Our old priest, Fr. Barber, once welcomed with an open heart a young man who wanted to talk to him about Jesus. Even though it was pretty obvious, the young man thought it best to win over Fr. Barber to Christ, or at least “his” version of Christianity. In all the politeness he could summon, Fr. Barber interrupt the guy by asking, “Don’t you know we are playing on the same team?”
I sometimes wonder if the thousands of Christian denominations around the world have forgotten we are all part of the same body. That is the body of Christ who gave his life for us so that we could live in unity and peace.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Pres. George W. Bush stood before the cameras and announced to the world “You’re either with us or against us.” His words, spoken to unite the world against a common enemy, have now become a call for divisiveness. You either vote like me or believe what I do, or you’re my enemy.
Every day on social media, we are constantly asked to pick a side even at the expense of healing our country, building real friendships, or getting work done in the Kingdom of God. More and more, the holy scripture is used not as a guide for living a Christ like life, but to claim superiority, or to divide and discriminate, or simply to justify casting out and alienating others who think or worship differently.
In the gospel of Mark, this is what Jesus had to say about it. (Read Mark 9:38-50 here)
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.
Having heard a complaint by his disciples that someone outside their inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus' name, Jesus, no doubt, does something unexpected. He sides with those "other people" instead of with his own.
The disciple’s unhappiness reminds me of an old joke about a guy who arrives at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter asks what his religion is and the man says, “Methodist.”
“Wonderful,” says St. Peter, “go to Room 24. But please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
Next, came a young lady and when asked the same question, she replies “Catholic.”
“Fantastic” says St. Peter. “Go to Room 18, but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
The next person entering tells St. Peter, “I’m Jewish, like you.” Peter smiles and says, “Go to Room 11 but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man said, “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?”
St. Peter replies, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they still think they’re the only ones here.”
We all think we have the right way of doing things; the right interpretation of scripture or the right doctrines. And many believe they will be the only one’s in heaven, like they get to determine that.
But in Mark’s passage, Jesus is basically telling his disciples to worry about themselves first. If someone is wasting their time showing kindness in his name, then at least that’s time not spent bad mouthing God.
I think we should all focus first on our own righteousness, before we judge or condemn someone else’s. We don’t know their story, how they got to this place, or why they do things the way they do. But we do know our story, and how God is working in our lives.
Jesus calls us to look inward, so that our actions don’t become a stumbling block that jeopardizes our faith or anyone else’s.
This is meant as a warning to us all. Even those closest with Jesus carried things in their life that caused them to stumble. Peter had denial. Philip had doubts. James and John thought they were more deserving than the others. And where do we even begin with Judas?
We all have things buried deep within us that can jeopardize our faith. Traumas, fears, shame, guilt, regrets, ego…what good do they serve in the Kingdom of God?
I know first hand how holding on to old hurts have held me and others back. I have also come to learn that Jesus wants us to be untethered from the weight of our past. He wants our focus to be on the present, which leads us to our future.
Jesus directs our focus inward, to find those things that are stopping us from being fully present in God’s kingdom.
Find them. Name them. And then cut them out like a surgeon does with cancer. Cut off your hand...chop off your foot...pluck out your eye! He uses this gruesome imagery to make an important point. It’s better 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 life that are easier than others to get rid of. A toxic friend, for example, can be deleted and replaced with someone who is nicer. But admitting or dealing with the wounds of sexual assault are hard enough to face much less overcome. Be it simple or hard, Jesus tells us to cut them out of our lives because holding on to them isn’t doing anyone any good.
This leads me our question today: What are the stumbling blocks in your life that are keeping you from truly living into your greatness and faithfulness?
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’ve spent years working on stopping this destructive cycle from controlling my life. But just as a surgeon can't operate successfully on his or herself, I lean on Jesus for help.
When the voices of self-doubt arise, I picture Jesus saying, “Stop comparing yourself to others. Be the person God created you to be. And let everyone else be who they’re meant to be.”
Jesus is giving us permission to let go of those things in life that are weighing us down. He invites us to place our burdens at the foot of his cross, where God’s mercy and grace await us all. As we let those things go, we are able to enter Anamesa with the room in our hearts to love others as God loves each and every one of us. Jesus is calling us to stay focused on what we do here, because what we do in this sacred space matters to our salvation.
Our eyes, and hands and feet are meant for doing God’s work.
Whenever you offer a thirsty person something to drink, or provide the means for a hungry person to be fed, that’s one less burden someone else has to carry. Taking the time to do one act of kindness in God’s name is time not spent hating or harming others in God’s name. Jesus points our attention inward so that we can identify and cut out the things that are stopping us from living in Christ likeness.
I’ll say it again. Whatever is stopping you from acting out of love in God’s name, get rid of it. If an old grudge is keeping you from reconciliation, chop it off. If you’re holding on to any deep seated anger or resentment, pluck it out and throw in the fire. God would rather have you show up to the kingdom blind or lame than to not show up at all.
Christianity, Discipleship, Faith…it’s all about showing up today! God doesn’t hold on to our past, but welcomes us in the present. It is here, in every holy space between you and me, that God shows up in the most unexpected ways.
According to Mark, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come. It’s here. And happening now. This tells me that every time we show love or initiate peace, we are doing it in God’s Kingdom. Just the same whenever we hate or retaliate against someone, that too happens in the presence of God who gives mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it.
What we do in this sacred space matters. Jesus is calling us to enter it with intention; loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable. This is hard to do on its own, especially when we are unable to love or forgive ourselves.
Jesus is inviting us to participate in God’s kingdom. He has shown us how to bring the love and light of God’s glory into every space we enter. Starting with that space within us.
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 guilt, anger, or hurt that’s holding you back from truly living into your belovedness.
By lopping off those things that cause you to stumble – you will be free of your own burdens so you can then help others be free of theirs.
If we all do this, then the only side left to stand on, will be the side of God’s love. That sacred space where we become one voice, singing one song to the glory of God almighty. Amen.
*Adapted from a sermon Worry About Yourself originally written on September 30, 2018.
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.”