Don't let your stuff keep other people away from God

Mark 9:38-50
Imagine you are waiting in a parked car for a friend to come out of a store.
 
While you are waiting, you see a man in a convertible driving too fast in the parking lot. 
 
The man quickly pulls into the handicapped parking space by the door.
 
He throws open the car door, jumps out, looks at his watch, and then jogs past the sliding automatic doors and into the store.
 
A few minutes later, you see a van drive up and stop just to the right of the convertible parked in the handicapped space
The van is equipped with a wheelchair lift, and the engine is running.
 
A woman is sitting in the van’s driver’s seat, and you see that she has special handles and levers that allow her to drive the car.
 
She needs the handicapped space because it is the only space that is wide enough for the wheelchair lift to open from the side of the van and lower her down in her chair to the ground.
 
She waits for about ten minutes, looking at her watch.
 
She honks her horn a few times, but no one from the store comes out to help her.
 
So you decide to go up to the van.
 
You tell the woman, who is now really angry and upset,  that you will go into the store and find the store manager.
 
You then walk in the store and ask the cashier where the manager’s office is.
 
The cashier directs you to the back corner of the store.
 
So you walk down the isle to the back of the store, where you see a door that says “office, employees only."
 
You knock on the door.
 
The door opens.
 
And standing there in front of you is the guy from the convertible.
 
But now he is wearing a name badge.
 
It says, “store manager.'
 
*
How we would feel about the store manager gives us a sense of how Jesus must feel when Jesus’ disciples lets their own hangups, or selfishness, or pride keep other people away from God and out of God’s Kingdom.
 
The disciples, after all, are kind of Jesus' store managers for the Kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about.
 
In todays Gospel from Mark, Jesus tells his disciples in no uncertain terms what he wants.
 
We read that John, one of Jesus' inner circle, said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 
 
But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me."
 
"Whoever is not against us is for us."
 
For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 
 
Jesus is telling His disciples.
 
Don't be so worried about who is in and who is out.
 
Don't be so worried about who is authorized to do what in my name.
 
Anyone--even if they are not part of our little community--who frees people from bondage to evil in my name or even does the smallest act of kindness in my name will not lose their reward.
 
Don't create rules that make you feel important and in control at the expense of stopping the work that I want done.
 
Don't let your own stuff keep other people away from God.
 
*
And then Jesus goes on and talks about a little one like the child that he held up in his arms in front of the disciples in last week's Gospel reading.
 
The child who had no social status at all, had no property, and was not even considered old enough to be a person.
 
The child about whom Jesus said "whoever welcomes a little one like this one welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."
 
I imagine Jesus gesturing towards that same child when he tells His disciples, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."
 
"Put a stumbling block" does not really translate the Greek in anywhere near strong enough terms in this translation, though.
 
The Greek word used is skandalizein, which is where our English word "scandalize" ultimately comes from.
 
So a better reading might be, if any of you as one of my representatives scandalize one of these little ones--people with little power, wealth, or status--by something that you do or say to push them away, "it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."
 
Jesus sounds pretty serious about this to me.
 
And then Jesus tells His disciples, if you are my representatives and you have habits, or practices, or traditions, or ways of talking that scandalize these little ones and push them away from God, you better cut it out and get your priorities straight.
 
Jesus has a serious and graphic warning for those of us who allow our own preferences and attachments to keep people away from Jesus.
 
"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to [Gehenna, which our translation of the Gospel translates into English as hell], to the unquenchable fire."
 
"And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into Gehenna."
 
"And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched." 
 
Yes, I am pretty sure Jesus feels pretty strongly about this.
 
But it is important to understand what Jesus is saying here to realize that Jesus is making an analogy to a physical place called Gehenna, which is an actual physical place outside of Jerusalem.
 
It's important because the history of that physical place called Gehenna is important to what Jesus is saying.
 
Gehenna at the time of Jesus was a combination of a garbage dump and graveyard, where trash and the bodies of the poor, outsiders, and the unknown were burned.
 
A place where maggots were always around, and the fire was never quenched.
 
And to make this horrible place even worse,  Jesus and His disciples knew Gehenna as the place in ancient times during the first Kingdom of Judah where children were sacrificed to Baal and other pagan middle eastern gods.
 
Gehenna is the place where little ones are killed, and the poor, the weak, and the stranger are treated like trash even in death.
 
Jesus is telling his disciples, it is better to cut off those habits and practices, those parts of you, that scandalize and push these little ones away than it is to wind up yourself in the hell similar to the hell that these little ones face on earth.
 
*
Jesus is telling his disciples then, and Jesus is telling us who are Jesus' disciples here now, don't let your own agendas, and practices, and ways of talking, push away the little ones from Jesus.
 
If they do, cut off your agendas, and practices, and ways of talking.
 
Jesus is telling us, don't let your need to be right and your need to feel superior cause you to undermine the good works of charity and justice of other denominations or kinds of Christians, even if you disagree with them strongly on a lot of issues.
 
If they do, cut off your need to be right and your need to feel superior.
 
Jesus is telling us, don't let your traditions, and your customs, your church buildings, and your stained glass, and your expensive clothes push away the little ones from Jesus because they feel like they don't really belong and are made to feel afraid that they might break something.
 
If they do, cut off your traditions, customs, church buildings, stained glass, and your expensive clothes.
 
Jesus is telling us, don't let your committees, your mission statements, and your budgets, and your metrics, and your demographic studies alienate and push away the people who are desperately hoping there is a God and that you might help them find Him.
 
If they do, cut off your mission statements, budgets, attendance metrics, and demographic studies.
 
Jesus is telling us, don't let your pride in your reading, and your bible study, and your spiritual practices puff you up so much that newcomers turn away from God because they feel that God must only be for professional religious people with a pompous attitude.
 
If they do, cut off your reading, and your bible study, and your spiritual practices.
 
Jesus is telling us, don't let your working all the time, and your schedules, and your worry push away people who are looking for Jesus but don't want to bother you because you are so busy all the time.
 
If they do, cut off your working all the time, your schedules, and your worry. 
 
But the good news is this.
 
We don't need any of this stuff for God to love us.
 
The Good News is that when we cut off our stuff, we make more room for real community, real friendship, and real joy.
 
The Good News is, when we cut off our stuff, we make more room for God's little ones to come into the Kingdom and find Jesus.
 
The Good News is, when we cut off our stuff, we make more room for God.
 
We just have to keep the doors open and the aisles clear.
 
Amen.

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