NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Prayer of the Day: Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
“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. 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. 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., 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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Mark 9: 42-48.
Jesus doesn’t talk much about hell, so when he does, we had all best listen up. Jesus says in no uncertain terms that the worst thing you can do is place an obstacle in the way of someone seeking him. Do that, says Jesus, and there will be hell to pay. I can hardly imagine a more vivid illustration of putting “a stumbling-block” in the way of Christ’s “little ones” than the damning report issued by a grand jury last month alleging that bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it. Few persons are privileged with the confidence placed by parishioners in their spiritual leaders. Pastors and priests are to represent a zone of safety. They are to be the ear that will listen with compassion to the darkest of secrets and offer portals into healing and hope. Abuse of that privilege is indeed a grave and despicable offense. It is hard to quantify the irreparable harm wrought upon the souls of those trusting children who came seeking the love of Jesus and found instead exploitation of the worst kind. All of this makes Jesus’ harsh admonition to his disciples to sacrifice eye and limb before committing such an offense entirely understandable.
The scourge of sexual abuse is not solely a Roman Catholic problem. We protestants have had our share of scandals. If we have not engaged in covering them up to the same degree, it is most likely because we lacked the bureaucratic machinery to do so effectively. Nor is sexual abuse the exclusive sin of the church. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of the 25,000 runaways reported in 2017, one in seven are likely victims of sex trafficking. There is a hot market for these vulnerable persons Jesus calls his “little ones.” Furthermore, the “Me too” movement has successfully brought to light what everyone always knew, but nobody ever talked about or tried to change, namely, the entrenched sense of entitlement among powerful men to exploit sexually women and young girls in the workplace, on campus and in the halls of government. In viewing the phenomenon of sexual assault in our country, one striking fact emerges: Men commit 90 to 95 percent of sexual assaults. Yes, there are cases in which women abuse young men, but they are the rare exception that further establishes the rule.
Clearly, there is something deeply wrong, deeply corrupt and deeply toxic in our cultural understanding of manhood. It goes under the rubric of “boys will be boys.” Young men are expected to be sexually aggressive and to “sow their wild oats.” Women ought to know this and avoid provoking young men by their dress, behavior or choosing to place themselves in circumstances where men are able to take advantage of them. In short, if a woman is raped, it is probably at least partially her own fault. You can’t blame a man for being a man. These assumptions about masculinity and our societal acceptance of the same has created and continues to enable a predatory culture to which the church has too often conformed rather than being transformed by the in-breaking reign of God in Jesus Christ.
If you have any lingering doubts about the deep and lasting trauma inflicted upon victims of sexual abuse, a reading of the anonymous poet will soon resolve them. Multiply that one wounded soul by the hundreds of thousands of survivors in this country and you can begin to understand the heartbreak and rage reflected in Jesus’ hard words to his disciples. Our failure and that of our society to shelter and protect God’s “little ones” has brought upon us a fearful judgment and, as the Apostle Peter warned us, it is beginning “with the household of God.” I Peter 4:17. It is encouraging to see churches finally beginning to take more responsibility for ensuring that our sanctuaries, our assemblies and activities are safe places for women, children and all vulnerable persons. I could only wish that it had come a lot sooner.
Still, better late than never. A counter-cultural witness of personhood, manhood in particular, that values compassion over power, mutuality over dominance and the sanctity of children, women and the dignity of all persons regardless of gender is sorely needed. That is the case now more than ever. The struggle for equality and justice for all of God’s children has evoked a hostile cultural response. We have elected a president who boasts that, as a celebrity, he is entitled to grab any girl he wishes by the genitals. Hardly a week goes by without some political leader or media celebrity being exposed as an abuser. This week we are witnessing the spectacle of a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States confronted by at least two credible allegations of sexual assault.  It is my prayer that, as we confront this nomination and other critical decisions as a people and, more importantly, as a church, the voice of the anonymous poet who speaks for so many of Christ’s “little ones” will not be shouted down.
I was made shattered.
A ruined soul now exists
where a whole person
I break plates and glasses,
smashing them for release;
The fractured pieces litter the floor
and I can’t help but relate
to each broken fragment.
I’m the broken vase that lies on the floor,
the spilled water decorating the tile
with the tattered roses
The body is soft and supple,
able to absorb blows.
Identities are fragile
and difficult to repair.
My self is destroyed.
I’ve put the pieces back together with glue-
but the glue is still curing and the pieces
don’t fit together quite right.
I’m not okay.
We work with
to mend the fractured soul.
Like plates, I am the
product of human efforts.
You made me shatter.
Source: This poem is one of several written by survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse posted on the website for Vera House. Vera House is a comprehensive domestic and sexual violence service agency providing shelter, advocacy, and counseling services for women, children and men along with education and prevention programs and community coordination. I encourage you to visit this website.
 In that vein, evangelist Franklin Graham said with respect to allegations of attempted rape raised against Judge Kavanaugh during the course of confirmation proceedings for his nomination to the United States Supreme Court, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record — that somebody can bring something up that he did when he was a teenager close to 40 years ago…That’s not relevant.” Christian Broadcasting Network. I can understand that Rev. Graham might choose to believe Judge Kavanaugh’s denials over the claims of his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. What I cannot fathom is how he can insist that this claim, even if true, is irrelevant when considering whether to give life tenure on the Supreme Court to someone who will be called upon to decide important issues of law touching on the rights of women and children victimized by abuse. If Rev. Graham thinks trapping a woman in a bedroom, throwing her down on a bed, groping her, attempting to rip off her clothes and nearly asphyxiating her in the process is equivalent to egging and toilet papering the neighbor’s house on cabbage night, then I have to wonder how anyone with the most rudimentary notions of right and wrong can recognize him as a moral authority.