Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Pentecost 19 - Mark 10:2-16 - October 3/4, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
As chapter 10 of Mark begins, Jesus has headed back down to Judea. Soon in the Gospel He will make His way to Jerusalem and Holy Week, but today we hear Jesus teaching, as He is wont to do, and the Pharisees approach Him to mess with Him, as they are wont to do. "Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'" Test? How is this such a test for Jesus? Seems like a simple question. But here's the thing, dear friends - it's a politically touchy one. Let's be honest, how many of you got a little bit squirmy when you heard the Gospel, thought, "Oh great, Pastor's going to preach on divorce." It's a touchy subject today, it impacts a lot of families today. And it did then too.

You see, in Jesus' day, divorce was basically a favored tool of, not to sound all liberal and such, a tool of male oppression and domination. In the Jewish world, a man could basically divorce his wife at the drop of a hat for whatever reason - you displease me woman, I show you the door. And you didn't have a lot of jobs for women back in those days - so if you were divorced you went back to your dad's house if he were still alive, otherwise you "worked the streets." That was just what Jewish men were used to - and that kind of power let the Jewish guys wield a big stick. However, it was a hot topic around Jerusalem at that time, because the Romans were there, and Rome let women divorce their husbands too - and moreover, in Rome husband and wife both owned their stuff individually, so if the wife gave the husband the boot, she could keep her stuff. It was a hot button social issue of the time in Judea. So then - what will Jesus say? Will He uphold the old Jewish custom, which favored men and gave them tons of power (and if He does this, He will surely anger a lot of the women who had been following Him), or will Jesus sort of side with the new Roman approach - which would freak out all the men around?

As Jesus tends to do, He turns the question around. "What did Moses command you?" What did Moses say - what do the Scriptures say? Not what is our Jewish custom or what is our Roman custom; not what is our own attitude or opinion, but what does the Word of God say. And the Pharisees answer: "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away." See - the Jewish side is right - that's our answer. Clean cut case, right? Nope - it was a shoddy, incomplete answer. "And Jesus said to them, 'Because of the hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Your answer was lousy. While there is that note about divorce being allowed, it was allowed for the hardness of heart - because of failings in man. Do you want to be hard-hearted, Pharisee? Is that your goal - to show how cruel and callous you are -- you can if you wish, Moses will allow it. But you forgot something else. Moses wrote Genesis, and what does Moses teach us in Genesis 2? The two shall become 1. That's the goal, that's the ideal. Your job as a husband, O Pharisee, is not to worry about your rights or how you are going to control and boss your wife around but to love, honor, and respect and care for the woman God has joined you to. It's not about power - it's about showing love to your neighbor, to your wife. And because you were thinking about power, you messed up.

A few brief words before we carry on in the text. It is because of texts like this that the Christian Church has placed a high view on marriage, and never really liked divorce. No one should like divorce; divorce means something has gone catastrophically bad, things have gotten ugly. Everyone gets that - even the places that adopted no-fault divorces - let's separate folks before they ugly - and that just made things even uglier. It's a mess. And it's all driven by the hardness of heart that comes from sin - from that point where someone starts to think, "I don't care, I'm going to do what I want and the other person can hang for all I care." And that is a sinful attitude we are to fight against, my dear friends. Ironically, President Kennedy of all people nailed what our attitude should be for marriage, for any relationship. Ask not what your country (or your neighbor, or your spouse) can do for you, but what you can do for your country (or neighbor or spouse). That's the ideal. And it's a hard, harsh ideal. One our sinful flesh doesn't like at all. Yet I would encourage you all, wherever you are, whatever your relationships are now - strive to show love and care. Make your relationship about what you give, not what you get -- and if the both of you do that - and throw in being ready to forgive when you mess up, it tends to go relatively well.

That said, let's continue on in the text. What Jesus has said, pointing to the whole of Moses, really does undercut and undermine both the Jewish and the Roman approaches to divorce. It takes that War of the Sexes that was brewing in that day and just flips it on its head. And we can see how shocking this is when we hear, "And in the house the disciples asked Him again about this matter." Are you sure about this Jesus? Cause, I mean, I'd rather have an escape hatch just in case she nags or is a bad cook or something. Nope. "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." It's not about power and debates, folks - you ditch her and go onto a trophy wife, that's bad. Oh, and this isn't Me supporting Rome's divorce laws - if the wife does the same, that's bad too. Instead of power and control, think a bit about love and service.

And this discussion gets the disciples really rather flustered. The proof is what happens next. "And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them." You know how when you get flustered, you become forgetful and cranky. Well, there's the disciples. Chapter 9 has Jesus dropping the little kid in their midst - they forget that. Jesus rebukes them for telling someone not to cast out demons, for tossing about their power - they forget that. And so we hear, "But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Ew, indignant Jesus. Quit being such "grown-ups". Yeah, quit worrying about power and control and being in charge and telling others what to do and what you can get out of things - and be like a little kid, like a toddler.

Now, Jesus is not romanticizing kids here; He's not saying, "oh, what precious little darlings." Kids then were like kids now - you've probably got wailing and running around and crying and bashful kids hiding behind parents - all that same stuff we see today. But the great thing about little kids - whether they are happy or cranky or whatever, you can do one thing. "And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them." You can pick them up and carry them. Kid's crying - pick him up. Kid wants to run off - pick her up. Kid is bashful and doesn't want to say hi - pick him up. And hold them in your arms, and bless them, do good to them. If they are wanting something stupid, you just hold them, wait them out, and then give them what is good for them.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it. Did you note the word "receive"? How do kids receive things? When they are given things. Oh foolish disciples, it's not about your power and control. Marriage isn't about who is the boss of whom - rather, what has God given you, what has God joined together? What have you received? It's about what God does - everything starts and flows from there. And you know what else? The kingdom of God, the whole Church works the same way. You receive it like a little child.

So - how are you child like? Are you wild and rambunctious? Some of you are. Are you crafty and like to get up to no good? Some of you are. Any of you throw fits or tantrums this week, whined about not getting your way? Picked on the people God has put into your life, threatened to take your ball and go home? Said, "I don't like you anymore, I don't want to play with you" and thought about just leaving and getting a divorce? However old we are, we are always able to act the petulant child. Yet God your Father is a far better parent than any of us are, and He sees you as His own, baptized into Him, joined to His family. Covered by the blood of Christ Jesus - so there's no punishment, just love for you. And He never pushes you out of His arms. You are his forgiven and beloved children, and He receives you and blesses you. Oh, you want to pout and wallow and hide in your room - well, whenever you are ready, Supper is always on, Take and Eat, Take and Drink, your sins are forgiven. God's not going to kick you out, no matter how bad you've been. He doesn't divorce you - Christ continues to love His bride the Church and will never send her, never send you away. Even if there is an excommunication, that's not done in anger - that's just the parent saying, "Yeah, Bob's pitched a fit and locked himself in his room - hope he comes out soon. I'll keep Supper warm for him when he does."

You see, dear friends, God's love for you is not conditional, it's not based on *if* you are a good little boy or girl. No, God cares for you when you are good or bad - and let's be honest, when we examine ourselves we are nasty little brats - yet God is faithful - His love endures, the redemption won by Christ Jesus always rings true, and Our Father remains Holy, and His kingdom continues to come to you, so that you may receive His goodness always. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

No comments: