Cut it off!

 

“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?

No?

No one?

Me neither.

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Crumbs of Mercy

Aylan-Kurdi

Anyone who ventured online or caught the news this week saw the photo that stopped the world in its tracks.

The picture was of a little boy…just three years old…on the beach…his lifeless body resting in the sand…

We saw him, with dark wet hair…lying on his cheek in the waves… clothed in a tiny red t-shirt, jean shorts, and tennis shoes any mother or father could have pulled out of the drawer to put on their own child.

The little boy on the beach of Bodrum, Turkey, was named Aylan Kurdi.

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His family (his father, mother, and brother) had been desperate to escape the terror of Syrian civil war raging around them…

And so even though they knew the risk of trying to pass through the relatively short, but very dangerous waters of the Aegean Sea…

they felt there was no alternative… and so they crammed onto a small rubber boat headed for Greece.

When the boat capsized on the rough sea, Aylan’s father tried to save his family…but the waves were too much for him and the deep took his wife and his boys under.

This heartbroken father, the only survivor of his family, buried his wife and two boys in the dusty ground of their hometown in Syria, and said he would stay there for the rest of his life. He could not leave them behind even if it meant living in a war zone.

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God weeps with this father…as a Father himself who saw his only son abandoned, ridiculed, and crucified…

God weeps with all these Syrian refugees leaving their home in search of peace….as a Father who remembers his chosen people who were made prisoners by the Babylonians, exiles by the Assyrians, then occupied by the Romans, and systematically murdered by the Germans…

God weeps with the refugees of every time and place… as a Father desiring a safe home for every human, all of whom he has created in his image.

God weeps.

God weeps for US and WITH us when we suffer.

God promises to restore and heal us and today we hear this promise in the words of the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah first spoke to the Hebrews captive in Babylon; those men and women and children whose homes the mighty Babylonian army had destroyed and who had been marched to a distant land, watching helplessly, as many in their families and community died on the journey.

But these words of Isaiah, are also words for all refugees and those who have no home,

AND words for us …here today:

Isaiah says, “Be strong and do not fear.  God will come with vengeance and will compensate and repay your loss.  God will come and God will save you.

God will come and God will save you.”

The testimony of the Scriptures is that God is faithful. God will execute justice for the oppressed.  God will set the prisoners free.  And God will bring the way of the wicked to ruin.

The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, tells us the scriptures are clear: that God has a “preferential option for the poor.”

God plays favorites.

God favors the orphan, the widow, the poor, the weak, the sick, the outcast, the blind and deaf, the hungry, the oppressed, those who suffer, and those who are strangers in foreign lands.

All these hold a special place in God’s heart and God promises they will not always suffer.

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The scandal of God’s favoritism is clear in Jesus’ words to the syrophonician woman today.

This woman comes to the Lord because her little daughter has an unclean spirit. She comes and bows down at Jesus’ feet and begs him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

And he says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

These certainly sound like harsh words coming from a savior sent to share God’s healing touch.

But what may sound harsh… is simply… the truth.

God, mysteriously, did choose the Hebrews to be a light to the nations and an example of the covenant relationship God intended for all creation.

God did give himself to Israel (the children) FIRST…but importantly… God’s plan included (from the first) to ultimately, also include the GENTILES.

Jesus is severe to this Syrophonician woman (simply a Phoenician woman from the Roman province of Syria) but the very fact that he would speak to her is remarkable.

In the first century the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles were very real and very serious.

Jews did NOT talk with gentiles.

Firstly, This woman is not a Hebrew. (Strike one!)

Therefore she is from a people of polytheistic faith. (Strike two!)

Therefore she is unclean. (Strike three!)

The fact that she is a WOMAN and she has a daughter who is inhabited by an unclean spirit and is therefore unclean herself are strikes 4 and 5!

Yet for all these supposed boundaries, Jesus enters into relationship with her. He demonstrates God’s mercy towards her, and heals her daughter.

Jesus performs a miracle… in healing this woman’s daughter but the real miracle is that Jesus ignores the prejudices of everyone around them and knocks down the boundaries that people think should exclude this woman from God’s mercy.

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The Syrian sects who are at civil war: The Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, Hezbollah, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are killing one another and killing civilians – because they want to declare who is clean and who is unclean – who is favored and who is not favored – who is right and who is wrong.

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In Jesus, God crossed the boundary line between creator and creation to bring peace to the world by suffering and dying on the cross.

God longs for these factions to see, and for the whole world to see, for you and for me to see that there are no boundaries between people.

The boundaries we imagine to between ourselves and our enemies: people who have slighted us, who disagree with us, who have hurt us…these boundaries have been knocked down in Jesus.

God has brought down every dividing wall. God invites us to open our eyes and see we are all one human family.

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In the two healings Jesus performs, this syrophonician woman’s daughter and then a man who is deaf and who cannot speak, we see that God’s healing is truly for everyone…

In the first instance he heals a child…in the second an adult.

The child is healed of a spiritual problem…the man is healed of a physical problem.

The first healing is performed in public…the second in private.

In the first instance the woman is persistent in her demand for healing…in the second the man doesn’t even ask!

Jesus touches the man he heals…but doesn’t even see the little girl who is at her home.

The circumstances of these healings are dissimilar but the mercy of God is the same. God cares for all who are desperate and breaks down the barriers that separate us so that we might receive his mercy and be healed.

When Jesus says to the woman with a sick daughter, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” she doesn’t bat an eyelash.

She answers him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She can see in Jesus’ face one who loves her and so she persists in her request. She knows that crumbs from the feast that this man sets will be more than enough… and her faith is rewarded.

With a meal of mere crumbs, at this table today, God creates a community where there are no divisions and no dividing walls.

Here we touch the love of our Father who is heartbroken at the death of Aylan Kurdi and his family, and of all victims of violence…

Here we are given faith in God’s promise to come and save us…

Here we are given the Holy Spirit, which trusts the promise of a new creation where we will no longer be fed on the crumbs of the Bread of Life,

But we will sit at the Feast Which Is To Come and see God face to face.

May all our hope be built upon these promises from our God who is good indeed, who rules throughout the generations.