Thursday, October 11, 2018

It Is Better!

"It would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."
A millstone looks like this.
It was a tool used to grind grain, nuts, or corn.
An animal would pull the millstone as it ground what was needed.
You can see from this picture that it was a good size.
So if you were to tie this around someone's neck and throw them into the sea there would be no way to escape.
And we know that this was actually a use of capital punishment.
I can only imagine that this was a horrific way to die.

What are we to do with verses like this in the Bible?
This is a pretty harsh way for Jesus to talk.
It doesn't seem to fit into the Jesus we know.
The Jesus who loves us and forgives us.

If you are somebody who believes in taking the Bible literally then you would have to believe that Jesus is describing a use of capital punishment.
But nobody that I know of is actually suggesting that stopping little ones from having faith deserves this kind of death.
What Jesus is doing is using Hyperbole to make a point.
If you remember last week's Gospel Jesus had placed a small child among the disciples and told them that to live in the kingdom is to welcome a little child.
This week our Gospel is still in that moment.
Jesus is still sitting there with a little child among them.
And one of his disciples says this non sequitur about other people casting out demons.
As a way of saying that the disciples are better than other people.
Again, they don't get what Jesus is trying to say.
Jesus realizes that he has to get them to listen.
So he uses hyperbole to show them how serious this issue is.
They shouldn't stop a "little one" from having faith.

I have been thinking all week about this.
And I don't know if Jesus words here are too harsh.
Because when I think about Priests sexually molesting kids I get really angry.
And I would say it would have been better for them to have a millstone placed around their necks and thrown into the sea then what they did!
Or for that matter any person who commits crimes of sexual aggression.
I have no patience for it.
We can see how much it ruins lives, how much it takes away someone's spirit and life.
So Jesus is on to something.
It is better to have no life than to have a life that ruins and does damage to other lives.

But something else about Jesus saying kept coming up for me.
I have met so many people that are weighed down by so many things.
I have met people that seem like they have a millstone around their neck.
Sometimes people do say, "That is like a millstone around your neck."
And I can see in people's story that they have these things that they are struggling with that are so heavy.

This week I was about to leave my office.
And this women called from Riverbend wanting some help with gas.
She was on the phone crying.
I have become a little too accustomed to people crying and telling me their stories.
I told her I was about to leave but if she came right now I could get her some gas.
It took her longer than I thought to get here, and then she had trouble following me to the gas station.
So I was a little annoyed, because I was late for my next appointment.
I paid for her gas and was about to get in my car.
She came and shook my hand and told me that she would do something to help the church to pay us back.
I told her, "That she didn't have to do that, because this is a free gift."
For the first time I stopped being in a hurry and looked at her.
She started crying.
I could see the millstone, the heaviness of her life in that moment.
And that a free gift was overwhelming.

What if Jesus frees us from the millstone?
We all have the burdens of life upon us.
We all are weighed down by so much.
By death of those we love.
By trying to keep up with the world around us.
By the shame of our sin.
By just trying to live.

Jesus says, "It would be better..."
Isn't it better to live with Jesus than without.
Isn't it better to live with grace.
Isn't it better to live with the free gift.

Jesus words seem harsh, because we read them as punitive.
But I think they more likely explain our lives.
To live in a world as the disciples see it is so burdensome.
Because that world is filled with competition.
Who is the best?
Who has done the best?
Instead Jesus invites us into a better world.
It is a world without competing with each other, or with the world around us.
It is a world where we are who we are.
We are flawed and imperfect.
We are the woman at the gas station so weighed down by life that at the first sign of compassion or freedom we cry.

That is all Jesus is expressing to his disciples.
They have been freed with good news!
And it is better to live with the freedom of that good news then to put stumbling blocks in our lives or in the lives of others.
We often suffer unnecessarily.
Because we can't seem to live knowing that we are loved beyond the universe.
We don't know that sins are forgiven, that this isn't about being perfect, or having it all together.
Jesus is there telling us that we don't have to carry the millstone.

I hesitated to say this next thing, because it might be misunderstood.
And it is politically a fire ball right now.
But One of my friends on Facebook wrote this about Judge Kavanaugh.
"Some further reflection on the painful train-wreck of this week:
As I watched the SCOTUS hearings, watched Brett Kavanaugh clamor and claw his way through his testimony to prove his cleanliness, I thought: Wow.
Now there is some poverty.
That man is full of shame. He doesn’t trust his own worthiness.
He must work towards being (seen) as good and a god, rather than trusting his humanness, his inherent goodness and withness.
And, I felt sorry for him and, gasp -- some twinge of compassion -- because I can hustle for my belonging with the best of them. Because what would happen if he admitted his own fallibility and culpability and need?
Would he not discover grace?
Would there not be the opportunity to participate in God’s energy and momentum of redemption?
(I'm gonna sit in this for myself. As the mother of a white boy who will become a white man, as a white woman, and as a human being. Where am I missing the opportunities for grace and redemption and healing and new life for me, my neighbor and the world? And, don't think for a second that I don't think he should accountable for his actions or that I think he should be allowed to sit on the SCOTUS. I just think Love is up to something...and he is missing it. Where are we missing it?)"
My friend said what I was thinking.
In trying to defend ourselves, and trying to keep up appearances we are losing the free gift that Jesus has given us, not being perfect, and being broken people.
We miss out on the kingdom of God, and we keep the millstone around our necks.
I hope for all of you this week to experience the beauty of being broken.
And that you may experience the free gift of God's grace in your lives.
I hope that you can experience the free gift so that Jesus can take away the millstone from your neck, because it is better to live in God's grace.

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