By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

October 4, 2009

Read: Mark 10:2-16

Wow! Preaching about divorce and marriage is like running through a field of thorns, as my colleague Charles says. Why? Because any congregation today is likely to contain people who are married, people who are divorced, people who are divorced and remarried, people who may get divorced at some future time, people who have been treated shabbily by churches due to their marital difficulties, people whose lives and families and friends have been hurt by the pain of divorce. It’s everybody’s issue, indirectly or directly. And so, preaching about it looks like running through a field of thorns, and listening to a sermon on marriage and divorce can, no doubt, seem the same way: one misstep and we just add to the hurting. A divorce may be necessary, I can especially think of abusive relationships, but it’s never a triumph. It’s always made of heartbreak. Just ask anybody who’s lived through one.

So let’s journey together carefully into the thorny field, in the hope that amidst the briars we can find together the good news of God in Christ, for a world that’s broken and in pain.

The discussion gets started because some of the Pharisees are out to get Jesus. They want to trap him in his words, and so destroy his credibility. The issue they raise is a controversial one at that time, in first-century Palestine: whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Authorities differ on this question. Some allow divorce only in instances of adultery. Others allow divorce for the slightest of reasons. But note how the issue is framed: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? No consideration is given to the possibility of a wife divorcing her husband. That is out of the question. Here, in first century Palestine, men have all the power.

Jesus knows this question is not an honest inquiry. He knows the Pharisees are not interested in learning his opinion, but in testing him, in defeating him. He responds to the question with a question: What did Moses command you? In other words, how does the Law of Moses read, the law you hold in such high regard?

Of course, Jesus knows the answer, and so does everyone within hearing distance. It’s what we call today a no-brainer. And so the Pharisees shoot back the correct reference: Moses allows a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.

The reference here is to Deuteronomy, chapter 24. It’s arguable, to say the least, that Moses is giving permission to divorce. What he does instead is to recognize that divorce happens and to set forth norms regarding certain types of remarriage. Like the canon law of the Episcopal Church, Moses acknowledges that divorce happens here in this world outside the Garden of Eden.

Jesus pushes behind Deut 24 to Gen.1-2, Jesus pushes behind the stipulation of the law to the story of Creation, behind the legality of divorce to the intent of marriage.

It is as though he thumps a finger against the chest of each of those Pharisees and says: Don’t you get it? Your hearts are hard! If human hearts were not hard, then marriages would always work, and Moses wouldn’t have written about what happens when they don’t!

Jesus addresses each one of us and says the same thing. Don’t you get it? Your hearts are hard! But please note this, and note it well. He’s not just challenging the divorced among us. He’s challenging every last one of us, even if we have been married happily for six decades. The divorced are not to be regarded as some pariah class different from the rest of us. The problem of the hard heart is not limited to divorced people, but is common to us all. In some it becomes manifest in a marital break-up. In others it shows itself in a marriage that remains together but is lifeless. In still others hardness of heart appears in a failure to forgive our friends, in a judgmental spirit toward our children or parents, or any of the other forms of sin in which we humans become trapped. The divorced are not worse and not better than the rest. We all find ourselves in the same place: outside the gates of Eden.

But then Jesus stops talking about hard hearts. Instead, he takes us by both hands and looks at us with an expression of compassion, hope, and remembrance. He calls us back to a time before the invention of power games, whether it’s the sexism of his own period when men called the shots about marriage and divorce, or today’s equal-opportunity destructiveness where either partner can damage the other. Jesus, looking at us with that expression of compassion, hope, and remembrance, calls us back to a time before time, back to when our home was the garden, back to the intention of God at creation. God made them male and female. Delightfully different. Wonderfully equal. Intended to be one flesh. No hardness of heart. No games, no secrets, but naked and unashamed.

(Rev. Charles Hoffacker)

The heart of Jesus’ message is about relationships – and Jesus reminds us of the ideal that we can all strive for in our marriages and in all of our relationships.

The late newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote articles filled with offbeat, southern humor. But underneath the laughter, there was a sadness—a life of personal suffering and loss. Some of Grizzard’s pain came from his troubled relationship with his alcoholic father, who had abandoned the family when Lewis was a boy. Later in life, Lewis reconciled with his father.

As the old man lay in his final illness, Lewis repeatedly pleaded with him. “What’s wrong, Daddy? Why can’t you stay sober? What can be so bad that you can’t talk about it?”

His father refused to answer. Even when Lewis assured him that it didn’t matter what it was, that he loved him whatever was the awful truth, his father would only sob and weep and sputter, “I’ve made a bad mistake.”

Lewis never learned what his father so secretly and deeply regretted. “But,” he wrote, “it doesn’t matter. Whatever his sin, whatever his secret, I loved him and love him still.”

And that’s what Jesus does. He loves us with a love stronger than sin, a love that is there no matter what. In fact, it’s the love of Jesus that makes our loving possible. In Christ, by the power of his love and forgiveness, we can live in the kind of relationship that God desires for us: relationships that are lasting, life-giving, and loving!

It’s the love of God that melts the hardness in our heart and produces great relationships.

On the night He was betrayed Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant.” As Christians we are called to a table that celebrates the equal creation of all God’s people. We are called to drink deeply from the cup of forgiveness for the healing of all our relationships. In Christ we become one body and it is in the love of Christ that all love is sustained. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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