Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—October 7, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Lord God, give me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Amen.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and saw that it was good, but God also saw that “it [was] not good that the [human] should be alone.” So after some trial and error, God created another human as “a helper” and “partner.”
From the very beginning, it has been extremely apparent to humans and God that it is good for humans to be in relationships, “to live in loving community with one another.” We each innumerable relationships that we participate in during a lifetime; it is even hard to count all the different relationships that we are a part of in a single week or day.
Some of these relationships are healthier than others, many of them work to build up the body of Christ, but there are those that are not so healthy and end up breaking down the kingdom of God. This results from the sin that also participates in our relationships because of the fact that we are human.
This is the reality where we exist as we read today’s texts. God intends for us to be in relationship with one another: in marriages, friendships, community groups, religious organizations, and work teams. But sometimes our brokenness makes this extremely hard. Sometimes the challenges of maintaining a relationship become too much, and the relationship dissolves…you stop talking to your best friend, a social groups goes their separate ways, members transfer their membership to another congregation, someone is fired or quits, but although all these come with their share of pain, none seem to be as hot button issues as the dissolution of a marriage—the d-word—Divorce.
Divorce is different because it is not only a human institution—in the legal sense, but for many people it also contains a religious or spiritual component. This means that when a couple divorces, not only do they have the pain of having to figure out how to live again without the person that they have shared their lives so intimately with, but they also have to go through a complicated legal process, many times they have to deal with the disappointment of their families and friends, and then when today’s Gospel reading is used a proof-text against divorce, they have to deal with the religious fall out as well.
I have a little experience with this. When I was ten years old, in the spring of my fifth grade year, my parents got divorced. My brother and I were kept out of school and we sat in the waiting area as my parents entered the commissioner’s office to sign the final papers and end their marriage.
My mother asked her best friend to be there to support her, and she asked our pastor to be there to support my brother and me. But her best friend ended up taking care of my brother and me, because the pastor came, but did not say two words to us. He sat in the corner and read the paper and then as soon as my parents emerged from the office, he left, again with no acknowledgement of my brother, me, or my parents.
In the midst of the separation, divorce, and aftermath, no one from the church I attended offered me any kind of support, condolence, or even mentioned the divorce. It is possible that they just did not know what to say or do, so they thought that the best thing to do was to pretend it was not happening. However, it is harded for me to accept this excuse for the pastor. I believe to this day that his actions resulted from a belief that my parents were incredible sinners due to their so-called failed marriage, and that by association, I was not worthy of pastoral care either.
What I find so ironic about this reading and use of today’s Gospel is the incredibly hurtful dissolution of relationship that is caused because of a protest, in Jesus name, against those who dissolve relationships.
If you put Mark 10 in its historical context and keep the overarching message of love and mercy and desire for relationship that saturates the whole of the Bible, you will come to understand that Jesus’ main concern in his answer to the Pharisees is to elevate women to their intended level of equality with men. Jesus is more protesting against the treatment of women and children as property, which was the practice of the day, than he is condemning anyone who divorces to hell.
It ultimately points to God’s intention for humanity to “live in loving community” as helpers of one another, equal in status.
It is easy to read today’s Gospel as another commandment to follow and condemnation threat if you do not follow it, but especially when it is read in light of the second story of the lesson, the part about the children, we see that Jesus is more worried about eliminating human-made boundaries that impair right relationship with one another and God, than condemning whole groups of people to hell because they are divorced. Divorce is just collateral damage of Sin, the Sin that Jesus already took care of on the cross, once and for all of us.
Divorce is never a good thing, for it is good for humans to be in relationship, but sometimes it is the best option. God would rather all human relationships work perfectly, but with Sin in the world, that is impossible. Therefore, all we can do, as individuals and as the church, is “to promote and foster healthy [relationships, especially] marriages, and in the case of divorce and remarriage to extend compassion and facilitate healing.”
Over and over again, Biblical texts are used to condemn, ostracize, beat down, and break. Slavery, subordination of women, gay-bashing, religious violence, anti-divorcee rhetoric—all of these have been promoted through the mis-use, mis-quoting, and mis-understanding of Biblical texts. But all this breaking down of relationship, the body of Christ, and the kingdom of God goes against God’s intent.
What if instead of hearing the stories in today’s Gospel reading as law, as commandment, as things we have to make sure we do not do in order to be gain God’s love, we remember the power of God’s grace and love, and see it as the promise of inclusion and welcome of those groups that have been pushed to the margins that it is.
Let this group of texts no longer be used as a prophetic instruction on who we should invite in and who we should keep out, but instead as an invitation from Christ to welcome all, unconditionally, no matter their broken relationships or ours.
Instead, we as the church are called to be the place that spreads the knowledge of God’s intention for right relationships, encourages marriage to be taken seriously for the commitment and covenant that it is, supports relationships, and the people in them, when they are rocky, and holds those who are hurt by broken relationships.
Jesus invites all the little children, all of you, all of humanity, to come to him, “for it is to such as these,” the last, the lonely, the lowly, the lost, and the least, “that the kingdom of God belongs.” Amen.