The Island of Misfit Texts
Last week the disciples learned a little about humility when Jesus confronted them with what they had been arguing about earlier that day. It dismayed Jesus to think that, after three years, his disciples still desired power, to have their faith and devotion rewarded by being lifted above others, so he picks up one of the children who is playing around at his feet, places the child on his knee, and then looks directly into the disciples eyes and says, “If you want to be great, then you must become like one of these little ones.”
Jesus doesn’t even get the time to take this child off his knee before John is interrupting him. “We saw someone casting out demons in your name and tried to stop him because he was not one of us.” “What aren’t you getting about this?” Pulling the child even closer to him, he says, in words lathered in remorse, “I am talking about compassion and hospitality and you speak of exclusion, as if the of casting out demons were our privilege alone! This is not about us, it is about healing them.”
Maybe, just maybe John finally hears Jesus’ frustration when he says, “Those who scandalize even the least among us deserve to sleep with the fish.”
Have you been enjoying the US Senate Judiciary hearings with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford? I will not debase the privilege of standing behind this pulpit by using it to declare my own opinions around this. There were, however, to me at least, some glaring examples within this hearing of exactly what Jesus is trying to tell us. You didn’t need a neon, flashing sign to point to the political opportunism happening here. This is supposed to be an investigation into the validity of the accusations Christine Blasey Ford is making against Kavanaugh.
You might have noticed that very few of the Republican Senators actually asked Kavanaugh any questions, who, by the way, is a Republican. They spent the five minutes they each had hurling insults and accusations at the Democrats. Any time a Democrat asked Kavanaugh a direct question, he, as a good politician, never gave a straight answer that would come back and bite him later.
Kavanaugh continued to make known that he was a graduate of Yale Law School, the best law school in the country! Did you see the Republicans sitting on this Judiciary committee? All men, all graduates from ivy league schools. A little bit of an old boys club going on here? Republicans defending their own; people who are out to win to gain political ground because the mid-term primaries are right around the corner. The political bantering, the maneuvering, the twisting, the double talk….in the meantime, whatever happened to seeking justice? Whatever happened to the Jesus who is still holding a hand of his child on his knee, a woman who is being victimized all over again and pleading for compassion.
Jesus talks today about the time we may have caused people to stumble. If your right hand should cause another to stumble, cut it off, your foot, cut it off. Your eye, pluck it out. We don’t like it when Jesus gets like this. We don’t like it when the gentle shepherd picks up some ropes, weaves them into a cord, and begins beating the money changers in the temple.
We understand that he is mad at what they have changed this house of prayer into…but we don’t want to see Jesus throwing over tables, beating people on their backs to drive them away…red faced, temples pounding, the veins on his face bulging, his spit landing on the faces of the Pharisees as he screams, “You brood of vipers.” We don’t talk about those texts too much so we cast them off to the Island of Misfit Texts, the land where the texts we no longer love live.
And that is where we want to send this one. Certainly Jesus never really meant that we should actually cut off our hand or foot or pluck out our eye! For sure, this is a hyperbole, a statement that emphasizes something by aggrandizing it. Like when we say, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” We say this simply to emphasize how hungry we are, not that we have desire for horse meat.
However, the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings are a perfect example of how we can turn our focus onto debating the hyperbole itself instead of paying attention to its intent. Jesus meant every last word of what he said. He is using these words to magnify what is at stake here. He says, “If you become a block to one of these stumbling in their faith, then this is really serious. If the US Senate Judiciary Committee becomes a block to a woman who has put her faith in the justice system, but the Judiciary Committee would rather see a child of God stumble than lose political influence, then we have a serious problem here.
We might have a serious problem here. If we place the love of traditions, the cherished memories of our time spent here together at Wesley, above an invitation to have others join us, above the invitation of those young or otherwise, who have demonstrated the courage to come into a foreign place and explore their faith, then…are we not causing them to stumble as they search for their connection with God? If we say to people, “Oh, yes you are very welcome here,…..and here are the hymns we like to sing, and this how to take communion properly, and no, we don’t kneel when we pray, and try and wear something that hides your tattoos, and this is how sandwiches go on the tray, and well, we know you’re like that…..but we just don’t like to talk about it around here.
When we silence people by our own silence, is it not possible that we are giving them something to stumble over as they search for their faith? When preservation of one’s own privilege comes before the needs of others, we have a serious problem here.
It’s time for a story. Phyllis Jack Webstad’s story. “I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!
When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.”
Stumbling, as we tried to wash the Indian out them and dismissed their culture and values as heathenism.
Today, is Orange Shirt Day. No, I am not wearing this shirt because my wife wasn’t home to dress me this morning. I wear it proudly because it symbolizes communities coming together in a spirit of reconciliation and hope because every child matters. But for reconciliation to be true reconciliation, it needs to take on the acknowledgment that the group of people who once felt empowered must lose that sense of power and privilege in order to hear, honour and acknowledge the other. When it takes a patriarchal church decades to allow women into the pulpit, hear the wording, when we allowed women into the pulpit, did we not silence the vocals of their faith, did we not hear, did we not cause them to stumble as they were searching for their call from God?
One was trying to do good works by casting out their demons and the disciples stopped him because he wasn’t one of them. Jesus finally says as clearly and loudly as he can, “NO!” You have no right to hold privilege over another. We must hold ourselves accountable. “This is serious,” Jesus says, “ It would be better to lop off a hand or a foot than cause someone else to stumble.
Look at Jesus sitting there holding this child. The King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, willing to give up such power as only we could ever dream of, to sit on a rock in the middle of who-knows-where, wearing a peasant’s robe, worn, dusty sandals on his feet, no money in his pocket, no place to call home, nowhere to rest his head, but who is willing to become powerless so we, his children, might become empowered.
Are we willing follow that example, to become powerless, to give up our ambitions for political power, so truth can be heard in judicial hearings, so we can experience real reconciliation with those we have displaced, so women’s voices can be heard, so Black lives will matter, so the LBGTQ community may find a home within our own?
What’s it worth to us?