Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Save Us From Our Dumpster Fires

Mark 9:38-50
September 30,2018

Two things that I couldn’t avoid this week.
Jesus advises cutting off our limbs and taking out our eyes.
Obvious hyperbole, but there none the less.
And the other is that Jesus talks about hell.
Or at least our translation says hell.

Some Christians are very adamant about hell.
That eternal place where God sends people for being
bad or thinking bad or not believing depending on where you come from.  
It’s core to their faith and belief in Jesus.

A few decades ago, almost everyone was comfortable with hell.
It was an unquestioned doctrine,
and the few passages like this were cited.

But more and more people are questioning that doctrine
and with good reason.
The concept of excluding some people for eternity form God’s presence
to a place of eternal fire and pain is not quite in
harmony with the rest of Jesus message.
Especially the front of the message that we read today
which talks specifically about not excluding people.
Hell is the ultimate exclusion.

When Jesus said ‘hell’ here, I don’t think he had that full blown
doctrine in mind. Maybe he did, we don’t know.

The fact is that Jesus didn’t even use the word ‘hell’.
The word that they translate as “hell” is actually Gehenna.
Not to be confused with Gahanna,
which it actually says at the top of the Wikipedia entry on it.

Gehenna, was an actual place, a valley,
south of Jerusalem which was at the time of Jesus was
used as a garbage dump. 
The folk lore around the time was that in the olden days,
500 years before Jesus, it was used for human sacrifice,
and that why it was abandoned to burning garbage.

So it was a terrible place, abandoned forsaken, cursed even.
A terrible place that was not getting better.
It was possibly a euphemism. A metaphor.
Euphemisms always get lost after just a few decades.

An equivalent term that people use today is “dumpster fire”.
A complete disaster. Something that gets progressively worse
even though you’re sure it 
can’t possibly go more wrong.
And it’s similar also because 
it has burning garbage in it.

So to summarize, 
when Jesus said Gehenna,
he was talking about a real 
place which he used as
a metaphor for a bleak option and future disaster, a place of misery.
But over the last two thousand 
years we’ve made it
into doctrine about where God puts you
if you don’t fulfill some specific requirements.

And with all the baggage we hold about it,
Dumpster Fire
It think it’s actually distracting 
to the message to say “hell”.
So when we talk about this today,
I’m  going to say “dumpster fire”.
“So it would be better that you 
pluck out your eye,
then if you landed in that 
dumpster fire with two eyes.”
Trust me for now.
If you like the concept of hell, 
you can always go back to it later.

But even if we’re  talking 
about dumpster fires
Jesus reaction is still pretty extreme.
It’s better to have a millstone 
hung around your neck?
cut off your own hand? cut off your foot?
It’s better to pluck out your own eye?
Than to end up in that dumpster fire?
So what makes Jesus go to this extreme?

The disciples have just reported someone to Jesus
A person was casting out demons in Jesus name
but who were not part of the disciples group.
John tells Jesus that they told that person to stop.
It doesn’t seem too crazy, the person wasn’t with them,
and they were using Jesus name.
They might have been sharing false teachings,
they might have acted wrong and made Jesus look bad.

But Jesus was just talking to them about not devising
boundaries out of who was the greatest,
Or excluding others by merit of their position.
He told them to welcome this child, the lowliest among them,
and he was probably still holding the child at this moment,
when John tells him that they went and put someone
out of the circle for not belonging to the authorized group.
They made another boundary and put someone outside.

Because this person wasn’t in possession
of the proper papers, the certified title, the certificate of completion,
or the special the secret decoder ring,
The “real disciples” went and told this person to stop
doing the work of God. The exact same thing that Jesus
was trying to accomplish, -- casting  out demons,
something that a few verses earlier in this chapter,
the disciples weren’t able to even do themselves.

Jesus was just talking about dividing people
and then the disciples go on dividing people.
Marking one group right and one group wrong.
Seeing an enemy when looking at someone new or different.

Jesus is mad because in the disciples’ action,
he can see the problem of humanity and the
possible future problem of the mission Jesus was creating here on earth.
And he was right, it has been a threat to Jesus mission
for the last two thousand years.

Ironically, Christians have been the stars of the class of dividing
people between them and us. 
It’s almost become our calling card.
Labeling people good or bad, holy or unholy, saintly or abomination,
Christian, heathen, and -- the ultimate division –
we have said with certainty to some (even though we have no idea):
“you’re going to heaven, you’re going to hell”.
Even Lutherans, who have this doctrine that says we are 
all children of God and none of us is better than the other do this.

When I was in seminary, in our American Religious History class
we had weekly assignments to write one page
summary about different American denominations.
We got to the week to write about Roman Catholics.
After he read them, the professor said that every one of the
essays talked about Catholicism in a negative light.
We all wrote about how they didn’t understand theology
and justification, how they faced off with Luther
and how they still don’t really grasp the truth now.

A denomination with millions of people, working in hundreds of 
countries, with amazing social services, doing deep justice work,
with hundreds of benevolent hospitals around the world.
And all we could see was how they were not like us.
We all had to write it again.

Jesus knew that the biggest threat to Christianity
wasn’t from the outside. It isn’t from atheists, or Muslims, or nones,
or the young people these days, it is from ourselves.
Our own back biting, our own in-fighting, our own arguments
tearing each other down.

It’s my hand, my foot, my eye, that creates hatred,
that threatens a new believer, that shows the world
that followers of Jesus are no different from anyone else.
Jesus is saying, if something in you is causing
division, rivalry, exclusion,
or to write a derogatory paper about Roman Catholics,
it’s better that you should cut those things off,
or toss yourself in the sea
rather than end up in that dumpster fire.
Because that doesn’t lead to anything good.

And Jesus lesson goes for our life outside of Christianity.
Watching those senate hearings this week
shows the same thing about our country is true.
Our biggest enemies aren’t from the outside:
it isn’t Russia, or China, or North Korea, or the Middle East.
Our biggest enemy is ourselves.
We’ve shown that we will do anything in order to get our way.
We’ve shown that the truth and that our established laws
are basically irrelevant as long as we have the power to win.

Better that we just shut down, fire ourselves, cut out our tongues
than to end up in that smoldering dumpster fire.
That horrible place where we sacrifice our own people
and ignore the cries of the suffering
in order to make one more dollar for ourselves
and hold onto to the privilege we’ve become used to.
Or maybe we’re already living in that dumpster fire.

Jesus message is clear: infighting, elitism, arrogance, and exclusion
are self-destructive. They lead to no good for anyone.
Even the winners lose in the end.
And they are opposed to Jesus vision.

Jesus says, don’t even start it. Nip it in the bud.
Don’t go that way. That way is the dumpster fire
where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.
There is no end to this one upsmanship,
to these ruthless power-plays and bullying.
It’s not as if someone wins and then all finally all is well.
It just keeps going on and on again until nothing’s left.

The only way forward is to get out of the dumpster fire.
Stop going in that direction. And if you can’t help yourself,
if you’re hand or foot or eye can’t seem to stop,
Then it would be better to cut them off.

But the good news is that there is another way.

Jesus ends up his sermon by telling his followers
to be at peace with one another.
Peace is not just an uncomfortable truce until the next blow up.
It’s not one party pushing the other into quiet submission.
Peace is more than just silence, or quiet, or a lack of fighting.

Peace is genuine understanding, tolerance, humility and welcome.
Peace is where everyone recognizes the humanity in the other.
Peace for us is like salt being salty.
Living with integrity and true to what God created us to be.

Even when the world is going out of control,
and bullying and excluding and hating and dividing,
we can work towards peace with ourselves and others.
Real Peace is difficult and time consuming,  
but it is the alternative to losing limbs
or living in a continual dumpster fire.

May we and our religions, and our country, and our world
learn from our mistakes and follow the right paths.
May we always work for peace with one another.
May Jesus words and teachings show us the way.
And may God who is gracious  and just
save us from our dumpster fires.


  1. I see similarities to the message author Brian McLaren is making about our Christian behavior. After reading "The Great Spiritual Migration", this was a wonderful reminder message of Jesus' teaching on "us" being the "judge" of the "other".

  2. Anonymous posts are not fair. I thought my name would automatically appear. Sorry. This and the previous post are now signed. P.Sauer