The Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Remember a couple of weeks ago I said that this period we would spend together in Mark could be entitled: "The hard sayings of Jesus." We certainly have another one of those today in our Gospel reading. Before I get into that word, and its challenge, or impact for us, I want to talk a little bit about marriage.
One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from the classic "The Princess Bride." Who cannot help but chuckle? As Peter Cook, as the Bishop speaks those memorable words at the wedding between Buttercup and Prince Humperdinck: "Mawage. Mawage is what brings us togethah today. Mawage that blessed awwangement - that dweam within a dweam."
Of course, if you know the movie you know that the marriage is interrupted by the appearance of the Dred Pirate Roberts and Westley. That marriage is never concluded and the movie moves along to other ideas.
In the last couple of weeks, I have experienced two weddings. As you all know our daughter Sarah recently married her Fiancé Alex. Yesterday afternoon I was blessed to perform the marriage ceremony for Brad and Eileen.
Weddings and Marriage are a blessed opportunity for people to come together and form a community. We, as Christians, pray that those marriages will be centered around the Lord.
We hope that those marriages will be grounded in the Lord's purposes for those who participate in what the Book of Common Prayer describes as Holy Matrimony. Holy Matrimony is designed to be a joining together in common goals, and purposes, with a desire to provide comfort and consolation to those who marry.
Marriage and the family have long been held up by the church as the cornerstone of our Christian community. Strong marriages and strong families have been seen as the bedrock of how the Christian church has seen society.
So, getting back to the "hard sayings of Jesus." With all that I just said about marriage is anyone else sitting here wishing that the people who set up the RCL had made another choice about what to include in the Gospel reading this morning? Or perhaps you, like me, would have like Jesus to have said something different in response to the question from the Pharisees. The Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce.
In response Jesus speaks out against the cultural norms that had developed, in the society of that time, based on Moses granting of the grounds for the dismissal and divorce of a wife. It is important to note that the passage begins with the Pharisees setting out to "test" Jesus. They are seeking to discredit him before his followers and those who might form the basis of a popularist movement to raise Jesus to power.
Today the words of Jesus have a controversial impact for a number of different reasons.
Divorce, marriage, the definition of the family are certainly flashpoint topics in our world today, aren't they? If you want to start a controversial conversation just bring up these two short passages from Mark. In Mark 10: 2-12 Jesus hits on every one of the potential lightning strike issues that inflame people. If we are not careful we can become embroiled in a forest fire of accusations and counterclaims. Old wounds and hurts can be reopened and it doesn't take too long before the vitriol flows.
So many people in our world have been touched by divorce. I would be very surprised if there is anyone here this morning who doesn't know someone who has been affected or influenced by divorce.
Gender issues are an ongoing source of contention and aggravation, particularly in the church. Definitions of "self-identity" are at the forefront of many of the divisions within our society today.
Defining the family in our society is another touchstone issue where there are a wide variety of opinions and attitudes.
I certainly am not going to claim that I have an answer for each of these issues this morning. I do know that we need to have an openness of heart and spirit if we are to find our way through these potential minefields to the relationships within the church. I am also convinced that the work of the evil one is to promote division and acrimony between believers.
Unfortunately, I believe that oftentimes we make it easy for the evil one to achieve his goals and purposes among us. When we allow ourselves to get caught up in controversies and begin to take sides against one another.
I have to admit that I am glad that we have Mark 10: 13-16 in our reading this morning. Jesus has to admonish his disciples when they try to stop people from bringing their children to Jesus.
Jesus then says something astounding: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." I have to say there is a part of my "adult" self that wants to say: "hey hold up a minute. Children don't know all the rules, children haven't had all the training, children don't always follow the rules."
I have to remind myself that children also haven't developed all their protection mechanisms, they haven't been hurt, or ignored, or beat up, or talked about, or evaluated as falling short of someone else's expectations. They haven't decided who they need to protect themselves from, or who are the enemy, or who is likely to take them for granted, or who will abuse their generosity and their trust. Children are open and willing to take risks. Children are willing to meet you at face value. Children want to know what is around the next corner and to look for what will be the next "big" thing. Jesus goes on to say: "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
I have to say at this point that I think this being a follower, being a disciple, is hard. I like it better when I can know the rules, know the definitions, know the ways and means to hold on to what I want to hold on to. To know how to protect myself from, those "other" people who seem intent on causing me hurt or injury.
I like it better when there are clearly defined guidelines and definitions. Then I can stay in my lane and everyone else can stay in theirs.
I want to say a little more about marriage. One of the best, and yet the toughest, things about marriage is that it is about difference. It is about allowing another person into your life and still allowing them to be the different and unique person that they are.
My example of this may seem like a fairly lighthearted one. Fiona was raised in a family where cultural development was an important factor in their lives together. Fiona was raised with an awareness of classical music and quality performance appreciation. She has a knowledge of Opera and classical musicians. She sang in a Cathedral choir when she was a teenager.
Now I come from a family where we didn't have a lot of experience of those aspects of life. I am no redneck, but I have to admit I am more likely to listen to country and western music than I am to play a classical piece of music.
In our marriage, we have had to learn to allow each other to experience and appreciate that difference. I will admit that, now after 30 plus years of being married, I have a deeper appreciation of the kind of music that Fiona grew up. That is because of being married to her. On occasion, Fiona has admitted that there are certain songs of my genre that she has come to appreciate as well. Did you see how I slipped that word genre in there? Our marriage is richer for this experience and appreciation.
So, what is my final word here this morning? Well, I think that we can acknowledge that Jesus' words in Mark 10 this morning are hard for us to fully comprehend and appreciate. Sometimes hard things mean that we need to hang in there and work to try to understand or appreciate what the challenges are. Maybe we need to have a conversation with someone we know has an opposing view to ours and to allow them to engage us in conversation. Coming to know that other person and the roots of their beliefs may not change ours one bit, but we may develop a deeper appreciation of them as a fellow follower, a disciple, or a pilgrim on the journey. We may be drawn closer to them and our Lord because we engage in a conversation.
Winston Churchill is renowned for his pithy statements. He lived through several controversial time periods in the course of his life. He faced challenges and was known for his ability to stand firm in the face of opposition. I would like to share a couple of quotes attributed to him about standing firm:
"Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential."
"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
"A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty."
Rodney Atkins, a country and western singer, wrote a song based on these sayings. He called it "If you're goin' through hell."
The chorus goes like this: "If you're goin' through hell keep on going
Don't slow down if you're scared don't show it
You might get out before the devil even knows you're there."
I do have the whole song and can get you a copy if you would like one.
The one thing that I might add to Rodney's lyrics is this thought: "we need to be working to go through what we are going through together. We are not alone in our journey. We are a community. But we are different. How do we allow others to hold differing opinions and attitudes and still exercise 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 8a and verse 13: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.