Last weekend we travelled down to Asheville, North Carolina to attend the wedding of a very good friend of ours. She and her now husband were married at the North Carolina Arboretum on the edge of the Smokey Mountains. They made vows, received blessing, and united together surrounded by family and friends.
At the reception, the bride’s sister, the maid of honor, gave a beautiful toast. She quoted from a book called The Robe of Love: Secret Instructions for the Heart
by storyteller Laura Simms. This book is a translations of oral stories from many different cultures: tales from Persia, Korean, Jewish and Celtic tales…. In her introduction to the book Simms explains: “Love is what is always waiting within us to ignite into the fire of longing for union, or to uncover the inherent well of unconditional awareness that opens into bliss.”
“Love is what is always waiting within us to ignite into the fire of longing for union.” In short, we were made for love, made for relationship.
That’s what this sermon is about – about being made for love and the ways we sometimes get tripped up on it because, well, we’re human – and how God keeps loving us anyway. These readings today from Genesis and Mark are hard texts. Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve is kicked around for justification (or not) for who can be married and to whom, the role of marriage in culture and, well, human civilization. (Adam and Eve – still causing trouble after all these years.) Jesus’ talk of divorce in Mark can be interpreted as harsh and judgmental.
These are complicated and charged texts, but I’m not afraid to take them on with you because these, like any texts, are interpreted in the light of the Gospel, the grace and mercy of God. We are going to hold them up the light of God’s grace and the resurrection. And, if necessary, we are going to squeeze every ounce of grace out of them.
Our first reading is the second, shorter creation account in Genesis 2. God forms man from the dust of the earth. And then the rest of creation. Afterward God realizes, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Even with all the plants and animals and rivers, Adam was lonely. He was the only person on earth. God creates Eve and Adam says, “This at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” Finally, somebody like me. Somebody to belong to. This is the look I saw in their eyes of our friends at the wedding, in the words they chose for the service. They found their home in each other, and in those gathered around them. For, Eve also represented the beginning of children, grandchildren, family, community, humanity. Adam and Eve were in perfect relationship with God and with each other. Whatever else the Garden of Eden looked like, it was the place of pure relationship, which, of course, ends with Adam and Eve wanted to be like gods themselves, eating the fruit from the tree.
Stories in the Book of Genesis seek to explain how things are the way they are, how we have come to know them. It doesn’t have be literally true to tell the truth about our existence, our experience, our nature and God’s. They tell a deeper truth. We were made for love and relationship with God and each other.
The great spiritual teachers talk about this longing for God. St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Pascal said there is a God shaped hole in each of our hearts – a place only the love of God can fill. And yet, we try to fill it with so many other things and our hearts remain restless.
We long for love. We long for union. And God has this longing. Why else humans at all? We are such messy and complicated creatures. Why not just stick with the plants and animals? No, God has a longing for relationship too.
Dealing with Divorce
In our reading from Mark, Jesus is asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He responds, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Honestly, it’s one of those things I wish Jesus never said. It sounds harsh and has been used harshly. There are some interpretations that take the edge off of this reading. One ways that what Jesus is doing here is protecting women. When a woman was divorced she was left out on her own, essentially abandoned. Maintaining the marital relationship protected them. Another interpretation is that among early Christians, there was a sense that Jesus was coming back right away, and so you shouldn’t even bother with having a family – and if you did have a family maybe you should give it up and become an itinerant preacher and evangelist. This reading encourage people to stay in family. However, the interpretation we often hear, what we usually take away from this text, is judgment.
Around 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. We are well acquainted with divorce – in our families, among our friends, in our communities.
My parents divorced when I was 13 years old. It was incredibly painful. You’re world just blows up, the future you imagined is gone, your self-image is broken.
If God is against divorce, I think its because God doesn’t want us to suffer in this way, to experience such pain. Jesus doesn’t want that for us. Both my parents are remarried, to people who were also divorced. By one interpretation of this text my family is made up of a whole bunch of divorced adulterers. I refuse to condemn them because I don’t believe God does. (And it would make Thanksgiving dinner a bit awkward.)
Divorce has such a stigma in churches and our culture and, boy, I wish that would change. There are lifetimes worth of hurt and shame and grief already there without the church’s piling on. These are our parents, our children, our friends.
It’s got to be something we can talk about and not hide, so common to our human experience.
And sometimes divorce is the right thing to do. And sometimes it is the necessary thing that must be done. Under best circumstances, it is still painful – painful when relationships break, when the bone of my bone is broken and flesh of my flesh is torn.
After my parents divorce I lived with one parent and then the other, but I could not find solace. I could not find healing. It is actually the thing that pushed me to go back to church as a teenager – and that’s where I really encountered Jesus beyond just what I learned in Sunday School, and that’s where I first felt called to become a pastor.
So that maybe – and I hadn’t thought of this until writing this sermon – so that maybe one day I could stand in front of a group of people who have experienced divorce, the breaking up of relationships and families, who carry hurt and don’t know where to go with it and say – you’re in the right place and God loves you more than anything and loves you completely and that pain you feel, the hurt you carry – God wants to take it from you, God is the one who can bring you healing and peace you seek.
I remember, I was so desperate to know what there was a place of pure unconditional love – that no matter what happened, the relationship would endure, that love would remain. I found that love in God. It won’t surprise by now to learn that I got choked up a lot. But I remember that I could not speak about the love of God, once I really encountered it, without crying – for weeks and weeks. Such was the relief, the release, and the revelation of divine unconditional love.
Though we humans divorce ourselves from each other in all kinds of ways – whether it be ending a marriage, cutting ourselves of emotionally, through resentment or prejudice, saying harmful or hurtful things, choosing ourselves over the other – God never does. God will not, will never divorce us.
And this same Jesus who says this hard, hard saying about divorce is the same person who sat to meals with the shunned, the outcast, those whom society divorced because of their disease, their ethnicity, their religious practice, their poverty. This is the same Jesus who defended an adulterous woman, saying that whoever was without sin was welcome to cast the first stone. Jesus, who preached to prostitutes.
This is the same Jesus who, in his refusal to have anything separate us from God, gave up his own life on the cross – so that nothing we can ever do, nothing that ever comes can separate us from the love of God. As we heard in the funeral here yesterday for Ellen Stranges’ mom, Dorothy Bogusz, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The cross is a symbol that tells us that God is present in the excruciating moments of life – and the pain of broken relationships of any kind is high on that list – and a sign, a promise that God will not let anything come between or separate. And we call this the Gospel.
As imperfect as our love for God and one another may be, God’s love for us in perfect and everlasting.
Let the Children Come
Finally, I find it interesting – and comforting – that once again we end our reading with Jesus and the children. The last time I preached the sayings with children followed a moment when the disciples were confounded by Jesus’ teaching and were arguing over who was the greatest. He held up a child of a model of discipleship. In this terse Gospel of Mark that is all about pushing the story, the action to the cross, these little vignettes with children keep popping up, like interludes along the way.
And here today the disciples were trying to prevent the children from interrupting him.
“whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he too them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
No matter our age, no matter our life experience, we remain God’s children. And when we approach Jesus won’t let anything stand in the way. He takes us in his arms, lays his hands upon us, and blesses us.” And we are safe, whole and well in the arms of God.
– photo by woodleywonderworks
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