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If your Eye Offends you…. Sermon Preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA 9/28/1997

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Pentecost XIX (Proper XXI) Sept. 28, 1997

Numbers 11: 4-6,10-16,24-29. Psalm 19: 7-14. James 5: 13-20 Mark 9: 38-54.

Needing to be Cruel to be Kind

Children’s sermon: I taught the children how to march, and taught them to chant in step with their time:

Two, four, six, eight:

we think Jesus Christ is great.

Eight, six, four, and two:

Jesus died for me and you.

Marching song, each line is echoed by children:

I don’t know, but I been told.

Jesus’s got a heart of gold.

He teaches us to do what’s right.

to march with him is out of sight.

Sound off. Sound off.

One, two, three, four,

One, two, three, four.

The sermon is about those difficult sayings in our Gospel message which speak of cutting off an arm, leg, or tearing out an eye. What does Jesus mean? I have some brutal stories the point of which, is to illumine Jesus’ meaning: we need to get into a new life-adaptation, and we have to do what it takes to stop our adaptation to and our acceptance of death.

Simon Tshenu Farasani of Venda, South Africa, told me about the torture he had to undergo when he refused to buckle under Apartheid. He told me about when they would hang him on poles on the bare ankles and wrists and let him swing there until he became unconscious with pain. He told me that at one point Christ took over and bore the pain for him.

What does it take for us to get out of the forces that make us die, and into a new adaptation of life?

Mad Max in a wretched scene at the end of the movie finally brings down the merciless villain, who did not spare his many victims. He chained him to a car about to explode. He gave him a hack saw and said: “If you cut the chain, the car will explode before you are done. If you cut off your leg with it, you will save yourself.”

His whimpering proved he would not choose life, through all that pain, but would die. He was not like some wolverine, or some animal caught in a bear trap, that would chew off its paw, its leg, to escape and break free.

Did you hear that the demonstrators, who were trying to save the giant redwood trees from being cut down, were pepper-sprayed before they were arrested? What an ugly thing to do! The police should know that over forty persons have already died from the effects of pepper spray. They were not using it on criminals, but on people who want to save the trees for future generations, who should also be able to admire them, who do not think profit is the bottom line. It seems that even the giant redwoods have to fall before the almighty dollar. And the giant redwoods stand like symbols for people that are bulldozed under for the sake of more profits, immigrants torn from their families, welfare mothers cut off from their sustenance, and down-sized workers – who cannot find reemployment.

One way of understanding downsizing in corporations is that they are pruning the vine, much like we prune back the trees in front of our church. Do-nothing workers, who do not bear fruit, get laid off. Even fruitful branches are cut back so they bear more fruit. But that might not be the real motivation for downsizing. It may be just another way to press down the people to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Don’t go gentle into that good night.[1] Don’t adapt to dying and adjust yourself to it. Once I had to struggle with a woman who had discovered she had a tumor in her breast, but would not go to the doctor until it was too late. Choose life, although the way goes through pain and much suffering. But there is hope beyond it. There is no hope if we adjust ourselves to dying.

We can be like children, who fight and holler, and don’t let a person get at the splinter in their finger. Now it does hurt to have it taken out. But that is pain with recovery on the other side. But an infection is much more pain. We hold the child, and take out the splinter.

To relate a more humorous story: if you read Sweet Thursday

and Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, then you know how the high-brow doctor can’t get together with Thursday, even though they need each other, love each other, and could make their life together. She finally gives up on him, and packs her suitcases to leave.

Now there is a whole community of homeless, who are all involved in their love story. One of them is an idiot, who feels the incredibly heavy burden of responsibility to help them. He goes up on a hill to think what to do. It is difficult, Steinbeck says, because his ideas tend to get into a traffic jam in his brain. His ideas had to work themselves out of gridlock. Suddenly he realized what he had to do, and crying with pity for himself, that he had to do it, he took a baseball bat, and went where the doctor lay sleeping, and struck and broke his arm with it.

Thursday heard about it, just before stepping into the Greyhound bus, came rushing back, and nursed the doctor to health, and thus they were married.

How to pull out of the forces of death and dying, and to get into a new life-adaptation! Sometimes you hear of a person, a real specimen of health, real buff, to use a youthful expression, with perfect limbs, life, and plenty of money – and he jumps off a building, killing his whole body, committing suicide.

Then you hear of a person who loses an arm, a leg, or both legs, or an eye – and suddenly, whack! They enter a new life. They realize they had taken their whole body for granted, and had not appreciated anything in life.

What good is a dead congregation? What good are people who are the living dead? Who are really corpses, but who refuse to lay down? Who have eyes that don’t see; ears that don’t hear; hearts that are not moved by compassion, without rage against the injustices – and compassion without rage is said to be impotent!

What will it take for us to be the salty kind of congregation that seasons our whole community and gives it the gloriously delicious taste of living to the glory of God and in the enjoyment of God forever?

What will it take to adjust to children coming into worship, not knowing how to act in church, disturbing us so we cannot hear, and distracting us? What will it take to get up an hour earlier on Sunday, and get here for Sunday School? And what will it take to have new members come in, have them sit in our seats, places we have sat for ages, and have them take the positions we have held, take our places? Why not remain cozy and comfortable in our old habits and ways? No way!

Let us rise up into a new life-adaptation in this congregation, whatever we have to cut off, so that life prevails, and salvation, and justice, and renewal. The living children of God need to be born in all the travail, labor pains, contractions, in the laying our lives down on the line the way a birthing mother does, to usher in the new congregation and its new members. Amen.

From the Prayer:

What good are arms if they do not carry out the will of God?

What good are our feet, if they do not walk in the way of the Lord? What good are our eyes, if we don’t see the beautiful world and ourselves that God made, a precious gift, filled with God’s love?

Communion blessing: What good is our whole body, if it is not the body of Christ? Pastor Peter Krey

[1]Dylan Thomas’s poem.


Written by peterkrey

June 20, 2007 at 5:37 am

Posted in Before Old Zion

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