Sunday, September 30, 2012

Surgical Amputation of Sinful Parts

A Sermon preached in Kamuning First United Methodist Church on Christian Education Sunday, Vesper Worship.      
      The Lord be with you.
      I am a practicing medical doctor in Ospital ng Maynila. And I am tasked to preach tonight because our topic is on the surgical amputation or removal of your hand, your feet or your eyes especially if they are sinful. This is the instruction of the Great Physician, this is the advice Jesus gave to his disciples according to the text that we read from Mark 9:38-50.
      The Gospel of Mark is known for his unique and radical stories and instructions. Today we read a very radical teaching that Jesus gave to his disciples. This is appropriate because we are at the end of our Christian education month celebration. During the previous Sundays we have given emphasis on the importance of Christian education as part of our discipleship – part of our training and transformation as followers of Jesus Christ. It is appropriate then that we end Christian education month being educated by Jesus himself about some basic principles in our discipleship.
     In our Gospel reading, Jesus talked about the things that can endanger our Christian health. The gospel text uses the Greek word “skandalizo” which means a stumbling block to describe sin. Anything that puts blemish in our Christian health and leads us to commit sin is a stumbling block. And Jesus said, the stumbling block must be removed to keep ourselves healthy and holy, to remain faithful followers of Christ.
     This is a story of why we need to be mindful with our Christian life. This is a question of how serious are we in our discipleship. How committed are we to becoming true Christians? How committed are we in removing sinful things within us that endangers our faith, our Christian health?
     How committed are we to remain faithful disciples of Jesus? Is there conscious effort from us to be free from sin and distractions that endanger our Christian health and discipleship? Or are we complacent and too comfortable with our faith now that we tolerate simple sins and stumbling blocks because we believe they are, after all, not really destructive to our Christian discipleship.  Remember, our sinful nature tempts and may cause us to commit sin and fall away from God. Sometimes we no longer see these little stuffs as harmful especially if they are important to us. But Jesus said, cut your hands if it causes you to sin. Of course, like any Jewish Rabbi, Jesus was using a hyperbole and was exaggerating to emphasize a point. But why did Jesus instruct his disciples to amputate parts of our body? Why do we need to remove some body parts? Can we not just keep it? What happens if we keep it?
     Two months ago, I had a patient that we needed to cut his right foot. He was a 55 year old man from Tondo and works as a kagawad and he patrols their area every time. But because he walks a lot, his foot got injured with a blister that eventually became an open wound and later on was infected. Because he was diabetic, the wound did not heal easily until his foot became gangrenous. “ibig, sabihin, nabubulok na yung paa nya dahil sa hindi gumagaling na sugat.” He was advised that his foot should be amputated or the infection will spread in his body and will be a cause of his death. The right foot was the diseased body part but it endangers the life of the patient if not removed. The gangrenous right foot could be the cause of his death. But he does not want his foot to be amputated. Last Friday, he was admitted in the hospital. He was septic. “Kumalat na sa buong katawan niya ang infection.” I visited them and the whole family was there because it was also his birthday. The patient was intubated and was unconscious. The wife told me, “kung pumayag lang sana siya noon na putulin na yung paa niya sana maayos pa siya ngayon.” That same night, my intern informed me that the patient already died. The patient died because of the non-healing wound in his right foot. If only he agreed that his foot be amputated, he could have saved his life.     
     When Jesus instructed that we need to cut-off any sinful things in our life, he wanted us to preserve our Christian life. He wanted us to remove the sins that threaten our Christian health and lead us to death. He did not want us to go to hell. Yes, Jesus mentioned hell. And he did not want us to end up there. We must cut and remove the stumbling blocks of sin to preserve the Christian life God has given us. Anything that causes us to sin and be derailed from living a holy Christian life is a stumbling block and must be removed. Anything that threatens our spiritual health must be cut-off.
     Cutting off something is easier said than done. But Jesus always says radical things, radical enough to shock the disciples and even us. What Jesus was teaching his disciples was ironic because he was telling the people that to remain spiritually healthy and holy you must amputate and remove part of your body that is unclean when in fact, it was their custom at that time that people with no hand, or lame or blind are not allowed in the temple because they are thought to be unhealthy and unclean.
     The Jewish people thought that having two hands and two feet is more important but Jesus said NO! What is more important is a clean and healthy spirit.  And so if your hands and feet are unsalvageable and they cause your spirit to be unhealthy and sinful, remove it to save yourself from becoming sinful. And anything that you think is important should be cut-off and removed if it blemishes your spiritual health. If it is your eyes, remove your eyes. If it is your mouth, remove it. If it is complacency in your faith, remove it.
     Complacent faith? Is that a stumbling block in our spiritual health? Does it affect our discipleship making? Yes, complacency is one of the threats to our Christian growth. We can become complacent and comfortable with what we do that we think we know enough. Our complacency had allowed us to become mediocre in our faith and turn a blind eye on little stumbling blocks in our Christian growth. This is especially true if we have been long-time Christians. We lose the desire in our heart to become better Christians every day. Complacent faith can threaten our Christian health.
     Aside from a complacency in our discipleship, there are other stuff that we think are harmless but can endanger our Christian life. Every day we encounter temptations that lead us to commit sin. Every day we encounter stumbling blocks to our faith. And Jesus said, whatever part of you that may cause you to stumble and sin must be cut-off.   
     Are you not scandalized enough by what Jesus requires of us? Anything that leads us to poor Christian health and life must be removed. Not only our body parts. If it is your boyfriend/girlfriend that threatens your Christian health, remove it. If it is your best friend or barkada that teaches you to sin, remove them. If it is your family that prevents you to know more about your God, cut them off. If it is your career that keeps you from becoming a good disciple, remove it and resign. If it is your bank account and wealth that hinders you from obeying God, remove it. Anything that makes you stumble from becoming a good disciple of Christ must be cut off and removed. These are some of the radical demands of Christian discipleship.
     I had a friend when I was a UMYF and he had a girlfriend for almost four years. On the day of their anniversary, he was planning to propose to her. But he had a problem, it was a Saturday and he has praise and worship practice and the next day is a busy Sunday for him so he planned to do it on a Monday. But her girlfriend insisted that they should celebrate on Saturday and that he should skip band practice just this once. He was in a dilemma, if he will not practice the music ministry will be compromised and his faith might suffer but if he will not heed her girlfriend’s request, her girlfriend will get mad and will not forget what he did for the rest of their life. So he asked me what to do. I said, “Christ above all.” (Pause)
     My brothers and sisters, would you be able to give up your relationship if it causes you to move away from God and stumble in your faith?
      Would you quit your dream job because it tempts you to be corrupt and causes you to commit sin everyday?
      Or how about the common stumbling blocks that we fail to see as hindrances to our faithful discipleship.
      Would you be able to sacrifice a little of your precious time for your Sunday afternoon nap so you can come thirty minutes earlier to attend Vesper Sunday School?
     Can you turn off your cellphones and risk missing an important business call so you can give your 100 percent focus in worshipping God?
     Those are the important parts of your life. Would you be willing to cut-off these important parts in your life that cause you to stumble in your journey towards a healthy life in Christ?
     Can you do it? Because it is difficult and it will be painful.
     But Jesus said, we have to do this if we want to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. If we want to live a blameless and healthy Christian life, we must remove the stumbling blocks that cause us to sin. But it is going to be painful.
     It will be painful to resign from your dream job. It will hurt when you will end unhealthy relationships. It will be agonizing to sacrifice your family ties. It will  be difficult to wake up early from your sleep or nap. It will be difficult to forgo an opportunity. It will be painful and difficult to sacrifice something important in our life.
     But it is better to be jobless than to be sinful. It is better to be single if it means God will be your constant companion. It is better not to have a cellphone if it means we can worship God whole heartedly. It is better to have lack of sleep if it means more time with God in Sunday School.  For Jesus said, it is better to lose a part of yourself than to lose your entire life.
     It will be difficult and painful to lose supposedly important things in our life. Imagine the pain of surgically amputating your hand or your feet. Imagine the psychological torment it will bring to see a part of you absent. The physical pain, the mental pain and the psychological and spiritual pain will haunt you and may even leave you sleepless.  But those are just temporary. Jesus, the great physician promised that if we follow his prescription and advice, our life will be preserved.  That is the good news my dear brothers and sisters, if we choose to obey the Great Physicians advice to surgically amputate and cut-off the things that cause us to sin, Jesus promised that even if we are blind or lame, we will have a healthy and holy life FOREVER in the kingdom of God.
     My dear brothers and sisters, take the Great doctors advice. With God’s help, amputate and cut-off the sins that will destroy you, and you will live a healthy life forever in the kingdom of God.
     In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.