broken heart hanging on wire

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Sermon text: Mark 10: 2-16

I confess that I procrastinated on this sermon this week because I heard this gospel lesson in an intensely personal way.  It’s the first time preaching on this text since my divorce.  And if you’re like me and that’s part of your story, or perhaps if your parents have been divorced, or someone close to you has suffered from this rotten experience, then these words can bring on waves of emotions.  Shame.  Anger.  Hurt.  Embarrassment.  Failure.  When it seems like Jesus is speaking these words directly to you it’s like each syllable bores into your soul.

But here’s what I realized this week—and perhaps this is an out, but I think I’m right here—Jesus isn’t speaking these words to convict us in some deeply personal way.

The whole scene starts as a test from the Pharisees.  They ask Jesus if divorce is lawful.  Did you notice that?  This isn’t a casual, matter of fact conversation about love, marriage, and divorce.  This is a test.  A pop quiz.  And it’s not truly about divorce, it is about the law.

You see, there were multiple schools of thought about the just cause for divorce among Jewish rabbis and scholars.  Everyone agreed that divorce was legal, the true question was on what grounds.  One school said divorce could happen for most any reason, famously even citing burning the husband’s toast.  The other school narrowed the justification, saying only in cases of gross infidelity could there be a divorce.  So this question is a set up.  The Pharisees want to see what school of thought Jesus follows and then they can better deal with him and entrap him.

But Jesus will have none of it.  He deflects their question away from matters of law, and turns instead to relationship.  In particular, Jesus focuses on God’s hope that our relationships are more than just legal matters, but instead they help us live more abundant lives.

That’s why Jesus turns to Genesis.  For questions of marriage and divorce aren’t simply a matter of legality, but rather they are about how God the Creator intended that we be in relationships of mutual dependance and health.

Then Jesus goes one step further.  He takes this tool of legal convenience—typically for the man who sought a divorce, woman didn’t have that right in Jewish law—and he pushes the Pharisees to see that this law was intended to protect the vulnerable.  In Jesus’ time, when a woman was divorced she pretty much lost everything—status, reputation, income, security…everything was in jeopardy.  If this is the case, then how can the Pharisees treat this as a convenience, let alone a topic for debate?  The law was meant to protect the vulnerable and hurting, and everything time we use it for another purpose we twist it away from God’s plan.  We violate it.

Jesus isn’t shaming divorced people, he making a statement about the kind of community we will be.  He’s inviting us to imagine communities centered in real relationships: relationships founded in love and mutual dependance; relationships fostered by respect and dignity; relationships pursued for the health of the community and the protection of the vulnerable.

For me, there’s another interesting twist here.  Even though the discussion up to this point has been about divorce, I don’t think that’s really at the heart of what’s going on.  So, I’m grateful that we have the next few verses describing Jesus’ reaction to the disciples shooing away children brought to Jesus for a blessing.

Let’s set the scene.  Remember that Jesus has announced his intention to go to Jerusalem to die.  In response, the disciples argue about who is the greatest.  Jesus then tells them that to be great one must serve, and that the very heart of the kingdom of God is about welcoming the vulnerable.

In fact, Jesus says that whenever you welcome and honor a child—one who had the least status and power in the ancient world—you were actually welcoming and honoring Jesus.  And now, at the end of this conversation with the Pharisees about the purpose of the law, some folks bring their children to be blessed and the disciples try to push them aside.  Then Jesus forcefully intervenes, and says that welcoming the kingdom pretty much means welcoming children.  Welcoming the kingdom means welcoming the vulnerable, those at risk, and those in need.

This whole passage is about community.  But it’s not the kind of community we’ve been trained to seek.  It’s not a community of the strong, the wealthy, the powerful, the successful, or the independent.  This is a community of the broken, the vulnerable, and those at risk.  It’s a community of those who know their needs and seek to be in relationship with each other because they have learned that by being in honest and open relationship with each other they are in relationship with God.

That is what the church was originally about.  It was a place for all those who had been broken by life or rejected by the powerful and who came to experience God through the crucified Jesus as the one who met them precisely in their vulnerability—Not to make them invincible to harm, but to make them open to the brokenness and the needs of those around them.

But that’s hard to remember, isn’t it?  It’s hard to live out.  No wonder Paul has to remind the church in Corinth:

    Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God (I Cor. 1:26-29).

Insecurity is part of being human.  We are aware of our needs, we are aware of our world’s preference for strength, power, and independence, and we are embarrassed by our needs.  For this reason, Paul reminds us that to be broken isn’t something to be ashamed of.  To be broken is to be human.  And to be human is to be loved by God and drawn together into relationship with all the others that God loves.

Which means that our gatherings at church are local gatherings of the broken and loved, of those who are hurting but also healing, of those who are lost but have also been found.

So as much as this Gospel lesson can look like instructions about divorce, but I see it as an invitation to see our congregation as the place where God’s work to heal and restore the whole creation is ongoing. 

We are a church of the broken and blessed.  We are the broken whom God loves and heals and uses to make all things new.  This is a place where our relationships give life, where our mutual support binds us together and lifts us up.  This is the place and the community where we discover God’s restoring grace, love, and mercy.  If we are lucky we will experience these blessings in our relationships, in our marriages.  But that blessing can also be experienced as we are bound here, together, as the church.  AMEN

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