At the beginning of September, I read for you the words to the song “Draw the circle wide”. You may or may not remember that I preached on the Syrophenician woman. I concluded that sermon with these thoughts: my prayer is that when we open ourselves up to drawing the circle wide, standing side by side, we can all experience the creative and powerful force that is God’s love, healing and forgiving grace.
The next Sunday, I taught you the song “The ocean refuses no river” and we celebrated with the youth as they began their Journey to Adulthood Program. In case your memory is a little fuzzy, I preached about losing your old life to gain new life…the cost of discipleship.
Then the next Sunday, we sang again. This time it was “Jesus loves me” and I talked about welcoming all of God’s children. And last week, we looked at our Baptismal Covenant and the importance of continuing our journey of discipleship with God’s help. Next week, the Gospel lesson is about the rich young man asking Jesus what he must do to enter the Kingdom of God, and Beth will be talking to you about the new FISH food bank.
So what do these sermons have in common with Jesus talking about divorce? At first glance, absolutely nothing. But if we look again, we’ll see that all of these lessons are about wholeness. The hymn “Day by Day” says that we pray for three things: to see God more clearly, to love God more dearly, and to follow God more nearly. Why would we want to pray for these three things? Because God wants us to be whole, and wholeness means being in right relationship—seeing, loving and following God through our relationships with one another.
Let’s look again at those earlier sermons based on the teachings found in Mark’s gospel. When Jesus is tested by the Pharisees or questioned by his disciples, a couple of things are happening. First, Jesus has been behaving in a way that is drawing attention to himself. Typically, he’s doing something that’s against the cultural norm. So part of the testing and questioning is to explore why he’s doing things differently, and with what authority he’s doing them. For the Pharisees, and even the disciples, the established cultural norms, traditions and laws are comfortable and stable; they provide structure; “it’s the way we’ve always done it”. But Jesus wants to move beyond the law…it’s not the law that gets folks into heaven, but how we treat each other.
Another thing that’s going on in these stories is that Jesus is pointing out the human brokenness, which is most evident in relationships. Whether it’s the disciples trying to “shoo away” children or other “undesirables” from gathering near Jesus, or in today’s gospel, when Jesus reminds the Pharisees that it is because of their “hardness of heart” that a law about divorce had to be created; he is illustrating that we have broken down what God wanted for us, which is wholeness…seeing, loving and following God by serving one another.
The final thing that happens in these stories of Mark is that there is almost always a blessing. In one story, Jesus heals a man who is deaf and mute. In another story, he blesses the disciples by inviting them to lose their life to follow him. In another story, he blesses the disciples by inviting them to be last and to welcome all. And in today’s gospel, he blesses a child that has come near him. Now it may seem strange to call some of these events “blessings” but they are because they are given by Jesus as a sign of God’s grace; not because the disciples or those receiving healing are perfect in any way. When we experience healing, when we are invited into a relationship with God, when we are shown how to love even “the least” of God’s children, we are blessed.
Jesus’ teaching about divorce challenges us. For many of us, myself included, it strikes a nerve that makes us question if we’ll be acceptable enough to enter the Kingdom of God. We get tripped up by the Pharisees. However, if we understand that we are part of a broken world, and if we, as broken and imperfect as we are, are willing to accept the blessing of Jesus, then we are made whole again.
Yes, dear God, I do pray to see you more clearly in my neighbors, to love you more dearly by serving others, and follow you more nearly through my relationships. And I pray that I am blessed with wholeness in this journey.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.