods, to people, to institutions is marketable. Sellable. Which reduces our relationships down to utilitarian function and cost-benefit considerations. Relationships are based upon what one receives from them. How is Consumerism a god, you might ask?  Let me throw a couple lines at you. I will start the sentence, and I want you to finish. So go ahead and shout it out or sing it with me if you know it-
“Everything tastes better, with a dallop of …..” (Daisy)
“A 1. A 2. A 1234- Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that ….” (Kit kat bar)
“I want my baby back. I want my baby back baby back. I want my baby back baby back ribs” Chilis, …. “ (baby back ribs)
This next one is a game. Hungry hungry Hippos, Hungry Hungry Hippos!
This one is coffee- “ The Best Part of Wakin’ Up- Is Folgers in your cup!”

We could do this all day. Want to know the crazy part? There are adults that were born after these commercials came out. The Kit kat commercial was from 1995, Chilis from 1995, Folgers from 1994. These commercials were from TWO DECADES AGO- yet we still know them by heart. How do you know if consumerism is one of your gods? When you remember jingles from two decades ago but can’t tell someone a line of the bible. Something from the word of God. I am not trying to make you feel guilty- If consumerism were a charge you could have locked me up and throw away the key.
The third god is Hedonism. I am sure everyone knows what that is. Well Websters defines hedonism as the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole of chief good in life. Statements like, “If it feels good, do it”. “If it feels right, it must be right” are examples of hedonism. Is pleasure wrong? No. But living for pleasure is dangerous. Its dangerous because ethics and morality become a matter of subjectivity. It limits God to being a celestial “Dr. Phil”. I believe that it is a driving force of why so many marriages are failing. If it is not going well, people just throw it out in pursuit of something that will "make them happy", rather than working towards biblical happiness and then sharing it with their partner. And as bishop Carder says, church becomes a “religious spa”. Being happy is not the problem, but the biblical understanding of what happiness is- becomes lost. Happiness in the Weslyan tradition is a by-product of our relationship with God. With feeling his blessing, and with participating in our relationship with Him.
So in reflecting together today, I ask you- “Where is your heart”? Has it been in a place of rules and duties that you have been following? Does your faith, that maybe at one time felt strong and alive, feel more like “going through the motions”?
Our God is a Holy God. A righteous God. A pure and unblemished God. But he is a loving God! He desires our actions, yes, but more than that- our hearts! He wants us to love him, and to daily follow Him alone! So let us live in that understanding. Put aside all other Gods, and put our intentions and focus back onto the one that is the giver of true life. Would you pray with me?
Heavenly father,

We praise and thank you. For coming down into this world, and making something new of faith. For taking our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh and love. We are yours alone, God, and today we rededicate ourselves to your word and your way, chasing after you, as you have been chasing after us. So use us, Lord. Guide us, and keep us in your everlasting arms- this day and everyday. And its in our gratitude of the sacrifice of your Son Jesus that we pray, Amen.