Commitment, Stumbling Blocks and Meaning It

September 30, 2018 (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 21)
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Cincinnati, OH
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Mark 9:38-50
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

9:38 “John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 “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. 43 If 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.44 45 And 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. 46 47 And 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, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:38-50, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God, our guide and help in dark and contentious places: as Esther prayed faithfully and worked courageously for the deliverance of your people, so that all people may know the peace and unity of your kingdom. Amen.

Demons and hell and self-mutilation! You might think that you have stepped into a fire and brimstone church with this language. It is interesting that this is the language Jesus uses immediately following the story of Jesus gently welcoming a child into his arms. The harshness of these sayings underlines the seriousness of Jesus’ message. He challenges the disciples to remove whatever barriers stand between them and the Kingdom of God. In doing so Jesus says some of the hardest words he ever spoke. “Cut off your hand and your foot,” if either of them is holding you back from being the person God calls you to be. “Pluck out your eye,” if it is pulling you in the wrong direction. Do whatever it takes, Jesus says, to be my disciple. He even uses the “h-word” three times, something Jesus rarely does. These are hard words, maybe even impossible words for us to hear. What does Jesus expect from his disciples, his followers?

There is no doubt that Jesus wants these words to upset the status quo of the disciples and they are meant to get us to think and act. They challenge us to explore how real is our commitment? Am I prepared for a commitment that costs me something? Something that matters.

It is also important to remember that Jesus is speaking at a vitally important time in his relationship with his disciples.

If you recall the readings from last week, you know that these words of Jesus follow his second foretelling of his betrayal, death and resurrection in Jerusalem. In short, these events are about to become very real for Jesus. So, when he says that he is going to Jerusalem to die — he means it. Jesus holds himself to a higher commitment than he asks of anyone else. He is a Messiah, not of self-advancement, but self-sacrifice on behalf of others.

But the disciples’ try to avoid his words and change the subject. So, they decide to argue about who is the greatest among them. And when Jesus calls their hand on it, he gives them a lesson in humility with the example of caring for small children.

It is then in an effort to get on Jesus’ good side again that John says, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we stopped him because he does not follow us.” Again, the disciples try to avoid his message and shift Jesus’ attention away from their own failures onto someone else’s perceived mistakes. Jesus will have none of it. He believes it is time for the disciples to have faith and to really mean it.

Jesus is openly talking about laying down his life for the world. He will die. He will be betrayed. He will be crucified.

And while his disciples can say the correct words, “You are the Christ,” somehow, they can’t bring themselves to mean it. They have a stumbling block in their way. As they continue to shy away from commitment. Stumbling blocks.

Jesus exact words are, “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.”

Stumbling blocks. We all have them, the things that get in our way that keep us from moving forward or stop us from being the complete people God wants us to be. I can spend the rest of our time on our individual stumbling blocks, doubt, fear, brokenness, insecurities, but I will leave that up to each of you to ponder on your own, so today as we worship together in this community of faith it is important to look at our collective stumbling blocks here at Indian Hill Church.

I see that we have three main stumbling blocks here at IHC, we could have more but for the sake of time I will focus on three.

The first is our past, good, bad, indifferent…it is just that the past. We can’t go back to the glory days of Paul Long and Jim Metzger. We can’t go back to the dark days of infighting and dysfunction all we can do is move forward and work to make the church as strong, healthy and faithful as possible.

The second stumbling block is our mindset. Will we be guided by the idea that we are limited, limited by our budget, constrained by our facility, inhibited by our vision, our leadership or will we embrace the unlimited potential we have gathered in this congregation. You the people of this church have incredible energy, wonderful imagination and endless love that will enable us to reach beyond these limits and to achieve our dreams. To think big— not small, to expect more— not less and to believe the audacity of the promises of God.

Our final stumbling block is a tangible one. Money. There I said it that bad word. M-O-N-E-Y…Today we kickoff our annual stewardship campaign and it may be the most important campaign Indian Hill Church has ever had. Why is that you ask? I believe it is the most important because it is setting the foundation for our future. This year, I want to remove all stumbling blocks to our growth and financial well-being. To do this I want to start with the basics. How does the church financial situation happen?

Just as Jesus turns the spotlight on the disciples themselves and as he wants the disciples to pay attention to their own behavior. I want us to look at our own financial situation. So, I admit that I am using very broad-brush strokes here and it is not my intention to make anyone uncomfortable, and I certainly don’t want to run off anyone who is visiting with us today, but it is important that we all understand how this church meets its financial obligations.

First, we tell you what our needs are: This year we would like to raise $900,000 to meet our proposed budget. This includes money for two clergy salaries roughly 27% of our budget, 8 staff salaries (3 fulltime and 5 part time) roughly 30% of our budget, for a total of 57% of our budget that we spend on personnel salaries.
The next largest segment of our budget is the maintenance and upkeep of our building and grounds. Roughly 20% of our budget.
Then is Worship and Music for the soloists, special musicians, Organ upkeep, piano turning, sheet music, worship supplies. Roughly 11% of our budget.
Then Children and Youth ministries 10 % of our budget.
Then Outreach/Church and Community the life blood of a church is only 5% of our budget.
We spend 5% of our budget paying our assessment to the Diocese of Southern Ohio and our per capita to the Presbyterian Church USA.
Again, this is a very broad brush look at our expenses. The issue for us is that we raise 79% of the money needed to meet our budget so we must take a draw from our income from our endowment in order to fill the gap.
All of this is to say, we don’t have a money problem, we have a giving problem. You have it and you need to give it. Why?

Will you give more because you like what the church is doing? Will you give more because we are in a better place, with wonderful music, incredible programing for children and youth and inspiring worship? Will you give more because you feel good about the church? This year we will ask for your commitment in specific ways with real numbers. What is your stumbling block for giving more to IHC?

More numbers: we have roughly 290 potential giving units yet 60 of those give absolutely nothing, zero, nada, zilch. So, 230 giving units are footing the bill for the church, which is great, THANK YOU! However, what if those 60 gave something to help the cause. What is your stumbling block?

The church today is very different from the church of fifty years ago. In fact, it is very different from the church of ten years ago. Church, any church, is no longer a given on Sunday morning. Putting money in the offering plate is no longer the norm. But yet, this church, Indian Hill Church we have life, energy, imagination and well, quite frankly, a bright future. Not so that we can be the greatest. We don’t want to go back in the Gospel and fall into the disciples’ trap. We have a bright future because we have gifts here — gifts of talent, energy, imagination, potential and yes money. And all those gifts can make a difference in the world.

If we give what we are capable of, thinking of the abundance of gifts we have been blessed with and not scarcity, we will have the funds to support music with all the resources it needs, to support Christian education for children, youth and adults all the resources it needs, to Air Condition the entire building, and have enough funds to support ministries and agencies in our community, out city and our world to make a real and lasting difference. So, I invite you to join me and my family to give more this year to make a real difference.

Let us pray: