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God Rules

August 20, 2018

Isaiah was right . . . ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7: 6-8.

During our first wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii I found a heart-shaped stone while walking on the beach. I kept it and have used it as a paperweight all these years. Hearts made of stone are good for nothing more than a paperweight–and memories of a trip that was anything but made of stone.

In this week’s Old Testament lesson[1] Isaiah recounts God’s description of people whose hearts are made of stone: “These people they come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29: 13). He is talking about people who are merely going through the motions of worship. They are going to church and following man-made church rules, but their hearts are far away from God. They have no clue who God is. To them, religion is about rituals and rules, not about a relationship with God. It is about routine, not about the reality of the person of God—the holiness of God. We all fall into worship routines from time to time, but we need to guard against the hypocrisy of worshipping while our hearts and minds are elsewhere. Keep your heart soft and tender and open to God’s direction. Remember that God rules, not man: “Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing?’” (Isaiah 29: 16 b).

David echoes Isaiah’s account of God’s lament: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God . . . Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord . . . You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge” (Excerpts, Psalm 1-6). David describes the same people with hearts of stone described by Isaiah. There are many people in our culture with hearts of stone who “devour” people of faith “as though eating bread.” The fools described by David are found on every continent and in every age. His comments are timeless and classic. David’s observations do not leave the reader without hope. He reminds us that the Lord is our refuge. He encourages us to call on God. He is our refuge. God rules.

Mark’s gospel includes the story about Pharisees and other rule enforcers who criticized Jesus and his disciples for not following the ceremonial hand-washing ritual before eating: “’Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean’ hands?’ Jesus replied “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7: 6-8).  Jesus’ criticism of the rule enforcers as hypocrites rings as true today as it did in Jesus’ day. We become hypocrites when we put more stock in man-made rules and rituals than in God’s love, mercy, and justice, and when we keep our hearts distant from God, emphasizing our virtues and others’ shortcomings.

The Pharisees devised hundreds of petty rules that detracted from God’s holiness.  But we should look to Christ as our model of behavior. Love is always the overriding principle—love of God and love for each other. Paul uses the example of the love between a husband and wife to illustrate Christ’s love for his church and vice versa: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5: 32-33). God’s rules are based on his love for us.

Keep stone hearts only as paperweights.  Keep your heart soft and tender toward God, as well as toward your spouse and others. Put the rule of love above all petty man-made rules.  Remember that God is love, and that he rules.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for this week are Isaiah 29: 11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5: 22-33; Mark 7: 1-13.

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