” Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?”  Matthew 15:2

“…whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated.  But things which proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”  Matthew 15:17,18

It was clear that Jesus was dealing with, competing with a very formulaic religious aristocracy.  In one sense it can be understandable.  For Moses had given to the people the laws from God and, if not careful, focusing on the laws and not He who gave them could bring about a very structured, self-centered culture.  Self-centered? Yes, self-centered in a way that, if I do these certain things at least to the level that I think is acceptable, then I deserve a reward.  I can and will proclaim my own righteousness as well as judging you according to my own standards.

Think about how many times Jesus was confronted about the shall and shall nots of this world.  You can not heal on the sabbath, what about paying taxes, what about forgiving people, don’t pick grain on the sabbath, don’t eat with sinners, what about divorce, feel free to judge and condemn to death others; were all questions and actions that Jesus had to deal with.

It seems rather summed up in the interaction that Jesus had with the rich young man.  That man wanted to be justified; wanted to be told he was good and going to heaven.  In Jesus response about the law, he is in essence asking the man for his impression, his formula for bringing about salvation.  The man replied that he had kept to the formula, he did not transgress against the laws.  However, like with the Pharisees above in Matthew, Jesus revealed how much he knows about our hearts.  For Jesus was clear that it is not about what we do, whether washing hands or following commandments, but why we do; in other words, what is in our hearts.  Jesus makes it clear that none of the outward things will lead us to a deeper relationship with God.  How can we hope to impress the all powerful, perfect Creator of everything with our actions?  No, it is what is in our heart that matters to our Heavenly Father. Love or hate, judgement or mercy, pride or humility, anger or peace; these are the things that come from within, that come from our heart that truly matter to Our Heaven Father.

Why is this so important for us today to remember Dear Sisters and Brothers?  Because we live in a world that has a formula for every type of success.  You want to have the right appearance; eat this, don’t eat that, wear this but not that, exercise this amount.  You want to be successful in love; go to this site, read this book, say these things, purchase this fragrance, give this jewelry.  You want to be successful in life; get this job, work this many hours, go to this vacation spot, meet these people, save this amount, spend this amount and for as many, “do these things”, there are a corresponding amount of “don’t do these things”.  Even in the church, want salvation; read this, pray this, give this amount, be on this committee, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t listen to loud music…do this…..don’t do this……

Thus if we’re not very careful we find ourselves chasing formulas.  We find ourselves living lives of equations where the sum, the outcome of the equation is solely dependent on the outwardly, worldly actions that we take.  Take the right actions equals good life of which we are entitled to.  You can’t argue with the math.  Have something negative happen, then somehow our equation was in error.

Jesus Christ teaches us, Our Heavenly Father cares about what’s inside.  Not how we act but why we act.  Abraham, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Ruth, John, Stephen, Timothy and many, many others were held up as examples in the bible, first and foremost for having hearts that searched after and wanted to be like God’s Heart.  It was that inward striving that led to the wonderful works that they performed and not the other way around.  Likewise, King Saul, King Joash, Caiaphas, Judas, had outward acts of power and seeming success but because their hearts were not with God, they were ultimately destroyed.

Finally, understand, there is a formula, there is a plan.  The reality is that it is not our formula, nor is it our plan.  It is our Heavenly Father’s plan.  The great thing about it not being our plan but His plan is that we can be certain it is perfect.  Our part in it, our piece of the equation is in our heart.  Not what are we striving for but why are we striving?  The formula that has us striving for our selves will never have an accurate answer.  The formula which has us connecting to the Loving Equation of Our Heavenly Father, the equation where God is the answer, that embraces the principle that Our Heavenly Father is first and that the components of heart should be those of love, mercy, humility, joy and peace through Him, complete faith in Him, those will be the components that lead to the correct actions, that lead to the successful life here and a life eternal in His presence.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we far too often look to the wisdom of this world, rely on the formulas of this world to determine what actions we should take.  We far too often look to the outside instead of considering the inside; what is in our hearts.  Forgive us most Merciful Father as we repent and turn to You for our answer.  Fill our hearts with Your Spirit that we may feel and know the love, grace, mercy, peace and joy that are beyond our understanding.  That with hearts, first and foremost searching for and linked to Yours, that will lead to the truly successful lives that You have planned for us to lead.  We pray this in the Name of Our Teacher and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen