Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 10/04/2015

Today’s texts could create a temptation to dive into the culture wars, with an Old Testament lesson that references marriage, a gospel text that quotes that passage about marriage in reference to divorce and Psalm 8 touching on the environment and humanity’s responsibility toward it, especially what it means to have humans rule over or have dominion over the work of God’s hands. Marriage and how it’s defined, issues related to the environment like climate change are hot button political issues these days, at least for some people, issues on which neither a politician nor a clergy person can win; no matter what side you come down on, some will see you as a prophet and a hero and others will suggest you mind your own business. Anyone who chooses to dive into these topics is not likely to survive unscathed.

Pope Francis in his recent visit is a good example of what I’m talking about. With the political polarization in this country everything gets spun out in a way that pits liberals vs. conservatives and that’s what happened. Liberals were said to embrace the Pope’s statements on the environment and economic inequality, conservatives embraced him for standing firm in opposition to abortion and in affirming so called “traditional” family values, traditional marriage. In the case of Pope Francis, he does pretty much survive unscathed because both sides hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel. For anyone else though, it’s probably safer to take the path of least resistance and talk about Jesus blessing the little children.

Using Jesus as an example though, he didn’t avoid the culture wars of his day, but he was pretty good at not letting them define him. The Pharisees often tried to suck him in, trying to trap him, posing questions that Jesus couldn’t answer without upsetting someone, questions like today’s “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Their intent was always to get him into a legalistic war of words but he was pretty elusive and hard to pin down. It seems like the Pharisees never figured out that Jesus was always the smartest one in the room.

In this case, Jesus’ answer is basically that while divorce is permissible, it is not desirable. He uses the question to uphold the ideal of marriage where in the strange mathematics of marriage one plus one equals one; two become one flesh. It’s always interesting that this text that is actually about divorce is used so often at weddings but that’s because of the way Jesus turned his answer away from the legalistic trap the Pharisees tried to set and instead pointed toward the ideals of what God has in mind for marriage.

Divorce and the status of those who were divorced was an issue in Jesus’ time and it wasn’t all that long ago that it was an issue in our time. Not so much these days though, when the divorce rate is at least 50%, maybe higher. I remember though, when I was in elementary school, if there was one kid in your class whose parents were divorced that was a surprise; by the time I was teaching school it wasn’t a surprise if close to half the kids were in that situation; now I assume there are even more. I don’t think anyone would see this as a positive development, but at least divorce is not the source of shame and embarrassment that it once was. It’s just part of the landscape, more or less accepted by everyone, including the church, as part of today’s reality.

Is divorce an example of the church giving in to the culture though? In today’s text, after disarming the Pharisees, as Jesus addressed his disciples in private, we get three verses that we perhaps wish weren’t there, verses about how anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. That’s harsh, difficult to hear but even harsher and more difficult to hear in Jesus time when if adultery was proven the punishment was death by stoning. They’re verses that one would like to ignore which is what we tend to do when the Bible says something we don’t like, or we would like to explain them away because they convict so many of us, if not personally then concerning someone we know and love. The finger that we prefer to point at others comes a little too close.

It may be though, that this is another example of overstatement to make a point not unlike what we had in last week’s gospel about cutting off body parts and plucking out eyes. Using the harsh terms that he does about divorce and remarriage may be Jesus’ way of highlighting the seriousness of this topic, both the marriage part of it and the divorce part, emphasizing the fact that none of it should be taken casually or lightly.

A part of me says that calling these verses overstatement is an example of trying to explain them away, but then I think maybe not; maybe that is what’s going on because verses like this don’t sound like Jesus. He wasn’t harsh and legalistic. He wasn’t afraid to acknowledge the reality of sin either, but he didn’t beat people over the head with it in order to induce guilt but instead used it as a way to get at the reality of grace and forgiveness.

In the first part of this text Jesus set up an ideal concerning marriage with two becoming one. Within that ideal, the love and commitment and companionship that make marriage what it ought to be are assumed and it does create quite a beautiful image. In a perfect world that ideal would hold and there would be no divorce, but in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a broken world and that’s the world Jesus became part of in order to announce something new, the inbreaking of his kingdom. In the meantime, in a broken world where we only get the kingdom Jesus talked about in glimpses, things like divorce do happen. Hence Jesus’ response to the Pharisees that divorce was permissible.

What we know though, what we believe is that Jesus enters into situations of brokenness, like divorce, not necessarily to fix them, but to speak a word of hope into them and by doing so to begin to transform them.

This text is another reminder that our Christian story is a story of resurrection, a story of new life out of brokenness. Every Sunday is intended to be an Easter celebration so every Sunday we’re reminded of hope and new life and this text provides an opportunity to make that proclamation.

Anyone who has been through a divorce themselves knows the pain of it. Anyone who has been up close and personal to divorce as a friend or relative of one of the parties knows the pain of it, even when it is absolutely the right thing to do which it often is. We’re not talking about celebrity marriages here that can appear to be a matter of convenience, marriages entered into almost with the assumption by the couple that sooner or later they’ll move on, we’re talking about people who marry really thinking they’re in love and that marriage is the right thing and it’s forever but then find out that for whatever reason, they made a mistake. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, just a mistake.

In such cases, divorce is the right thing to do, but there is still hurt, there is still pain and in the moment it might seem that there is no hope. But those are precisely the kinds of moments that Christ enters into making the hope for new life known. I know and you know people for whom a second marriage is as close as they’ll ever come to knowing what resurrection is all about. You might be one of those people, people who don’t find the reality of Jesus’ vision of marriage until they’ve experienced the pain that a broken marriage can cause. But that’s the second chance of resurrection; that’s hope; that’s new life. That’s the good news of the gospel that we proclaim week after week because…it’s the good news of Jesus.

The bulletin cover is a copy of our mural of Jesus blessing the little children which is the last part of today’s gospel. I can’t be certain of how this connects to the first part of this gospel, or if it connects at all, but maybe Jesus is using this example of welcome and childlike innocence to contrast the hardness of heart represented by the Pharisees’ attempts to manipulate him with legalism and the hardness of heart the disciples display in wanting to dismiss the children. Both are attitudes that prevent one from recognizing the welcome and acceptance, the hope and new life that Jesus represents so maybe the image of Jesus and the children is meant to counter that.

Reflecting on the image, we can see ourselves as those little children. We are the children that Jesus welcomes and blesses…especially at those times of brokenness when we most need it.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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