GracePoint Church, Kikuyu.
Sunday Sermon: 22nd June 2019
Idols of the Heart: Culture [Mila na Desturi]
- Earlier this week, we were about to set off on a long journey. A black cat crossed the road right in front of us. Rhodah noticed it and told me. We said nothing, completely ignoring it and proceeded with our journey but she and I knew what black cats crossing your path meant.
- If you live in Kikuyu town, you know of the Mugumo Tree in the middle of the town. It is a big and rather messy tree in a built up area. Bird droppings from the tree really make a mess for the fruit sellers below. But the tree cannot be cut.
- If you meet any ‘progressive’ Kenyan their name, they will probably give you only one name even though the average Kenyan has three names. But the friend does not want you to ‘profile’ them by their ethnicity. They are not keen on tribe being seen as their identity.
These three scenarios show us three aspects of culture – fear, reverence and identity. But what is culture?
Sociologists have wrestled with that question for a long time. It is like a discussion of what is water between fish. This is because is basically everything around us. Our food, our values, interactions, our beliefs, how we live, work, dress, communicate and just about do everything is our culture. Perhaps the most helpful answer then has been – culture is a way of life.
We have been on the sermon series- idols of the heart and today we shall look at the idol of culture as manifested in beliefs and traditions (Mila na Desturi). We notice from earlier sermons that idols are the results of good things made into ultimate things. Instead of God being our ultimate reality and authority, our source of identity and significance, we craft idols to give us those things – Identity, Authority and Significance.
In the passage we have read today we see Jesus engaging with Pharisees and teachers of the law on cultural matters. The discussion in Mark 7 is set in the context of the two miracles of Chapter 6 both of which have echoes of Moses, the great lawgiver and cultural father of the Jewish people. Chapter 6, essentially helps us to see that someone greater than Moses is here, one who will transform our deformed cultures and reform our hearts back to God. 3 things to take away from the passage;
- Culture is a good part of creation order. God is the source of human way of life. He created us as male and female and designed how we are to live as men and women, he created government when he gave man dominion over the rest of the created order. He established marriage and family. He assigned places where people should live. He instituted work as a means of production. He gave laws through Moses establishing a culture of how his covenant people are to live. Culture is a good thing. V 10, 17 -20. Christ come into a human culture in a time and space of history.
Illustration: Can you imagine of the whole world was mono-cultural? So that everybody was Maasai or Kamba? Or all men? Or there was only one flower? And one animal? And only one type of food?
- Application: It is ok to accept who we are. Where we come from. The names we bear. All that identifies us under God. No one should put you down because of your gender, ethnicity, race, tribe or nationality. Tribe is not a dirty word or association for which we should be embarrassed. Real ethnic cohesion, happens not when we delete our tribes but when we acknowledge and appreciate the beauty and diversity of others.
- All human culture is fallen: The fall in Genesis 3 affected every part of our being. We see the Pharisee as a religious sect of the Jews. The 624 laws they created.
- They made their culture (ritual hand washing) the standard. Verse 2 – 5. Culture becomes an oppressive tool to judge others.
- They were hypocrites – having an external form of religion but no substance. Culture becomes an outside show but the heart is far away from the Lord. Matthew 23: 7 woes.
- Worship is an exercise in vain – teaching human rules. Abandoning the commands of God and holding on to human traditions.
- Illustration: Not supporting parents in favour of giving to God. ‘Corban’. Dowry, an otherwise good value has been commercialized.
- Your culture and mine are fallen. Stop making your culture the standard. Watch out for your cultural blind spots. Appreciate other people’s culture. Circumcision, a respected cultural right of passage in some communities, has been reduced to a supremacy contest between those who cut and those who don’t. It is politicized and stripped of all meaning. FYI only about 30% of the world practice it. Repent your cultural supremacy attitudes. The gospel is not calling you to abandon your culture, but to stop idolising it.
- Watch out for hypocrisy, an inconsistency between faith and practice. We live in an age that values Form over substance. We care more about the label than the content. We choose a church often more on label rather than the gospel content and truth community we hope to find. We are more attracted to externalities like ‘presentation and packaging’ or professionalism in services rather than gospel content and centrality. Repent from your hypocrisy. Drop your mask.
- Worship in truth and spirit rather than forms and rituals. Steer away from fears and doubts about your future or children and raise them for Jesus. At the heart of ATR were rituals meant to protect individuals from evil. If Christ is sufficient then you don’t need any other ritual other than what he has commanded (Baptism and Holy Communion). You don’t need dedications or Redemption of Children, Tithes or Deliverance Prayers, You don’t need to seek ‘blessing’ from ancestors and the community. Turn away from empty rituals and turn to Christ..
- Christ is the redeemer of our fallen cultures. The problem lies deeper within.
In verse 14 -23 Jesus diagnose the real problem. Culture is only an outward expression of a more dangerous inward condition – the heart is sick.
Essentially what Jesus is saying is Culture is not the problem but actually a symptom. Nothing enters a person from outside makes him unclean. Food and drinks defile no one. Clothes and other cultural expressions in and of themselves are not a problem. The problem of idol worship already exists and lies deep within your heart. What we then see as cultural manifestation is evil thoughts, immorality, same sex relationships, adultery, greed, malice, slander, arrogance, foolishness etc. All these are, by default, dwelling in you and you come defiled.
We need a heart doctor.
In the following two stories we see Christ portrayed to us as the redeemer. A woman of mixed heritage had a sick daughter and he went to Jesus for help. The language of the passage is laced with cultural undertones (and possibly offensive) but the overriding message is Christ is Lord over culture will cross any cultural boundary to heal the broken and the needy. The chapter closes with the healing of a deaf man – it is noteworthy that it is in the region of Decapolis, a predominantly Greek region and heals a man in a rather cultural offensive way. Some observations;
- The cultural insiders (Pharisees) are left in their hypocrisy but a woman from Syria Phoenicia is helped. Her humility, rather than cultural supremacy is rewarded and her daughter healed.
- A man who was deaf and mute in another region, could not hear or speak like the Pharisees is healed. The cultural supremacists who could both hear and speak are left in their hypocrisy.
- The people were overwhelmed with amazement and wondered (Verse 37).
Who then is this man? Mark wants us to keep asking this question? The answer is He is Lord. He is the Messiah, the anointed one. The Lord over all human cultures and traditions – He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. He is Lord – bow dowm your knee and worship him.
I close with the words of Paul, warning Christians in Colossae against idol worship of culture and traditions;
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.[e]
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.