Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 4, 2015) on Mark 10:2-16. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
The gospel according to Mark doesn’t pull punches. And I like that because life doesn’t pull punches either. Today, we have a doozy because Jesus takes on divorce and I really don’t know what to do with this. For half a second, I thought about bypassing the topic entirely and heading straight to the little children again. And maybe that’s why the churches and scholars who crafted the lectionary, the system of readings we hear on Sunday, left these two stories together. Those bright folks gave preachers a way out so they wouldn’t have to deal with what Jesus said. But we all heard the words. They’re floating there, in the air. We can’t unhear them - and Jesus’ harshness might even be tugging at our hearts.
Jesus is asked the question. The Pharisees find Jesus away from his home turf. He’s now, as told in the verse we didn’t hear today, traveling in the territory owned by King Herod. Now, this king had his own issues with marriage and divorce. He did something some folks didn’t like: he married his brother’s wife. But most who were concerned about it kept quiet except for a prophet who liked wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey. John the baptist spoke out so Herod imprisoned him and, eventually, killed him. So Jesus is in a dangerous place, where talking about marriage and divorce can get a person killed. That’s why, I think, the Pharisees asked him the question. They’re trying to get him in trouble. And it kind of works because Jesus responds in an unexpected way. Jesus re-writes one of God’s old rules, one recorded in Deuteronomy that comes from the mouth of Moses. Jesus takes that rule, that tradition that allowed men, and only men, to divorce their wives - and Jesus replaces that rule with his own. He refuses to let a woman, in a culture where she’s considered property, be left on her own. The food she ate, the roof over her head, and the ability to take care of her family, depended on her husband and her male family members. She could be cast out, made homeless, with no job to earn any money, just because her husband decided to. Women were vulnerable. Women could be mistreated. Women were never secure, because, at anytime, they could be sent away. So Jesus ends the loophole. He doesn’t let the vulnerable be sent away just because those in power want it so. Jesus reiterates a teaching he has been sharing for a long time that the vulnerable, no matter who they are - even if they are poor, even if they are slaves, even if they are middle class women - the vulnerable are always to be cared for, no matter what.
But today, when Jesus speaks these words, what do we hear?
I believe that Jesus’ words can cut. They can pierce. These words take our relationships, our marriages, our divorces, and even our singledom - and these words can feel like putting salt on a wound. Even my voice almost gave out trying to finish today’s reading with the phrase: “this is the gospel of the Lord” because, in my head, what I said was “really?” This is the gospel - the goods news - of the Lord? Where is the good news for the divorced? Where is the good news for children with divorced parents and who spend their weeks shuttling between different homes? Where is the good news for those in bad marriages where one side won’t even try to attend counseling? Where is the good news for those where divorce was the exact right thing to do? And where is the good news for the church which has struggled since Jesus spoke these words to understand just what Jesus is talking about?
And, finally, how can I, a relatively young guy, without the years of life experience and divorces others have, really stand up here and preach with the wisdom, nuance, and grace that the reality of divorce actually needs?
I don’t think I can. So I’m not going to. Instead, I will do what I always do when a topic - or an experience - or a situation comes along that leaves me with no real words. I grab it, hold it, place it in my mind and in my hands, and I bring it - whatever it is - and lay it at the foot of the cross. Because I know our God isn’t afraid of brokenness. I know God’s Son wasn’t afraid to be broken. And when the world tried to kill him, he hung on that tall piece of wood with his arms spread, taking what the world saw as death, and turning it into life.
Because Jesus didn’t come into the world to be that perfect little baby who never cries or runs around when others think he shouldn’t. Jesus didn’t grow up in a palace. He grew up in working with his hands. Jesus didn’t spend his ministry hanging out with the right kind of people. He visited the sick, the lost, those in pain, and those who carried their demons with them. When the disciples tried to push Jesus to only do the proper thing, Jesus pushed back, becoming like a slave, to wash their dirty feet. Jesus doesn’t avoid brokenness. He heads straight into it. The ideals of the world - the hopes and dreams and expectations of his world - couldn’t limit where he would go. Jesus came to know the broken, the hurting, and those who suffer publically and in private. Jesus came to them to say that God sees you. God loves you. And God, above all, is with you, from the beginning to the end. The brokenness we carry, the brokenness we’ve caused, the brokenness that inflicts itself on us in ways we know and in ways we don’t - that brokenness can’t keep us from the one who felt the brokenness of the world against him. The faithfulness of us and others in our world might not last but God’s faithfulness towards us will never end.
The Cross isn’t a sign of God’s love of brokenness; it’s a sign of God’s fidelity to us through the brokenness that we experience and carry with us. The hurt, fear, sorrow, and even joy that we carry can never be pushed aside and separated from the rest of who we are. We are the sum of all our parts, of all our experiences, and of all our responses to the brokenness. Our brokenness tries to define just exactly who we are. But God defines us differently. We aren’t defined by our brokenness, by the things that we have done, and by the things we haven’t. We are, always, defined by God’s love, whether we feel it or not. Laying our brokenness, our fears, our realities, and our unknowns at the foot of the cross isn’t just a passive action. It isn’t just a way to, somehow, get us off the hook, to shrug our shoulders, and just say that “stuff happens,” and go back to acting like we always did. Laying what we are struggling with at the foot of the Cross is a prayer. It’s a request. It’s a shout to Jesus to take this - to hold this - and do something with this. It’s a plea for Jesus to see us as we struggle, as we hurt, and to do something with us too.
So, Jesus, take this. Take our marriages. Take our divorces. Take our single lives. Take our brokenness. And help us see ourselves as loved. And we ask that you lead us - lead us into the places where you were never afraid to go. Lead us to the vulnerable, even if we are the vulnerable. Lead us to those who are hurting, even if we are trying to put on a good face and not reveal the turmoil inside. Lead us to those who don’t have enough, even if we have too little compassion and too much fear. Lead us into the brokenness, our brokenness and the world’s, and let us walk there like you do. Our prayer to Jesus is simply asking Jesus to be Jesus and for Jesus to help us be that faithful, spirited, and healing love that we, and this world, desperately needs.
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