Monday, September 20, 2021

Scandals in the Church


Having been chastised for posting sermon notes after-the-event, I thought I’d take a march on this coming weekend. The Gospel set for Holy Communion next Sunday is Mark 9:38-50.

I’m not sure where the rendering ‘stumbling-block’ comes from. The Greek is skandalizó, to cause to stumble—from which we get our word scandal—and is repeated several times over. It is relevant due to the monotonous regularity with which overseers of the church are found to be guilty of some scandal: of abuse, in one form or another, of members of their congregation.

When Jesus speaks of throwing that person into the sea with a millstone hung around their neck, he seems to be playing on the little (micron) status of believers and the small size of the seed, a favourite symbol of Jesus for transformative faith. That is to say, the scandal that causes people of faith to stumble in their faith is the scandal of those who have power and authority devouring others for the satisfaction of their own personal appetite. Again and again, this has led people to walk away from the Church, often wounded, angry, and with a sense of shame or bewilderment.

Jesus is not speaking of literal mutilation, nor of a place of eternal post-mortem punishment. Rather, he is speaking of the seriousness with which the scandal of abuse, in all its forms, must be taken. It is not only better to enter-into the lived experience of God’s rule, maimed; arguably, it is only possible to enter at all as a disabled community. I know of no attempt to sustain a scandal-less community—whether in the Church or any other society—that has ever succeeded. The alternative scenario is a body thrown on the municipal rubbish tip, where fire consumes waste and worms break down whatever remains. The end goal of these processes is to minimise the spread of disease, and to return whatever is salvageable to a humus from which life can spring again. It is, in fact, a form of redemption, but one that comes at a cost Jesus would spare us of, if we would only listen.

The tragedy is that, over and over again, the Church chooses to control its reputation over confronting scandal. To play the game of determining who is on the inside, in the in crowd, and who we attempt to silence, to ostracise. It is a repeated scandal.

And yet, it is in being brought face to face with the internal inconsistency between the gospel we proclaim and the way we behave, that we might be refined by the refiner.


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