Millstones. Now that’s a word you don’t see every day. But every time I see it, I shudder.
What is a millstone, anyway? We don’t have them nowadays, but farmers in ancient times had to have a way to grind up their grain to make flour. This huge, flat stone might be about 6 to 8 feet in diameter, and maybe a foot thick; now, that’s heavy. It would take an oxen or a couple of donkeys to turn. So why do we need to watch out for millstones in our modern era?
We find the warning in Mark 9: Jesus said, “Whoever gives a cup of water to someone in My Name won’t lose his reward. But anyone who puts a stumbling block in the way of a believing child, it would be better for a millstone to be hung around his neck and be thrown in the sea.” YIKES. Jesus is saying that a person can do the littlest thing for another person – in Jesus’ Name – and God says he will certainly reward him. That’s good news. But then there’s that fearsome millstone.
See, Jesus was very passionate about children. He was trying to tell us how important it is not to stand in the way of someone who is trying to learn about God. To sin is one thing, but to teach another person to sin is 10 times worse. That includes intentionally keeping somebody from going to church. Jesus is telling us that from his point of view, it may be eternal damnation for someone who puts an obstacle in a potential disciple’s way. Uh-oh.
So, a millstone can result from anything that we do that keeps someone (even ourselves) away from Jesus. It could be choosing to clean the house or give the dog a bath instead of going to church. Or maybe you want to take your family fishing at the lake every Sunday morning – forget about worshipping God. Want to just sleep in after wild Saturday nights? Look out for millstones!
On a brighter note, let’s go back to the first part of Jesus’ statement. Those doing nice things for others, like giving someone a cup of water, won’t lose their reward. But wait! Jesus qualifies even that, adding “in My Name.” That means faithful Christians don’t just do deeds of compassion on their own; they are moved to do them by the Holy Spirit. The Lord send us to love others in many ways – sometimes powerfully, but sometimes by just giving a cup of water. And how do we hear God’s voice? By faith. And where does faith grow? By hearing the Word preached – and that, not coincidentally, is in a church.
How about you? If you’re not in the habit of attending church, change that. And if you have children, you have the divine responsibility to expose them to worship and Sunday School. Failing to heed this warning might just result in a millstone for eternity, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
But on the positive side, you’ll experience all kinds of wonderful things in Christian worship: Belonging, peace, brotherly love, kindness, joy, and the offer of eternal life. So don’t let another Sunday slip by. Open your minds to God. Find a church. Make positive, transforming connections. Then watch and listen as God pours his blessings out on you, his beloved children!
The writer is the pastor at Sidney First Presbyterian Church.