“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.”
SO…Who would like to be first? ANYONE?
But I’ll tell you, twice this past week when I was a part of a group that read this passage together, people asked, “Is Jesus speaking literally? Does he really expect us to cut off our hands and our feet, and to rip our eyes out in the pursuit of perfect living?” “What does this mean?”
I’ll let you answer that question for yourself, but I will say, I genuinely hope you come to agree that Jesus is using an extreme exaggeration in order to make a serious point very clear.
The point is this: Sin is real. And sin separates us from God. So it’s deathly serious.
And so Jesus invites us to take a long hard look at our lives, to admit those things that cause us to stumble, and to wrestle with them honestly.
And Jesus’ language IS extreme…BUT…
You might really wish you never had HANDS in the first place IF you are caught stealing from place of employment, lose your job, and ruin your name in the community…
You might wish you never had FEET in the first place to walk into that place of temptation IF you’re discovered having an extramarital affair, break the heart of your spouse, lose the trust of your children, and upend your whole life…
Or, you may simply come to the end of your life and realize you’ve worked too much, let other people’s expectations define you, and failed to do the things you knew were most important…and wish you never had eyes in the first place to lust after foolishness things.
So yes, Jesus’ words are extreme….but the point is…sin is SERIOUS!
Some of us may think we’re pretty good people, so that none of this amputation business applies to us.
We’ve never been in jail. We live a pretty good life. We try to help others…
Maybe our sins are simply apathy, comfortable living, and a desire not to make waves.
Or maybe we simply carry around a grudge against someone we can’t let go of, an offense we can’t forgive, or a burden we can’t lay down.
BUT…In God’s eyes we’re all the same.
To God: We’re not just players in a fantasy football league to be ranked and scored according to how good we are or how broken we are.
God sees us for who we really are.
WE…ARE…ALL…captive to sin, we cannot free ourselves… we have turned from God and harmed one another.
EACH ONE of us need of healing.
And…so God offers his forgiveness to us. God offers his and healing freely and lavishly. God offers us his open arms and says, “Come to me and be at peace.”
My grandfather once told me a story and which I’ve always remembered.
I was about twelve years old and I was at my grandparents’ house which sat in Caldwell County, North Carolina, at the edge of Pisgah National Forest. Grandmother was in the kitchen cooking and Grandpaw and I were sitting at the big table where we ate our meals, just talking.
He said the story had come down to him.
He said once there was a man in those parts who had owned a slave. In the North Carolina Mountains this was pretty uncommon. There weren’t plantations or large farms, and most people would’ve been too poor anyway, but a few people did have maybe a slave or a very a small number of slaves.
So this one man did own a slave and he made a promise to him. He said to his slave: “If you can ever find an ear of corn with an odd number of rows of kernels, I’ll give you your freedom.”
Now you may or may not know: but there are always even rows of corn kernels on an ear of corn. That’s just the way they grow and just the way it is. So this man figured he had nothing at all to worry about; his slave wouldn’t be able to find an ear of corn with odd rows of kernels and he’d waste his time looking for one in vain.
Well this slave was smarter than he was.
He wanted his freedom and so he thought about it and thought about it, and had an idea. He went into a corn field when the corn was just beginning to grow on the stalk.
He took one of those small ears of corn, carefully pulled back the husk, took his pocket knife and carefully cut out one of the rows. Then he carefully wrapped it back up in the husk and marked the ear so he could find it later.
When the corn was full-grown and ready to harvest he went and got the ear he had marked and just like he thought:
As that ear had grown, the kernels had filled in the gap where he had cut out a row — and while there had never been one before, he held in his hand an ear of corn with an odd row of kernels.
The master was good to his word, gave the man his freedom and wished him well. The newly freed man headed north and no one in the mountains of North Carolina ever heard tell of him again!
What needs to be cut out of our lives so that we are FREE? …
So that we’re FREE to be the people God has intended us to be?
Jesus invites us to ponder that.
God forgives our sin because he wants us to be free! Free from our burdens, our guilt, and the grudges that separate people…
God forgives us of all this and more…but God wants US TO LET GO OF IT TOO!
God has gotten RID of the STAT sheet. He’s not counting our offenses against any longer.
In our baptism all that is washed away…
And God has forgiven us, God has washed us clean, and God has given us a new beginning.
This image of cutting one’s hands and feet off and tearing one’s eyes out is a parable about the way we struggle within ourselves and within society…
But God longs for us to be at peace – to be at peace with him, to be at peace with our neighbors in the world, AND to be at peace within ourselves.
So God says, “Cut it out!”
And we say – no thanks! We like the way things are going!
So God gives his Son to us….and to the world.
Not just his hands, not just his feet, not just his eyes…but his whole body and his whole life.
And we crucified him – drove nails in those hands, nails in those feet, gouged him with a spear till tears ran out those eyes.
God gave us his whole self on the cross…so that we might be free.
Friends, this freedom is ours TODAY!
This forgiveness is ours TODAY!
This peace is ours TODAY!
Because we are baptized into Jesus Christ!
TODAY we have witnessed Samantha receive THIS SAME gift…
And Sammie, we thank you for being a vision in our midst this day and reminding us that … we all receive this gift again and again.
Luther reminds us, “When you wash your face, (that is every day) remember your baptism.”
SO TODAY — remember and give thanks! Your old self has been washed away and you have a new beginning in Jesus Christ!
Sin is real…but God’s grace is just as real. Sin is serious…but God’s grace is much more serious.
Our Lord, who was crucified, has risen and is now living, and BECAUSE he is living NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.