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When We Are Broken


This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 10/7/18 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Mark 10:2-16.

Several weeks before my 23rd anniversary of marriage to my first husband, he told me he didn’t want to be married anymore. He is gay. We had two children, Christian who was finishing high school and Sarah who was working. 

All of us were devastated by the news. Gone were the dreams of what we would do for our 25th anniversary, which never arrived. Our family was broken and this impacted us on many levels. Christian was angry with his father for several years, but in time there was forgiveness. His father was his best man when he got married. Sarah was not thrilled about the situation, but over time, she too was able to forgive her father. In all of this, I felt like my heart was broken into a million pieces. I know the pain of broken promises, a broken marriage and divorce. 

The Pharisees approached Jesus and Mark tells us it’s to test him. They aren’t interested in what he has to say. We’re told elsewhere in Mark that they are already plotting to find some way to get rid of him. 

Now there are some things we need to understand about marriage and divorce in Jesus’ day. People did not marry for love, but married people in their cultural circle. Marriage was a property exchange, or a way to secure stability for a woman, and a way to ensure lineage for a man.

In Judaism, only husbands could divorce wives. The results for a woman whose husband had divorced her were disastrous. She experienced total and complete disenfranchisement and economic ruin. She was left without property, family or any way of living beyond begging or being a prostitute. 

Although the Pharisees posed a trick question, Jesus is unafraid to take up the challenge of divorce, even though his cousin, John the Baptist was killed by Herod because he verbalized God’s objections to Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. Nevertheless, Jesus took the bait but turned everything on its ear in his response. Jesus uses the word “separate,” which is different from the word for “divorce.” He moves the conversation from legal terms to broken relationships. The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce, while Jesus spoke of marriage. 

Notice that Jesus said the reason Moses allowed divorce was because of the “hardness of heart” of people. This is why we wreak such havoc and brokenness on ourselves. People trade partnership for power, mutuality for manipulation and empathy for egotism. 

In addressing the issue of divorce, Jesus speaks against divorcing a woman for a petty reason, such as preparing a meal the husband didn’t care for. By speaking against this practice, he was being loving and compassionate. Jesus goes to God’s intent behind the law, which is human flourishing and speaks of marriage. Law and order are a means to an end, not the end in themselves. Jesus is not bolstering a mere institution, but supporting that which respects and supports the integrity of relationships. Jesus never explicitly prohibits divorce. He simply points to God’s intended order, which is that people should be in healthy partnered relationships. God’s intentions should not be shortchanged by convenience or a law that allows one member of the partnership to abandon and ruin another. Divorce is the tearing apart of the one-flesh union God has blessed. 

God intended marriage to be a union, a partnership, a supportive and mutually inter-dependent relationship. Today’s gospel proclaims a countercultural belief that marriage partners have been bonded together by God and that Christians have a higher ethical standard than the law stipulates. The thing that helps us in our marriages is lots of grace. We are not always easy to live with. We get impatient with each other. We don’t always communicate with each other the way we should. We sin against each other in numerous ways, some which strain and nearly break the bonds of marriage. We need to frequently ask for forgiveness and be forgiving, taking advantage of God’s abundant grace. 

Since the Pharisees were not interested in the real reasons for marriage and divorce, it’s important that we don’t make a new rule about marriage and divorce from Jesus’ exchange with them. It’s also not an argument that can be used as a bumper sticker in the culture wars to preclude gay marriage. If anything, Jesus is saying, “Of course, human beings were made for relationship, but you’re missing the whole point.” We do not solve the problems of marriage and divorce by an exploration of the rules. So the answer to the Pharisees’ question was not what was permissible under the law, but what was now possible in this unfolding kingdom of peace, love and justice.

Jesus’ response was to a specific question. The question should not be used for that which it was not addressing, such as gay/lesbian relationships. Other kinds of relationships were not on the horizon of this text. Jesus speaks of the reign of God, not some timeless teaching on marriage and family. At the heart of the text is the disruptive work of God in Christ, which overturns patriarchal marriage relationships. 

When they were alone with Jesus in the house, the disciples asked him again about marriage and divorce. Again we see that the disciples just don’t get it. In that day, in Jewish society, a woman could not choose to leave her husband and marry someone else. Only men could initiate divorce and marriage. Jesus is emphasizing equality between men and women. The focus is to protect the woman who has become one of the “least of these.” The verse that says, “and if she divorces her husband,” indicates that Mark’s community, which included Gentiles, is considering the Roman law, which gave women the right to divorce their husbands. 

When Jesus suggests the woman become an equal partner in marriage, there are theological implications. Jesus challenges the idea that a man can simply set aside his wife. Marriage creates a union in which two people participate and are changed, a sacred relationship with mutual responsibility. One person cannot just set the other aside.

Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce and he isn’t. Jesus’ teaching applies to all relationships because our God is a God of relationship, who wants us to be in relationship with God, relationship with each other and in relationship with our community. A love relationship is the essence of the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our interconnectedness here on earth is to mirror that of God in heaven. 

We live in a broken world full of broken, sinful people. As Christians, we sin and this affects all our relationships, including that of marriage. When people have worked hard to find life and strength in the promises they made at their wedding, divorce becomes an intensely painful death, for divorce is the failure of the future. Both partners are cut through; the victims are the whole people involved. Jesus tested the Pharisees in their testing. Faithfulness is suddenly much more than a matter of following the rules and appropriate rituals. 

We made promises to our partner when we married. Many of us have had wonderful, love-filled, satisfying marriages, while others of us have not. Some of us have been divorced, maybe through our own fault, but maybe not. Some feel that if they just stick it out together, no matter how bad things get, they are avoiding sin. For Christians, divorce may be better than continuing in a toxic, broken relationship. We rely on honest confession, sincere repentance, and Christ’s promise of mercy in this part of our lives, as in all things. 

However, we sometimes find ourselves to be the victims of divorce—whether it was our parents who divorced, ourselves, our children or friends. The effects of divorce on relationships is wide-reaching. Who gets to keep this friend or that one? Do I have to find a different church? I have to move? Will I have time with my grandchildren? You get the picture. 

There are hosts of hurting people who have suffered pain in this and other ways, those who are easy to forget. Have you seen the pain in the eyes of immigrant children who are separated from their families or the anguish of their parents? We can help them through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. What about our own friends and neighbors who are suffering? We can be there for them as a listening ear, with arms wide open to hold them and to speak and be the grace and peace of God for them. Others are alone because they are widowed. They may miss being hugged and could be lonely. Talk to them. Listen to them. Love them. What about our own Promise Children in Honduras? In the Prayer Room, there is a booklet of their pictures, with their names. Pray for them. Support them. 

Where do we find God? God is most reliably present among those who are hurting the most, who are vulnerable and dispossessed. If that’s where God is, then that’s where we should find God’s church—extending grace and help and support and understanding and love for the down and out, those the culture leaves behind, those without power, those who are easy to miss or dismiss. It is to such as these, Jesus says, that the kingdom of God belongs. Only when we recognize our own dependence and vulnerability and see ourselves in those who suffer, can we imagine rightly and thereby receive the reign and presence of God. (David Lose)

The good news for us all is that today’s gospel shows us that God regularly shows care for precisely those who have been sundered and torn apart and had their hearts broken into a million pieces, that find themselves alone, dependent, vulnerable, suffering, disenfranchised and hurting. God’s kingdom belongs to its weakest members, as Jesus teaches in the closing paragraph of today’s gospel. We don’t have to be children to be weak and in need. 

When we drag ourselves through the doors on Sunday morning after a week that may have pulverized our hearts and battered our self-esteem, we come because we know that here Jesus says to us, “Come, my child. Let me take you into my embrace. Let me love you. Let me assure you that I will always have a place for you.” We sit with Christ and God’s family, with soft hearts trusting that God loves us even though our lives may be battered and broken. And God heals us. “This is the promise of the Gospel—that even our best attempts at thwarting God’s grace will be met again and again by God’s abounding love” (Karoline Lewis).


Amen.

Resources

Charles L. Campbell, Feasting On the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost

Crossings.org 

Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com

Jann Esther Boyd Fullenwieder, in Homilies for the Christian People

Rachael Keefe, christiancentury.org

Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org 

David Lose, davidlose.net

Bradley Schmeling, Currents in Theology and Mission 45:3 (July 2018)

Matt Skinner, workingpreacher.com

Sundaysandseasons.com

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