This Week's Focus -  "Form and Function"
                      Click the link for Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 







 Dear Friends,

There is a basic law of aesthetic beauty that form should follow function. But when form becomes paramount, when it overshadows function, the results can be pretty ugly. That's a warning at the core of this week's gospel.

The clerical nitpickers from the big city are out to give Jesus a hard time. And not surprisingly, to their overly dramatized disgust, the Pharisees and scribes find lots to criticize about Jesus. But, like so many of their colleagues, they are infinitely out-matched when they tangle with the Second-Person of the Trinity.

Christ sees right through their trivial carping and calls them on it. And to expose their hypocrisy, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah: These people show honor to me with words... (but) Their worship is worthless. They are all form and no function. They haven't the least intention of doing any good. They only want to be seen to be doing good. That’s because they love themselves, not God. In their hands,
ritual form that had originated in the solemn function of worship had degenerated into strutting, self-promoting vanity

The text of this gospel is very straightforward: In our relationship with God, it clearly illustrates the primacy of function over form… the “sanctity” of humble worship over the “sanctimony” of ego-driven ritual. But while the lesson is clear, it can be deceptive. The Pharisees make such easy targets; we’ve got to be on guard. There is a danger for us in pointing fingers back across the centuries. Jesus gives us this gospel for instruction not for self-righteous recreation. Before we cast a stone at hypocrites of old, a little spiritual inventory is in order.

What are our priorities? Are we majoring in the minors ... concentrating on form, neglecting the function of making Christ come alive through us? Are we worshiping God with our words and ignoring him with our lives? Are we so consumed with the stuff of life, that we’ve lost our grip on the staff of life?

Sadly, for most of us, for most of the time, the honest answers are ... yes… yes, we have put form over function. That’s because eternity seems over our horizons, gratification is here and now. For the moment, we deceive ourselves… thinking that the easy form of an occasional, ritual prayer can substitute for the demanding function of a life in and for Christ.

But as Jesus teaches in this gospel, the function of loving and serving God is primary. Its form is always a distant second. It is not the externals. It is the internals. Ritual does not keep us right with God. Righteousness does. And that righteousness comes from living actively and openly in harmony with the great commandment: to love God and neighbor with our whole heart and soul.

It's that simple… and that complicated. It is a life of a million decisions, both large and small, directed toward our primary function… aligning our purpose with those of the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. As in art, a life where form faithfully follows function is truly a thing of beauty.

In his classic short story “The Picture of Dorian Grey” Oscar Wilde effectively illustrates Christ’s final point in this gospel: There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. Dorian Grey was a golden boy: Physically healthy, stunningly handsome, socially polished… but he was also spiritually diseased: a slave to vanity, an accomplished seducer… a practitioner of every vice. His appearance was perfection. His essence was evil.

Wilde’s allegory directly mirrors the message of this gospel: For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come… and they defile a person. Conversely, the human heart transformed by grace is a channel of peace, a fount of beauty. It sanctifies our lives and the lives of all we touch.

God sees our hearts clearer than we see the palms of our hands. He is not deceived by form. Christ calls us to function… to our appointed work in the world… to build his kingdom… to witness his love. We are not here to be decorative. We are here to carry the cross of Christ. Get that function right… the form will follow… and beauty will abound. 

God love you!


A Reflection for The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
©The Reverend David F. Sellery

Copyright © 2018 David Sellery, All rights reserved.

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