Summary: This sermon is for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and addresses the need we all have to cut off from our lives the things which keep us from a deeper relationship with Christ.
“A Rock and a Hard Place”
Sermon on Mark 9:38-50
October 1, 2006
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,
to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out;
it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye
than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
Jennifer and I like to go on the occasional hike, but we aren’t like some of those people to whom hiking is life. You know the ones, they always look like they are going on a hike, even if they just happen to be going to Food Lion. I came across a news story about a guy named Aron Ralston who was an avid hiker. Now I don’t know if this guy lived, slept, and ate hiking, but this guy was deeper into it than Jennifer and I are. We prefer the intermediate trails, but this guy the news story was about was into hiking hardcore. His version of hiking was getting away for the weekend and taking off for a hike of several miles through the mountains. One such outing, he chose to go to Blue John Canyon in SW Utah known for its beautiful yet barren landscape. Although he was an experienced hiker, he neglected one of the most important rules of hiking—he forgot to tell anybody where he was going and he wasn’t expected back at work for several days.
So Aron hiked a long and arduous day for around 7 miles through the canyon, often having to be more of a rock climber than a hiker as he made his way. He never expected a giant 800 pound boulder he was climbing over to shift and fall. He and the rock went crashing down, trapping his left arm under its merciless weight. Aron felt his hand eventually go numb and the pain eventually go away. But he was trapped, literally, between a rock and a hard place. He couldn’t budge the rock, and he couldn’t get his crushed arm out from under it. All kinds of thoughts raced through his head as he laid there trapped for five days!
He had a video camera with him and he was able to make a short tape for his parents to tell them goodbye in the hopes that someone would recover his body. He also had a pocket knife with him and he was able to carve into the stone that surrounded him his name and his dates: October 1975 – April 3 and the initials R.I.P. underneath. If only he had let someone else know where he was going that morning! Nonetheless, he had made peace with himself and had accepted his fate to die trapped under that 800 pound boulder. But Aron realized that he had one way out. That was to use his pocket knife to cut off his own left arm that was pinned under the boulder and try to hike the 7 miles back out of the canyon to his truck with what remained of his body. Aron amputated his arm with nothing more than a pocket knife and the will to survive and he made the hike and was even able to write a book about the incredibly difficult experience.
What do you think you would do if you found yourself in a situation like that? I often wonder if I would be able to do what I had to do if I was pinned under an 800 pound boulder. I guess I would rather be alive and not have a left arm than to be dead with both of them. We could say that serious problems call for serious solutions. Jesus reminds us of this in our lesson this morning from Mark.
In teaching the disciples about the need to not be a stumbling block for little ones, he tells them some shocking and harsh words. He tells them if their hand causes them to stumble or sin that they should cut it off because it would be better to enter into life maimed than to be cast into hell with both hands still attached. Just to make sure the disciples understand him, he explains it even more. He tells the disciples that if their foot causes them to stumble and sin that they should chop it off for the same reason—that it is better to enter into life lame than enter into the unquenchable fire with both feet. And…just to be absolutely positive they understand the words coming out of his mouth, he tells them that if their eye causes them to sin that they should pluck it out because it would be better for them to enter into life with just one eye than to enter into hell with both eyes.