‘From the heart’ – 29th August 2021 – 13th Sunday after Trinity

The order of service

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21 08 29 13th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

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21 08 29 13th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

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The Readings

Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-9

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.


Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’


Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Canon Alan Billings.

I can’t imagine what it must be like now to be living in Afghanistan.

After a couple of decades without the Taliban, people, especially younger people, had begun to make a distinction between things they thought were important in life and things that were merely conventions. Things that would always matter and things that came and went and could be different.

This was especially true for women and girls. They came to see that they didn’t have to be confined to the home. They didn’t have to look forward only to a life of child rearing and domestic work. They could go to school and college. They could get jobs. Decisions about how a community, a village, a town even a country was run, could be made by women as well as men. The conventions that had kept them subservient and in relative servitude, were only that: conventions. Things could be different.

And this wasn’t about abandoning Islam for western values. There was much about the west – its materialism, for example – that they did not all approve of. And the Quran didn’t say girls should not be educated. But it was about making a distinction between things that matter and things that are more a question of tradition and convention.

Something similar is going on in today’s gospel. I’m not saying that those Jews who were known as the Pharisees were like the Taliban – violent and brutal – but they too were keen to see the conventions and traditions upheld, and they had a powerful influence on society.

One of those conventions was washing your hands before eating. This wasn’t about hygiene. I doubt whether anyone in the first century had much idea about hygiene. It was a tradition, a convention, a ritual, that you washed your hands before having food. Which is all very well if you have servants who have been to the well and got a bowl of water ready for you. Not always so easy if you are a shepherd who has come back tired and hungry after a day on the hills.

Some of the disciples of Jesus don’t wash their hands before eating. The Pharisees notice and criticise. Jesus uses this as a moment for saying something important.

I don’t think he is saying, Don’t follow social conventions, traditions, rituals. After all, they surely have their place. They make it easier for us to live together if we have some agreed ways of behaving, especially in public. And Jesus is not himself accused of failing to observing the traditions.

ut what he is saying is, Learn to make a distinction between these traditions, and things that really matter. Get social conventions into perspective. Because sometimes they will change or need to change.

Now this can cause some confusion, and is probably one reason why we sometimes have periods of uncertainty as traditions change.

I was always taught, for instance, to open a door for a woman and to let her go through it first. When I do this these days – and that would be for my wife, my Chief Executive and the Chief Constable - I am never quite sure whether this is regarded as old-fashioned and quaint or patronising, or even offensive. When they give me a forgiving look I know its certainly one of those.

Social conventions, traditions, rituals, can change, sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. But what Jesus is insisting on today’s gospel is that we learn to recognise the difference between a convention and what really, really matters.

And what matters is what he calls the state of your heart. It’s what you have in your heart, what lies deep within you and makes you behave one way or another towards others, that matters most.

He lists some of the evil intentions we might harbour – such as avarice, slander, envy, and so on. And there is a flip side to them which he could also have listed – generosity, kindness, respect, humility, being careful with words, being content with what you have. These things matter more than whether you wash your hands before meals or not.

Conventions and traditions, says Jesus, come from outside – they are what society places on us. They are not to be just cast aside; they help to smooth our way through life if we all know how to behave in certain situations; but they could be different.

But what comes from your heart, these things really matter for good or ill. They mattered then, in the time of Jesus, they matter now. And they will go on mattering down the ages. Because where you have in your heart of hearts truth and goodness, you have within you the eternal values.

The eternal values that take you to the heart of the eternal God.


The Prayers
Prepared by Shirley R.

Father of all, we pray for your Church throughout the world, that great family of which we are a part. We pray for all those who are denied freedom and struggle against injustice. Here in the Sheffield Diocese we ask for help and blessings on our Bishops, Pete and Sophie, and all clergy and lay workers, especially those at St. John's, St. Mark's and St. Mary's.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father of all, every human being in this world is your child and you love us all. Please be with all those suffering from natural disasters and situations caused by human weakness and indifference to the needs of others. Especially we pray for all the Afghan people, those trying to leave their country, those already refugees among strangers and those compelled to remain in Afghanistan. Help us to welcome any refugees who come to our city. Please be with family of the little boy who died so tragically here last week.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father of all, we pray for the community of Walkley. Please be with all who live, work or visit our shops and businesses. As the new school year approaches we ask you to be with all teachers, support staff, pupils and governors in our local skills. Please be with them at this difficult time.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father of all, Please be with all those who are sick in mind, body or spirit, and also with all health and care workers as they help those in need.
In silence we remember all those known to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father of all, we remember those who have died recently or in the past.
In silence we remember those known to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Father of all, we do not know what today and this week will bring. Be with us when skies fall, agreements shatter and understanding runs out.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Merciful Father
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000