|Sunday Gospel||Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23|
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’
I often use the comment on posts about rules and authority that 'fear is a terrible thing'. And it is and it presents itself in a multitude of ways.
Fear of being found out; fear of being found wanting; fear of failing; fear that the status quo is no longer right; fear that the better way may be too hard; fear that someone will want what we have; fear that no-one will want what we have; fear that we may be wrong; fear that we will be left behind; fear that someone else will take control of our lives; fear that we will be hurt.
Yet how often we give control of our lives willingly to others? How often we find the best option is to build a set of rules and regulations.
We use our head to live because it is safer than living in our heart.
But sometimes, rules are no help at all...
I was trying to decide whether to share this... and I will... and I will hope that it's for the best. Bear with me.
Recently, I was driving home and decided to measure out the walk I have been taking with the dog - going back to work with the intention of setting myself some rules for healthy living.
The walk includes the perimeter of a nearby cemetery. So, watching the odometer I drove through pouring rain around the outer ring of the newer development of the grounds and, out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall person in what seemed to be a dressing gown standing amongst the gravestones.
I started to drive home; with an feeling of unease. I have seen people in the cemetery before; heard stories of what can and may go on. But then who was I to judge?
Maybe it was completely innocent; an evening visit; was it a dressing gown or a trick of the eye; and after all I was on my own; a risky business for a woman to stop anywhere - but in a cemetery; in the dark? The rules of safe living said - go home and if you are still worried phone the police and let them laugh at you.
The unease wouldn't go away. I felt fear - of something that hadn't even happened; and then anxiety - for 'what if?'
What if God had accompanied me on that vanity driven exercise and found me an opportunity to do good? And a comment from a friend that I carry with me for such occasions - 'but you - you're not scared of anything' maybe I added 'what's the worst that could happen?'
I turned around and after a few circuits found a young woman sitting in the grass, soaking wet, numb with cold, lost -in more ways than one. A phone call revealed that police, ambulance, friends and family were searching for her.
She sat in the back of the car like a frightened deer whilst we waited; too distressed to speak; whilst I prayed a mumble of thank-yous and blessings that my sense of self-preservation and leapt-to conclusions had not proved too high for God to steer me past.
The police, when they came, were gentle and polite - and I pray that God is with her in her healing.
I don't know about all those words that Jesus uses to describe evil - they are a scary compendium of words that basically mean 'self first' and I am as guilty of many of them as anyone.
'Self first' is a rule of today; a rule that almost sent me home in fear. It's a rule to be broken - in Jesus' name.