In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Scientists are still making new discoveries about the human body, still finding out about some of its wonderful design.  With all that we know about human anatomy, you might not expect researchers to find a new organ. Yet that’s just what a group of scientists announced in March.  What they found was a network of fluid-filled spaces that hadn’t been seen before. These spaces were discovered in connective tissue all over the body—including below the skin’s surface, lining the digestive tract, lungs, and urinary systems, and surrounding muscles—forming “an open, fluid-filled highway” “supported by a lattice of thick collagen ‘bundles’” (Creation, v. 40, n. 3; LiveScience, March 27, 2018).  The name of this new organ is the interstitium.  They think it may act as a shock absorber to protect tissues during daily functions.  Other scientists will have to confirm the finding to make the organ designation “official.”  Previously, scientists missed the interstitium because the process of making slides for tissue analysis dehydrates the tissue and causes the interstitium to disappear.  It was discovered accidentally while analyzing living tissue. Because the interstitium is all over the body, it may be a way for cancer cells to spread—but it also means that better understanding of this organ could help with new cancer treatments.

Inside and out, from conception to full growth, from the DNA in our cells to the largest organs and systems, the human being is an amazing creation, a wondrous work of design by God.  Yet we also know, from the Word of God and from experience, that something has gone wrong with human beings. Yes, our physical bodies can succumb to illness and injury. At a certain point, as we grow older, our bodies start wearing out faster than parts can be repaired or replaced.  But of course that’s not the worst of what’s gone wrong with humans. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us the problem: “There is nothing outside a person [human being] that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of [the human being] are what defile him. …  For from within [inside], out of the heart of the man [human being], come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” It’s hardly an exhaustive list. “All these evils come out from [inside] and defile [the human being]” (Mk 7:15, 21–23).

Let’s define and clearly understand a couple of words Jesus uses here.  One is anthrōpos, a Greek word translated as man, person, human being.  Jesus includes every single human being, every one of us.  Another word is defile, translating the Greek word koinoō, which also means “to make common, not clean, not set apart.”  Whatever is defiled, made common, is not fit for contact with the sacred, not properly set apart, not fit for use by or before God.  It marginalizes or excludes a person from full fellowship with God and with His people in His kingdom, under His reign and rule.

In the first part of Mark chapter 7, which was read last Sunday, the Pharisees and some of the scribes, having come from Jerusalem, gather to Jesus, and they see “some of His disciples eating their loaves of bread with defiled [common], that is, unwashed hands” (vv. 1–2), so they proceed to question Jesus (v. 5), “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but with defiled [common] hands they eat their bread?”  The Lord God had given His people Israel commands regarding which foods were to be regarded as clean, fit for them to eat, and which foods were not clean.  These commands and others that He gave to them were meant to set them apart as His special people, the people from whom would come the promised Seed of Abraham, the One in whom all the nations of the earth, all human beings, would be blessed (Gen 22:18; Gal 3:8)—all nations, not just Israel.  The Pharisees and scribes questioning Jesus are not asking Him about clean or unclean foods; rather, their questioning is about the ritual washing of hands before eating.  This washing included the whole upper arm, up to the elbow. Why did they observe this? There is no verse in Scripture in which God actually commanded this practice. He commanded Aaron and his sons, the priests, to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifices before the Lord in the tabernacle; but nowhere does He command this washing.  It truly was a manmade tradition, a substitute “holiness” put in place of the holiness and righteousness God requires.  That is why Jesus says, “Leaving the commandment of God, you cling to, glom on to, the tradition of human beings” (v. 8).

The problem isn’t foods or unwashed hands.  The problem, Jesus says, is inside of us already.  It is the human heart, its thoughts, feelings, and desires, as Moses declares, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5), and the Prophets, “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men” (Isa 29:13), and the Psalms, “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak”; “There is none [of the children of man] who does good, not even one” (Pss 12:2; 53:3).  Jesus and these Scriptures are not referring, of course, to the organ that pumps blood throughout the body; rather, this corrupt, defiled “heart” is the inner self, what Luther in the Small Catechism calls “the Old Adam,” what the Apostle Paul calls “the Flesh.” This heart, this Flesh, this Old Adam, is common to every one of us. Adam and Eve were tempted into sin by the devil, into disobedience against God. After that, it’s come quite naturally. Jesus names a few representative evils that dwell in and come out of the human heart; it’s not an exhaustive list.  I’m sure you could name some more. If it’s our common condition of our defiled, sinful heart and mind, what hope or peace is there?

The cleansing, the undefilement, which you and I need must come from outside of ourselves.  And here He is! In His Holy Word, He is present, for you, speaking to you, speaking His holiness and righteousness into your heart!  We sing in the Christmas hymn, “Gentle Mary laid her Child / Lowly in a manger; There He lay, the Undefiled, To the world a stranger” (LSB 374.1).  Luther called Scripture “the swaddling-clothes and manger in which Christ lies.”  In the Collect for the Word, we pray, “Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.  Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that … we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ.”

And there He is!  In Holy Baptism, the Triune God is present for you, calling you, putting His holy name upon you, marking you as His own.  St. Paul declares, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26–27).  And what does Paul instruct in today’s Epistle?  “Be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:10–11).  This is not armor that God needs, but the armor that He gives. And this Armor is a Who; your Divine Armor is “Jesus Christ, my sure Defense”!  As God the Father looks upon you, clad in Christ your Divine Armor, He sees Jesus, and you are well-pleasing in His sight. In that blessed, rich, life-giving water and Word, you are washed in the holy blood of Jesus, washed clean, holy, innocent, and righteous, and the Holy Spirit comes in and dwells in you.  He has begun the good work in you of cleaning you from the inside out, transforming you more and more into the likeness of Christ, as He trains, equips, and prepares you to resist the devil.

Almost every piece of the armor of God is defensive, to protect you from the devil and his schemes and weapons.  You cannot fend him off; only Christ can, and He is in and with you through His Holy Spirit. The Truth is your belt, holding everything together.  Righteousness is your breastplate, protecting your heart, your thoughts, {and your lungs, your breath, the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, in you}. The Good News of Peace is your footwear, ready to take you even over the rough terrain of this fallen world, as Isaiah declares, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (52:7).  Salvation is your helmet, guarding your head and mind {and your connection to Christ, your Head}. Faith is your shield—not some flimsy piece of tissue paper needing protection. Faith is your protection!  It’s your mobile armor to fend off the devil’s attacks, his accusations of old sins, his empty promises, and his lies which enthrall the world.  Your one offensive weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God,” and the Spirit is to guide and shape your prayers by the Word. And take all of these together—Truth, Righteousness, Good News, Peace, Salvation, Faith, the Word of God—and hear in them the names and titles and possessions of Christ Jesus: “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6); “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer 23:6); “He Himself is our Peace” (Eph 2:14), “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6); “I bring Good News of great joy for all the people … a Savior” (Lk 2:10–11); “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1).

In Holy Baptism, God has made You a member of His people, and that means you’re a soldier in His army.  Every soldier and every army needs sustenance, food, to maintain its strength. Do not be filled with the junk food of the devil and the world—so many enticing delights—but they only feed the Old Adam.  Be fed and filled instead with Christ Jesus. Here He is! In His Holy Supper, feeding you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and for life and salvation. If this food is not available, then also feed on His Word, as it is written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word coming from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4).  

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.