A Stumbling Block – 03.07.2021
Let me know if this conversation sounds familiar. I’ll turn to one of my boys, and I’ll ask them to do something. “Hey buddy, can you pick up your toys from the living room?” And every now and then, as they come into their own, the answer will be – “No. No, I don’t want to do that.” Ah, I see – and I always have to come back with an apology – I’m so sorry if you were confused by my phrasing, you thought it was a question. Go pick up your toys. But we do that in our culture, don’t we? We soften language by turning it into a question. We ask questions that are actually instructions. Or sometimes we ask questions that are actually accusations. Who left the door open so the dog could get out? Right? That’s not a question that’s condemnation. Our culture is very concerned with seeming polite, we really really want to be nice people. Another example, you ever say “thank you” out of politeness, rather than gratitude? Like, when the waiter brings our food out. It’s their job, we expect them to do it. It would be super weird if they did not do it, and we might even be angry if they don’t. But you have to say thank you when they do their job – otherwise people think you’re mean. This is not a bad thing – social pressure to be polite, the way we treat each other matters sure – but we can take it too far sometimes. Anybody here ever thank technology for functioning? Like you want the computer to work. To show you a website, or open a video chat? And the whole of point of the computer’s existence is work for you, but when it does work, we say thank you. Or, you know those digital assistants? Like Siri or Alexa or if you have a google device you say, “ok, google” and the little assistant pops up. And you can say “Alexa play this music” or “Siri, show me a recipe for guacamole” or for me, I always say, “ok google, give me directions to this coffee shop” – and then it’ll pop up on my phone. And every single time, even though this is a piece of machinery, even though it is incapable of feeling emotion, and I know it’s not even listening anymore – I still have this deep seeded need to say “thank you” to my phone, otherwise I feel guilty. My mother would be so proud.
Today is the first sermon in a brand new sermon series called Overcoming Obstacles and Other Extreme Sports. We are returning to our year long study of the book of Luke. Since June, we have been journeying with Jesus, reading a chapter a week and we are already all the way up to chapter 17. And this is one of those chapters where parts of it make me cringe. I read the bible and I go [*actually cringe* – yikes, what was that?] But when there is something we don’t understand in scripture, I say this all the time, when we don’t get it – we are invited to look closer, to dive deeper, to ask questions and search for understanding. So I did that this past week, I looked closer at some of the hard stuff – and this chapter has something incredible to show us how we treat each other. Let’s take a look.
It starts out, [read v.1-2]. So here we have Jesus Christ the loving son of God casually suggesting a horrifying death for anyone who would cause children to stumble. He starts out, “look, the world is broken, moments of stumbling are going to come.” For those who don’t know, this is a picture of a millstone. That big circular rock is used in the mill to crush stuff. He’s saying, if you’re going to cause someone else to stumble – first tie that to your neck and jump in the ocean. In not-so-subtle language, Jesus is telling us that living in the kingdom of God is not just about our personal life. We need to care about the struggles of the people around us. Each of us needs to work to keep from being a stumbling block for someone else. One of my favorite examples of this is our relationship as a church with AA. For those who might not know, Methodist churches are dry campuses. There’s no alcohol allowed in our buildings. Now, it’s not because alcohol is evil. We know that some folks, myself included, can enjoy a beer in moderation. But the reason we have a dry campus, the reason we use grape juice instead of wine for communion – is because we love our brothers and sisters who are sober, and we would never want to do anything to cause them to stumble. We have a lot of people in this church who are sober, and I am so incredibly proud of those awesome folks. And I want to say, if you struggle with overuse of alcohol you have a safe community in this place. We will go out of our way to help you. I love to have a beer at the end of a long day, but if I know a friend is struggling or going through a thing – and I’m hanging out with them, I like soda too. Jesus is expanding out hearts here. Your life is not just about you and what’s good for you – don’t be a stumbling block for other people in your life.
He keeps it going, [read v.3-4]. This is Jesus giving us guidelines on how to live together. There’s three steps. First, rebuke. Rebuke is when someone is doing something wrong, and you call them out on it. And it’s crazy because Jesus says, “you must rebuke the offender.” As in rebuke the OFFENDER, as in actually talk to the person who has caused the problem. But that’s not what we do, is it? When someone does something wrong – we don’t talk to them. We talk to this guy over here ABOUT them. Gossip is one of our favorite substitutes for rebuke. And right behind gossip is social media. Instead of talking TO someone who has done something wrong, we blast an entire category of people on social media. If someone does something wrong, call them out on it. Privately. IN person if possible. And I’m going to add – this needs to be done in love. If the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts we will do this with gentleness and kindness and a desire to correct.
First step, rebuke someone when they do something wrong. Second step – repentance. This is the response. Now I know I’ve done this before, but I have to bring it up every time. Repentance is not the same as saying “I’m sorry.” Because every human being over the age of two that ever lived on this earth knows how to say “I’m sorry” and not mean it. You say sorry because mom made you say sorry. But repentance is different. When I’m teaching kids I always say, “repentance is when you say sorry in your heart” and honestly that’s the best definition I’ve got for adults too. Repentance is when you mean it, when you are going to change your life and your living to fix it.
Rebuke, Repent, and then the last step is to offer forgiveness. [read v.3b-4]. Now, if somebody is sinning against you seven times in the same day, we might want to examine how real that repentance is – but I’ll tell you why this is important. The other day Liam and Amos were fighting. I don’t even remember what happened, but Liam did something wrong. Hit his brother or took a toy or something. And he realized what he did wrong, and he just collapsed on himself. He said sorry, he fixed it, but he was inconsolable. Horrified with what he did. And I was a little confused, I said, “hey, it’s okay – you said sorry, you made it better – it’s okay. We forgive you.” And he’s crying and he says, “I know you forgive me this time, but I’m just worried I’m a bad kid, and I’ll make more mistakes and you won’t forgive me.” And I’m just going to go ahead and let that’ childlike fear echo into the hearts of every adult in this room. I think the reason a lot of us are afraid to admit our mistakes is because we do not have the assurance that forgiveness will come. We can’t even admit what we did, because we don’t believe that forgiveness will still be there. That’s why Jesus teaches: if there is repentance, you must forgive. Over and over, until forgiveness becomes reliable. We can count on forgiveness, so we can admit mistakes and work together to grow. Christians should create a culture where we are willing to own our mistakes, and try to do better, because we know and we trust that forgiveness will be there for us on the other side of repentance.
Verse 7, [7-8]. Do you remember when I said there was some stuff in here that made me cringe? Jesus is saying, “you don’t invite a slave to eat with you, you tell the slave to make you food.” Little strange, I’m very uncomfortable but let’s keep going, [read v.9-10]. Whew. Sometimes the bible can seem so obvious. The teachings are so simple and straightforward and it makes complete sense. And then at other times, it’s more difficult because the language and the culture are so different than the one we live in right now. Jesus is saying, “you don’t thank a slave for doing what it was commanded to do.” And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got all kinds of red flags going off in my head. Woah, Jesus – what are you saying? What’s going on here. But remember, when the text is difficult to understand, we are invited to look closer. There’s three big things we need to understand this. First, Jesus does NOT support slavery. I need to say that over and over, Jesus does NOT support slavery. We need to understand that this thing in the bible that we call slavery is VERY different than what happened in America thousands of years later. I wish we had different words. Chattel Slavery, which is what happened in America – chattel slavery was racist and evil and terrible. Biblical slavery was still bad, but it was very different. In the bible, a lot of times people became slaves by getting conquered or going into debt. It’s still bad, but biblical slavery had absolutely nothing to do with skin color and was very different than what happened in America. So first things first – Jesus does NOT support slavery.
Basically what’s going on here is that this paragraph is a parable. Jesus is using an example from his culture to make a point. He is not supporting slavery, but it was a real thing in the world he lived in. Jesus is trying to make a point, trying to teach us something, by using a simple example that everyone in his audience would understand. Do you remember at the beginning of the sermon when I was talking about my cell phone and the little digital servants? It’s like that. So when I read verse 9, which says [read it]. I’m sitting here in the modern world thinking, “Yes?!? Of course I would! I thank everybody. I thank the my cell phone, I thank my GPS, I thank my waiter. And the first time I read this, I was sitting there thinking, “is Jesus telling us to be jerks to our slaves?” But as I read it, and I did some studying, checked my commentaries – I realized, Jesus is not saying, “be mean to slaves.” Jesus is not supporting slavery. Rather, he’s using a metaphor from his culture to teach them something. In that culture, in New Testament biblical times, it was weird to thank a slave because they’re just doing what they’re supposed to do. Three big things in this paragraph – first bit: slavery still very bad.
Second thing is alright, so it’s a parable – it’s just an illustration, just a metaphor so he can teach us something. So what’s he trying to teach us? What is he saying in this horrible paragraph that talks about slaves and makes modern people super uncomfortable? The key to the whole thing is in that final verse [read v.10]. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus gives them this whole teaching on how to treat one another about stumbling blocks – remember? Don’t make each other stumble, rebuke, repent and forgive each other – that’s how Christians are going to live in community. Then with this slavery metaphor, he’s saying – this is what you were made for. This community where we help one another, where we rebuke, repent, forgive, and help each other up – that’s what we were designed for. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God is the creator, and we are the created. He is the master, we are the slave. We live the way he has taught us to live. We have done only what we ought to have done. So first – slavery still very bad. Second – the creaTED, all of us, serves the creaTOR by living the way he teaches us. We do all this rebuking, repenting, forgiving stuff – it’s what we ought to do because that’s our status. He’s the master, we are the slaves – we obey because that’s our position.
God is our master, we are the slaves. And even though that metaphor makes us uncomfortable – there is truth in that picture. He’s the creator, we are the created – we do what he tells us to. Jesus took a practice from his world and used it to make a point. Jesus is the master. But let’s read it one more time. [read v.7]. Jesus says, “no master would invite his slave to the table.” It’s funny because I feel like I remember there being a time when Jesus invited us to the table. …Communion, right? [read v8]. Jesus says, “no master would let his slave eat first, but all masters would say put on your apron, serve me first and then you can help yourself. Me first, then you.” Which is odd, because didn’t Jesus put on a servant’s robe and serve his disciples by washing their feet? [read v.9] You see it, right? It’s true, God is our master, we are his servants. But the metaphor starts to fall apart as we stretch the limits, because there is no earthly master that compares to God. The third big thing I want you to pull from this paragraph is that God is so much more than this one picture. 1. Slavery still bad. 2. It’s a parable that shows us our place as the created serving the creator with our lives. 3. God is so much more than this one picture.
Later in the chapter it says, [read v.20-21]. Here’s where it all comes together. The Kingdom of God is among you. We start this chapter with Jesus giving us instructions on how to live in community. How to exist as a church, as a people, who are going after God’s heart. Then he moves into a parable that shows us, even though it’s hard to live God’s way, we have to do it – because he is the master and we are the servant. And at the end of the chapter he says, “the kingdom of God is among you.” It all ties together. What I’m trying to say is that you have the ability to create the kingdom of God in this life with the way you treat other people. You have the capacity to bring heaven into this world when you love other people the way Jesus teaches. Obviously heaven is this whole other thing for eternity, but we get glimpses of it in this life when we live in community the way God teaches us to. The kingdom of God is among you.
The good news this morning is that God created us. God created us for His Kingdom. God created us for community. This community – the church. God created human beings to become brothers and sisters in Christ – to live and to learn and to love one another after the way he teaches us. We are slaves who have been invited to the table. We are servants who have been served by our master. We were created by God to create a community that would be different than the world. God shows us that he is a different kind of master than what we normally find in the world, and the church, the family of God should be a different kind of community than what we normally find in the world. People who will rebuke with kindness, repent with authenticity, and forgive unconditionally. God created us for His kingdom.
I’m going to tie it all together with one application and then we’re done. If the Kingdom of God is found among us, if it is found in how we treat one another – then our job is to create the kingdom of God with how we treat each other. The challenge for you all coming from the text this morning is to create the kingdom of God among you – and Jesus gave us the steps. Don’t cause one another to stumble – look out for each other. If someone you love falls into sin – rebuke the offender, repent (say sorry on the inside), and forgive readily. Forgive so often that people count on it. They are willing to share their brokenness because they know in this pace they will find healing and forgiveness. This is how we create a transformational community. A church that heals the broken and puts a light into the darkness of our world. That’s what we could be doing in this place. If we are careful with how we treat one another – we could create the kingdom of God in this place.
And so I’ll leave you with this – May you live your life to help the people around you, don’t be a stumbling block. May you rebuke with love, repent with authenticity and forgive unconditionally. With these simple steps, with all of us working together, we can create the Kingdom of God among us. Amen.