Christianity Is Not A Religion
“Christianity Is Not A Religion”
Year B, Proper 17, August 31, 2003
The Rev. Philip R. Taylor, Deacon
Free Episcopal Church
Lessons: Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Psalm 15; Ephesians 6:10-20
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1 The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. 3 The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, 4 with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans). 5 The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?” 6 Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. 7 They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy. 8 Ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.”
14 Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. 15 It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”
20 He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: 21 obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—23 all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.” 
In the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is at the pinnacle of his teaching and healing ministry. This is also, where Mark will tell us of the opposition to Jesus by the Pharisees and the ‘religion scholars’ as Eugene Peterson’s translation describes them.
Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to travel with Jesus as he meandered through Palestine or wondered what it would be like to hear him challenge the righteous and the powerful of his day?
I’ll wager that for anyone who might like a little verbal skirmish from time to time, traveling with Jesus would have been more than a little bit of fun. However, for those who might be more introverted and less prone to confrontation, traveling with this ‘in your face’ itinerant prophet might be their worse nightmare.
As we read or hear the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel, one cannot help but be either drawn to say, “Go, preacher man!” or drawn to wish this uncomfortable scene would end. Regardless of whether you might be comforted or made uncomfortable by this passage, it carries a powerful and important message for all people of faith, 1st century, and 21st century.
What is that message? Well, listen to Jesus as he quotes Isaiah 29:13 –
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.
Ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.”
Now that would make anyone squirm. It makes me squirm. Jesus never really says much in Mark’s Gospel without ‘cutting to the chase’ as we say. His accusation is that we ‘make a big show of saying the right thing’, our ‘heart isn’t in it’, we ‘act like’ we are worshipping, we ‘don’t mean it’, we use God ‘as a cover’, and we take ‘up the latest fads’.
True, Mark has Jesus direct these comments to the Pharisees of the 1st century but we cannot escape the fact that Jesus is speaking to us as well. Most of us at one time or another have felt and acted self-satisfied in our ‘religion’. If we are not doing it this Sunday, we certainly have done it on Sundays past. We are human after all and Jesus is warning us of a major ‘slippery slope’ as we journey in the faith. It is not hypocrisy that Jesus is warning against. The Pharisees were not hypocrites, they had become self satisfied, complacent in their religion, and unable to see the real pain of God’s people.
Robert Farrar Capon says this in The Parables of Grace,
“Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.
Religion consists of all the things…the human race has ever thought
it had to do to get right with God.
[The Church] is not here to bring to the world the bad news that God will
think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical,
and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that
‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.’”
Indeed Christianity is not a religion, it was, is, and always will be a way to live in Good News, a way to worship God and keep God’s law by living a life of love. Christianity is more than rules, more than saying or even doing ‘the right thing’; it is an attitude; it is living a life while bent in God’s direction. Not to worry, as Martin Bell says, “God will not let us go to hell in peace.”
I will end our time together asking that we all pray together the Collect appointed for this Sunday:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion;
nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Page 233 BCP
Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language (Mk 7:20-23). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.