Divorce…

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Children come to Jesus dependent on him, trusting him, letting him take them up in his arms.  How many times in our lives do we need and long to be taken up into the arms of Jesus and simply be held?!  As children of God, allow yourselves to be taken up into Jesus’ arms and blessed, especially if you have suffered from divorce.  We cannot successfully follow every expectation and law laid out for us.  It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s that we are imperfect people with broken relationships of all kinds.

 

 

19th
Sunday after Pentecost; October 7, 2012

Genesis
2.18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1.14; 2.5-12; Mark 10.2-16

Pastor
Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace
and peace to you from the One through whom we are created and have our being,
the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Last
weekend I had the incredible honor of standing next to my baby sister as she
married the person she intends to spend the rest of her life with.  It was an absolutely wonderful day.  Really, it was a wonderful four days full of
family and friends coming together to celebrate the love between two people.

Marriage
vows never cease to amaze me.  I watched
my sister and her now husband promised these things to one another:

In
the presence of God and this community,

I
Jessie, take you, Nathan, to be my husband,

To
have and to hold from this day forward,

In
joy and in sorry,

In
plenty and in want,

In
sickness and in health,

To
love and to cherish,

As
long as we both shall live,

This
is my solemn vow.

How
moving it was for me to watch someone else promise these things to my
sister.  And then, the older protective
sister in me thought, you better
keep these words.
  Poor Nate.  He knows I love him and approve of him
marrying my sister.  

It
is my guess and my hope that on people’s wedding day when they say these vows
to one another, they are not anticipating or thinking about an end to their
marriage.  There are two ways a marriage
ends.  One of the ways is mentioned in
the vows: “as long as we both shall live,” or “until death parts us.”  So one way is through death.  The other is through divorce.    

Interestingly
enough, the Gospel reading for Nate and Jessie’s wedding was taken from our
reading today in Mark, only it started with verse 6 and ended with verse
8.  All the “nice” stuff was in those
verses, and all the stuff about divorce and adultery was left out, imagine
that.  Again, who wants to think of those
painful possibilities on their wedding day?

Who
wants to think or talk about them ever for that matter?  Divorce is so painful.  And like many uncomfortable and painful
topics, like poverty, death, and sin (just to name a few) Jesus simply goes
there and talks about it. 

As
Jesus is traveling around the countryside he often encounters people who are in
need of healing, yet he also encounters people who want to test him or trap him
politically.  Today we hear a question
put forth by those who want to see Jesus go down.  They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce
his wife?”

Back
in Jesus’ day, politics worked like they work today:  Say one thing and make a group of people
happy and another angry; say another thing and again, not everyone is
happy.  The last person to say anything
about divorce and adultery was John the Baptist and he got his head cut off for
it.  We heard John’s story a few months
ago when Herodias divorces her husband and marries his brother instead for
personal gain. 

So
instead of answering their question, Jesus asks them what Moses commands them.  The Pharisees answer: “Moses allowed a man to
write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”  Jesus responds by saying that Moses writes
the commandment because of their hardness of heart.  This is really another way of saying,
“Because of your sin and your inability to live in peace with one another.”

What
we can often miss in this story is Jesus’ incredible care for women who would
otherwise be divorced and thrown on the street to fend for herself for all
kinds of reasons like: her husband wasn’t attracted to her anymore; she
couldn’t produce children; he found someone else; her dowry ran out.  The certificate that is mentioned if given to
the woman protects her from public shame and actually allows her to marry again
without being considered an adultress.   

The
private teaching to Jesus’ disciples concerning adultery is very hard.  Its rigidity has echoes of last week’s Gospel
reading where if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Or in Matt. 5.28, when Jesus goes so far as
to say if you look at someone and lust after them you have committed adultery
with them in your heart.  In the face of
these expectations, who can stand?  The
real answer is no one.  If these
challenging words of Jesus do anything to us, they should reveal our need for
God and our inability to stand before God without sin and making mistakes.

The the beautiful thing Jesus does, further avoiding their trap, is he goes back to
the beginning of the creation story and reminds them all again what God intends
for human relationships.  He doesn’t say,
“You must do this and not do this.”  He
simply repeats part of our first reading from Genesis this morning. 

We
hear that human beings were created for one another in order to be a partner
for the other and a helper, essentially a companion.  We are formed from the dust of the ground and
our bodies are such that we share the same bones and flesh.    Upon seeing the women, the man says, “This
at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen. 2.23).”  Imagine if we could see and treat one another
with the same care and awe as this.  Our
world would be a very different place.  

The
intentions of God in creating human beings are these:

  1. We
    are created out of and for God’s delight and love
  2. We
    are created in the very image of God, precious and unique
  3. We
    are created to be companions and in relationship with one another

It
is difficult and safe to say that divorce is against the original intentions
and will of God for creation.  At the
same time, it is also true that any mistreatment of anyone for any reason is
against the original intentions and will of God for creation.  Divorce is only one of the ways we as human
beings fail.

I
am certainly aware of how many of us sitting in the pews today are affected by
divorce, whether or not you are divorced yourselves, your parents have had a
divorce, or whether or not you have walked with someone close to you going
through a painful separation. I am sorry for the pain it has caused you.  The pain of divorce is not what God desires
for you or anyone else.

Divorce
has had a challenging stigma in the church for a long time.  In general, the church has mostly said that
it is wrong under almost any circumstance. 
As a consequence there have been many people who have stayed married
that should not have stayed married.  Many
people have stayed in abusive, unhealthy marriages because of passages like the
one we hear today in Mark or because pastors or the church has told them their
salvation is in jeopardy if they get a divorce. 

Please
hear me very clearly: staying in an abusive or unhealthy marriage because you
are worried about your salvation is not right. 
Marriage and divorce do not determine whether or not you are fit for
heaven and resurrection life.  If
marriage is not a mutual life-giving relationship, it is not what God intends
for marriage. 

If
you have suffered from divorce in any way, know that Christ walks with you and
offers forgiveness and healing.  Know
that it doesn’t define who you are.  Our
primary identity is that you and I are children of God and divorce cannot
change that.

At
the end of our reading in Mark parents bring their children to Jesus.  Perhaps these are parents who have suffered
from divorce, we don’t really know.  What
is important is how they come to Jesus and how he receives them and their
children. 

Children
come to Jesus dependent on him, trusting him, letting him take them up in his
arms.  How many times in our lives do we
need and long to be taken up into the arms of Jesus and simply be held?!  As children of God, allow yourselves to be
taken up into Jesus’ arms and blessed, especially if you have suffered from
divorce.  We cannot successfully follow
every expectation and law laid out for us. 
It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s that we are imperfect people with
broken relationships of all kinds. 

There
is so much in our reading today and it is challenging to unpack it all in 10-15
minutes, so if you have further questions or concerns about this Scripture and
want to talk about it, please let me know.

I
have a relative whose son has suffered from mental illness for a number of
years now and it has caused great pain in their relationship.  They are particularly struggling right
now.  In a recent e-mail she wrote this:

I close with the prayer of Julian of Norwich that I've been
praying every morning since Jon's latest episode:  "All shall be
well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.  God
of your goodness, give me yourself.  I cannot ask for anything less to be
worthy of you.  If I should ask for less, I would always be in want, for
only in you have I all."  She continues: “I cling to that hope and
promise, thanks to Christ crucified and raised.  We trust that one day
every tear will be wiped away and all sorrow and suffering shall cease.”

We
never know what will happen in our lives, but as people of faith, we know that
no matter what happens God is with you in your joys and especially in your
sorrows.  For Nate and Jessie, I pray
they have many years of companionship and that God gives them the ability to
forgive one another as they have been forgiven each day.  Without forgiveness and love, no relationship
will go unbroken.

To
conclude the sermon today let us have confession and forgiveness.  Confession is not to make you feel guilt and shame for things you've done or things that have been done to you.  Confession is a way to admit where and when we fail in order that we can truly hear and make way for God's forgiveness and love.  It is a way in which God gives us an opportunity to start over and have new life no matter what has happened to us.