Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sermon based on Mark 10:2-6.

This week when I read the Gospel lesson for today my initial thought was to skip the words of Jesus about divorce and talk about his wonderfully beautiful acceptance of the children.
Talking after all about Jesus and children would be a real crowd pleaser.
But after thinking about it more I decided I couldn’t avoid talking about divorce for two reasons.
One is that we all read the Gospel together and it might appear as though I was avoiding a rather difficult part of the Gospel just because it might make me and some of you a little uncomfortable.
I respect all of you too much to skip parts of the Gospel that might be a little tricky for us or might make us uncomfortable.
Although I want to assure you that my job is not to make you uncomfortable.
I see it as this is what Jesus said and if you have a problem with it then you should take it up with Jesus not me.
Second, I know that when I go to worship and the Gospel is difficult and the preacher avoids it then I leave worship more confused than anything.
So, at the risk of taking on a difficult and potentially uncomfortable subject I am going to talk about divorce.
Although you will notice that Jesus refuses to talk with the Pharisees this morning about divorce.
What Jesus wants to talk about is marriage.

The Pharisees they want to talk about the legal issues surrounding divorce, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
They ask Jesus a legal question their intent is to trap Jesus into a particular religious camp, and to see if he is really as anti-family as he sometimes comes across as.
After all Jesus is the one that said that one must love God above all things even our families.

As usual Jesus is not interested in the mundane particulars of legal arguments, nor is he worried about what they might think of his teachings.
Instead Jesus wants to talk about God’s intention at creation in creating marriage.
In our world today sometimes like the Pharisees we want to get all caught up in the legalism of divorce.
We want to get caught up in sides.
Are you pro family, or are you a liberal out to destroy “family values”?
It might be helpful when we are talking about “family values” that we might want to focus our intention on what God created when he instituted marriage.
God wanted to create human consecutiveness, intimacy between two people that is lived out over a long life together.
It was intended as a gift to us.
Consider the words that we speak at the wedding ceremony, “God in his goodness created us…and by the gift of marriage founded human community in a joy that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come…”
God has given us marriage as a gift, as way to live healthy and productive lives.

I am aware this morning that this Gospel reading from Mark has been used over the years to do much damage to people.
I am aware that the church in years past has used it as a way to shame people it has been used as a way to control and to make us feel superior to others.
It has been used as a legal argument about the evils of divorce.
A couple of years ago I went to a week-long training in New Jersey and stayed at this monastery with other people at the training.
We were talking one night and I asked some of the people there why they did not go to church.
One of the women told me that when she was little she went to a religious school.
And when her parents got divorced the nuns who ran the school punished her for it.
On many occasions the other children were given privileges that were denied to her.
For example, on family day she was made to sit and do extra school work while the other kids went and performed a special show for their parents.
They told her, “You can’t participate in family day because your parents are divorced.”
The hurt from that experience led her never to step foot in a church.

We have taken Jesus teachings against legalism and turned them into a legal argument for why people should not get divorced.
But Jesus is not giving a legal argument for or against divorce rather he is teaching us about the gift God gave us.
Even the harsher words that Jesus speaks about remarriage are really against a legalistic view.
Jesus never says that people cannot get remarried; he only speaks the truth about what happens when we fail to live up to the standard of marriage.
When we are married our lives intersect, two lives become one.
When that is broken there are consequences.
I have had friends who have gotten divorced and it has been very hard on them, but also on their families and on our friendship.
Jesus speaks a deep truth and that is we cannot undo what marriage is by making laws that make it harder or easier to get divorced.
It is not about legalism or making people feel guilty it is about the reality that when a marriage is dissolved it is messy and hurtful to all concerned.
When divorce happens no one needs to tell the people involved that it is not good, they know that because they have to live with the pain.

We should not judge others because we know that Marriage is hard.
Those people who never get divorced they will tell you how hard marriage is.
It is a day in and day out job.
I know that I often fail more in my marriage then I succeed.
So even when we manage to stay married we have no room for boasting because it is only by the grace of God and our partners that we manage to stay married at all.
I always marvel at people who are celebrating their 68 wedding anniversary, because I know how much work and dedication went in to making it all those years.

You see in our lives faith is what it is really about.
It is about living into the acceptance of who we are in the face of a wonderfully gracious God.
It is about our sinful, fallen, broken selves that don’t live up to the ideal that God has made for us.
We are like the children in this way.
We are hopeless without the love and care of our heavenly father.

I sometimes have heard people say that Jesus wants us to act like children more, be more innocent.
But that is not exactly what Jesus is talking about here.
Jesus wants us to accept God like a child would accepts help and care.
Children are helpless and defenseless they depend on the care of their parents for survival.
Jesus is asking us to live into our relationship with God in the same way.
Jesus is asking us to put our lives in God’s hands and to live in the mercy of God’s grace for us.
“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
This is not about legalism it is not about earning favor with God by following rules about divorce.
It is about entering into a relationship of ultimate trust in God’s care and protection.
I can see that in my own children who depend on us for their food, their shelter, but more importantly for love and a place that feels safe.

On good days our human relationships can reflect that same level of intimacy and trust that God has with us.
On our good days we can see that our marriages, our children are gifts given to us by God.
They are not merely things we do in order to earn points or keep the law.
They are what give us a way to live into the kingdom here on earth.
They are a way for us to save our lives by losing them for the good of someone else.

So if you have been divorced may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are still married after 68 years of marriage may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are about to be married may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are a child who has lived in a family with divorced parents may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are not married may God grace shine on you.
May all of us not live in legalism, but only in the grace, mercy, and love of our God.

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