Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard

October 4, 2015

Mark 10:1-16

“How We Join with Others”

 

 

“Hear now these words from Mark, chapter 10, verses 1-16.”

1 He left that place and went to the region of Judea and a beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

6 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’

7 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

“Allow God to open your hearts to a deeper understanding of these ancient writings.”

 

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At one of our Wednesday afternoon Bible Study classes last month, I choose a passage out of one of the Apostle Paul’s letter’s to the church in Rome: Romans chapter eight. As we began to read and reflect, first we noted it was a difficult and complicated lesson. We did however come to realize that the struggle, the question that was being addressed for us as Christians, was a simple choice. Are we to choose the ‘Spirit’ filled life that Christ has left for us and live, or, ‘are we to choose to live in the flesh’ and die.” /Romans 8:13/

And as we struggled with this for a bit, we realized that the crux, the root of the matter, involved our ‘over-commitment’ to the ancient laws of Moses. To embrace the love and compassion of Christ, we need to embrace the ‘Spirit of Christ’ that Jesus left for us, thus freeing us from earthly sin, leaving us with a promise of life everlasting. It is pointed-out by our theologian, Kate Huey, that “a preoccupation with the law may distract us from the very grace we need.” And let me tell you – as we grapple with this morning’s scripture lesson – we need God’s grace!

Kate Huey kicks off our discussion by telling us that in this passage, from the gospel according to Mark, we find Jesus answering: “In response to another test from the Pharisees, a legalistic question about divorce, Jesus lifts up the ‘ideal’ of the deep spiritual bond of marriage.” Thus in his (Jesus’) response he quotes the law that a man has the right to divorce his wife, then, much to the surprise of his disciples, he later confides in them that a woman also has the equal right to divorce their husbands! /Mark 10:4, & 11-12/

Before we can fully and with integrity discuss divorce, we need to clarify what marriage is. So let us turn to the first pages of our Bibles: In the first ancient story of creation found in Genesis, chapter one, we hear these words. 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. /Genesis 1:1-5/ This is ‘how’ the leaders of the tribes of Israel went about explaining to people about God and creation. It was a beginning and leaders like Moses needed to start somewhere.

As we move more deeply into the second creation story, found in Genesis chapter two, the plot thickens, and becomes even more complicated. Here we get our first ancient clues of what God’s intentions were thought to be. 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” /Genesis 2:18/ Tell me, is this not what we all want: a partner? None of us, or few of us, truly want to journey alone. And of course, we all know, that partnerships of any kind have their ups and downs and there are many such stories and accountings contained in our Bibles to discuss this further; and there are many and varied couplings that form partnerships.

Yes, yes, I know the second creation story went on to say: 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” /Genesis 1:27-28a/ Way back, in early time, these words made good sense; in the Twenty-First Century, we need to take a different approach. We live in the light of the Living Spirit of Christ as lifted up to us in the New Testament writings, starting with the gospels. We are no longer ancient tribes, wandering in the desert, trying to survive the hardships of life; faced with extinction at every turn. So let us not get bogged down in the ancient laws and ancient stories meant to simplify complex and oftentimes confusing details of creation. Rather, let’s live; lifted up in the Spirit of God’s grace!

Let us now come back into our current time period. In our society today, marriage is a formal, public, and legally binding covenantal contract. It is the joining together of two individuals, with the intent on creating a family unit. Here at this moment in time our federal laws define marriage as ‘two spouses’ that come together making a public commitment to each other, and they share in common all things. Divorce is the breaking of that contract. The bigger issue here is how we join with others, verses how individuals separate from each other! If we can focus on how to strengthen these unions, perhaps we can lessen the backlog of divorce hearings that are courts are forced to hear on a regular basis!

Back on August the 5th, of this year, Pope Francis also changes the focus and direction in regard to how divorced Catholics are to be viewed. His words mark a shift within the Roman Catholic Church. He has welcomed divorced Catholics saying they are not excommunicated. He has given instructions to all Roman Catholic Priests: to welcome individuals, offering encouraging words for divorced Catholics and their children, welcoming them back into the church with open arms! “Be merciful” Pope Francis declares! This extravagant welcome by this Pope is historic. Let us, in the same spirit, spend more time building up relationships rather than tearing them apart. As we find ourselves struggling in our partnerships, our marriages and unions, let us pray; pray and reach out to one another with an extravagant welcome making every effort to right any wrongs and correct any misunderstandings!

What we are going to need this morning, in order to gain some thoughtful and useful insights, into our scripture passage, we are going to needs some heart felt prayer. Let us start with the words of this one theologian that tells us “Prayer is an open relationship.” /Gerry Pierse/ We started with the belief, as shared in the ancient creation stories, that we need partners. Let’s stay with the first assumption, we all need partners, and marriage is a recognized form of partnership. One scholar tells us that “A casual approach to marriage and divorce is not consistent with the way of life that Jesus calls us to follow. He calls us to think about how our actions affect others. (Jesus) He calls us to abandon the selfish and hard-hearted way of life that so many have adopted. (Jesus) He calls us to be transformed by the love of God, and that applies to our marriages as well as to any other relationship.” /Alan Brehm/

Our prayers unit us with the Divine; together we seek out the solutions to our personal and communal lives. Brian Stoffregen, well know through his interpretive notes on texts from the Revised Common Lectionary states: “I believe that that same grace and mercy is extended to all of us… – even those who have been through divorce and remarriage. How much does someone whose life has publicly been torn apart need the comfort and love and acceptance from a community?” In response, let us all acknowledge that these need our love and comfort, even more than others.

Recognized for her insights Kate Huey ask us a rhetorical question. Is it possible, in the life of the church, to speak about marriage in encouraging and hopeful ways that also affirm those who have had to leave a marriage in order to seek wholeness and healing? Is it possible to lift up the ideal, the intention of God from the very beginning, of two people joined together for life, faithfully loving each other, without inflicting guilt on those who have not “succeeded” at marriage? If salvation is about healing and wholeness, then the possibility of remarriage seems not only a matter of compassion but also a question of justice. James Thompson wonders if we might “ask whether the human was created for marriage, or marriage for the human?”

There are numerous recognized scholars that have struggled with brokenness within our society through marriages that have become none functional, and even destructive to the individuals within them. What we need more of is more leadership in acceptance of people who have gone through these difficult periods in their lives, thus helping them to begin to heal their brokenness more fully! Karl Menninger, a phycologist, states that: “Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” Love need not be withheld from those who have experience broken relationships and divorce.

One scholar points out that our Lectionary based text this morning continues beyond the discussion regarding divorce. {In this week’s story, parents bring their children for a blessing. Maybe the scene was chaotic, or maybe the disciples were in a bad mood after the divorce discussion. They “spoke sternly” to the parents, and/or the children, probably figuring that Jesus had more important business to tend. Once again, Jesus enlightens his disciples, observing their need to receive the kingdom of God with the innocent openness of a child. Perhaps, then, a preoccupation with the law may distract us from the very grace we need.} /Kate /Huey/

We can look to the innocence of our children as they give unconditional love to those who reach out to them. Clearly, Jesus was striving to teach the disciples, teach us that just as children look to us to set examples we need to look to them to renew our innocence and attitude of unconditional love! Pope Francis said “Love is celebration. Love is joy. Love is moving forward.”

My wife Lois and I have felt the pain of broken relationships in our past. As we came to know each other we shared our pain. We were accepting of one another and understood the journey of the other more fully due to our common experiences. This month, we celebrate the joy of 18 years of married life! Praise be to God! Let us reach out to others with the same openness. Let us be more accepting of those who have experienced a time of brokenness!

As this is World Wide Communion Sunday, and in light of the recent visit by Pope Francis and his recent words about divorce, we certainly need to reach out, in Christian love, to any who have been marginalized or felt brokenness due to crippling effects of a Brocken relationship, brokenness that has ended in divorce. Let us truly be in communion with one another!

Amen.

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