Let me first set the stage for this passage- the disciples had been on the road with Jesus, and had stopped at someone;s home for dinner (remember the jersey shore story from last week?) Dinner is done, and jesus is sitting with his disciples ind of in a circle, (code for 'this is a teaching moment'. They had told Jesus they had been having a conversation bout who was the greatest, and Jesus picked up a small child, brought it (and that's the gender of the child, the NRSV calls the child, "It"- which, from someone who tries to stay gender neutral in my sermons, I appreciate, however, the use of "it" bothered me last week. So I looked it up- "The word and term 'it' can be used for either a subject or an object in a sentence and can describe any physical or psychological subject and/or object. The genitive form its has been used to refer to human babies and animals, although with the passage of time this usage has come to be considered too impersonal in the case of babies, as it may be thought to demean a conscious being to the status of a mere object. This use of "it" is also criticized when used as a rhetorical device to dehumanize a speakers enemies, implying that they were little more than animals or objects. The word remains in common use however, and its use increases with the degree to which the speaker views an object of speech as impersonal. For example, someone else's dog is often referred to as "it", especially if the dog isn't known by the speaker, or if the dog's gender is unknown. A person would rarely say "it" when referring to his/her own cat or dog.
So now I knew why- "it" objectifies. "It", demeans. The greek word in that sentence is auto- one, oneself, self. A person. yet it is translated in english to simply an object. The one who sat on Jesus' lap is lost to us. We are left, due to the translators, with an object- an it.
I know, who cares, right? I mean, wasn't Jesus talking about the fact that "it" was the least of these? A whole group of people we tend to objectify? "Its" we can dismiss and ignore? Isn't that the point? Well, yes and no. While it's true that we do objectify in order to distance, Jesus does not- Jesus would not. Your personhood, your belief and embrace of you as a person of worth, of every person as worthy in God's eyes- this is the truth that connects us- that makes us completely interdependent and reliant on each other.
So pastor, you've taken a full five minutes on "it"and we haven't gotten to this week's passage... true enough. Hopefully it will tie together.
So, back to the text- Jesus and the disciples sitting in the living room, child on Jesus lap, and jesus tells them, in order to be great, you need to be a servant, and when you welcome on of these little ones, the least of these, in my name, you also welcome them in God's name. And that's where we are... Turn with me to today's passage- the child is still on Jesus' lap, and one of the disciples, John, continues the conversation on an unrelated note:
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And 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 to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
"Someone is casting out demons, or in other translations, doing acts of power, performing miracles, in your name Jesus, but we stopped him- he wasn't following us."
Can't think of a time when the church has been criticized for that before, can you? (That's sarcastic btw.) From the disciples' perspective though, this probably was a real concern, and it was also a concern to the people to whom Mark's gospel was written. After all, the disciples had been hand picked by JC himself! They were indeed part of the inner circle. What qualifies anyone else to do anything in jesus' name? They were the ones on whom the church would be built- the ones who would, after Jesus' death, write the rules, make the decisions, and all of that was because of who they were- their shared experience, their first hand knowledge of "WWJD" (what would Jesus do).
It speaks of course to the disciples limited perception of God's realm. That, because someone may have a different experience than they did, that their experience was somehow, not valid. Is God that small- is Christ's reach so limited that others can not be healing and doing acts of power outside the 'church?'
This was a rough, emotional week. Physically I was battling a cold. Emotionally, I was gripped to, and disturbed by, the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Her story resonated with me, as it did so many victims of sexual assault across the nation. Calls reporting sexual assault spiked 147% on Thursday, September 27 according to RAINN – the largest sexual assault hotline in the United States. Counselors, therapists, and clergy received phone calls, texts, and direct messages from women all over the country. As women were listening to Dr. Ford, they not only relived their own assaults but they were emboldened to report their own.
Hashtag "we believe you,' went up all over the internet and throughout social media. Supporters and protesters marched with their feet, wrote letters, cards, texts and called their elected officials.
Dr. Ford's accused- Bret Kavanaugh- testified also- angry, emotional, threatened... will he be confirmed as a supreme court judge? No one knows at this writing- but the voices of millions of silent and silenced victims are being heard. Why did she wait so long? Why didn't she tell?
I think back to my own life- my own 'events' as Dr. Ford named her sexual assault. The first time I was 9- the second I was 12- the third I was 17. Surely in all of that time there should have been someone whom I trusted enough to talk about this? But there was not. I, like most women in our culture grew up being trained to be a woman- trained to be "lady like." (There's a topic for sermon talk back) So if something happened to me that was "shameful," I was surely partly to blame. That shaming and blaming is so strong, and I had witnessed it so many times without naming it, silence seemed the best option. I am not alone in this. And while I used the word "lady like"let me point out that 15% of sexual assaults are reported by men. This is not just a women's issue.
But the part that brings me to tell you this in a Sunday sermon, is that though I was able to receive healing, that healing happened outside my church. I'm telling you about this in a sermon to let you know that the church is filled with victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and abuse, but historically, we have not been a place where these stories could be shared. We have not been the place where healing power of Christ could cast out the demon. It's not been in our experience to do so. So we've stopped them- silenced them-
For me personally, the church would have been the last place I would go with my hurts. This was something that was not in their experience to handle. I had seen other victims come forward, only to have their stories scrutinized, picked over, publicized; and then have accusations thrown at them instead... I've seen victims objectified, demeaned- turned into an "it" by the dominant group, so that dismissing them was easier. Like me, many times victims seek healing elsewhere- and yet every Sunday people come together and worship- worship! The most intimate act a community can do together- worship! Yet we are isolated from one another in so many ways. Our secrets keep us apart. Our lack of trust in each other keeps us in painful silence. Is it any wonder that we struggle as an institution to gain and keep the trust of the least of these?
But go back to the living room for one more moment-
Jesus corrects the disciples about stopping the healing of "that other group", and then points again to the little one in his arms: "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." I believe the stumbling blocks Jesus is talking about in this context are numerous- but they are all about not providing for and protecting the innocent, not only of committing an act of violence against the least of these, but of being complicit in keeping them silent, in prohibiting healing- by telling victims that their story, their experience, because it's different from ours, is not worth hearing, to take away the place of safety that the church was intended to be for them... for us- all of us!
To get there, Jesus says, we may need to get rid of some things- he uses the "if your foot causes you to stumble cut it off" metaphor- but the foot hand, eye, represents anything, any stumbling block that keeps us (the church) in a system that perpetuates violence of any kind and silences the voices of the victim. And I know that today our stumbling block was supposed to be just prejudice, seeing things through only one lens- but after you puck out that eye, look with clear sight on the rest of the body. Our modern institution of church was built on patriarchy- that foot needs to go. The hand that gives the thumbs up to whats appropriate and what's not, to what and who gets in and who does not, the hand of judgement and condemnation- the hand that holds an index finger up to lips that say "shhhh" Cut it off...
Our backyard can be a place of safety. A place of rescue. A place of honesty, and non judgment, a place not just of welcome but of trust. Our backyard is to be a place of healing. Jesus says, we have salt in ourselves... we have something already in us that makes us different from the rest of the world- we have the healing salt of Christ in each of us- you taste it in your tears each time you cry with someone who has dared to be vulnerable... if we don't take that opportunity, if we don't embrace everything God has for us to be, if we don't continually work toward building a backyard of healing and forgiveness and true relationship, we will miss out on what it means to truly live in peace with one another. We are at such a wonderful place, my friends. Let's take this next step together.