Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Do you ever stumble? Stumbling is actually part of who we are. We learned how to walk by stumbling over our little legs. Or if you have had a surgery or been laid up, it takes a while to learn how to walk again and many times you probably stumbled during that process. Or we can even stumble by not paying attention to where we are going, such as looking at something other than the path in front of us, or texting and walking at the same time. There are many things that cause us to stumble, so what causes you to stumble?
As with walking there are many things that cause us to stumble but not quite fall, there are also things and people in our lives that cause us to stumble in our faith. We let the busyness of our lives cause us to stumble and temporarily look away from our faith. When our priorities are unbalanced and don’t have God at the center, then whatever causes this imbalance causes us to stumble in our faith. So what causes you to stumble in your faith? What stumbling blocks are in your way of being a faithful disciple of Jesus?
In the Gospel reading today from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we put a stumbling block in front of someone else, then it would be better for us if a large, heavy stone were hung around our necks and we be thrown into the sea. Luckily none of us here this morning are stumbling blocks for others. We never get in the way of someone else growing in their faith, do we? We never let our preferences and ways of doing things get in the way of someone else’s faith in God. If you are true to yourself and aren’t going to lie to deceive yourself, then you know fully well that at times you indeed are a stumbling block for others. You are a sinning stumbling block that is very comfortable with the way things are. Maintaining the current state of the church is far easier than taking risks because the future is so uncertain. Exploring new ideas to reach out to our neighbors who don’t go to church and may not even know God, is hard, scary and costly work. It is a lot easier and safer to be a stumbling block that gets in the way of the church actively doing the ministry that God has called us to.
So preventing someone else from growing in their faith by not bringing our children or grandchildren to church, or by telling someone that they aren’t welcome in the church or not even noticing someone new at church, we become a stumbling block for those individuals. And you know what the Gospel lesson told us today – the outlook for us stumbling blocks doesn’t look good. It would be better for you if a large, heavy stone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
Now that seems rather harsh, but when you really think of it, shouldn’t you deserve a harsh punishment for being a stumbling block and getting in the way of someone else growing in their faith. That is a pretty harsh offense – getting in the way of someone’s relationship with God. You are a stumbling block when you continue to enable bad behavior in yourself or someone else. You are a stumbling block when you make excuses for people somehow justifying that it’s okay for their bad behavior to continue. You are a stumbling block when you squander ideas within the church all because it might mean a little more work, money or time for you. So aren’t you a stumbling block and don’t you get in the way of God’s mission?
And now the punishment gets even harsher, if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out. If we all received this punishment, we wouldn’t be able to do much for God because we all would have no hands, no feet, and no eyes. And even though we all greatly deserve this punishment for being stumbling blocks, we haven’t received this punishment and we won’t receive this punishment – because Jesus received the punishment for us, taking our place. The one who knew no sin, took on all of our sins. His hands weren’t cut off, but they were pierced with nails. His feet weren’t cut off, but they were pierced with a nail. His eyes were torn out, but they were bloody from the crown of thorns that was on his head, just above his eyes.
You see, Jesus took all of your sins and the punishments that come with those sins, and he took them to the cross. So you don’t have to be a stumbling block to help people. You don’t have to be a stumbling block to prove that you have a certain level of control in this church. You don’t have to be a stumbling block to cover up your own faults. Because we all have faults and those faults were taken to the cross – and they were left there at the cross.
Stumbling blocks will continue to arise in our lives because we live in this sin infested, broken world, but you don’t have to be one of those stumbling blocks because you have a cornerstone in your life. Jesus is your cornerstone. Cornerstones are used to build up, not break down or stumble upon. With Jesus as the cornerstone in your life and in the life of this church, we can live trusting that Jesus has our back. When we are fully committed to God’s kingdom, we don’t need to put up stumbling blocks for others because our focus is on furthering God’s kingdom, not satisfying our own desires and wishes.
Therefore, lay aside those stumbling blocks in your life and in the life of this congregation, and cling to your cornerstone – the one who took away your sins, washing you clean of your imperfections and giving you life with God for all of eternity. Praise God for giving us life in Jesus’ name. Amen.
© 2015 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.