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Cut it Out – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Preached at Yale Divinity School

…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 9:42-50)

Don’t do this.  Don’t take Jesus literally – plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand.  You take this literally, you won’t finish the term.  But do take Jesus seriously.  This is hyperbole.  My little sister used to say this same thing to me when I was acting out, when I had tried her patience to the extreme.  She would say, “Curtis, cut it out!”  She got my attention.

So I’ll rephrase Jesus’ point in the form of a question to you.  What needs to go, stop, end, change in your life?  What do you need to cut out or cut off?

What about Jesus’ metaphor of the hand – what you’re carrying in life?

Jesus’ metaphor of the foot – how you’re navigating life?

Jesus’ metaphor of the eye – how you’re seeing things?

Here’s two examples:

  1. What belief you carry.

God somehow caught your attention or you wouldn’t be here at Yale studying theology.  But how God met you in the past may not be how God is meeting you in the present, in the real present.

When I was a child, my favorite stuffed animal was an adorable little lamb, “Lamby.”  And so, when I heard Jesus say that he is the good shepherd and we are the sheep, I got it.  My childlike theology was that Jesus cuddles, protects, and adores me like I adore Lamby, and nothing ever bad will happen to Lamby or to me.  That Lamby metaphor framed my theology.  It’s not exactly systematic theology, but it was my theology.  Truth be told, I was in seminary before I was completely weaned from this notion of Lamby.

What do you no longer believe?  I’m not saying what you believed in the past was false.  But I am saying that we worship a living God, not an archival God.

To believe is not ultimately to wrap your brain around some existential concept.  To believe is to embrace something with your heart, as if your life depended upon it.  The English word believe comes from the same etymological root as the word belove, which is to hold dear, to love deeply.[i]  Believe; belove.  What do you no longer believe in your head?  Cut it out.  Get out of the confusions and constrictions of your head and go deeper into your heart.  You may need to believe less to belove more, to be more beloved by the living God.

What do you no longer believe?  Cut it out!

  1. How you eye life.

It’s probably not like you thought.

You didn’t think life was going to be like this.

You didn’t think you would be like this.

Or your classmates, or your professors, or the church, or our nation, or the world.

Very little of life is probably following your old script.  What do you need to let go of?  What expectation or presumption about life needs to be given up, or pruned, or laid to rest?

If you don’t, if you cling to your presumptions or expectations, your life may be formed or deformed by recurring disappointment, at best, or resentment, at worst.  You need to be on good speaking terms with the present, with the real present, which is where God meets you.

Florida Scott-Maxwell writes, “I often want to say to people, “You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won’t get it.  That isn’t what life does.  Life does not accom­modate you, it shatters you.  It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better.  Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”[ii]

What needs to end or change in your life to make space for life on God’s terms?

What about Jesus’ metaphor of the hand – what you’re carrying in life?

Jesus’ metaphor of the foot – how you’re navigating life?

Jesus’ metaphor of the eye – how you’re seeing things?

What needs to end or change in your life to make space for life on God’s terms?

[i]The English word believe comes from the Old English belyfan, to hold dear, to love.

[ii] Florida Scott-Maxwell inThe Measure of My Days (Penguin Books).

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3 Comments

  1. Ruth West on February 17, 2017 at 23:06

    I liked your explanations of these puzzling words of Jesus. Thank you so much. Metaphors and hyperboles are still so often used in our everyday speech. (President Trump uses the latter every day!) I’m glad you explained what Jesus meant.
    May God bless you.

  2. Winiko Luwanika on February 11, 2017 at 13:02

    Interesting. I like the way you have linked the term believe and belove. It reminds me of my little vocabulary of German language for instance “Lieber freund”, meaning “dear friend”. In other words “lieber ” is “dear” referring to someone I hold dearly (borrowing your explanation of “believe”. I appreciate every time you explain terms in your sermons.
    Winiko Luwanika ThD

  3. Margo on February 11, 2017 at 09:04

    “What needs to end or change in your life to make space for life on God’s terms?”
    This is the million dollar question of discernment and who has the authority to make it? Changes you make always effect others as well as yourself and this is endlessly reciprocal. The only directions one is ever given are ‘Follow me’ and ‘love one another’. Looking at the history of doing this it is often not a satisfying picture often wrought with more questions than answers. The fruit not always obvious or certainly obscure.

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