The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost,
 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
" 'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'
 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." Mark 7:6-8 (ESV)
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees here for rejecting the word of God in favor of tradition, for teaching as doctrines the commandments, or traditions of men. Lutherans have always had an interesting relationship with tradition. I suppose that is because you can never really live without tradition. Luther fought the Roman Catholic church for holding on to traditions that were in conflict with God’s word, and could not be supported from God’s word, such as communing in one kind, and the sale of indulgences. Yet he maintained a tradition in conflict with God’s word, and did not commune the people in two kinds until they were ready for it, and the scandal had been removed. That is he withheld the cup from the laity for a couple years, even after he came to the conclusion that not only could they, but they should commune in both kinds from his study of God’s word, the Bible. He also fought the reformed and Anabaptists, that is the rest of the protestant world, for doing away altogether with the traditions of the church. To many protestants, traditions so labeled are bad. Luther would have disagreed. We might not make it a commandment that we follow the church year, or have church on Sunday, but is it bad that we traditionally worship on Sunday, that day of the week when our Lord rose from the dead? Tradition has it that that was such a monumental event that it should be celebrated not just once a year, but once a week! I agree, for in Christ’s resurrection we are assured of our own:
 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:5 (ESV)
But traditions, in and of themselves not good or bad, do have a way of becoming commandments, even when there is no commandment, traditions like not putting potted plants on the altar. The reason being that you might dirty the paraments. But this has become such a taboo I’ve seen old Altar Guild ladies chew a new sister in Christ out in shameful manner for breaking this commandment of women, in far worse a manner than they would ever consider addressing their granddaughter for shacking up. At times like that I’m tempted to go buy potted plants and put them everywhere on the altar, is it so bad to have the paraments dry cleaned? That is merely one example. Of traditions taking on a life of their own, and becoming commandments. Something we need to be on guard for.
It isn’t that traditions are bad in and of themselves. Jesus himself followed many traditions, for instance he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, “as was his custom“ (Luke 4:16). But he would not let people harass him or the disciples based on the traditions of men, that had no keeping with scripture. He turns the table on the Pharisees, and shows their hypocrisy.
Here they are harassing the disciples for not washing, baptizing, their hands before eating. Now I interject baptizing their hands here, to bring out a point. The Greek word baptizo occurs interchangeably here in Mark 7 with Nipto, another word for wash. The Greeks had a few words for washing, the same as we do: wash, clean, shower, scrub, bathe, rinse…. But the word “baptism” was, by the time Christ, beginning to take on the connotation of a ceremonial washing of some sort. Many religions had a tradition of ceremonial washing, and still do. The Pharisees were not really getting on the disciples and Jesus, like a mom gets on a young boy for trying to eat with dirty hands, after coming in from playing in the dirt. That was not the point. Most of us wash our hands before eating and think nothing of it. And sometimes we go through the drive thru without giving it a second thought, depending on what we have been doing just prior to eating. But this tradition of baptizing was a ceremonial washing hands, utensils and even dining couches. (In the Middle East, people would lay down to eat, rather than sitting at a table, thus they had dining couches, rather than chairs.) This dispels the myth, or commandment in some circles, that baptism meant immersion, and that is the way it has to be done. It was simply to wash in a ceremonial manner. It also dispels the popular notion in currency today that we can be informed about the nature of Christian baptism by examining the ceremonial washings that were popular in Christ’s day, rather than listening to the clear words of Christ, or the other chapters that speak of baptism in the New Testament. The Baptism with which Christ baptizes us, the one that he commissioned in Matthew 28:18-19 is not a mere ceremony, but is quite different than anything that ever preceded it, as even John the Baptist is quick to point out,
 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:8 (ESV) It is in fact a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36 where God promises to give us the Holy Spirit, and cleanse us from all uncleanliness by sprinkling water upon us.
 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV)
As with the sacrament of baptism, the only source and guide Christians have for any doctrine is that which is found in Holy Scripture. Today, the traditions of men threaten the church on every side. There are so many things contrary to scripture plaguing the souls of Christians everywhere, and ravaging entire church bodies. In the Missouri Synod, we have time honored reverent worship of God in the historical liturgy that has promoted unity in our church for ages, finding its roots in the very same synagogue worship that Jesus and Paul used. It is not a commandment that we worship with the exact same worship everywhere, it is a tradition, but a good one, and Biblically sound. It is threatened to be replaced in our circles with so called contemporary, or my favorite term for it, “praise” service, as if God is not praised in the liturgy. Seriously, you look at Church websites and they offer traditional worship at 7 Am, (and the pastor claims no one likes it, because no one shows up at 7 AM, may God have mercy on that man’s conniving soul. Well part of me wishes his soul might be smote. Especially, when I wake up at 5 on vacation to go to the service and the man denies me communion in both kinds, not giving me either the body or the blood of my Lord and savior!) And then praise worship at 9 AM. And again at 11 AM! Which seems to indicate that those who woke up at 5, and were denied the Lord’s Supper, at least twice a month forgot to praise God, because God is not praised with the liturgical service that was at 7. You have to wait for the “praise“ service that comes at 9 AM, to praise God! But that is an aside. The fact is these new “praise” services are innovations that find their roots in nothing but the sentiments of men, and are really organized in pagan fashion to manipulate emotions, and induce an ecstatic high.
But there are other problems at our gates. Women’s ordination is all but accepted in most church bodies today, especially amongst protestants, even so called Lutheran Churches, despite God’s Clear word on this in 1 Cor. 14.
 As in all the churches of the saints,  the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Cor. 14:33-35 (ESV)
And in 1 Timothy.
 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Tim. 2:12 (ESV) In the LCMS it is becoming common for women to give Children’s Sermons despite these words. And its not that I don’t like women that gets me upset about this. It is that I love them as sisters in Christ, and don’t want them offending God, and leading people astray. It is that I take God’s word seriously. Back in the 50s when women’s ordination was forced on the Church of Sweden, the great Lutheran exegete, Anders Nygren predicted that in short time his church body would not be recognizable as a Christian church, but would slip into Gnosticism (ancient pagan religions, that often incorporated Christian elements, or masqueraded as Christianity). Today, this seemingly little harmless chink in biblical fidelity, that is faithfulness to God’s word, has led to the acceptance and condoning of homosexual behavior. And the media doesn’t know or care to report that it is the ELCA, and not Missouri Synod that is wrestling with this problem in convention. They just report that Lutherans are examining human sexuality in convention. As if God’s word is not clear on this sort of thing. But if we ignore it on behalf of women, perhaps we ought to ignore it for everyone. I mean we are called to love everyone right? But loving is not necessarily condoning. We can neither say more than scripture or less than scripture. But the Bible has to be that by which we find and teach the doctrine of the church, lest we replace the commandments of God, for the traditions of men. For it is in God’s word and God’s word alone that we find the doctrine of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and this is ultimately at stake, when we replace God’s word with the traditions of men. For the hearts of men do not know forgiveness but only law. The hearts of men are tempted to either be lenient with the law, or strict with it, they can find no balance, only liberal or conservative. But the hearts of men know not the gospel, and will miss it all together if they do not take God’s word seriously. If God’s word is not taken seriously, and merely brushed aside, or given lip service the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins will be lost all together. In fundamentalist circles it is lost when pastors are afraid that if their people here about forgiveness they will abuse it, and there congregation will become a bunch of adulterating drunkards. In liberal circles it is lost when sinners are excused rather than forgiving. We people like to do that. We often excuse and rarely forgive. There is a difference. We blame the behavior on anything but sin, and excuse it. And excusing then becomes condoning in short time. This is what has happened in the ELCA, this last week. Now there is no forgiveness to be found there, because they can no longer recognize a sin that needs to be forgiven. The Law, and excuses for sinful behavior can be found anywhere, but forgiveness is found only in Christ, where he offers it in is word, and in his sacraments.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.