Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 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.”
~ Mark 7:14-23 (NRSV)
STORYBOOK: The Empty Pot by Demi
Last week, we started a new sermon series titled “In This House,” and we talked about the fact that, in this house, we give grace. As I told you, over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at what it means to be a part of our Oldtown family of faith—how we are called to act and respond to one another and to those outside of our walls, and why people have gathered in this house for more than three hundred years.
Last week, we reflected on the fact that we are not called to judge others by their mistakes or to look down on them for their thoughts and actions. Instead, we are called to love them unconditionally, whether we agree with them or not, giving them grace just as God gives grace to us. That is not always easy, is it?
Well, this week’s statement is: “In This House, We Tell the Truth.” That may seem like a very straightforward idea. Of course, we know that we should tell the truth and we are not supposed to lie. For some people, this is a very black-and-white issue, while for others there can be a lot of, let’s just say, “grey” areas. Because sometimes in life, we get caught in certain situations and we think to ourselves, “If I only stretch the truth a little bit, it would be okay.”
A few minutes ago, we heard the story of The Empty Pot, and we saw how it’s easy to stretch the truth when we want to look good in the eyes of others. We saw that many, many children in the town had grown beautiful flowers and plants to present to the Emperor, as Ping carried forward an empty pot. But Ping had done what was right, even though he knew that people might look down on him and judge him. And because he was truthful about what had happened, rather than trying to fix the issue and sneak by with a lie, he proved his honesty and integrity and ultimately found favor with the Emperor.
Was that an easy feat? No! Did Ping want to present his empty pot to the Emperor? No! Do you think he was embarrassed and humiliated? Of course, he was. Friends, we all want to look good in the eyes of others. We never want to show our flaws and our weaknesses and our shortcomings. But if it takes stretching the truth, or downright lying, is it really worth it?
Jesus made it very clear in our Scripture reading today that, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, it doesn’t matter where we are or what is happening around us, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or saying. What matters is what is coming out of us—our actions, our attitudes, and most importantly our words, because our words, come directly from our hearts, and they tell the world who we are and what is important to us.
We have all been situations where we tell a “little white lie,” or we stretch the truth a little bit. The problem is that each time you do that, it becomes easier and easier to do it again, and sometimes before we know it, we are lying and stretching the truth without even realizing that we are doing it.
Folks, it is often said that honesty is the best practice. To be truthful, it’s the easiest practice, too. Because though being honest might uncover a weakness or a poor choice that you’ve made in the past, when you always tell the truth, then you don’t have to worry about remembering the stories that you’ve made up and shared with different groups. You just have to tell the truth.
Telling the truth can be difficult sometimes because telling the truth can uncover our brokenness and weaknesses which society constantly teaches us to hide and to cover up. But if here, in this place, instead of trying to look perfect on the outside, if we all told the truth, if we weren’t afraid to share our worries or concerns, if we weren’t afraid to ask for help or advice, if we weren’t afraid to show our true emotions, and we weren’t afraid to truly be who we are, I think we would realize that everyone struggles sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes and poor choices. Everyone needs little help, a little support, and a listening ear sometimes. No one lives a perfect life. But in our brokenness, we can support one another and encourage one another to live out our lives of faith, not like perfect saints, but as ragtag followers of Jesus.
Speaking of the ragtag followers of Jesus, Jesus met many of his disciples at the beach, didn’t he? Do you remember what he said? He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We’ve all heard the story of the disciples fishing all night and not catching anything, when Jesus tells them to cast the nets on the other side and they pull in so many fish that they can’t fit them all in the boat.
I wonder, how many of you have ever gone fishing? Have you ever caught so many fish that you couldn’t fit them in the boat? My husband and my son go out fishing all the time. And for those of you that have gone fishing before, show us with your hands, how big was the biggest fish you’ve ever caught? I think you probably know where I going at this point. It’s what they often call a “fish tale”—a big lie that is told by fishermen to exaggerate the size of the fish they’ve caught or the one that just got away. Because when you go fishing, of course, you always what everyone to think the best of your fishing skills, right? So a fish that was this big, through stories becomes this big. Now with phone technology, fishermen have learned the art of perspective and optical illusion. Did you know that if you hold the fish straight out in front of you in a picture, it looks much bigger? I know that fishermen can have a lot of fun with their fish tales, and the actual size of the fish may not really matter in the grand scheme of things. No, but honesty and integrity do.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember how important it is to tell the truth—not only for yourselves but for others. Be humble enough to share your true self with others, encouraging them to share their true selves as well. And always remember that in this house, we give grace, and we tell the truth. Because here in Oldtown, all are welcome to come just as they are.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!