Sacred Soil

Bind us Together
October 4, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

wedding-ringsI love a good rite of passage, like graduations. Though I find them dreadfully boring, I still feel my heart catch and my eyes well up when a young person receives that diploma, and an important hand is shaken. My breathing stutters at weddings on television, in those sentimental moments where the couple, in perfect lighting, makes promises to each other, and the sound mixer adds in a gentle, “Ahhh.” I’m not much of a sap in most things, but this is my kryptonite.

So yesterday, as Rachel, stood at the top of the aisle in her gorgeous white dress, arm locked with her father’s, I looked down to see Carlos at my left, full of wonder as she came toward him. Desperate, I repeated in my head a steady mantra- get it together Julie, get it together. Breathe, breathe.

I’m grateful she walked slowly—giving me a moment to remember that I had a job to do. And so, by a small miracle, my eyes dried and we moved about the business of making promises, and cherishing the gift they share. And it was good.

So, to be honest with you, when I learned that this day’s texts would be Jesus’ teachings on divorce, I was a bit incredulous. Really? Really? Couldn’t we just wait a week? One week? A month…

These are tough texts. They’re categorized under Jesus’ hard teachings. That’s the official title. A title well earned.

But I’ve got this compulsion to be obedient to the lectionary, the agreed upon set of texts that was formed by a committee quite a while back. My reason for not preaching the text would have to be better than: I don’t want to.

And the truth is, divorce is a real thing that we wrestle with. And I keep saying, church shouldn’t be something abstract and odd. It should matter.

So, alright then, what is Jesus getting at?

Let’s remember the story. Now, once again the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. They enjoy this game That’s just what they do. This time they ask Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. And Jesus tells them what the law of Moses was. It actually allowed a man to, for whatever reason, divorce his wife. In Jewish law, there was no provision for a woman to do the same. It was a one-way street.

To which Jesus says, no. To do this is to hurt the person you’re married to, in a most horrible way. And gender doesn’t matter. At all.

I know it’s hard to hear in our day, but when Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;” I’m sure the disciples’ jaws dropped. Because in that day, the sin of adultery was not a sin against the woman, but against her father. Because she would have been considered property. And there is this question about whether one could sin against property?

Jesus does what he is always doing, moving away from heartless adherence to the law and toward relationship. Indeed, the law should protect the vulnerable—not make it okay to hurt them.

We see this as he demands that the disciples welcome the children too—for welcoming them is as welcoming the kingdom of heaven. Children had no status at the time. There would be no such thing as a child’s birthday party—no celebrating the child within. He is saying once again that God’s reign is centered on our weakness, on our need for one another, on the fact that we are vulnerable. Not on our human power, our rigid rules.

Yet, we are taught to be embarrassed by our need. That is something that translates well across time and culture. We hate our need because it makes us weak. It is too revealing. We are compelled to be like the Pharisees, and look for simple laws and rules that will allow our hearts to turn hard, and protect us from the fact that we are fragile. We can and do hurt each other.

I have sometimes wondered if I’m such a sap for rites of passage because I am a child of divorce. I have wondered: perhaps it is those moments of transition, those moments of beginning and promise and hope, that have a special power for me, because I know well how sacred and fragile they are.

Putting all matters of legality, and permissibility aside. Divorce is simply awful. And I do believe that anytime a marriage ends God grieves, not because of any law that is broken, but because human relationships are broken. This text is a hard teaching, because we know that the fact that we fail is devastating.

And that is the truth of this text. It is a hard teaching. Worried over this hardness, we once again try to be as the Pharisees, using even this to make more rules.

A few weeks ago, a woman called me, inquiring about getting her children baptized. Breathlessly, she began the conversation, listing out her many sins. “I’ve been divorced. And I am not married to the children’s father,” she began. She wanted to make sure I knew all the reasons why I might reject her request before her question was fully aired. I don’t think she fully believed me when I told her I wasn’t concerned about that. My concern was about whether they intended to come to church, and be a part of the family of God. My concern was about relationship…

Which makes me wonder, how did the church, this place where we come to welcome the brokenhearted, the wounded, the vulnerable, how did this become a place where people feel excluded and rejected by their own brokenness? How did this become a place where we magnify the embarrassment caused by our own neediness, rather than attending to each other and to the relationship we are called to? Rather than heal each other, hold each other, be as Christ to one another?

Perhaps instead of all these rules, and even instead of really teaching on divorce or marriage, Jesus was trying to do something else. I think instead he was reminding us that we are blessed by the ties that bind us, the ties that hold us together and tight. We are blessed by honoring the most vulnerable, those who are considered weak. We who are considered weak.

Because it is in our weakness, that God’s love is made perfect.

May we be so bound to one another.