I have been quite absent from this blog for awhile, mostly because I use it to share fairly "polished" thoughts, which usually end up being sermon manuscripts...and I didn't do a lot of preaching last year. This sermon is the third I have preached in my new position assisting the campus pastor at the University of Texas Lutheran Campus Ministry. It was hard to write, because both the creation story and Mark's gospel give us difficult words with painful legacies. I hope you find my approach a life-giving one. I do believe that is what God in Christ fully intends...to give us all life and wholeness...
A Sermon for Lutheran Campus Ministry-UT Austin,
October 7, 2012
Lectionary 27B - from Genesis 2:18-24 and Mark 10:2-16
I was sorting through my very large pile
of neglected mail this week,
when I came across an envelope
from one of the congregations I get mail from sometimes.
A lot of the time they’re just asking for money…
but I opened it…
It began benignly enough…
a generic message from the council president
about how well the program year is going –
lots of kids in Sunday school…
the strength of the social outreach program.
Then it began to talk about transitions…
again, a fairly neutral word.
Then, a paragraph said that one of our pastors
was publicly announcing that she and her husband
were beginning legal divorce proceedings…
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach…
and the hits kept coming…
because I read on to find out
that one of the other full time pastors
was also announcing that he and his wife were separating.
The letter ended with an announcement
of the upcoming council forum
to discuss various topics
of interest or concern to the congregation…
it was to be held…this afternoon.
I doubt the council knew the lectionary
when they scheduled the forum…
nor do I think that the main purpose of the forum
was to discuss the family lives of the pastoral staff…
I prayed for this church family this afternoon,
the day we heard these words from the Gospel of Mark.
the day we heard these words from the Gospel of Mark.
knowing it must be a very painful day for them.
For all of us, I think this gospel text hits very close to home…
for some of us it hits at home…not just close to it…
We have all witnessed or lived through broken relationships
and through divorces.
Even in the most peaceful ending of a relationship,
we feel grief, anger, loss...
We live through a small death…
After all, our relationships support our lives,
They are the solid framework on which we build so much.
When one of them shifts, it is like breaking a bone.
We can’t walk away from those moments.
Sometimes we barely limp.
And a marriage isn’t just any relationship.
The closest relationships in our lives are our heart’s home.
When they break, it’s like someone has committed arson.
What was home becomes hollow, burned out, toxic.
We hear in Genesis when God sees the first human
– that beautiful, fresh creation –
something is clear immediately.
“It is not good that man should be alone.”
God sees the first human and knows
that solitude is not how we are meant to be.
We need each other – networks of love and support.
We may not all need to be married
when it comes right down to it…
but we all need to love and to be loved.
And so here I need to say something
about that fundamental relationship
so beautifully acclaimed in Genesis
when Adam says of the human companion
God makes for him,
“This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
“This is the one who can know my heart
and be my partner.”
Partner. That is the word that Genesis uses.
God intends for our most intimate relationships
to be mutually loving and strong.
Some will say that God built a system of subordinate,
in creating man first and woman second…
but a friend of mine,
who is a much better Hebrew scholar than I am once told me:
“If God had intended Eve to be Adam’s servant,
she would have been made from the soles of his feet.
If she was just to be a trophy, a decoration on his arm…
she would have been made from the crown of his head.
But she wasn’t, she was made from his side.
She was, and is, his equal.”
The heart of the creation story…of our human story…
is mutual love and support,
and not a cookie cutter for every relationship there will ever be.
If Genesis tells us one thing, it should be this:
It is not good for us to be alone. We need each other.
We need to love. We need to be loved.
We need to give and to receive.
We are meant for community.
If we get hung up on the other details of the story,
we miss the point,
And we become very much like the Pharisees
in Mark’s gospel today.
Because, this is what I think is happening in Mark 10:
In their question about the permissibility of divorce,
Jesus hears the Pharisees
using sacred human relationships as playing pieces
in their game of cat and mouse with him,
and he gets genuinely pissed off.
This is one of those times
when the way we hear Scripture matters…
and it matters that we hear it spoken aloud…
We often hear it read,
when the Pharisees ask if it is lawful
for a man to divorce his wife that Jesus says,
“What did Moses command you?” quite placidly…
But given the context,
I think it just as reasonable that Jesus might reply,
“What did Moses command you?”
in such a sarcastic tone
that he it is already clear that he is calling them out
for their ulterior motives...
because, after all, they know what Moses commanded.
They know the law.
They don’t need to ask Jesus to know what it says.
And he knows that…and so do they.
And when Jesus goes on to critique Moses
for caving in to the hard hearted people,
I think the subtext of what he’s saying is this:
“How dare you?
How dare you come
and ask me for permission to break things…
to break people?
I came here to heal and to make the world whole.
People were made to be together.
Married people become one flesh.
What you talking about is tearing apart flesh...
Open bleeding wounds.
How can you be so callous?”
Jesus lays into anyone who displays indifference
towards human pain and brokenness…
It is hard to talk about what Jesus says here,
because we are not so sure we can literally get behind it.
The clearest argument we would bring to him, of course,
is that of relationships that are abusive. What then, Jesus?
Any one of us can testify that Jesus’ main assertion is true:
that divorce is bad…is painful…
is not what God hopes for for us.
And yet, we also know that divorce
is really naming a brokenness
that is there already…
The bones are already broken.
Our heart’s home is already burning to the ground.
We are already limping and homeless.
Divorce can be, and often is, a path to fuller life, to healing…
to the very wholeness God wishes for us.
And if Jesus were being asked the Pharisees’ question
by an abused husband or wife,
I think he would say something quite different…
but with the same fundamental message.
I came here to heal…to make the world whole…
to make you whole.
I think that is why Jesus turns to the children
just after this shrill conversation
as it is told in both Mark and in Matthew…
He turns to the ones whose emotions are so honest,
Maybe he turns to them because he has to talk to someone
who won’t make his words about politics or power.
Maybe he just needed a hug. Maybe he needed to cry.
Maybe he just really likes patty-cake and tic-tac-toe…
Or maybe he knew that the children
were wiser than anyone else in the room.
Maybe it was a little bit of all of those things.
And it perplexed the Pharisees and disciples
who were still interested in figuring out
who was allowed to do what
and who they could righteously judge
for making bad choices…
who the worst sinners were…
who was too broken to be allowed…
But…Jesus is not in the habit of vilifying the broken...
or suffering…or silly…
He is in the habit of loving them, healing them,
dying and rising for them,
and bringing them through death and into life.
Jesus is in the habit of gathering them…gathering us…
week after week after broken down week…
and saying, “This is my body. This is my blood.
I give them for you.
You are part of my broken body now.
We are one flesh, now, too.”
And we are. We all are.
We are the Body of Christ.
One broken, and resurrected flesh.
Made to be loved by God…
and fed and healed by God
so we might love one another.
May it be so.