Stumbling Blocks, Millstones and Hell-Fire

Mark 9:38-50

The Lutheran theologian, pastor and writer, Dietrich Bonheoffer said, "The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children." Last week and this week the Gospel has, as part of its focus, the subject of children. Last week it was about welcoming them.

This week Jesus speaks about what happens when we put stumbling blocks in the way of children and youth. Instead of speaking up for them, standing up for them, our silence and inactivity is a stumbling block for them. Each of us must answer the call from our Lord and Savior to step up and help, or help FIND someone to step up and help. If you're a member of this church, or are a friend of Trinity who makes this church your primary worship place, Jesus is calling to you because the Holy Spirit led you here and you agreed to work for the kingdom of God through this congregation, this Church that is Christ's Church. There's no getting around it. And staying home isn't going take that responsibility away, either, because you already heard the call and you're here.

The picture Jesus paints for a person who puts a stumbling block in the way of children isn't pretty. "It would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." Yikes!

I think both Trinity and other churches are failing the test of the morality of a society: what are we doing for our children and youth? It may be too little, but it's not too late. Churches should be the moral compass for society. Instead we've thrown in with society. So many Christians seem to put the importance of being present at worship or learning about the teachings of Jesus in studying the Bible (teachings which he gave for our benefit) or to fellowship in events at the church are at the bottom of the list of priorities. EVERYTHING comes before that. We've let society dictate and set the direction of the church, of our spiritual life and direction, when it should be the other way around. And we do the same thing with stewardship of life-our giving to back to God a tithe is last on most folks' priority list. God gets, not the first fruits, but the dredges-God gets what, if anything, is left over. And the stewardship of taking care of God's creation, the environment and God's creatures, only if there's time left over. Those get the least attention because we have booked our lives up solid with what the world directs us to as important priorities. So the world sets our direction, not God.

In today's lesson, Jesus goes even further in talking about children. He's also talking about the child within us. We are all like children when it comes to our understanding of God and understanding of Jesus' message; when it comes to our spiritual growth, our inner growth and relationship with God. Jesus gives very strong, very vivid examples of what to do if something is a stumbling block to your own inner spiritual growth. The examples aren't literal, but by creating a vivid, literal picture he gives us the importance of tending to that inner person, that inner self, the inner spiritual self that is ever and always like a child because we have so much to learn about following Jesus' commands, following Jesus' example, acting upon Jesus' teachings.

He says, "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. And if a foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched."

Yikes! Again, he is not saying that you should literally cut off your hand or foot or tear out your eye. But by using those metaphors he is emphasizing how important it is for you to get rid of stumbling blocks, things that prevent you from entering the kingdom of God.

He's not talking about 'eternal life' kingdom of God. He is speaking and teaching about the kingdom of God that is within us now-our inner, spiritual self. That inner spiritual self with which God is in constant contact. We can't enter that place, can't enter that new relationship with Christ, can't grasp or understand the new spiritual way of thinking and reasoning, can't enter the life of the spirit-we can't do those things when we have placed stumbling blocks in our way. Or we have let others put stumbling blocks in our way because we haven't been paying attention to keeping our pathway to our inner spiritual self clear of stumbling blocks.

Some of the biggest stumbling blocks are low self esteem, excuses (especially excuses that are rationalizations) and procrastination. And when we get into those ruts, it's like a heavy millstone hung around our neck. We feel overwhelmed, oppressed by time and schedule. We feel overwhelmed, oppressed by health problems. We feel depressed most of the time-and by the way, most folks don't recognize depression within themselves. But negative attitudes, holding on to grudges, negative vision and attitude, living in the past, holding on to worn out traditions, or worn out ways of coping with the challenges of life-all those are a sign of chronic depression.

Each of us has to get rid of our stumbling blocks. Get rid of the things that block our path to our inner-self, the place of greatest strength within us. We have to start taking the task seriously-the task of getting rid of those stumbling blocks of low self esteem, excuses, rationalizations, procrastination.

You can start by praying regularly, at set times; by attending worship regularly; by being a good steward; by studying the Bible, learning more about the teachings of Jesus that show us how to cope with the challenges of life, how to stay on top of things and not be overwhelmed or oppressed by them; by listening to Jesus calling you to fill vacancies on boards; by helping or getting someone to help with children and youth so they can grow in the Lord and be prepared to meet the challenges of life and the temptations of the Devil who wants to lead them away from Jesus' help and lead them into greed, self-importance, drugs, alcohol, gangs, random violence, prejudice and hate crimes.

We must get rid of our stumbling blocks and don't put stumbling blocks in the way of others, especially not children and youth. Let's help each other.

Don't just come through the door at the end of the service and tell me 'that was a good sermon." Tell me you're going to help with children and youth programs. Tell me you're going to find someone and ask them to help. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, part of the stumbling block.

You say it each week at the end of the service-Go in peace, serve the Lord, Catch the Vision, Thanks be to God. This week put it into practice.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie