Friday, October 9, 2015

This is the message I shared on Sunday, 10/4 with St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches. The text is Mark 10:2-16.

Many of us, find it difficult to hear Jesus' words on marriage and divorce. Either we have personally experienced the pain of divorce or we know people who have. It is so much a part of life in our day, that we dare not ignore this section of Mark's gospel. Through the tears and dashed hopes, God embraces us and by his grace puts our broken lives back together.

Relationships are difficult. It is not always easy for us to love the way God wants us to, by letting him love through us. All of today's scripture readings focus on primary relationships by affirming God's purpose in creation.

Jesus was still teaching about discipleship. In today's reading, Jesus shows us how discipleship is lived out in the family--in marriage and divorce and in our relationship with children. Earlier in Mark (3:31-35), Jesus had announced the formation of a new family, which transcended sacred obligations and relationships of the conventional family.

Now, the Pharisees approach Jesus to ask him a question. Of course, we know that it was a test for Jesus. After all, when it came to the law, the Pharisees knew the answers. Besides that, the question of divorce was not a burning issue among Jews of Jesus' time. However, the allowable grounds for divorce was a hot topic for them. There were two different schools of thought regarding this issue, the strict school of Shammai, which believed which believed that a man could only divorce his wife for a serious transgression or the liberal school of Hillel, which believed that husbands could divorce their wives for any reason. If Jesus sided with one or the other, he'd be in trouble, which is what the Pharisees were counting on. However, Jesus does not take sides, but sticks with what concerns the disciples--God's intent in creating humanity.

Jesus shifts the issue from what the law allows, to what God intends, making the subject more about marriage than about divorce. Jesus turns "Is it lawful..." upside down by going back before the law to creation--behind the legality of divorce to the intent of marriage. Jesus affirms marriage as a lifelong joining of two people in a profound union. Marriage is a gift of God's good creation.

Becoming "one flesh"  (v. 7) not only refers to sexual union, but to an actual unity of the couple. The relationship was not to be that of individuals going their own separate ways, united only by a contractual arrangement. God is the one who joins the couple into this new unity. Jesus' conclusion from creation was that divorce would be like trying to divide one person into two.

In Jesus' time, only Jewish husbands could divorce their wives, not vice versa. It could be as easy as saying, "I divorce you..." The divorce certificate protected the wife because it specified that she was free to remarry. This law was only a concession to hard hearts. This latter law was from God, but does not correspond to the original will of God given in creation. Jesus' assumption that either spouse may divorce the other, showed Jesus' teaching being adapted for future generations.

Jesus' teaching about marriage and divorce, was calling his followers to lives and relationships of love and faithfulness that surpass the demands of the law. The law may have allowed one to discharge a spouse to marry another, which especially left women without status or support in the community. Jesus upheld God's intention for marriage to preserve the bond of mutual care within the community of God's people. Jesus transforms the concept of marriage from being that of a legal contract to a sacred covenant and holy calling of God's own creation. In all relationships, as God's people, we are called to live out our faithfulness to God by loving each one as Christ has loved us.

How does Jesus' teaching on marriage and divorce apply to us today? Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a relationship that is a gift from God. It is a relationship that is for comfort and mutual affection. It is intended to be a means of growth for each spouse. We help to rub the rough edges off of each other.

In our day, marriage is taken so very lightly. Many do not understand what they are entering into. Their relationship, good or bad, affects not only themselves, but others--children, parents and extended family. If they are active at church, how they are doing has an influence on the health of the Christian community as well.

We experience great pain when the marriage of someone we care about crumbles. We are often shocked when someone we thought we knew, displays an ugly, hidden side such as child or spouse abuse. For partners who find themselves in such a situation, Christ does not condemn them to remain in danger or shame. Divorce is the only answer for them and God will certainly not condemn them for getting one. He may even bless them in ways that were unimaginable to them.

When my first marriage broke up, I felt like it was the end of everything. I did not even believe in divorce. I had married for life. We had made vows. It seemed so obvious that the things my former husband was doing were expressly outside of the will of God and the promises we had made.

I could not see the different future God had in mind for me. But now, in retrospect, I understand that I would not be where I am today if I was still married to my first husband. I would not have married Ray and would never have had the opportunity to go to seminary and I wouldn't be here with you today. God has taken the broken pieces of my life and made something beautiful out of them. I am so thankful for Ray and the impact he has had on my life.

Even when it is the right thing, divorce is still very painful. It may take a long time to get over the sense of betrayal that it has left with us. After Ray and I were married, I would have awful dreams that we were engaged and that Ray changed his mind. He loved me, but just not enough. Thankfully, those days are long gone.

When Jesus teaches about divorce, he is not condemning those of us who had no other choice. What he is talking about is the kind of divorce which is rampant in our own society today--that of casting off one's spouse as disposable or replaceable commodities. Jesus taught against getting divorced in order to marry someone else. Jesus objected to the wrong motive behind the divorce.

When a marriage is Christ-centered, partners love and forgive each other. It presents a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church, as the Apostle Paul taught.

Even as God's children, we are still saints and sinners, a proverbial mixed bag, We fall and God's grace scoops us up and puts us back on the path.

In some cases, divorce can be an occasion for repentance, acknowledging that one has failed to live by God's will and means of grace. For others, staying married in an impossible situation, while they think they are "living according to the Bible," is wrong. They may in fact, be distancing themselves from God's grace. Jesus was not telling battered women that they and their children must risk physical and psychological torment just to avoid divorce.

However, divorce should only be the last resort. It is never innocent, but rather is a loss of innocence and a ripping apart of family and community. Nobody comes out of it unscathed.

Hardness of heart was not only a problem in Moses' day. We are the ones who have caused or experienced pain in our relationships. We are the broken, hurting children of God who have no bargaining chips to trade in for acceptance into God's kingdom.

The church was originally about being a place for all who had been broken by life or rejected by the powerful--those who experienced God through the crucified Jesus who met them just as they were, to make them open to the brokenness and need of those around them.

God is inviting us to see our church community as a place where God's work to heal and restore the whole creation is ongoing, not by taking away all our problems, but by surrounding us with people who understand and care and help us to discover together our potential to reach out to others in love and compassion.


M. Eugene Boring, The New Testament LIbrary: Mark, a Commentary.

Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B.


David Lose, blessed/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm _campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29

Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume VIII, Matthew and Mark.

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