Sunday, September 30, 2012
“Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Yourself, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
How many here this morning remembers their school or family nickname, if you had one? I have this friend that I attend my COS with, her name is Dorris and someone gave her the name Mrs. Beasley—you know the doll that the little girl Buffy carried around in the 1960s sitcom “Family Affair” because she looks just like her.
I do not know if my children had nicknames in school, but I know I had given them nicknames at home—for my son Bobby, his was Turtle because when he was a baby and started to lift his head up—he looked like a turtle. And my son, Christopher, he was called Crispy Critter because that was the only thing I could come up with that would go along with Christopher.
The nicknames that were given to me in school were not very nice, so we won’t go there. My family nickname is Sherry. But I do remember being called Shorty because my legs were and still are short. Since my legs are so short, sometimes I do not lift my feet up high enough off the ground when I walk that I often trip up and stumble.
In our scripture reading this morning Jesus talks about stumbling in our walk of faith. Not lifting our feet high enough off the ground so Jesus warns us about two different dangers—one, causing others to stumble and two, causing ourselves to stumble. Jesus tells us that we should not be a stumbling block for others or ourselves. Jesus tells us what we need to watch out for so this does not happen, because as Christian, the last thing we want it to be a stumbling block for someone.
Throughout history, we see and hear about all kinds of scandals. It was no different in Jesus’ time—the disciples believed they came upon and discovered a scandal. The disciples caught someone outside their inner circle in the act. Oh, no! Doing what! Sinning? Not at all, the man was acting in Jesus’ name –casting out demons in Jesus’ name. How terrible was that?! We are the twelve that is our job! That is our privilege!
Jesus says to the disciples—stop resting on your hypothetically privilege status. This man was acting in my name. This man was acting under the authority of Jesus Christ. So how can that be wrong? In Jesus’ name means to express the reality of a life lived under the reign of God and therefore with God’s authority.
This man the disciples came across was genuine—he was truly acting in Jesus’ name. It seems he has a God given ministry. The man was doing the work of the kingdom. So, Jesus asked what on earth are you doing opposing him?
In our scripture reading, Jesus clarifies his position on this positively and negatively. Jesus states that if you act compassionately like giving a cup of water to a disciple that will please God. Jesus also continues to explain the risky danger of causing ‘one of these little ones who believe in him’ to stumble. Jesus is not talking literal here, he speaking figuratively—note that the ‘little ones’ are those who believe in Jesus. What it sounds like Jesus is saying here is that you are in danger of causing a believer to stumble. The disciples are trying to prevent him from exercising his ministry—‘give a cup of water.’
This had me thinking, what are the ways in which we might risk others disciples to stumble? Do we prevent our brothers and sisters in Christ from exercising their ministry calling and what ways do we do this?
Well, in the past, there was the prevention of women from exercising their call in ministry. Then there is the laity—laity means the people. When people are set aside it is only to lead. These people may be called Bishop, Reverend, Pastor, or Deacon. These leaders may have certain gifts and talents such as apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors, and teachers. However, their gifts and talents are generally not exclusive to leadership.
I have a confession to make—some ministers like to keep certain practices to themselves. I do not know why, maybe it is their security. But maybe they should fine the security in the knowledge of their own message—they are loved by God. Here is another confession—some congregations like their minister to keep certain practices and duties to themselves than accept them. When congregations practice this it allows them to remain spiritually immature.
So this leads me to an individual or a group that has a mentality “That’s my job!” or “That’s my task!” I have seen it happen over Sunday school, over music, over the care taking of the church property, over the kitchen—every part of the church life, I have seen it happen. Many people love the Lord and know that the Lord loves them, so they act in response of that love, but sometimes other people prevent that response. Some people only clutch on to the job in ministry just for personal identification, you know worth and value. Our thoughts and action must be motivated and guided by love.
So maybe we need to ask the question, am I causing others to stumble? Am I preventing other people from acting in the name of Jesus?
Jesus’ answer for the disciples is amputation. Now, again we are talking figuratively not literal here. Jesus’ solution to the sin is that you cut off your hand or your foot and tear out your eye. Unfortunately, in other parts of the world, they have taken this literal—for example the Sharia Law. According to the Wikipedia, Sharia Law is an “eye for an eye” law, for example—it is where a thief’s criminal sentence is to have their hands forcibly amputated.
In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus uses graphic, real life language. He does not use it so we would engage in severe self harm but to make a drastic point about discipleship. Jesus seem to feel very strong about discipleship, hence the point he was making. Jesus’ point is that there should not be anything that would distract us from the whole life discipleship. Have you heard the term ‘everything in moderation?’ We cannot have sin in moderation. It would not be right to cherish our favorite sin. We need to come to the Cross, place it there.
As we hold each other accountable to one another and support and encourage one another, Jesus walks right along with us as he comforts and helps us in our lives. Jesus is here to help us get rid of our cherished sin—Jesus died on the Cross for us!
In the book of Hebrews 12:1, the words speak about both of ‘every weight and the sin that clings so closely.’ There are times when we take good things and make them into a weight. You see, instead of receiving things with gratitude to God we take them with greed. Many things in this world, God’s good creation we turn into an idol and worship it—then it become a weight around us.
For some Christians it is a sad thing when they become complacent. You know, just ticking along at a low level of discipleship and do not like to confront the deep-seated tasks of Jesus. When one finds faith for the very first time, they become on fire with enthusiasm, but then that enthusiasm diminish and life becomes consumed with responsibilities and challenges that we do not want coming our way from the direction of Jesus. We want our faith to be easy—not a challenge.
However, the reality is that in both causing other to stumble and causing ourselves to stumble, Jesus gives us some strong warnings if we ignore his call. If we cause others to stumble by inhibiting their opportunities and experience to live out their kingdom calling then Jesus says it will be better to have had a milestone hung around our neck before being thrown into the sea.
When we make ourselves stumble, we need to remember what Jesus stated as his warning with the shocking language of amputation. Especially when he spoke of being thrown into hell—if you think about it, it really is not a tourist destination.
As we contemplate the choice of two destinations in eternity: one full of joy and peace in God our Heavenly Father’s presence or choosing to be absent or separated from God the Heavenly Father’s love.
The choice is yours! Amen.