Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sermon for Year B Proper 22


The year is 1968.
We are here at the Second Annual Country Music Awards.
They are about to announce the winner of the Female Vocalist of the Year.
The envelope please.
And the winner is...
For her hit song:  D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Divorce.
Times were different in 1968.
Tammy wasn’t just spelling the word “DIVORCE” 
so little four year old J-O-E wouldn’t know what was happening.
Divorce was shameful.
So much so that DIVORCE...
well, mostly it just WASN’T.
Wasn’t talked about. Wasn’t acknowledged. Wasn’t acceptable.

Times were different.

Times were different in the first century too.
Today in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus doing something he does so well:
He has a crowd of people of people gathered around him
and not surprisingly, the Pharisees show up,
to ask questions.

Not because they really want to know what he has to say,
but more because they want to trap Jesus.
They want to prove that Jesus is not only NOT the Messiah,
Jesus is not even orthodox.

So here is their question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

And Jesus, as he often does,
responds to their question with a question:
“What did Moses command you?” he asks.

And of course they are as quick as Fox news with the answer:
“Moses allowed a man to divorce a woman.”

Now they are telling the truth.
Under specific conditions, divorce was an accepted practice among
the Jewish people during the time of Jesus.
Deuteronomy 24: 1-5--if you want to check it out.

HOWEVER, this law only allowed a husband to divorce his wife 
if he finds her to be indecent.
Of course, the problem here is, define “indecent.”

Indeed, Jesus has a problem with this law.
Jesus happens to believe that this law was a concession, a cop-out.
Jesus quotes from the book of Genesis
that God intended for those who are married
to be fully committed to one another, 
so bound together that they are “one flesh.”

“What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The Pharisees are not going to accept this backtalk against Moses
so they keep pressing Jesus.
And finally Jesus just flat out says,
“If a man divorces his wife and marries another,
he commits adultery.”
And then he continues,
“And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another
she commits adultery.”

Adultery!??? Whoa! That’s harsh.
Jesus’ words may bother our ears--
after all, we live in a time when we have come to accept 
that some marriages just don’t work.
That more pain is caused by staying together than by separating.
That some couples never even started at the “one flesh” point,
much less have been able to maintain it.

Jesus’ words are not harsh to the Pharisees,
they are absolutely scandalous.
Not only is Jesus speaking out against Moses,
essentially saying, 
“Well, you know, Pharisees, times change.
The world changes.”

Not only do they hear his words as blasphemy against Moses,
they are probably speechless.

Because you see, a woman could not--under any circumstance--
divorce her husband.
It wasn’t done
and it couldn’t be done
and it mustn’t be done.

Men had power and privileges that women would never have.

But Jesus--well, Jesus says,
if a man can find his wife “indecent”
then a woman can find her husband “indecent.”
A man can divorce a woman and a woman can divorce a man,
But says Jesus, God calls us to unity, to being one--
not to be divided.

And then we switch to Jesus talking about children.
He speaks sternly to the disciples for trying to prevent people 
from bringing their children to him.
He welcomes the children,
takes them into his arms, lays his hands upon them 
and blesses them.

We follow this same example at communion even today.
Before a child is old enough to eat the bread or drink the wine
the priest will bless that child.

This scripture is an interesting juxtaposition: divorce and children.

One of my favorite blogs is written by Peter Woods,
a retired Methodist minister who lives in South Africa.

He recently wrote:

“Divorce does not help the protection of children. The vulnerability of children is increased when the ideal nuclear family is disrupted, often due to the selfishness of the parents. I am divorced,” he continues, “ so I know how this works and I am not proud of it but nor am I ashamed of it...I know that children in families are also at risk where there is domestic violence and conflict, and often divorce is a healthier option than obedience to church laws. This is not a simple problem and it surely does not have a one size fits all solution.”

Peter Woods is right. 
Divorce is seldom a black and white issue.
There are usually at least 50 shades of grey 
if not a million nuances of grey.

The Pharisees want Jesus to say “This is right and this is wrong.”
Jesus seldom says that.
Even in this gospel reading we hear today,
the point Jesus is making is that we have to respect
the dignity of every human being.

We are to respect the dignity of both men and women,
and yes, children, too.

If we can do that,
it does not necessarily mean there will never be a divorce,
but perhaps it does mean
that we can reduce the harm and hurt that comes along with divorce.

Jesus so often invites us to consider all the possibilities--
and to take those possibilities in our arms and embrace them,
not push them away.

Perhaps that is why he loves children so much.
He looks at children and sees a world of possibilities.
Jesus is especially tuned in to those who are marginalized,

The list is long.
The list was long in the first century
and unfortunately it is still long in our own time.

Times have changed.
We accept things today that we could never have accepted 50 years ago
or even 10 years ago.
And the world will continue to change.
We need to open our eyes and our minds and our hearts
to embrace the possibilities.

This does not mean that we accept an “anything goes” sort of world
or even an “anything goes” sort of church.
We are called to realize that we are called to go into all the world--
today’s world--
and spread the gospel.
And sometimes that requires finding new ways, changed ways
to do just that.

A friend of mine recently wrote to me and said,
“I have little faith in the Church.”

To which I replied,
“Some days I have little faith in the Church, too.
But I have great faith in God
and I still believe that with God,
all things are possible.”

When we find ourselves afraid of the changes,
when we feel overwhelmed and full of fear,
worried that life is not as it once was for us or the Church
or the world
we need to remember-
that we, each one of us, each person on this planet,
is a child of God.

And with that identity,
God’s arms are always open to us,
God’s love is always waiting to be wrapped around us,
God’s blessing is ready to be given.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”


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