Rev. Debra Jene Collum
September 27, 2015
In case you didn’t know, Pope Francis has been ‘in town’. I was able to listen to his speech to congress while I drove to a clergy seminar on Thursday. First I have to say that I was surprised by his accent. When he became Pope, a lot was made of the fact that he was born in Buenos Aries, so I expected him to sound like he came from Argentina. You know like, Antonio Banderas, but no...he sounds very Italian. Turns out his parents are both Italian immigrants who moved to Argentina to escape fascism. Shows how much this protestant girl knows about RC Popes.
Obviously, I am not a lover nor follower of the Pope. I mean I didn’t even know he was Italian. And, until he makes changes in that whole female priest, male celibacy thing, I will have a hard time with him. BUT, as I listened to his speech to congress and the other quotes that have lit up my social and new feeds, he does sound a lot like the UM Women I know and love. He does sound like he is preaching directly from the UMC’s social principles. And, more importantly, he does sound like he takes Jesus’ teachings pretty seriously.
The teachings like we read in the scriptures today.
42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out.[a] 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet.[b] 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two.
Speaking of Antonio Banderas, what does this remind you of. These words of Jesus: which movie character? Who talks like this: better to drown them, cut off their hand and feet...put out their eyes...Do visions of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino come to mind? Mafia bosses?
I think Jesus is pretty serious here. To use such harsh language.
As a side note to help you understand the text a little better: this eternal fire where the worms don’t die and the flames never go out, Jesus is talking about is not the hell of Dante’s inferno.
This is an actual place just outside of Jerusalem called Hades, if was the garage dump where, literally, the flames never died out and criminals’ bodies were disposed of; hence worms never die. Yikes, he sounds more and more like a mafia boss...better you be dumped in the dump than given a proper burial. Better the worms eat out your eye sockets than you live your life with two good eyes.
When Jesus uses this kind of hyperbole to get his message across it is good for us to sit up straight and listen.
To examine our lives to see where we are in danger of losing a hand, foot, eye, our very life.
Now, I am going to tell you a current parable, story to help us sit up straight and listen. Listen to how we are in danger of leading little ones astray, living with our eyes shut and our hands clenched and our feet pointed in the wrong direction.
This story involves a particular political candidate. Only because it is necessary to the story. Not because I am advocating for or against any particular candidate. It could be any number of prominent people in the world. But in order for this story to make its point I will need to name names. I hope you listen with an open heart to the POINT of the story.
As Jesus would say: those who have ears let them hear.
This story comes from a teacher who teaches children and young people who are English Language Learners. It is a story about a boy whose family is from Honduras.
One of my students was pretty disruptive today, so I had a meeting with him. An hour long meeting. And at first we talked about what he was doing wrong, what I was doing wrong, and how we could work better together. But then, as we peeled away layers, the student brought up another--much larger concern--one that had been eating away at him. Worrying him. Making him act out.
His concern? That he and his family would be sent back to Honduras because Trump would become President. That he was seen as a rapist and criminal and a drug dealer because Trump (and people like him) believe that this is what he is destined to become. And because he is seen as a criminal-in-the-making and because he will be sent back to Honduras, there is no reason for him to try or to learn here in America.
So here's the problem: Trump's views (and people like him) are affecting people. We need to remember that his words have power. That there are people who are panicked and scared, because they are being targeted.
So just imagine being with me today, listening to my frightened student as he cries over leaving America, as he shares his frustration at being accused of being foreign, of being alien, even though he is a natural-born citizen. Imagine being a middle schooler, someone already questioning their identity, and being told that you do not belong in your own country.
And because my student is from Honduras, and he knows of dictators that rise to power and do unspeakable things.
So just know that there are people and families and little middle schoolers that are scared for their lives.
If anyone causes a little one to go astray, it would better for a millstone to be put around his neck and he be thrown into the lake. Imagine Jesus saying that to us with all the gentleness of a Savior, all the love of a man who will die for us and our blindness, all the pleading in his tone because he knows that we have not yet learned how to love as he taught us to love. Love God and love neighbor. That is all Jesus asked of us. And we don’t yet, know how to do that.
We still allow people to say horrible, hate filled things that frighten middle schoolers and mothers and fathers.
We still allow people to say horrible hate filled things without us, the followers of Jesus the Savior, standing up and saying: turn off your microphone. You may not scare or lead astray any of God’s children.
Of course, we won’t actually be heard from here in Chatfield if we say that to the national leaders, but we can be heard right here in Chatfield. We can be the ones who say, I don’t believe Jesus would agree with that. I don’t believe Jesus would want us to scare our children that way. I don’t believe Jesus would want us to be this way. I really want to keep my hands, feet and eyes so that I can continue to do the work of Jesus in the world. I would prefer not to have a mill stone placed around my neck. And of course, we know that Jesus is not really a mafia boss. Jesus died so that none of us would have to lose hands, feet, eyes or our life.
Jesus did pay it all. But that doesn’t mean we should go around with our hands behind our back, our eyes closed, and our feet going in the wrong direction. What it means is that out of gratefulness, out of holiness, out of having our eyes wide open, our hands outstretched to our neighbors, our feet guiding us into the way of holiness, we live and speak in the public spaces with the heart and words of Jesus.
If you harm one of my little ones, if you lead one of my little ones astray you have forgotten Jesus’ way of being in the world. As Shep Smith on Fox News said when questioning why people think the Pope’s message is political “These were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus,” Smith said. “People who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion, this is how we roll.