On one of my bookshelves is a book written by two of my theological heroes, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren, entitled, “Adventures in Missing the Point.” It is a point/counter-point book about all the ways that the church has missed out on what Jesus is actually inviting us to experience. Whether it is arguments over sexuality, the worship wars, or guerilla evangelism, McLaren and Campolo are sure that all of us, in one way or another, have totally missed the point.
We aren’t alone in that. In fact, we’re in some really good company. You may have noticed that over the past few weeks, our Gospel lessons have been hitting on the theme of disciples who missed the point again and again and again. The entire ninth chapter of Mark is one story of apostolic tomfoolery after another. It opens with Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. Right before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured and joined by Moses and Elijah. Peter, terrified and unsure what to do or say, totally missed the point, and blurts out, “Rabbi, let’s build some houses for you guys.”
As the four of them rejoin the other eight, they find a commotion brewing. The scribes and the eight disciples were engaged in argument. It seems a man had a son who had an evil spirit that had tormented him relentlessly, and he brought him to the disciples to cast out the demon, but they were unable to help. The Scribes noticed their failure and had seized the opportunity to question their authority. Embarrassed, the disciples lost their religion and fought back. Eventually, Jesus was able cast out the demon, and when the disciples asked why they couldn’t do it, he replied, “This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting.” That had to have stung.
From there, they travelled through Galilee to Capernaum. In last week’s Gospel, we heard the story that took place along the way. For a second time, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. The disciples were confused, but afraid to ask him what he meant. Rather than try to learn from their rabbi, they began to argue amongst themselves over which one of them was the greatest, and when Jesus asked them about it, they were ashamed and kept silent. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” he told them, and then he invited a young child to join him. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Our lesson this morning begins immediately after those words. Poor impetuous Peter gets a break on this one, as it is John who gets to miss the point and say the dumb thing. “Ok Jesus, but how far does that hospitality go? The other day, we saw this guy casting out demons in your name! He doesn’t follow us. Dude hadn’t paid his dues, so we tried to tell him to stop. That was Kosher, right?”
At the entrance to the Oklahoma City National Memorial stands a statue of Jesus. It was given by the members of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, whose fellowship hall was destroyed in the blast that took out the Murrah Federal Building. The statue is called “And Jesus Wept” and it features a larger-than-life Jesus, standing with his left hand beating his breast and his right hand up to his face. It is a beautiful testimony to the presence of Christ in the midst of deep darkness, but the internet has made it famous for another reason.
Face Palm Jesus is a popular meme used whenever Christians very publicly miss the point. When Pat Robertson says Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for same sex marriage – Face Palm Jesus. When Roman Catholic Bishops start threatening to remove communion from politicians – Face Palm Jesus. When Episcopalians make the “wherever two or three are gathered there’s a fifth” joke – Face Palm Jesus.
When John says, “He wasn’t following us, so we tried to stop him.” Face Palm Jesus. Jesus responds by turning John’s whole premise on its ear, “Whoever is not against us,” and it should be noted that by this point in Jesus’ ministry there were A LOT of people who were against him, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He turns their attention back to the child, whom he is still holding in his arms, and tries, yet again, to help the disciples understand. Stumbling blocks are bad. If you put a stumbling block in front of someone else who is trying to have faith, it’d be better to have a three-thousand-pound rock tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea. Judging the faith or intentions of others is a serious offense in Jesus’ eyes. It isn’t for us to develop a series of tests to determine who is in and who is out, but rather, Jesus says, we should take stock of ourselves.
If your hand is pointed in judgment at your neighbor, cut it off. If your foot has you tripping up other believers, cut is off. If your eye is only good for seeing the faults of another, pluck it out. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God maimed, lame, and looking like a pirate than to end up in hell under the false pretense of being perfect. The point of being a disciple of Jesus isn’t to show others where they are wrong, but to find the things in our own lives that keep us from entering fully in the life of joy that God dreams for each of us and all of God’s creation.
Cut off your hand? Pluck out your eye? By now, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Where’s the Good News?” As always, Jesus has some for us, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” Doesn’t sound that good, does it? But I assure you, it is. The promise of Jesus, for all of those who follow him, is that when we focus on our own sin, repent, and seek forgiveness, the fire of the Holy Spirit will burn off all our impurities and bring us closer to Christ. What is keeping you from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and grace? What needs to be thrown into the unquenchable fire? For John, it was envy. For Peter, it was pride. For me, it’s a whole lot of things. What is it for you? The grace of Christ is sufficient for us all, and each day, we have the opportunity to focus anew on following Christ, listening for the calling of Jesus in our lives and to seeking the Kingdom of God so that one day, the whole world might be at peace. That, dear friends, is the point of it all, and very good news indeed. Amen.