When it comes to the Jesus we find in Scripture, I confess I have favorites. I like the loving Jesus, who brings the little children close to him. And I like fearless Jesus, who tells the winds of a mighty storm to call down. And there’s celebratory Jesus, who turns water into wine at a wedding. Or even baby Jesus who is cute and cuddly in the manger.
But there’s one Jesus, or one side of Jesus, that still makes me uneasy: judgmental Jesus.
See, I want to pretend sometimes that Jesus is completely non-judgmental, and that he’s okay with whatever we are doing, because a Jesus who thinks we are great no matter what sounds pretty great to me.
But the reality is that Jesus loves us too much to have no expectations of us. Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the same. They love their kids but they expect certain things. Jesus loves us so much, and Jesus wants something better for us, and from us.
And that’s what today’s passage is about. It’s a hard word, but one that in the end even makes me grateful for that judgmental Jesus.
Here’s the context. Jesus is teaching the disciples and he tells them, “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.”
Then he says that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off? Your leg? Cut it off. Your eye? Pluck it out.
So, that’s a happy passage. Jesus is talking about cutting off body parts so that we don’t go to hell. I want the Jesus from last week, the one who said “let the little children come onto me”, back.
But the reality is that this passage comes right after last weeks in Scripture. These are the very next verses, and I think there’s a reason for it. I think it goes back, in fact, to those children that Jesus wanted welcomed, and what he wanted you and me to do.
Jesus says it’s better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea. What is a millstone? It’s big. Bigger than this pulpit. And heavy. There’s no way to survive that. But if you hurt a “little one”, someone who is vulnerable, Jesus says it’s better to be thrown into sea with one of those things around your neck.
Did he mean this literally?
Let me be clear…no. Do not cut off body parts. Do not cast yourself into the sea.
But did he mean this seriously? Yes…and I think he meant it seriously because he wanted us to see just how great the consequences are for us if we mistreat the most vulnerable among us.
By that I don’t mean the punishments. I don’t believe God stands by waiting to smite us every time we make a mistake But I mean the consequences…the natural outcomes of our actions
And so today, I want to look in particular about the consequences of what we teach our children and youth, and about what stumbling blocks we put in the way. Because we as a society are reaping the consequences of the stumbling blocks we have faced everyday.
We reap the consequences when a young person feels isolated or alone. We reap the consequences when we don’t teach a child how to be kind and respectful to others. We reap the consequences when we fail to model non-violence when it comes to conflict resolution.
And we reap the consequences when we don’t teach young people that consent matters, and that “no means no”.
How? By becoming exactly the society that we have become lately. We become more like reality tv than Mr. Rogers. We stop valuing honesty and kindness and start being fond of half-truths and mean-spirited slights. We elevate celebrities and not servant leaders to positions of power and prestige. We trample on the courageous and instead allow the triumph of not-so-righteous indignation.We stymie the truth and reward the unrighteous.
It happens everywhere. And the children are watching.
They watch when we do the wrong thing, and they start to think it’s okay. Even worse, they start to think it’s the right thing.
They watch when we make ethical trades, allowing the easier wrong to triumph over the harder right.
They watch when people are victimized, and then victimized again. And they know it’s not right, but they start to believe that that’s just the way the world is supposed to work.
And as we teach them, that’s how they will grow. And they will soon be adults who will act the way that we have trained them. And we, you and I, will soon be watching them take power, and we may not like what we see.
But we will have reaped what we have sown. And it might just be better for us to have put that millstone around our neck rather than have taught them what they are learning.
I was thinking about that this week when I was watching the confirmation hearings for the man who could be our next Supreme Court justice. And I’m not going to get political here, so don’t worry. (The reality is that the judiciary isn’t even supposed to be political, but it is.) But I want to talk about what we saw.
We saw a woman get up in front of a Congressional hearing, and tell them her story of what happened when she was 15 years old.
I feel pastorally like I need to say that when someone tells me they were sexually assaulted, I believe them. I don’t care if it was yesterday or decades ago…I know how hard it is to tell that truth to anyone, let alone a whole country.
But even if you don’t, did you see the way that people reacted? Did you see the names she was called? Did you see the way she was treated on social media? Did you see how before she even spoke her life was threatened? Did you see how scared she was when she took that oath to tell the truth?
No matter what happens now, do you know who else saw it? A whole generation of teenagers, of all genders. And I’m sure that more than a few 15 year old girls saw it too. And I’m also sure that some of those 15 year old girls have secrets that they haven’t told anyone yet. And I’m sure that now at least some of them never will. They’ve seen what happens.
And I think about our country, and how we handled sexual abuse and assault, and I think, “It would have been better for us to have tied a millstone around our necks that to have hurt them like this.”
I can’t change what happened decades ago, and I can’t really do much about what’s happening on the national stage either. But I can do this. I can get up here on a Sunday morning and ask you, as people of God, to commit in one concrete way to not putting a stumbling block in front of our little ones.
And that’s to talk to the young people in your life. I don’t care their gender; talk to them.
Tell them that they have control over their own body.
Tell them that if someone is touching them, or pressuring them, and they are uncomfortable they have the right to say “no”.
Tell them that it doesn’t matter who is doing it…a teacher, a coach, the cute guy on the football team, their prom date, no matter who….it’s not okay
Tell them that if someone hurts them, they can tell you, and you will believe them.
And tell them this too…tell them that they don’t have the right to touch anyone who doesn’t want to be touched.
Tell them that consent matters, and “no means no”.
Tell them to respect the boundaries that others set on their bodies.
Tell them that this is the expectation you have of them, because you love them, and because God loves us all.
You probably didn’t come to church expecting to hear a sermon about stopping sexual harassment and assault today. I get that. But, as many theologians have said, sometimes we have to read the Bible with the newspaper in the other hand. And it would be pastoral negligence for me not to say something this morning.
Scripture begs us to tell the truth about what has happened to too many people. Scripture begs us to tell the truth about what has happened to too many of you in this church today. And Scripture begs us to tell the truth so that maybe, for just a few people, the conversation I’m asking you to have with the young people in your life will save this from happening to someone else.
My door is open. If you want to talk about anything I’ve said today, or want to tell me about something from your past, I am here as a confidential listener. Legally I must report any current allegations of child sexual abuse, but otherwise what you tell me when stay only with me. And I will believe you.
And if you want to talk about this world, and what we can do to make it a little better, a little less filled with stumbling blocks, I can do that too. In fact, we can talk about these things together. I choose these hard conversations, because I do not choose the millstone. I choose a better way. Lord, may we all, because we cannot afford to keep reaping what we sow. Amen.