Monday, October 1, 2012

Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones


“Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones” 

Katelyn B. Macrae
Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, DC
September 30, 2012

Prayer:  All Powerful God, even though we may ask you for a deal, you give us grace at full face value. Thank you for never giving us a discount on your love. As we recover from Day 1 of the Yard Sale and think about the people lining up outside – help us quiet our minds and refresh our souls while we tarry awhile here in worship of you. May the words of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Holy One. Amen.


I’ve been thinking about my Aunt Kathy a lot lately.
She had a stroke recently, and so she’s been on my mind, especially when I cook things.
She loves yard sales and estate sales.
I bet she would enjoy the sale here at Christ Church because she enjoys taking old, used up items and turning them into something new and beautiful.
Her specialty is refinishing kitchen things.
She bought a Dremmel tool just so she could sand and refinish pots and pans!
Aunt Kathy has stocked my kitchen, and the kitchens of all of my cousins.
She has a gift to see the potential in things others might overlook.

Whoever started the yard sale back in 1981 at Christ Lutheran also saw the potential in stuff that others might overlook.
They imagined that used furniture, clothing, and kitchen items could be sold as a fundraiser. 

But in your yard sale this “trash” becomes “treasure” not to one, but at least two people.
1)      There’s the treasure for the people who buy it,
2)      Treasure for the people who are positively impacted by the charities who receive the yard sale proceeds
3)      Treasure for the charities that glean leftover items
4)      (And as someone pointed out after worship – treasure for people who donate items and get the stuff out of their house!)

What I find most amazing is that it’s all volunteer labor.
You spend all year getting ready for the sale.
And then you turn around and freely give away the proceeds!
Since 1981, funding has been disbursed to 247 organizations.
Total funding raised by the Yard Sale since then is more than $650,000.
And I hear reports that this year is better than ever!

As we turn to our story from Mark, let us hold these positive images in mind.
Last week in the Gospel of Mark the disciples were in Capernaum arguing who is the greatest among them.
Jesus flips their argument on its head by placing a child in the center of the circle and saying, “Whoever wants to be greatest of all must be servant of all. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”

The story we read from this morning picks up right after that.

Despite Jesus’ visual parable about humility and radical reversal, it doesn’t seem to stick with the disciples. Not even one verse later they’re having a hard time seeing beyond the immediate situation.

The story begins with John talking to Jesus.
John says, “Teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Now we should give John a little credit here.If we consider the cultural context, this was a legitimate concern to the disciples for others to be healing in Christ’s name.

In those days, lots of people were healing. It was common practice to invoke a revered name while healing.
The disciples were a small group and whose movement was just beginning to gain traction.
They were concerned that others healing in God’s name, but who weren’t part of their group, might undermine their credibility.

But Jesus, ever the teacher, invites them to see the potential and possibility beyond their obvious concern. He says, "Do not stop him (from healing), for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Whereas the disciples’ emphasize drawing boundaries around who can do God’s work, Jesus emphasizes the expansiveness of God’s love.

And isn’t it true?

We don’t know the impact that our actions will have and how they might help someone to have a positive experience of God.

We don’t know the impact of the Yard Sale and how it may transform someone’s life.

It would be much easier for all of us if the passage ended there – but it doesn’t.

Just as we don’t know how our actions might positively impact others, the reverse is also true.
Jesus’ uses some graphic imagery to caution the disciples against erecting stumbling blocks that keep people, especially children, from having a positive experience of God.  When he talks about chopping off hands, cutting off feet, and tearing out eyes, He’s using hyperbole – exaggeration. And as challenging as these images, they also serve a purpose in getting our attention.

Biblical scholars suggest that Jesus was addressing the issue of child sexual abuse and other sexual transgressions in his community.

As twenty-first century followers of the way of Jesus, we too have a responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable members of our community - both here within these walls – and out beyond them.

We are called to care for children, orphans, widows, people living on the margins, in poverty and situations of abuse.

We are called to care for the hungry, the hurting, and the aching.

We are called to be Christ to one another.

But in order to be Christ to one another, in order to work for transformation in the world, we also need to be open to God’s transformation in us.
Sometimes we might feel like rusty pots and pans overlooked at the church yard sale.
The Good News is that God sees the possibilities for transformation in us, even when we cannot.

Over the past few months I’ve struggled to find work.
I ended up working at the YMCA in Alexandria, at the front desk greeting members and checking them in early in the morning.

At first I was ashamed of my work. I wanted people to see me for more than the girl behind the front desk. I have a Master’s of Divinity degree and I wanted to use it!

Sometime in early September I realized that my pride was getting in the way of my ability to just receive the grace and joy of being with really lovely people.

I was spinning my wheels in frustration until, through talking to one of my co-workers, I realized that I was my own problem! With this awareness, I found myself more open to having deep conversations with Y Members about their families and the concerns of their lives. I realized I didn’t need the title of “Minister’ to be doing ministry.

In hindsight I see how God has been working in my life to turn my stumbling block of pride into a stepping stone. I had to get over my pride in order to experience the grace of the space I was in and begin to move forward again.

What about you?
Are there any rusty pots in your life pantry that you’re overlooking?
Where has God helped turn your individual and collective stumbling blocks into stepping stones?
And what helped you move forward? Or, what might be keeping you back?

I don’t have any easy answers.

But I do know this – There is deep power to be found in the power of prayer.
There is deep power to be found in a community such as this one where God’s love is freely given and received.
There is grace in this space if we will be open to it.

For God is ready and waiting to sand off the rust and shine us up.
God wants to help turn our stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
And God is calling us to use all of our hands and feet,
our eyes and our ears,
our hearts and our minds
to help clear the path for others,
especially the most vulnerable,
So that we may all walk together as travelers on the road.

I pray it may be so. Amen.