Sermon: Scandalous

September 30, 2018
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 9:38-50

My goodness, what a week. Are you doing all right?

I’ve seen messages from UCC pastors all over the country this weekend, messages of hope and of comfort, messages acknowledging anger and distress, messages praying for healing and renewal, messages observing the deep divides among our citizens, messages calling for repentance and new beginnings.

What a week it has been.

I choose titles for my sermons at least a week in advance, and usually more. In a week of what is scandalous, what I had in mind when I chose the sermon title was Jesus’ scandalous statement that “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In these times, when loyalty to the group, the social order, the party, has become more important than adherence to the purported values of the group, this seemed like a timely and scandalous message.

Which it is.

It’s just not quite as timely as the second half of this reading.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…” Isn’t that exactly what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford described on Thursday? That her experience of sexual assault had a terrible impact on her life? Panic attacks. Anxiety. She testified that she needed a second front door on her house.

Dr. Blasey Ford, I must also say, is a brilliant and accomplished person. A research psychologist, she is widely published and highly regarded. She teaches at Palo Alto University. She has done great things – at what cost? How much harder did she have to work to do all this than someone who had never experienced what she did?

None of us can ever know for certain. Her stumbling block did not stop her. Yet it should never have been there before her.

That’s scandalous.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out. Nobody in our Bible Studies this week was very comfortable with these words, and especially with the part I just left out: “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one [of these] than to have two and to be thrown into hell.”

Threats of hell aren’t really my style. We rarely confront them in the twenty-first century United Church of Christ. I’m uncomfortable enough with them that I just left it out!

You caught that, didn’t you? Ah, you’ve got a scandalous preacher…

While we might shy away, Jesus did not want his hearers, or his later hearers (us) to miss the point: It’s really, really, really, really, really important to avoid putting a stumbling block in front of others’ faith and to avoid putting one into our own faith. So important that those things which seem so intimately part of us – things like but not limited to hands, feet, eyes – those things need to go if they’re separating us from God. Those things need to go if they become a barrier between someone else and God. When those things become a wall between us and the divine: cut them off. Tear them out.

It’s the wall, not the loss, that’s scandalous.

This week in particular, I can think of something we can cut out.

It goes by many names, but the phrase I’ve seen increasingly over the last two years is “toxic masculinity.”

It’s easy to hear that and understand it to mean that masculinity itself is toxic, but that’s not why the social scientists have coined the term. Dr. Terry A. Kupers defines it as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence.” These include “misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination.”

I’d really like to leave those behind.

There are men, however, who honestly believe that they would cease to be themselves if they didn’t do these things. If they didn’t return criticism with a harsher attack, if they didn’t pile up more and more wealth, if they didn’t down drink after drink to show their strength, if they didn’t keep women “in their place,” if they didn’t take what they wanted and do what they wanted and damn the consequences because I’ll beat you up, too, then they wouldn’t be men. They wouldn’t be themselves. Their “I” wouldn’t be “me.”

I’m here to tell you, fellas, that while it may feel like it makes you, you, all it is is a stumbling block, a barrier, a wall that will keep you from God.

Cut it off. Tear it out. You don’t need it. And it’s making a hell on earth for those around you every time you use it.

I won’t kid you: it will feel like a part of you is gone. It will feel wrong.

Some around you won’t make it easier. Our society is filled with examples of men, and even a few women, who obtained great success while exhibiting the traits of domination, greed, misogyny, homophobia, and violence. I’m pretty sure you can think of plenty of examples. It doesn’t help when Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., say things like this: “Conservatives & Christians need to stop electing “nice guys”. They might make great Christian leaders but the US needs street fighters like @realDonaldTrump at every level of government b/c the liberal fascists Dems are playing for keeps & many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!”

I have a phrase for that: It’s called incitement to sin. It’s called placing a stumbling block in front of the little ones. It’s called encouraging men to make hell for others to live in. It’s called damnable.

I call it scandalous.

Men, we must do better.

I’m wearing black today, and it’s not even Thursday. As you may remember, I wear black every Thursday as a witness and as a prayer that rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence end. Some women are changing their social media portraits to a black void today, as a way to show the nation what it would be like without women. Others are not. For them, the struggle to be seen and heard has been so great that they will not give it up.

Not that my opinion matters, but I say blessings to both. Each woman’s voice is her voice to use as she sees fit.

What I hope each woman will cut away today, leave behind as a needless burden, is the shame. Dr. Blasey Ford testified, “For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details.” She felt afraid of judgement and rejection. She felt shame at what she’d experienced. She felt afraid and ashamed because of something that someone else did.

That someone else – not her – did.

We tend to say of people who’ve been raped or assaulted that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I suppose that’s true. But what made it the wrong place, what made it the wrong time, was the perpetrator. It was the person who inflicted themselves on another person, on a woman, on a man, that made it a place where wrong happened, a time when wrong happened. At fifteen, Christine Blasey Ford should have expected that she would be safe at a party.

And she should have been right.

If you’ve survived an assault, please: let the shame go. Let the burden go. It won’t be easy, and you’ll probably need help. Find a reliable, dependable person to tell your story to. Find someone who can help you work through the pain and begin to heal.

It’s your choice, however, and I honor whichever choice you make. You are the ‘apapane. The song is yours to sing when you choose to sing it, and how you choose to sing it.

I pray you unburdened, and I pray you healed.

It’s been a long, hard week. Are you doing all right?

To better face next week, I would guess we each have something to lay behind. Go ahead. Lay it down. It’s not you. Without it, you’ll be a better, stronger, brighter you.

Lay it down. That’s not scandalous at all.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The prepared text is pretty close to the sermon as presented – but not identical.

The photo is Rev. Eric Anderson wearing black (and a green stole) on Sunday, September 30, at Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo, Hawai’i.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on September 30, 2018

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283