By Pastor John Johnson

Unclean Food Is No Excuse

August 16, 2020

NRS Matthew 15:[10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" 13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." 15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." 16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."] 21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

A true aggravation of COVID-19 for me is not calling on people, especially those in Assisted Living or who have spells in the hospital. I did, however, have the opportunity to meet for lunch at Tag’s in Coolidge David Wuertz and his wife Lori, who are part of the Community Presbyterian family — Florence people, “Community” is the name of your, our, sister church in Coolidge, of which I am privileged to be the pastor.

At any rate, a month or so back was the first time I had actually met, as opposed to having talked over the phone, with either of them, and the reason I cite this conversation is that, while I knew that David had grown up locally, I had not realized until we sat down for lunch that Lori had come from Rochester, Minnesota, and of even more personal relevance and coincidence to me, she had worked at IBM’s big factory in Rochester. That factory is very directly connected with my ability to live comfortably: for several years in the 1980’s, IBM Rochester and an IBM plant near Southhampton, England, were the biggest customers of my newly formed company, and I visited both regularly.

Mind you, as IBM said at the time, we were a really good supplier and in a small way we had helped them engineer and engineer assembly of part of the very first hard-disk drives that IBM made for its second generation of its historic PC — personal computer, — it’s PC2.

Some time after that, I do not recall exactly when, IBM announced its own computer operating system, OS/2, for a subsequent generation of personal computers. IBM had basically given away — to Bill Gates and his business partner and co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, helping to make billionaires of both of them — IBM had basically given away its computer operating system known by the acronym, “DOS,” standing for “disk operating system.” Microsoft then further developed DOS into its first version of Windows, and early Windows was upgraded and modified into subsequent versions of Windows, which remains the world’s most popular operating system for desktop and laptop computers.

But because of the intense loyalty and gratitude I felt to IBM from the importance of their business to my company’s initial success, I chose not to stick with DOS nor go to Windows when IBM’s OS/2, standing for “operating system 2,” was released, and I became fairly adept at using that system — which was probably fortunate, because no one else could help me because almost no one else was using it. OS/2 was released too late in the history of the evolution of PC’s to catch on, and IBM was losing market share in PC’s to other companies, so not quite twenty-five years ago, I had little choice but to switch from OS/2 to Microsoft’s “Windows NT,” sort of the geeks’, though I did not qualify as such, sort of the “geeks’ operating system. NT was not the version of Windows most users used.

Please be patient; I am going somewhere with this, I hope.

But while I was not a “geek,” I was always an early adapter of whatever was new in personal computers, and when NT and the more common Windows programs were subsequently replaced by Windows 2000 and then Windows XP, I was among the very first to install those operating systems on my computers, and the same practice held when, in 2006 or 2007, Microsoft introduced its “Vista” version of Windows and a new version of its by then ubiquitous group of programs known as “Office,” to which I had also switched from IBM’s once proud word processing program. I honestly do not recall what the name of that version of Office was that came out with Vista, and with good reason.

Probably not many of you remember Vista, and Microsoft would probably deny it ever existed, but it was a user-unfriendly disaster, such that many customers stuck with its predecessor, Windows XP, until only a few years ago, when Microsoft stopped servicing it. But Vista was just plain awful. It had security features that made using it a nuisance, and the new version of Office designed for it did not actually work well with it.

Yet I was dependent upon it! I wrote my sermons, of course, and did a few other church related tasks as well as my personal finance and the like. And Vista flat-out was awful. Vista did what nothing else has ever done, it provoked me to cursing at my computer as though I were a drunken sailor on shore leave late on Saturday night yelling at someone who had told me I had had too much to drink. My language was singularly inappropriate for a Presbyterian minister.

And as one might say, “Thanks be to God for MacOS 10.5,” as it was called, the new operating system Apple released for its desktop computers almost simultaneously with releasing its first iPhone. I got an “unlocked” iPhone the Friday before Thanksgiving of 2007, and my first Mac desktop the day after Thanksgiving that same year, and I have never looked back. Now, even by the standards of a nun who has taken a vow of silence, my language is all cleaned up! I still confess to profanity, but there are only four words I ever use, and very seldom do they grace my lips, and none of them are really considered indecent or improper, nor, I imagine, would upset any of you. One begins with an “a,” one with a “b,” one with a “d” and the other with an “h,” so I think any of you would give me a pass. And I never have nor will use them to curse at a person.

The truth is, words are one of the most important things that “come out of” us, and nothing so belittles the person using it as a stream of what we might call “f-bombs” punctuating his or her speech. Streams of tasteless words at best say “tasteless” about their speaker, and may indeed say, “ignorant” and “offensive” and even, “hateful,” should they be directed toward another person.

And “hateful” is about the worst thing that anyone could possibly say about the behavior of a person who seeks to be a Christian.

Our Gospel lesson today is not really about language, but about behavior in general, and the reason I am focusing for the moment on language was prompted by a column last Sunday by one of the people I have grown to respect and admire through the several emails I get from him via a paid subscription, David French, a very bright constitutional — primarily First Amendment — lawyer and more evangelical Presbyterian than I.  (He is in the PCA, a different denomination than ours  and which I believe was originally separate because it does not ordain women as elders or ministers.) French’s column to which I referred, arose in part from the very explicit language of what I guess is a very popular piece of “hip hop” music, a genre of which I know next to nothing and in which I have no interest. And I’ll take French at face value, that to the extent anyone can hear the what is being said in hip hop, that the apparently highly explicit sexual language of this particular piece would shock us adults and be counter to anything appropriate for younger people, and would be advocating behavior of which I would not approve. I am not a prude, mind you; I am a romantic, and besides, some things have consequences too important not to care about them.

Now, the fairly obvious, I hope, difference between the language in hip hop and what I would say while under the influence of Vista, is that what is heard in hip hop is like food being consumed, while what I would utter was “what comes out of the mouth.” What people hear in hip hop, or to take an example far more likely to be in our lives, what people see or hear on cable TV or over the Internet, is something that, like “unclean food,” comes into us and can be simply “discharged into the sewer.” Mind you, that does not mean that what we see and hear is appropriate for children or adolescents nor in any way of value to us, but rather that just because people curse at one another in offensive language that we see or hear on radio or TV, is not reason for us to duplicate it in our own lives, whether at people we know or at a far-away politician. People are very understandably stunned and disheartened — I know I am — that some of this “stuff” is floating out there. But what, exactly, does it mean to us as Christians? What is our response?

Well, the lawyer in me, indeed the First Amendment absolutist in me, says that protecting adults from offensive speech or TV is not what government is about, but that it is wholly appropriate to draw that distinction, adults. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to expose spongy minds to ideas that can hurt them (heck, look at what happens to college students under the influence of some wacky professors, for that matter).

But can adults in fact be hurt or led astray by offensive language and by what they see on TV and use it as an excuse for inexcusable behavior and language? I should hope not.

Or at least, I do hope not. For adults, as I said, this is all what we might choose to class as “unclean food,” but Jesus tells us about unclean food.

Or putting it another way, it was not Vista that was bad, but the words I used to respond to it — which at least were unheard by anyone other than Patricia, who chided me over them.

No, as Christians we might get discouraged by what we see and hear in popular culture or see on Cable TV, but we simply cannot let those things rule us; we must instead fight so that what comes out of us is not discouraging to others. In Jesus’ words,

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person,

And I would add, or to some extent redefine several of these as, hatefulness.

Hatefulness, the antithesis, to sneak in a neat word, the antithesis of the love we are called to show to others.

All of which is to say, whether or not we swear at our computers, we should never swear at another individual, ever, because what then comes out of us is beyond evil intention, it can be actual hurt to the person whom we address.

We live in a world where in certain ways we might feel powerless against the popular culture, but that is certainly how Christians also felt in those first centuries after Jesus’ death. Yet, most clearly, they were not powerless. They did not conquer, which is to say, convert, the Roman emperor through hatefulness, nor, for that matter, through consumer boycotts of stores nor law suits, but they conquered through something real though intangible: they conquered through carrying inside themselves and revealing in what came out of them not evil intentions and hatred, but love for God and love for all of God’s children.

We cannot — nor we cannot let ourselves — be corrupted by the tastelessness of culture, but we can overcome it in terms of its impact on others by what comes out of us: respect for and love for all whom we encounter, showing to others the presence within us of Jesus.

A good way for me to practice this is to be kind to my computer.

And in the sacred name of Jesus, which I hope we never belittle by misusing it other than when we are discussing or addressing Him, we pray.

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