Message for Sunday 16 August 2020: “Rinsed Hands, Polluted Soul”

Today message is a story of Jesus responding to critics (Matthew 15: 10-20). The issue is ritual purity about a superficial hand-rinsing. Now before you feel that this ancient washing was done for germ reduction, you must understand that there was no such knowledge prior to the nineteenth century. There is no evidence that Jewish people understood germ theory, the science of how microorganisms cause infections.

Jesus was criticized by the fundamentalists of his day because he was perceived as a progressive, an innovator, a role detested by stuck-in-the-mud traditionalists. The idiots pestering Jesus thought that people required elaborate rituals just for the sake of . . . what? Oh, because God supposedly told them to do it. The Almighty wasn’t behind this. Hand rinsing was among many dubious regulations amid the vast swamp of Old Testament law. For instance, in Jesus’ day as much as now, there remains a peculiar belief that certain foods are intrinsically impure and spiritually polluted. This is just one area among many where there’s profoundly wrong thinking.

Surface dirt is visible but it isn’t what you can see that kills you but rather the unseen, microscopic bacteria and viruses. As the coronavirus epidemic continues there’s an emphasis on effective hand washing, using soap, and when done properly germs are greatly reduced. Understand that this is not the same as religiously-inspired hand rinsing. If hands are simply rinsed in contaminated water then the main source of sickness remains. Ritualistic hand rinsing is at best incomplete and at worst a false source of confidence. The gist is this: Go away pesky Old Testament priest and peddle your wares elsewhere because neither God nor science are on your side.

Examine many world religions and you will find precious souls entrapped by burdensome beliefs and practices, including what kind of food is permitted, how it must be prepared, etc. God has a beautifully vast universe to manage, much more significant than punishing people for violating kitchen protocols invented by priests. What properly guides peoples’ eating should be nutritional science. People of faith must be wary of imposed, one-size-fits-all religious rules, rites and rituals that often contradict science and good sense.

The idea that God imposes food restrictions masks what’s really going on: human control. Fundamentalists everywhere diminish liberty and crush life. They argue that their insecure god demands meaningless acts of obedience. Jesus as the true messenger of God warns to not confuse strictness with truth. Reactionary critics argue that scientific evidence is irrelevant, because people aren’t supposed to question the denominational officials, the Brahman priests, the Islamic imams, the rabbis, Christian ministers and priests or whoever attempts control. Take heart my friend because as a follower of God love and truth guide you.

People mired in captive thinking cite the need for enforcing community cohesion and uniformity. However, imposing narrow boundaries on how people think and act is often counterproductive, especially when religious institutions reap the harvest at your expense. History painfully reveals how religious authorities delightfully execute their task as privileged police, controlling you for their benefit. Such nonsense proliferates whenever sufficient numbers of religious persons flock like sheep in supporting religious demagoguery.

O.K., so here you are wondering what to do with the mess left by competing views of what God wants. Do you march through life with jackboots on a rigid path or do you advance with fits and starts, embracing revisions and adjustments in an uncertain world? It is never good to surrender yourself to any suffocating tradition no matter how much heavenly bliss it falsely promises. Often, folks forget why it is that they do something and instead embrace beliefs and practices kept alive by habitual mindlessness. If a religious rule or ritual does not enhance life then it should either be discarded or become optional.

Do yourself and humanity a favor by remaining willing to alter your beliefs and practices in the wake of new evidence. This is another way of saying that all people can benefit from becoming more mindful, which is a form of responsible awareness. Mindfulness helps you connect productive thinking and compassionate behavior.

Ready to wash your hands of such germy controversies revealed by today’s message? God’s encouragement is to not abandon your struggle for life and liberty, even when religious officials or political leaders act like false messiahs. And as ever, your challenge is not to substitute outward compliance for character, integrity, and most of all your heart of righteousness.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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