Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Feels Like Hell!

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
It is better to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”
I believe that hell does exist.
I can say this because I have seen it.
And at times in my life I have experienced it.
The word that Jesus uses for hell in this passage is the word that was used for the town dump just outside of the city gates.
In the minds of Jesus’ audience it was the worst place in the world that one could imagine.
No one wanted to go to the dump.
So Jesus uses this word to describe what happened to people when they would fall away from God.
It was like being dumped in the outer limits of the city.
It was smelly, scary, lonely, deserted place.
Was it not better not to go there at all?

Our Gospel this morning is really about the disciples.
Like the disciples we too put stumbling blocks in front of others and ourselves, stumbling blocks that lead us into dark, scary, lonely places.
It is about stumbling blocks that lead us to trash our lives and others.
I would like to talk about both those stumbling blocks this morning.

First let us talk about ourselves.
All the time we put stumbling blocks in front of ourselves.
We do things that hurt ourselves or others and well…they lead to hell.
Not the hell with the devil dressed in red with the pitch fork, but the hell that is lonely, scary, and hurtful.
I have sat with lots of people in this place.
Families that are going through divorces are in hell.
People in throws of addiction are in this place.
A woman who is being battered by her husband lives in this dump.
Hell is real…I have seen it.
And Jesus is right it is better for us to lose a body part than to experience this hell.
I have sat with people who have used those words to describe their lives.
“I feel like I am in hell.”

Perhaps we could do well to take Jesus advice.
Not literally, of course, but to think about the things in our lives that are stumbling blocks.
What are the things that keep us from having faith, from following Jesus?
What are those things in our life that need to be cut off and thrown away?

Recently I was in the supermarket.
I saw one of our neighbors who lives down the street.
She asked me how I was and I told her that I was fantastic.
The woman standing next to me in the soup aisle said, “I wish I could say that.”
We started talking and she shared with me her life of hell.
How her son was in prison and she was looking after her grand kids.
How it seemed that every moment her son made one bad choice after another.
I could see how her mother heart was broken in two.
Perhaps instead of robbing that store it would have been better for her son to cut off his hands?
You see the more we think about it the more Jesus is on to something this morning.
Hell is no place to go.
It is better to merely be maimed in life.
Because when we go to hell we just don’t bring ourselves we also bring those that love us most.

This is not about judgment from me or you.
This is about reality of the situation we sometimes face.
I still believe that God loves those who make bad decisions, who make wrong choices in life, but that does not mean they can escape the consequences of their actions.
It does not mean that they won’t go to hell.
(Again, not the devil with a pitch fork place. But the place that is outside of the walls, the place that really stinks, and ruins lives.)

We must then spend some time on the other part of this text.
We must spend some time thinking about how our actions or behavior can become a stumbling block for someone else.
Recently they asked people to think of the first word that came to their head when they thought of Christians.
You know what 91% of people said?
Not loving, or forgiving, or compassionate.
Sometimes we are stumbling block to others.
We can stop them from having faith because when they look at us they see hypocrites, or us judging others.
The best thing we can do as Christians is get out of the way.
Get out of what we think is right, and allow the grace of God to be present in our lives.

This is the problem that the disciples are having.
They are judging another group for doing what they think only they should be able to do.
They have become territorial, and closed off to others.
Jesus turns the tables on them and asks them to look inside to see the ways that they are stumbling blocks to others.

In this time of religious diversity where can we find common ground with those that do the work of Christ around us?
Luckily in Concord it is everywhere.
Once again this year I was the Co-chair of the CROP walk.
The other person who chaired it with me was a Buddhist.
We held the walk at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
It included people from 17 different faith communities in the Greater Concord area.
People of faith can come together to act for good, and care for those experiencing poverty around the world and here in Concord.

Perhaps there is something to simply being in the same room.
There is something in the exchange that happens when we stand with others who are different than ourselves.
There is something that happens when we are able to let go of what who we think should be doing what and get out of our own way.
Let God be the judge and us simply be the people that care and love others.

I see this all the time.
I see it at the New Hampshire council of churches when we are able to put aside arguing over baptism and communion, instead work on issues that promote life and health in New Hampshire.
I see it when we work with different Christians at Rise Again to help those who need more clothing, blankets, diapers, laundry detergent.
I see when we are able to simply be Christ instead of trying to make everyone like us.
Jesus this morning seems to telling us to let others do the good that they do instead of trying to determine who is capable of doing it.

It is in the judging that we set the stumbling block before others, which leads us back to the stumbling blocks that we put in front of ourselves.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
If we can simply learn this truth: There is a God in the universe and we are not it.
Then we have come close to getting out of our own way to let God work in and through us.
We have come close to cutting off those things in our lives that are stumbling block and leads us to that lonely, ugly place on the outskirts of the city.
We come closer to not be judgmental about others because we leave that up to God.
Instead we focus on the work of spreading grace, mercy, and love.
We focus on showing the world this God who is the ruler of the universe, but also the humble servant of all.

Let us cut off those things that stop of us from recognizing God, those things that are a stumbling block and leads us to hell.
Let us work with others to create the just world that is envisioned by our savior by working with others.

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