Another Word…by Gus Keiser

December 11, 2017

Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

                                                                                                                               Matthew 18:7

 It seems as if everywhere we turn these days we’re confronted by some type of bad news…massive fires in California destroying people’s lives, the continued threat of war with North Korea, one person of notoriety after another either facing claims of sexual harassment or losing their position of prominence because of it, the continued rise in opiod-related deaths or addiction. It seems as if the bad news is never-ending.

In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel we read much about sin. Sin is that which shatters relationship between us and God, us and one another, and us and the creation around us.  Sin is disobedience and disconnection.  It is selfishness and self-centeredness.  Sin is what results when we act as if we’re the center of the universe, thinking everything revolves around us, and that we’re the sole arbitrators of our own behaviors.

One way of thinking about sin is to compare it to something like an incurable disease and its symptoms. Sin as a disease is a sign of brokenness of all creation, that sense of separateness and alienation that plagues us.  The deepest sense of sin is what is often referred to as original sin, sin which reaches down to the very roots of a person.  The great philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard referred to it as our “sickness unto death.”  He argued that we experience sin as despair and that it is an unavoidable aspect of our human existence.  As we are reminded in Romans…”…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In this we are victims of sin, members of a fallen humanity.

But in addition to being sin’s victims, we are also sin’s perpetrators. This is sin as symptoms of that deeper reality.  We may never be able to cure the disease of sin, but God has granted us the freedom to limit and battle its symptoms.  Despair might drive a hungry person toward the desire to steal from a grocery store, but that person still possesses the freedom to fight that temptation and to seek food by some legal means.

Jesus, in his words to us, uses the term “stumbling blocks”. These are the things in life that quite literally can trip us up, that can knock us off the path of obedience, of doing the next right thing.  When we sin, Jesus isn’t going to just let us off the hook.  He understands our tendency to justify ourselves, minimize our sin, hide behind such phrases as “but everybody’d doing it” or “I just couldn’t help myself.”  And Jesus is rightly concerned that we not intentionally do things to others in order to merely elevate ourselves.

Whether we care to realize it or not, all of this is quite serious when it comes to our day-to-day lives. In the Old Testament, the penalty for some of these sins was to have one’s hands cut off or one’s eyes plucked out; but Jesus doesn’t actually expect us to do that…but his words amplify the dangers of not paying attention to where we go, what we do, and what we see.

As I mentioned earlier, the news today is full of people suffering the consequences of their sins. The words of Luke 8:17 should keep coming back to us… “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (as many of these high-priced entertainers and politicians are now finding out).  Lies, deceptions, sexual harassment, corruption…these are all symptoms of the deepest realities of sin.  Jesus wants us to realize just how serious this stuff is.  It poisons the wells of our lives.

Gracious Lord…from the cross you spoke these words, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”. Such words are vivid reminders of your grace and mercy.  They are also signs of how deeply you know us.  Sometimes our sins are so deeply imbedded in us that we don’t realize what we’re doing.  Far more often, we know but we do it anyway.  Forgive us for embracing stumbling blocks in our lives.  Heal us from the pain over that which we have stumbled.  And light the paths so that we walk with integrity, humility, and care. Amen. 

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