Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost 10/4

          For Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem continued, moving out of Capernaum into more remote regions of Galilee beyond the Jordan. Wherever he went though, the people followed hoping maybe for healing, maybe hoping just to hear him speak. The people gather and I picture Jesus standing and scanning the crowd before sitting down to teach.  Some of the people would have been familiar to him, his disciples and some of the women; some may have been a little less familiar but he’d seen them before, they’d been around.  A lot though would have been unknown to him, people that had heard the rumors and wanted to check Jesus out. 

And then there were the Pharisees, those bearded men in black robes working their way forward in the crowd and people getting out of the way because after all, they’re Pharisees, they’re better than we are, and Jesus seeing them, perhaps thinking, “Here we go again.  I wonder what they’ve got for me today?”  Whatever it was, he knew that what they were really hoping to do was to make him look bad. 

          For Jesus and the Pharisees, on this day the topic was divorce.  It’s probably not what Jesus had planned to talk about, but that was the question the Pharisees asked.  Apparently, in that culture, at that time divorce was common and it was easy.  The law of Deuteronomy permitted divorce “if the husband finds something objectionable about his wife.”  There was controversy about this though as one school of rabbis interpreted this law very narrowly saying that adultery and infertility were the only grounds for divorce, another school of rabbis interpreted it very broadly so that something as seemingly trivial as burning dinner could be an acceptable reason.  Either way it could only be done from the man’s side; women had no rights in such cases.

          Maybe the Pharisees were thinking that however Jesus answered, he was going to offend one group or the other which would help build their case against him.  If that’s what they thought though, they really hadn’t been paying attention because they should have known that Jesus wasn’t likely to give a straight answer anyway; he almost never did.

          “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they asked and Jesus answered with a question of his own, asking them what Moses said about this, even though he undoubtedly already knew; he knew that the law of Moses permitted divorce.  But then he went to a different text, the creation text from Genesis, in essence to say that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should as he connected marriage to the good order of God’s creation.  With that response he may have sent the Pharisees home happy because that answer didn’t just offend one group of rabbis; with that answer Jesus offended everyone.  When questioned later by his disciples he used even harsher terms connecting divorce and remarriage to adultery which is hard to hear because it makes a lot of us adulterers and if it’s not you it’s one of your kids or someone else you love and care about.  This is one of those hard sayings of Jesus.

          This prohibition on divorce becomes a classic example of how an isolated verse of scripture, even a saying of Jesus, can be used to do damage and has been used to do damage as people have been guilted into staying in unhealthy relationships.  But it’s also an example of another verse that even the literalists don’t have any trouble reinterpreting.  They don’t want to hear this as prohibition either as divorce rates in the churches that approach the Bible that way are the same as they are in the general population, about 50%.

          In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, there are lots of covenants made, promises and commitments usually between the people and the Lord.  In the Old Testament class I’m teaching for Lay School one of the things we’ve talked about is that a theme that recurs throughout is covenants made, covenants broken, but then, in time, covenants renewed.  It happens repeatedly; the violation of the covenant may result in punishment, it often does, but the hope for renewal remains and it finally happens.  As I said, in the Old Testament the covenants involve commitments made between the people and the Lord, but I think marriage and divorce can be viewed in a similar way; the commitment made and then violated isn’t that different. 

In a perfect world, of course, God’s covenants with the people wouldn’t be broken and marriages wouldn’t end in divorce.  Jesus, in his statements to the Pharisees and his disciples certainly made it clear that from his perspective divorce is not desirable, not even acceptable really; but it happens.  We don’t live in a perfect world and the Bible is quite clear in its recognition of that. Covenants are broken and then, there is punishment, there is pain.  In cases of divorce, the same thing happens even when it’s the right thing to do; there still is pain, just ask anyone who’s experienced it.

Yet…our faith tells us that punishment and pain are not the last word; there is always that hope for renewal and so has been the case for many people who have been through a divorce.  The covenant is remade and the loving union that marriage intends is realized.  There’s the opportunity for new life, and isn’t that what Christian faith is all about?  In the New Testament the central story is the Resurrection story, a story of new life out of death, the promise of God to do something new out of the most broken of situations.  For a lot of people a second chance at marriage may be the most concrete example they’ll ever have of what new life out of brokenness really means.

The severity of what Jesus says in these verses has to be weighed against this recurring theme of hope and new life out of brokenness.  We can’t ignore what he says, it’s there and it highlights the seriousness of the issue; but there are other texts, other more characteristic texts concerning God’s forgiveness and God’s will for us, and we can be thankful for that.

The second part of this gospel lesson, the part where the disciples are worried about people bringing little children to Jesus, doesn’t seem to be connected to the part about divorce, but it could be seen as a caution to the Pharisees and to the disciples and to us, a caution concerning what life is all about.  It’s the second time that Jesus uses a child as an example but again I don’t think it’s just “Jesus loves the little children sentimentality.”  The point this time might be that life is for living; life isn’t for the Pharisees to be trying to catch Jesus or anyone else in violation of the minutia of the law; life isn’t for the disciples to be gate keepers, worrying about who is taking up Jesus’ time.  Life is for living, for being appreciative and happy for who you are and for what you’ve got, trusting that you’re in God’s hands.

Let me give you an example of what I think Jesus might have been getting at with the little child.  Every morning I walk from the house out to the alley to open the garage door.  The entrance to Phelps School is right there so at that hour of the morning there are often kids going in to the school or waiting to go in.  A couple of weeks ago one morning most of the kids had gone in by the time I got out there, and the sidewalk leading up to the entrance was empty except for this one little kid who came walking along.  He looked too young to be going to Phelps but anyway, he was walking along, talking to himself, kind of waving his arms as he happily headed up the sidewalk into the building and I thought it was kind of cute.  Thinking about this text though, I thought, that kid was living.  He was in the moment happy to be who he was, where he was, not worried about any one or anything, just happy to be. 

At some point we lose that, I suppose we have to; then, life goes on, but a lot of the time we’re not really living.  Some of that is necessary, it’s doing what needs to be done to survive day to day, but think about how much time we can spend unhappily being dragged down by things or people or issues that we shouldn’t let drag us down instead of enjoying and being thankful for the good things life has to offer.  There are things that concern us that we don’t have much choice about but there are other things, and with those things, we do have a choice; we could be living.

I’m not suggesting that you walk the streets of Ishpeming talking to yourself and waving your arms; but Jesus came to give us life, abundant life.  We have a savior, a God who became human to give us new life, second chances when we stumble, second chances when we sin, second chances when covenants we made with God and each other are broken.

Like a little child, we can trust in the truth of this God revealed in Jesus, and we can live.   

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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