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Pentecost 20B Sermon
Mark 10: 2-16
October
7, 2018

 

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Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

When I was first in the ministry I attended an event where the keynote speaker was a well-respected church consultant from the Alban Institute named Loren Meade. Loren began one of his talks by telling a story about his first call to the ministry. He was in a congregation without a history of doing any kind of intense stewardship programs – kind of like us – and had decided it was time to do one. They had lined up a guest speaker, planned to have people fill out pledge cards and were going to have a victory dinner as part of the congregation’s emphasis to encourage good stewardship. There was one particular leader in the congregation – I will call him John – who was dead set against the program from the beginning. He talked with other congregation members about it, who would then report to Loren about John’s unhappiness. Loren dreaded the day when they would meet about it, face-to-face. Well, on the morning of the culmination of the program, Loren was very busy getting things ready for worship, the guest preacher, pledge cards, meal after worship … and John walked into his office and closed the door behind him. Loren thought, “ok … here it comes.” He braced himself for the angry tirade which was about to be unleashed at his expense. John sat down, looked Loren in the eyes and with all of his strength muttered the words, “Pastor, I’m having an affair.” To which Loren replied, “Oh thank God!!!”
Sometimes conversations happen and they are pretty clear cut what they are about … and sometimes they happen and they either go a totally different way from where they were going to go, or down deep they are about something totally different than what is on the surface. That is the way it is with the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel reading this morning. We might think it’s all about divorce … but I am here to tell you that it is about a much deeper topic than this. It’s not really about divorce … and I would not be surprised if at this point you all breathed a collective, “Oh, thank God!!”

Jesus does not get drawn in to the trap that the Pharisees are setting for him – he knows that their question is about more than divorce! They are very generic in their questioning: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal …” But Jesus brings it back to them: What did Moses command YOU? Because of YOUR hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for YOU. They are speaking in generalities … Jesus is dealing in particulars with real people. He knows that there are two schools of theology in ancient Judaism about divorce: There was the liberal Hillel rabbinic teachings that say that a man can issue a certificate of divorce to his wife for any reason at all, even if she has bad cooking skills; then there is the conservative Shammai camp which says a man can only divorce a woman in cases of infidelity or other serious immoralities. This is not a conversation about divorce – they wanted to know if he was a liberal or conservative … so that they could have ammunition against him with at least half of the people when it came time to bring a case against him. Even when the disciples ask about the matter in private he leaves his own opinion out of it and only gives the legalistic answer for the question about divorce.

But once again, for the second time in two chapters, Jesus calls attention to a little child. It is not an accident that he does it so often in Mark’s gospel. The Pharisees and disciples are all thinking in terms of seeing people as property – marriage was really a contract in which the man pretty much owned his wife as he would own a home; and children were treated as property until they were old enough to begin to make a difference for the family. No, this scripture passage is not about marriage or divorce. It is not about who can get married and why people could get divorced. It is not even about treating children as people instead of property.

This passage is about God’s relationship with us and what that looks like as a model and foundation for our relationships with each other. Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as little child will never enter it.” That has nothing to do with being baptized as a child or being raised in a Christian family. It does have to do with the way that God loves us, which is as a parent loves a child. My parents loved me all the same, whether I got all A’s on my report card or disappointed them with some of my actions. They continued to love me when I spoke respectfully to them and when I mouthed back or argued with my siblings. Their love was not earned, but was given to me freely because of the gift of relationship that we had with each other. That was nurtured when I was a child, depending on them for every little thing to survive, through my school years and into adulthood.

Returning to those childlike days is not always easy, but when we understand our relationship with God most vividly experienced when Jesus gave his life on the cross and was raised again, then we understand how gracious and merciful God’s love is. Even though I am full of sin and brokenness, God still loves me. Not only that, God wants me to love others, regardless of how we are getting along right now. Things get complicated as adults, and brokenness can be experienced in so many more dramatic ways. Jesus calls us to return to innocence, and reminds us that God’s heart is with those who are most vulnerable to being broken and hurt by others, even and especially those who are divorced.
In the same way, God loves all of us regardless of our marital status, credit rating, grade point average, sexual orientation, nationality, age or whatever. As a matter of fact, there is a preferential place in God’s heart for those who don’t qualify for much privilege in the eyes of the world! From the time of the captives in Egypt, God has worked to release those who are enslaved by the powers of the world. God promises to keep doing this today. God calls the church to be part of that on-going mission in our own neighborhoods that was begun through his Son Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus went against his disciples’ wishes in welcoming these little kids with no social standing or asset value to them, we are to look past the brokenness of people to welcome them and love them with the same love of Jesus that we all have experienced so many times.

No, this passage isn’t about divorce at all, and neither is this sermon. But before you say, “Oh Thank God,” consider that it is about much, much more than that. It is about the good news of the radical love that God has for each of us – like a parent for a tiny, totally dependent and vulnerable child. And it is about living out that childlike love and relationship with everyone … especially those who are constantly left behind because of their social standing, age, gender, race or even religious affiliation. May the love of our divine and perfect parent inspire us to love other sinners just as much as God loves each of us! Amen.