Cart and Horse
Mark 7:1-8 Cart and Horse 8-29-21
[Prayer] May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O’ Lord my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
First: a disclaimer. Mark 7:1-8 is the lectionary text for this week and every time it comes up it steps on my toes. Please just know I did not choose this passage to step on your toes this morning. This is the Word of God as best I understand it, and yes. Scripture steps on our toes sometimes.
In Jesus’ day they used donkeys to pull carts. A cart is what we might call a modern day trailer. A cart had a couple of good sized wheels - one on either side. It was used to haul wood or dirt, or whatever. However, without the donkey that cart was not going anywhere. The donkey would be like your mid sized pick up truck. By a show of hands how many of y’all have ever pulled a trailer behind a pick up truck? (pause for response) How many of y’all are good at backing up a trailer attached to a pick up truck? (pause for response) About how fast could you drive a trailer backwards? (pause for response) Could you safely drive a truck backwards up 109 to Thomasville, or down Highway 8 to Denton at 45 to 55 miles per hour? (pause for response) No? That would be putting the cart before the horse, right?
This morning’s passage has the same kind of thing going on. The Pharisees and Scribes had a tradition of creating laws to help the people put God first. Putting God first is a good thing. One of the laws they passed was to wash hands before and after they ate as a way of being holy before God. Gee. That sounds like important worship AND good hygiene. In this example, putting God first is the truck and the new law about washing hands before and after you eat is the trailer. The problem was for the rank and file Jew who was a subsistence farmer and just barely, barely making it, that was a big deal. Water was nearly always in short supply, and they needed water to survive. So the act of worship the Pharisees had intended had become a burden to the ordinary Jew. Then the Scribes and Pharisees started pushing to have the law enforced and suddenly the law was more important than the reason the law was passed. They were no longer putting God first. So what happened is the Pharisees and Scribes had put the cart before the horse.
Today there is nothing wrong with handwashing and good hygiene. There is nothing wrong with being clean. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once quoted an ancient Hebrew proverb saying. “Slovenliness has no part of religion...cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.” In this passage whether or not to wash our hands is not the point. The point is why do we fall into arguing about the methods when the principles are what matter most?
My sisters and brothers, the solid principle; the fact upon which Christians are supposed to build their lives, is Jesus Christ is the son of God. Jesus Christ was born like us, raised like us, and about the time He turned 30 Jesus began itinerant preaching and sharing the good news that we should all repent because the Kingdom of God is hand (Matt 4:17). Jesus then spent three years preaching, teaching, healing people and performing miracles. Just before Passover Jesus was arrested by the very people He came to save. Jesus is convicted of being exactly who He is, the Son of God. Jesus is then handed over to the Romans. The Romans beat Jesus, and scourged Jesus, and crucified Jesus. Jesus died on the cross so that the price for all of our faults and failures could be paid in full. Three days later God the Father raised God the Son, Jesus Christ, from the grave. Some 40 days later Jesus ascended into heaven so that we might one day be able to return to a perfect relationship with God like the one Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. God gave God’s only Son to pay the price for all of our sin and disobedience.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven Jesus gave us this command. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matt 28:19). These are the guiding principles of the Church. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our King who died and was raised for us. We are supposed to share this good news with others so that we might all strain toward the upward call of God in Jesus Christ and be better off together (Philippians 3:14). Brothers and sisters these are the principles. These are the principles of the Church, and what we stand for cannot change otherwise we stop being the church.
How we go about sharing the Gospel has taken many forms over the years and changes from congregation to congregation. Some churches have food pantries. Some churches have preschools and daycares. Some churches provide food to the homeless. Some churches have Christmas eve services at midnight. Some churches celebrate their dead at homecoming instead of on All Saints Day. Some witness to the Gospel at their local rec fields. These are methods by which we spread the Gospel. While some of these methods are very near and dear to our hearts at some point they stop being effective methods for sharing the gospel. If you look around Lexington there are tons of abandoned softball fields. Softball used to be a big deal in Lexington. It’s not anymore. Softball would not be a good method in Lexington for spreading the Gospel at this time. Things change so the methods of spreading the Gospel have to change.
What Jesus is scolding the Scribes and Pharisees for doing is putting the cart before the horse. The Scribes and Pharisees were putting more value and importance on enforcing their new law than they were on the commandment of God. The commandment they missed was to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. By making their law more important than worshipping God and loving their neighbor they had put the method ahead of the principle. When it becomes more important for us to worship at a specific time than to choose a time when we reach the most people we have put the cart before the horse. When it is more important to have a specific parament on the altar than to be inviting to a new person when they walk through that door we have put the cart before the horse. When it is more important that the pastor wear the right stole on a given Sunday than to think about the message the pastor has given we have put the cart before the horse. We have put the method ahead of the principle. We have begun acting like Scribes and Pharisees instead of disciples of Jesus Christ.
The letter to the Hebrews says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:1-2). There is a temptation to long for and rush back to the ways we have “always done things” without giving any thought to whether they are bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God. Hear Jesus’ words again. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” To repent is to turn back to God. Sometimes turning back to God means letting things go. Sometimes that means letting go of the things we have always done. Now I am a big fan of, “If aint broke don’t fix it.” That being said, How are we ever going to know if it is broken if we never take a look at what we are doing and why? Have we made the Pharisees mistake? Are we putting the cart before the horse? For all of our sakes, let’s do the work to make sure we don’t.
In the name of Jesus Christ,