Washing?? Why??

Grace, mercy and peace be to you, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The kitchen sink was piled high with STUFF. They were working on the other rooms in the house, but knew that the kitchen was the real problem. Sure they had to get the bedrooms settled so that they could sleep that night. Sure they had to organize the laundry room so that things could be set up there. Sure the bathroom needed toilet paper, for obvious reasons. The portable dishwasher would not be delivered for a couple of days. But they were putting off the stack of stuff that was piled high in the kitchen sink. Why wash it…it just keeps piling up? Eventually they would have to dig in and wash the dishes that had been used to feed the crew of people who helped them move. Yes the house was a wreck, but until all of these things were done it could not really be called a home. About half-way through all the work you remember the good advice that your mother once gave you, “Do the hard stuff first, otherwise you won’t have the energy to do it later.” Now you want to put off, AGAIN, washing all that STUFF. But you know that there will be no Dish-Washing Elf to get it done so you begin the process of washing the pots, pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, utensils, mixing bowls and everything else that was thrown into the sink. There is no telling what may be at the bottom of that pile. Rumor has it that someone even put a painbruch in there. But your mother is still talking in your ear. “Make sure you get everything clean. Wash the greasy items first and then change the water for the dishes. Use hot water, so the glasses can drip dry quickly.” It doesn’t take long to remember all those “rules” that you grew up with and to be thankful that they were, in fact, quite practical and accurate. The washing of all this stuff has almost taken on a ritualistic quality…there is good reason for all those rules and after you get over being irritated they start making a lot more sense. We have all kinds of rituals in our lives. Some of them are just personal things like, do you put your left or your right shoe on first? Do you squeeze the tube at the bottom or the top? Does the toilet paper go out front or behind? We are quite comfortable with most of these and some of those rules apply to church too. Most of us prefer one order of service over another and we all have hymns that we like. The lyricist did a great job on some hymns telling the message of God’s Word clearly and cleanly. I know many of you have a favorite translation of the Bible and there is virtually nothing that can move you from that preference. That too is part of our history and nature. These patterns of behavior give us a great deal of comfort because they are ‘normal’ to us. This is what had the Pharisees on our Gospel reading so torqued. They were all tied up in knots because the rules they had written were not being observed properly. The disciples were not washing before their meals. It sounds like they were dirty, but there was more to it than that. These cleanliness rules had become very strict and part of the religion. When you examine kosher eating and food habits they actually make a great deal of sense for hygiene, cleanliness and food safety. They did not have refrigerators and could not keep food for a long. We all remember when pork and certain foods were likely to make us sick, so those were prohibited. Washing your hands before eating and after using the bathroom only makes sense and is normal for us. God had laid out rules for His people that would keep them healthier than others. The problem was that they had turned God’s practical rules into religious rites and rituals. You may even know of Jewish people who have kosher kitchens that require total separation of meat and dairy products. Thus they have two sinks, two stoves, two refrigerators, two working spaces and two sets of plates and dishes to provide this total separation. This WORK becomes their religion, not worshipping God. God has called us to come to Him in worship. Then, rather than do something for Him, He makes us worthy of being here in His presence. He is the one who creates faith in us and then invites us to come and give Him what He already deserves – worship. But the greatest form of ritual washing is not found in our kitchen sinks or cleaning the road dirt off our cars. We are told that we are now washed clean…not by our activities, but by the Blood of the Lamb…Jesus. We, of course, know this as Holy Baptism. The word Baptism, does not appear in the OT, in any form. The word itself has grown out of the tradition of ritual washing, but it does not become baptism, until you read and hear about John the Baptizer. The baptism he performed was not for the traditions of men but for forgiveness. That is a lot different than working on a pile of dirty dishes. Sure our sinfulness keeps piling up just like more dishes. But unlike the dirty dishes, Jesus washes us in our Baptismal Waters once and done. Gone is Original Sin’s effect on our lives. Enter the HS to provide us with His gifts. Now we are members of our Lord’s church. Now we are clean enough to be welcome. Even our order of service has this reminder…right at the beginning, “The sign of the cross + may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.” The Hymn of the Day speaks to this too. It is a plea that we remember all those things that we learned and memorized in our Confirmation Class. We must understand that God is offering us a way to cope with the world around us. It is a lot more important than learning how to wash dishes…it is about doing made clean and sinless before God. It is about knowing that even “When we fall or go astray” God will forgive us and make us whole before Him. So here we are, God is giving us a chance to be washed clear. So, what…why bother? Do I need all this ritual and pomp and ceremony that takes place in the church? It seems like so much hooey. Luther asks a similar question. “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” OK, sounds nice but again…why bother? “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Now that is important. So it is a lot more valuable than washing the things in my kitchen sink? True, but the next time you stick your hands into that dirty water take a moment to feel the water again. Feel the warm water surround your hands and imagine that this is the love of God surrounding you in your life. Feel the pieces of food coming off the dishes and know that your sins, those things you have done that hurt or anger God, are being separated from your life by water also. When you pull those clean plates out of the water you hear the answer to the fourth question in the Small Catechism. “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Not bad for a lesson learned from dirty dishes. You may be surprised that by the time you are done thinking through all that is happening you also discover that your dishes are now clean and you remember your Baptism which has certainly has made you feel better. Now everything is clean. Thanks be to God. Amen.