Monday, August 24, Mark 7:1-5

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Mark 7:1-5

The devotions are starting back up a week later than I originally planned. A lot of things have happened over the past month that weren’t in my original plans. My plan began with a long anticipated motorcycle vacation bracketed by preaching at the Woyatan mission in Rapid City, a short visit with my mother in Minnesota and my 30th high school class reunion in my hometown of Wahpeton, North Dakota.

Unanticipated, those plans came to include emergency trips to Minnesota to transition my mom from an assisted living apartment to a nursing home, another trip as her condition worsened, and then learning, four hours after returning to Houston, that she had died. Another trip to Minnesota and all that is involved in emptying an apartment, planning a funeral, gathering with family, and saying our thanks and goodbyes.

While I was gone, a mission pastor in our synod (the father of the receptionist in our office) suffered a massive heart attack and remains in the hospital. Another assistant to the bishop, a friend and co-worker since my first parish, collapsed while walking due to a blood clot in his lung. He’s home now and recuperating. And then our bishop, who drove over from our national assembly in Minneapolis to help with my mother’s funeral, learned the next morning that his father-in-law in Ohio who was also in the hospital since July, had taken a turn for the worse. He died the next day.

I got home last week after my mom’s funeral to a pretty quiet schedule that allowed me to spend a good share of Thursday and all day Friday watching the ELCA national assembly live on the internet. (Modern technology is amazing.) I listened to hours of the long anticipated debate about ministry recommendations regarding homosexual clergy. It was, to say the least, painful. At the same time, the debate was handled with extraordinary care by our presiding bishop, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and prayer, and ultimately came down to a vote that opened the door to a new day of integrity and truthfulness in our church.

I say all of this both to bring you up to date on why the devotions are beginning a week later than planned…and to reflect on matters of life and death that truly matter. The verses above are the opening verses of the gospel reading appointed for this Sunday. No one “cooked the books” on this. The New Revised Common Lectionary has been in place for many years. And yet I still find the narrow mindedness of the scribes and Pharisees breath taking. Given all of the challenges faced by the people of God, living under the thumb of the occupying Romans, taxed to the teeth to keep the machinery of Israel churning, caught in the matrix of competing religious leadership, they are worried about hungry disciples failing to wash their hands correctly before eating.

Let’s listen to Jesus this week and see what he has to say.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes the chances, changes and challenges of life are overwhelming to us. And yet, day after day, one day at a time, you give us the daily bread that keeps us going. Continue to lead us, to make provision for us, that we might remain steadfast and faithful to those things which truly matter. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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