These “amputation metaphors” are tough.
I’m just going to go there: There are other things in this passage like welcoming the ministry of others who are not like us, and keeping things good and salty. But when Jesus says “when your eye causes you to sin, cut it out...” it’s hard, at first, to notice or focus on much else. So let’s talk about this...
“Amputation metaphors” were certainly common in Jesus’ day and his hearers would have certainly been attuned to their teacher’s hyperbole and known that they were just that — metaphors — and they would have heard clearly what Christ was really saying:
If something is preventing you from following me, from trusting in me, from living in me — if something is preventing you, causing you to stumble, deep down at your core, that thing needs to be cut off and cut out, even if it’s highly “valuable”. (Colleague talks about the Offering as an exorcism. “Are you ready for an exorcism?” he says, as the ushers prepare to come forward for the plates!)
Coming into October, friends in Christ, we are being asked too: what does a “sin-ectomy” look like for us? What do we need to cut out and cut off?
Let’s just think for a minute about our hands our feet and our eyes, because Jesus talks about them: It’s not about literally cutting them out and off, but how are they causing us to sin? (Let me say too, the word sin in the Greek: hamartia = “missing the mark.”) How are we missing the mark, the mark of our baptism, the mark of the cross, the mark of Christ?
Where are the places we’re going, the investments of time and resources we’re making...that might be causing us to miss the mark of Christ? What do our credit card statements and internet search histories, and if there was a record of our conversations this past week that we could listen back to, how are we stumbling? What needs to be cut off and cut out?
You might do a little inventory this week. Think about your hands, as Jesus does: what are things that your hands have done, that should stop? Have your hands been used for violence against others or against yourself? Our hands can be used for typing...words and ideas that hurt others. Our hands can be used to signal terrible things... [pointing sharply] Or our feet? Where have they taken us? To places that build up or places that drain life, hurting others and earth...[pause] Or your eyes, what have you been feasting your eyes on? Things, people, self-serving dreams and wishes?
There are things we all need to work on, yes? Things to ponder and pray over, things to confess, things that only we as individuals (in the quiet presence of God) can truly know simply need to go, must be cut off. Addiction in its many forms is a powerful force. And it’s not just substances or material things that hook us: some of us are addicted to the chase, or to receiving praise and recognition, or to making sure everyone else is doing it right (disciples in the text), or to securing certainty, or to out-doing everyone else, and looking humble and calm all the while. Right?
(Last week: clenched fists) And let’s be honest: so much of this has to do with money — Ivan the Terrible’s troops baptized with swords out of the water: our wallets?
An interesting thing happens with this text, doesn’t it? At first, it seems so medieval and out of touch — chopping off of body parts and all... But when we move through, slow down and “pray these scripture words of Jesus”, it gets intensely personal. And in the grip of these stumbling blocks, we might just be experiencing a certain hell, a certain and painful distancing from God, from the peace and the joy of God.
We all, if we’re honest need a “sin-ectomy”. We all need Christ to come and surgically remove that which is holding us back, tying us down, clenching our fists...like they’re wrapped into a clench. We need God to come and cut this binding!
How did we plead earlier at the font?
“We confess that we have not allowed your grace to set us free. We fear that we are not good enough. We hear your word of love freely given to us, and yet we expect others to earn it...”
Here’s what I know: we need Christ. This world needs Christ! We are indeed, in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
And sisters and brothers in Christ, God comes to the rescue. Christ is here. Jesus is our surgeon who scrubs in...and cuts out all that is causing us to stumble. Today is the day of surgery. And Christ operates with divine precision. Removing what needs to go — not pain free — so that we can now use our hands and our feet and our eyes and our ears, our tongues and our brains and our backs and our fingers to love and serve both inside this church community and beyond!
And Christ’s successful operation leaves us with everything we need to be God’s people. AMEN?
Even now. Even here, we have everything we need to be the people that God has created, called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified us to be!
Forgiven or our sin, surgically removed of it, all of it, as we heard and celebrated and trust that we are, over there at the font — right at the very beginning of our worship service! (thought it was just another Sunday…) — to have had a successful “sin-ectomy” flings wide open the doors of the church and the doors of our hearts and minds to live in faith and love and joy together, reaching out.
Or as Jesus said in the last verse of our passage for today, to “be at peace with one another.”
May that peace of God which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in faith in that Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.