Cut off your hand...chop off your foot...pluck out your eye! it’s better for us to show up lame or blind in the Kingdom of God, than to not show up at all.
Today we’re dealing with an issue as old as time: (Mark 9:38-50).
Having heard a complaint by his disciples that someone outside their inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus' name, Jesus does something unexpected. He seems to side with those "other people" instead of with his own disciples. He seems to be telling them to worry about more about themselves. And he makes a pretty good point. If someone is wasting their time showing kindness in his name, then that's time not spent bad mouthing God.
This is good for us all, be it the world or in the Kingdom of God. Jesus realigns our focus so we can do right by God. That is the goal, right? To be righteous – to do right by God in the way we seek justice and peace, and love and care for one another. This is true whether or not you're a follower of Jesus.
But for those of us who do follow him, He warns us to make sure that we don't become a stumbling block to you or to others. If our job is to be a living testimony to God at work in the world, then we need to keep an eye on what we do. Both our faith and our faithfulness are at stake.
Yet we all have stumbling blocks that challenge us, and trip us up. And each one can jeopardize our faith. That's why Jesus said get rid of them. Cut them out like a surgeon does with cancer. He uses gruesome imagery to get our attention. Cut off your hand...chop off your foot...pluck out your eye it’s better for us to show up lame or blind in the Kingdom of God, than to not show up at all.
Now we all know there some things in you life that are easier than others to get rid of. A mean friend, for example, can be replaced with someone who is nicer. Leaving a bad job can lead to whole new career you never dreamed of. But admitting an addiction or dealing with the wounds of sexual assault some things are hard enough to face much less overcome. Still Jesus says cut them out of your life because they aren't doing you any good.
For me, it's self-doubt. I often compare myself to others, never feeling good enough, smart enough, or faithful enough to do what God is calling me to do. I know what it is. I've named it, and owned it as a part of who I am. Because of that, I can deal with it and work at cutting it out of my life – like a surgeon cutting out a cancerous tumor. But even a surgeon can't operate successfully on his or her self. Likewise, I lean on Jesus for guidance and support.
When I lean in him, I can hear him say, “Stop comparing your self to others. Be the person God created you to be. And let everyone else be who they’re meant to be. He even invites us to lay down our burdens on him - to set them at the foot of his cross. He redeems our past to make sure we don't become saltless, or useless, salt.
Today I want you to think about all the stumbling blocks in your life. How are they stopping you from doing what God has called you to do? Or how are they stopping others from seeing God's glory in the midst of a dark and divided world?
These last few weeks we’ve talked about kindness and putting yourself out there so God’s love can shine through you, and transform your community. We’ve learned that doing kind things leaves us vulnerable...but that too can be a strength. Now it's time to step it up one more notch. It's time to face those demons in our own lives and cast them out.
Jesus invites you to let go of the pain, the judgment, the anger, and all the stuff you carry so you can fully and faithfully participate in the Kingdom of God. Mark's gospel reminds us that our hands and feet are meant for doing God’s work.
We must be careful not to be distracted, or to take our eye off of what we are called to, but instead stay focused on the task at hand – to show God's love and kindness to all people. For it’s better for you and me to show up lame or blind in the Kingdom of God, than to not show up at all.
I have one last point. Did you notice that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God...not heaven?
He began his ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God is here. It's not coming soon or sometime after we die. It's happening right now! Every time we participate in God's love and peace, we participate and live in God’s Kingdom.
But we can't fully or faithfully thrive here if we're still holding on to our sins. And doing things that divide us from God and one another.
Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus has redeemed us from our sins. With his sacrifice, he claimed us and named us brothers and sisters – children of God. We are one people. We are united with one purpose. To share the love and grace of God, as Christ shared it with us.
Whatever it is that’s stopping you from truly living like Jesus taught...cut it out. Get rid of it. Before it gets rid of you.
This week I am challenging you to take a good look within your self.
Find any past mistakes and make amends. Let go of any sin, anger or hurt that’s holding you back from being who God made you to be: a beloved child filled with light and love.
And remember to first change yourself before you try to change others. Show others how God has worked in your life as a way to lead them to follow suite.
By lopping off those things that cause you to stumble – things that get in the way of being good and faithful disciples – you can live and thrive in the Name of Jesus.
And when all our actions are united in his love, then everything we do will truly bear fruit for eternal life.
Love is a risky business. Jesus knows this. His life was at risk the second he breathed his first breath in our world. To think, God incarnate, in the most vulnerable of beings…an infant born into a violent world where the chances to see your bar mitzvah was pretty slim to say the least.
Jesus is calling us to confront our enemy head on, and instead of retaliating with anger and harm, we are to bless them and love them. We can choose to let go of our ego and fears (as Richard Rohr calls it our ‘false self’). Or we can build walls and put on armor to protect ourselves and keep people away. Jesus calls us to be our ‘true self’ even if it means feeling defenseless from time to time.
I remember my first sermon in front of my peers at school. In spite of being totally prepared, or having years of public speaking under my belt, I was a nervous wreck. What if I messed up a word? What if my theology was wrong? What if I looked stupid or embarrassed myself? Yes, what if? Was the world going to come to an end if I did?
During the peer evaluation, I admitted what I had been feeling only to discover I was not alone. We all felt this way, afraid to vulnerable and exposed as something less than we wanted to be.
What I learned was there’s a beneficial side of vulnerability in that it can help you forge a connection with those around you. By showing people who you are – the real, faulty, bumbling you – you open yourself up to be loved and welcomed. Love is scary. But it’s also liberating and beautiful.
As researcher and author Brené Brown so famously said, “What makes us vulnerable is what makes us beautiful.” (Watch her 2010 TED talk on vulnerability here) She describes vulnerability is “allowing ourselves to be seen,” even if others might see us lacking. As my beloved wife so often tells me, “We are perfect will all our imperfections.” Jesus isn’t calling us to be perfect, just faithful. In faith we find our beauty and strength. Not ours per se, but the one who dwells in us.
So let us not fear doing what Jesus is calling us to do. Instead choose to be faithful to his words. If we set Jesus as our example, if we live as he lived and receive the same blessings from God, then that means we too also have to be vulnerable – knowing there’s a big possibility we too will be misunderstood, labeled, or worst of all, rejected.
So what if this happens? Will the world come to an end because we chose to love as he loved? Yes! Our world will and should come crashing down. Isn’t that point Jesus is always making? His way of life and love shakes the foundations of our world, so the Kingdom of God can be fully revealed!
Jesus taught us that whenever we rise above the hatred, or set aside anger, or let go of our ego’s and pettiness to embrace love, especially God’s love, a part of our world cracks and falls away. It’s like Jesus is punching holes in our walls or stealing a part of armor, piece-by-piece so others can get a good look at what God’s love is like.
To follow the way of Jesus – to live and love with such faith that not even death causes us to tremble – means to live with so much love and kindness that other’s can’t help but see God’s world revealed. That’s the beauty of being vulnerable, and the joy of having faith in Jesus. Like I tend to say, this is not an easy order. Faith, like love and kindness, takes practice.
It’s like marriage, in that it requires falling in love many times, over and over with the same person. Constantly smashing holes your heart so life’s joys and pleasures can flow in and out of you, even if it means there might be more times of giving without receiving.
A good relationship is all about letting go of your false self, even if it means you will be vulnerable or have to be a servant to all. Or to put it another way, a good relationship is knowing Kathleen is always right.
As the saying goes, “Love is not love until love is vulnerable.” No one knew this better than Jesus, who wore his heart on his sleeve. And bled it out on the cross. To know Jesus is to know that such love begins with treating others as you want to be treated; to be forgiving and merciful like God is to you.
This will no doubt leave us open to hurt. But so what? It also opens us up to love. And guess what? Love hurts! It hurts because it breaks our world apart. And hammers nails in us as God constructs a new world.
As Jesus said, anyone can love his or her spouse, or kids, or even people who show love to you. What takes faith, is to love those who hate you, and despise you and want to do you harm.
Given all the anger, rage and vitriol in our world, there are plenty of real life opportunities to put Jesus’ words to practice. And who knows what good things our love and kindness might produce.
Last week I challenged you to do a random act of kindness in your community. This week I’m challenging you to go one step further – to do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone where the only support you have is your faith in God who is faithful to you.
So I challenge you to forgive someone who has hurt you. Or to make amends with someone you have caused harm to. Be kind to the bully and the hard-hearted. Listen intently to the self-centered without judgment. Bless someone who doesn’t deserve your time muchless your blessing. Pray for an enemy.
Because the way I see it, if every heart can be smashed open…if even a small part of our walls can be penetrated…then God’s love can enter and do what it does best.
If we choose to do what Jesus is calling us to do, then how many clenched fists and angry red eyes would be left starring back at us? How many people would be left feeling scared or afraid?
Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail, or to be harmed in anyway. Instead Jesus is freeing us of our vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fears so that we can live life fully and abundantly, both now and forever.
So go out on a limb and show God’s love to someone who may or may not deserve it, go punch a hole or two in your wall or protective barrier, and be who God has made you to truly be…holy.
“I am a little pencil in God’s hand.
He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it."
- Saint Theresa of Calcutta
“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”
“Spiritual greatness is a matter of sight and insight. Mysticism nurtures our ability to see God in all things, piercing whatever off-putting externals exist in order to experience Christ hidden within every creature.
“From my perspective, two statements summarize the mission of faith formation: “Let your light shine and let them see Christ,” and “Treat everyone as Christ.”
“Intentionally cultivating greatness of spirit and vision, we become Christ to others in our service and hospitality. Open to a deeper vision, we respond to the Christ we experience in everyone we meet, revealing to all their own deeper Christlikeness.”
- Bruce G. Epperly
I found these chips that have a little place for a personalized note, and so I wrote a bunch of notes reminding people that they are beloved children of God and that they are loved no matter what. And now, it’s time to pass them out.
Yet still some choose not to be kind. Maybe they’re too tired and grumpy. Or perhaps something horrible has happened in their life that has made their heart angry or bitter. Whatever the reason, they’ve lost that gene or natural instinct to be compassionate towards others. We don’t like mixing with these people – which only seems to exasperate the problem. Kindness can be infectious.
Today’s message is simple: We chose to be kind. Or we chose not to be. It’s that cut and dry. For some it’s hard, and takes a concerted effort. For others it’s as easy, and involuntary as breathing.
There is a story about Gandhi who lost a shoe while stepping onto a moving train. Unable to retrieve it from down on the track, Gandhi took off his other shoe and tossed it near the first. When a fellow passenger witnessed this unusual act, he asked Gandhi why he did what he did? Gandhi smiled. “The poor man who would have found my shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.” What I love about this story is how Gandhi didn’t think twice about doing something good for someone he would never even meet.
We either choose to be kind or not.
Not to compare my wife with Gandhi, but she has a habit of paying the toll for the car behind her. She will never meet that person, but her choice speaks volumes to the kind of world she desires to live in.
Human beings make thousands of choices every day - What should I wear or what should I cook for dinner? Most of our choices are so innocuous that we don’t even think about them. Swatting a pesky fly or choosing to run up the stairs instead of walk.
But there are choices we have to consciously make. For example, should I give this panhandler money today, and if so, how much am I willing to give? Or how much am I able to spare? What will he do with the money? Each one of these choices can have a major impact on you as well the other, your community, and even the world. For you never know who is watching.
There was a woman at the freeway off-ramp who looked lost in sadness. She seemed invisible to most drivers. I seemed to have surprised her when I said hello and began to talk with her because nobody had offered to help muchless offer a smile. She introduced her dog to us, and we shared a couple of laughs, and then I gave her a blessing and told her she was loved. What I didn’t know is that my neighbors were behind us, witnessing the action; and their heart was changed. We either choose to give or we choose not to.
Long before Gandhi or Kathleen, there was a Jewish rabbi who saw every human being as an opportunity to do something kind for that person. His name was Jesus. And by the choices he made, our eyes would be opened to see God in our midst. And our hearts would learn how to share God’s love as wildly and recklessly through random acts of kindness. All so others would be able to see God and receive God’s love and grace.
The gospels offer us a plethora of examples of Jesus choosing to be kind to people. Our reading from Mark’s gospel illustrates how Jesus made a conscious choice to help another fellow human being.
Like the Syrophoenician woman we talked about last week, the leper challenges Jesus – not by pushing back intellectually as she did, but by appealing to Jesus’ heart. “If you choose,” he says, “you can make me clean.” I imagine this man today being the woman at the freeway off-ramp of the freeway with a cardboard sign that says, “If you choose, you can help me get shelter tonight.”
Jesus has a choice. He can show kindness to this contagious stranger or move to a safer place where people aren’t sick or dirty or in need of something. This is one of the reasons I love Jesus so much. He knows me and still chooses to be with me. He hears me whining and complaining and still doesn’t to give up on me.
Because Jesus decided to act with compassion and kindness, the man’s life was forever changed. His body was restored. He could return to his family and friends, hopefully get his old job back and begin to live a normal life again.
He could return to the synagogue that had cast him out because of his sickness, and he could even testify there to God’s glory because of what he had witnessed – all because Jesus chose to do something kind for a stranger.
The good news is Jesus chooses you as well. He chooses to share God’s love and grace with you – even if it takes the greatest act of kindness in order to do so. That’s how important you are to God.
If we choose Jesus, to put our faith in his words and show kindness the way he did, then we too can do some amazing things too! It’s like Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” If we choose it, we can do it.
We know how human kindness works in times of disasters like a hurricane, or in times of crisis like Sept. 11th. Strangers help strangers like they’re one of our own. But once the news chases the next story, so to goes our attention and charity.
As long as there are homeless living on our streets, we will always be in a time of crisis. They are the lepers of today. Drug addicts are the possessed. Illegal immigrants are the aliens living on our land. Then there are the widows and orphans. And the incarcerated.
God knows that when we see a person who is suffering, or someone who is lonely, thirsty, hungry, poor or in need of special care we have a choice: to be… or not to be… like Jesus who said, “the least you do to one of these my brother or sister, you do also to me.”
No matter a person’s social status, skin color, national origin, gender or sexual orientation, or even political affiliation, the blood that Jesus shed on the cross, the life he willingly chose to give to us, has united the world to one divine love; a love that God chooses to freely give to anyone who wants it.
Think about the food coloring and water. If one drop of Jesus’ blood can transform all of humanity, then imagine what a billion drops of kindness can do when practiced daily all around the world. Kindness is infectious and contagious, which is why we need to share it and spread to infect the world with God’s love.
To quote Steve Sjogren from his book Conspiracy of Kindness, ‘Small things done with great love are changing the world.’ This is his church’s motto. And it should be ours as well. Each week they leave the church looking for ways to do random acts of kindness and bearing the good fruit of the Holy Spirit.
This week I’m giving you the same challenge. I want you to do at least one random act of kindness in your community.
It could be a smile, a text message or a note with words of encouragement, or a gesture of support. You could buy the coffee for the person behind you in line, or simply put down your phone to give someone your full attention.
They don’t have to be homeless or destitute. As Jesus taught us, every person is an opportunity to show not only kindness but to spread God’s love throughout the world…one drop at a time.
The prophet Micah who said, “God has told you what is good and what is required of you; to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). And Henry James said it like this, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” I’ll add, if you need to use words to do so, then do so.
Cook, John. The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Ed. Minneapolis: Fairview Press, 1993.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Suttie, Jill. How to start a kindness revolution. feb 16, 2018. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_start_a_kindness_revolution (accessed sept 14, 2018).
May we never forget how powerful one simple word can be. Or how powerful we can be to simply use it at the right time.
Just sit and be still for a moment. Meditate on or slowly breath through either one of these verses to help you find your peace today.
Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes (Psalm 37:7).
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-6).
Photo by Luke Ellis Craven / Unsplash taken by my iPhone from the cover of Christian Century magazine August 29, 2018, volume 135, no. 18.
Many in this country do not believe Colin Kaepernick had the right to protest the way he chose, on the ball field, at a place of business. By all accounts this unnamed woman in Mark’s gospel had no right to engage Jesus the way she did. Muchless ask a favor of him. She was a woman. If that weren’t bad enough, she was a Gentile. So she was from the wrong side of the tracks because her beliefs were not Jewish beliefs. She was one of “those people.”
Despite the social norms and customs, this gutsy woman disregarded protocol and proper behavior, not to draw attention to herself, but because something greater was at stake. The life of an innocent child. And so she took a knee.
She knelt and begged Jesus to cast out the demon that kept her daughter from enjoying a normal life. But Jesus doesn’t “do Jesus” like we expect. Instead we get this ugly, human side that insults the woman – calling her a dog! And by that I don’t think he is referring to her as some cute little pet!
How would you react if a person of power belittled or publicly shamed you like this? Would you slink away insecure, embarrassed or pissed off? Or would you be more like this woman – embolden by Jesus’ very own words. She knew what was right, even if she didn’t have any rights to say so.
It took great faith to stand up to Jesus and remind him that social conventions should never stand in the way of doing the right thing. When she does, the Jesus we know and love appears. He sees her heart and feels her pain. And rather than kicking her to the curb, he rewarded her faith – offering her not just the crumbs from under the table, but the nourishing bread of life for her daughter.
The lesson I see here is IF Jesus was not “disgusted by this woman’s reckless disregard” of some time-honored tradition, THEN neither should we when it comes to someone who exercises his or her faith.
Jesus showed sympathy and did everything in his power to right a wrong in this woman’s life. And as followers of Jesus Christ, we ought to do the same. We must stand, or kneel, for what is right in God’s eyes, even if means sacrificing everything.
Jesus didn’t draw a line in the sand, or take up a fight on Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t try to change the narrative, or make it all about himself. Instead Jesus did what we would hope Jesus would do for us. He does that Jesus thing. And loves us where we are. He breaks through our sacred barriers that separate the haves from the have not’s, and draws us into a community that is filled with enough compassion and sufficiency for the oppressed as well as for the privileged.
If you want to burn your Nike’s or continue to despise a person who stands up to the injustices that plague our country, you are free to do that. But I would like you to hear a warning written from Barbara Brown Taylor who reminds us that:
Jesus knew God’s will and he lived it as an example for us all to follow. This woman’s story tells us that Jesus lived it so publically that “those other people” could see and learn from him.
Jesus built a community constructed with agape – the divine love of an Almighty God, who has called each and every single one of us to abide in him. You do this by upholding one simple rule: To love your neighbor as yourself.
This is not a right. It’s not a privilege. Or a freedom. This is a command from the top, down.
Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love and our self worth in it. Because of his sacrifice, he broke the barriers between God and us, making us all God’s children. Because of Jesus each one of us has value; not based on our gender, race, or wealth…but on agape.
Rich and poor; democrat and republican, a wannabe 49ers fan or hopefilled Bucs fan, we are all God’s children…called to dwell in one almighty love whether we are sitting, standing or taking a knee.
So this week I am challenging you to stand not just on the right side of history but to stand on the right side of eternity. I challenge you to take God’s righteousness public, and to make sure others can see God in a positive light.
I challenge you to bring peace and unity where there is anger and division: on social media, or in your school, home, job, or in your own heart. Put your faith in Jesus Christ, and just do what he did. Let your faith stand for something, even if it means you have to sacrifice everything you’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Pavlovitz, John. Stuff that needs to be said. Sept 4, 2018. https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/09/04/colin-kaepernick-was-right-about-us/ (accessed Sept 7, 2018).
Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Perfect Mirror; Truth to Tell. Christian Century Foundation, 1998.
Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book
Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. (Jericho: 2013) p 57.
In light of our ever divisive and polarizing world, where lines are drawn and sides are taken, author and Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Webber reminds me (as her husband Mathew reminded her) that Jesus is always in our midst. And he’s standing on both sides of the conflict. Loving and cringing all the same. So who are we to point fingers? Instead let’s search for peace and reconciliation in a field of thorns and war.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”