We received a gift on September 4 - a granddaughter, Emmaline Abigail Achilles. She is our first grandchild and she has, if I may say, wonderful parents in our daughter Meghan and her husband Daryl.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for next Sunday, we find words of warning from Jesus: If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42) As a presbyter in the Episcopal Church, I take this warning seriously. My words - and my actions - can become stumbling blocks to members of the parish - young and old, for we are all little ones - and to people in the wider community. As a parent and, now, a grandparent, I take this warning seriously, aware that my actions and my words can be - and quite likely have been - stumbling blocks to members of my family.
Jesus' words of warning are followed by some even more disturbing words of advice: If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off... (Mark 9:43) From warning about not put stumbling blocks before others, Jesus moves to calling us to a deep awareness of what in us causes us to stumble. Jesus invites to adopt the paractce of "self-examination and repentance," and not just in Lent. It seems to me that in this passage Jesus is less concerned about the specific sins that we may commit than about what it is in us that leads us to stumble and sin. What are those attachments, those attitudes, those prejudices that cause us to stumble? Are we too attached to our money? Do we harbor "uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors"? Do we have "contempt toward those who differ from us"? In the midst of all the conflicts within the Episcopal Church would we like to assign all of those on the "other side" to the deepest circle of hell?
As I read and pray about this passage - and as I prepare to preach on this text - I am mindful of what I think may be the reponse that Mark knew is the only one that we can make: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) The Christian life is all about Grace, about God's gift to us in Jesus. God calls us to trust, to believe, not in a set of theological statements, but in Jesus. Our belief, our trust, is always a bit shaky - sometimes, very shaky - and we can only call out, "Help my unbelief!" and trust God to answer that prayer.