Coloring Outside the Lines

This is the full text of my sermon for this Sunday, based on Mark 7:1-23.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, the picture is starting to fill in. There are shadows and firmer outlines, a few promising, some of them menacing.

Can’t you just imagine the stark outlines in the pages of a child’s coloring book waiting for color? Waiting for your creative impulse to make that tree green or that house red? And wouldn’t be wonderful if this New York Times description of the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans only required our creativity to imagine the right shade of purple for wholeness to be restored?

Maybe it wouldn’t be purple. Maybe you would choose another color from the Crayola box. But, I think that I would choose purple. Purple might not be the choice of the Pharisees. In fact, I’m not even sure that they would choose to use color at all. Instead, as the token know-it-alls of proper Jewish observance, the Pharisees enter with accusations. They had noticed “some of the disciples were eating with defiled hands.” It’s all well and good for the Pharisees to carry the traditions of the Temple into the greater area of Israel. But, isn’t this purity law stuff a bit harsh?

Mark tries to explain with a little background information as to why the Pharisees are in such a huff. He explains,

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.

These are the dark outlines on the coloring book page – outlining the way things should be. With these crisp black lines, the Pharisees establish the purity laws through right and wrong action.

So, how do we begin to fill in this picture? Perhaps we should start with the disciples, who would follow Jesus in and around Jerusalem. How do they adhere to these purity laws, especially when peasant farmers found it impossible. Ritually pure water to wash with was not a priority for the farmers. Even as fishermen, the disciples couldn’t keep up with these purity laws. As thy traveled it seems that the disciples would not have found such water with any more ease. So, how could the disciples really have “clean” hands?

Several years ago, while I was in Appalachia, a flood struck the area I was living. Mud piled everywhere. It seeped into the most unlikely places and stayed there for weeks. As we waited for restoration from this disaster, I got to use a power washer to clean out a community center near my home. With ten other volunteers, we used squeegees to push the mud out with a powerful shower of water. Like the disciples, who would have also found lingering mud caked between their toes and fingers, there was no way that we would have “clean” hands.

As images of the debris still littering the streets of New Orleans flashed across the television this week, I have been thinking about the relief workers that squeeged by my side in Appalachia. They had responded to the flood in a moment’s notice. They had dropped everything and come to the heart of the disaster. As the television flickers with more and more wreckage from Katrina, I think of these relief workers and wonder how the hands of anyone brave enough to respond to the deepest needs could ever be considered “unclean”?

But, this isn’t exactly what the Pharisees were in a huff about. They were concerned about the crossing of boundaries, because Pharisees colored in the lines. Things were to be kept separate. And if they are not separate, they are no longer holy. To eat with unwashed hands blurred such boundaries that the Pharisees found appalling. Remember? You are supposed to color inside lines.

In the face of the Pharisees’ disgust, Jesus makes all foods clean. Mark places this action in parentheses, almost as if it didn’t happen. Maybe these parentheses are Mark’s outlines – to show the power of this boundary. Maybe this boundary is too great for us to understand, as the Lectionary doesn’t even include this verse in the reading.

Maybe we don’t want to see Jesus like a rebellious child. Like something my brother Erik would do. When we were coloring as children, Erik would take the crayon and … (dramatic action) … He would never color inside of the lines. I always though that this was a menacing, rebellious act. I believed that you were supposed to color in the lines. But now, I wonder. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted everything neatly inside of the dark outlines on the coloring book page, Jesus doesn’t color inside the lines.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, the picture is starting to fill in. I love that this New York Times reporter dared to imagine the aftermath of Katrina as a child’s coloring book. It may be a little insulting. This analogy may belittle the horrible disaster of Katrina. But, the reporter guides us. The picture is starting to fill in.

What color would you choose from your Crayola box to make that house? Or that tree? Or like Jesus, would you color outside the lines?

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, Jesus “calls us beyond arguments over what is old and what is new to a concern for what is vital.” In the aftermath of Katrina, it seems so difficult to imagine what is vital. It’s not that there are too many colors to choose from. There are just too many factors. And yet, the picture is starting to fill in.

Just as Jesus declared all foods clean, Jesus redraws the boundaries that the Pharisees long to uphold. Like my brother with his broad, elaborate gestures all over the page, Jesus ignores the dark outlines. And with Jesus to guide our creativity of coloring outside the lines, we are invited to imagine what could be.

We can begin to draw like a little boy who one evening picks up his purple crayon. For fifty years, Crockett Johnson’s children’s story Harold and Purple Crayon has dazzled children and adults. With his handy purple crayon, Harold bravely draws the world around him. Like Jesus, Harold colors outside the lines. With his purple crayon, he draws a moon so that he might walk by the moonlight and a path so that he “wouldn’t get lost.” He draws an apple tree where he believes one should be. He draws a dragon only to get scared of his own creation, but with a few strokes of his purple crayon, Harold draws a boat to escape his fears by sea. Harold draws the possible.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, we are imagining our own outlines. Our picture might not be of the restored wholeness in New Orleans. Maybe that vision would make it into the corner of our drawing to leave room for your own personal hopes. Maybe your outlines would sketch the joyful community of this church in Saco, Maine. Maybe you would draw your reunited family or a job promotion. Maybe your purple crayon would celebrate the workers and laborers that we honor tomorrow on our day off. Maybe you would create your greatest dreams – hopes you won’t even speak with words.

With Jesus’ hand to guide you to color outside the lines, your picture will begin to fill in. What would you draw?

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