Sermon for September 26th, 2021
Your words and your actions are either drawing people closer to Christ or they are pushing people further away.
Now maybe that seems a little heavy or harsh; maybe you don’t want to feel responsible for someone else’s relationship with God or Christ, but the fact is, you will have an effect of someone else’s walk with God whether you like it or not. The question that you have to ask yourself is: what kind of effect am I going to make? Are my words AND actions going to draw people closer to Christ, or are they going to drive them further away? Am I bringing people to the faith, or am I a stumbling block?
Here is a pro tip from Jesus in our gospel passage this morning: you don’t want to be a stumbling block.
You don’t want to be the barrier that is keeping people from a life in Christ. You don’t want to be the person that pushes someone away from Jesus and his church. You don’t want to be the stumbling block. That will not end well for you. Yes, we are all humans, we are all sinners who make mistakes, and we believe in a merciful and forgiving God, but that does not mean that what we do and what we say doesn’t matter. We may believe, as Paul says, that “there is, therefore, no condemnation for those which are in Christ Jesus,” and that may be well and true, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t someday going to have to stand before the Lord and explain ourselves and give an account for the effect that our words and actions have had on the lives and on the faith-lives of others.
Jesus uses some strong language and some extreme examples in the gospel today to really get his point across. Jesus likes to do that sometimes. His point is not to get you to go out and start amputating your appendages. What Jesus wants to make clear is that he does not want there to be barriers or stumbling blocks between him and his people. If there is something in your life that is interfering with your walk with God, then do something about it. You can’t just give up on faith in God because someone was mean to you at church once, or because you don’t like the minister. If there is a stumbling block in your way, then do something about it. You have some responsibility over your own faith life and you have the responsibility of getting around or over whatever stumbling blocks or barriers stand between you and Jesus, but you also have a responsibility to make sure that your words and actions aren’t turning you into a stumbling block in someone else’s life. We have a responsibility toward each other too.
And I could actually summarize that responsibility in four words, that Jesus doesn’t exactly use, but I think they are four words that really summarize a lot of his practical teachings: Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t be a jerk. You don’t have to be artificially nice or phony with people. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend. You don’t have to like everyone or agree with everyone, but don’t be a jerk. Believe it or not, it is possible to think that someone is completely wrong and still not be a jerk to them. You can pray for and pray with, people you disagree with. You can even be nice to them. How you respond to someone who is wrong or who has gone a little off course will say as much about your walk with Jesus as it does about theirs. In the gospel today some of the disciples are all up in arms because someone is using Jesus’s name, doing some kind of ministry, and they are all worked up because this person isn’t a part of their group. Maybe he isn’t doing things exactly the way that they were taught. Maybe he has some wrong opinions or is just a little different. In any event, they wanted to put a stop to him. And Jesus said No, don’t stop him. If he is doing good things in my name, then he is drawing people to me. If his words and actions aren’t pushing people away from us or working against us, then ultimately they are drawing people to us. Jesus’s disciples were well intentioned, but they kinda wanted to be jerks to this man casting out demons in Jesus’s name, and Jesus knew that that wouldn’t work, in fact what it would create is a stumbling block.
You know, us followers of Jesus, the churches, we are so concerned sometimes with making sure that things are done this way or that way, or that we all have this correct opinion or that correct opinion; we are so concerned that other people follow Jesus the way that we follow Jesus, that we often end up being real jerks to one another, whenever we encounter folks doing things differently. And whenever we Christians act like jerks to other Christians, we end up becoming great big stumbling blocks for people outside the church who look in and wonder if there is any truth to this message that we proclaim. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are right ways and wrong ways to do things. I believe that there is truth and error, I believe that there is orthodoxy and heresy. What I don’t believe in is being a jerk. If you think that someone is on the wrong path, you can guide them to the right one without being a jerk. Pray for them. Show them love and compassion and kindness. Show them a better way, and show some humility while you are at it, because the truth is, they might not be the ones that are wrong; but when you become a jerk, you become a stumbling block. Jesus tells us what he thinks about stumbling blocks.
Jesus ends this little discourse with “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” In other words, make sure that there is some substance to your faith life. Make sure that there are no barriers in your walk with God. Make sure that your words and your actions have the flavor of God in them, and don’t be a jerk to those who may be a little different or who might even be wrong about something. Pay attention to what you do or say, especially when you are disagreeing with other Christians, because your words and your actions are either drawing people closer to Christ or they are pushing people further away.