October 7th, 2018
World Communion Sunday
Music: Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether, by Harold Friedell, Chancel Choir
Hymn: One Bread, One Body #530 Glory to God Hymnal
A believer is a brother or sister of another believer, like one body. If one of the parts is in pain, the rest of the body feels the suffering.
The Table With No Edges Andrew King
We will sit down where feet tire from the journey.
We will sit down where grief bends the back.
We will sit down under roofs wrecked by artillery.
We will sit down where cries sound from cracked walls.
We will sit down where heat beats like hammers.
We will sit down where flesh shivers in cold.
We will sit down where bread bakes on thin charcoal.
We will sit down where there is no grain in baked fields.
We will sit down with those who dwell in ashes.
We will sit down in shadow and in light.
We will sit down, making friends out of strangers.
We will sit down, our cup filled with new wine.
We will sit down and let love flow like language.
We will sit down where speech needs no words.
We will sit together at the table with no edges.
We will sit to share one loaf, in Christ’s name, in one world.
How To Be My Heart Pat Boran
enjoy the solo sound
as well as harmony.
Enjoy the fall—
don’t expect ground.
but never quite be still.
See life as giving
rather than receiving
though the same blood passes
through your grasp like
rosaries, geometries, bound
infinities of love.
Keep the orchestra on course,
but imagine the clouds, the skies
you’ll never see.
Learn trust. Don’t mutiny
when I wade up to my chest in water.
Don’t panic if I succumb to drugs
or drink. Don’t sink.
Don’t ache at every recollection
of a past populated by grief.
Don’t succumb to disbelief.
Don’t see only darkness up ahead.
Don’t stay in bed all day.
Don’t lie down and die.
Be there when I need the heart
to tell the unpalatable truth
or the necessary lie.
And give me the sensation of skydiving
when she so much as
walks into my sight.
While the sun shines.
But keep a little oxygen aside.
Mark 10:2-16 (Scholars’ Version)
And Pharisees approach him and, to test him, they ask whether a husband is permitted to divorce his wife. In response he said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
They replied, “Moses allowed a man to get a divorce by preparing a certificate of separation.”
Jesus said to them, He gave you this injunction because you are headstrong. But in the beginning, at the creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ That’s why they are no longer two but ‘one body.’ Therefore, those God has coupled together, no one else should separate.”
And once again, as usual, when they got home, the disciples questioned him about this. And he says 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.”
And they would bring children to him so he could lay hands on them, but the disciples scolded them. Then Jesus grew indignant when he saw this and said to them, “Let the children come up to me don’t try to stop them. After all, god’s empire belongs to people like these. Let me tell you, whoever doesn’t welcome the empire of God the way a child would, will never set foot in God’s empire. After he put his arms around them, he blesses them, laying his hands on them.
This text is the lectionary reading for today. I say that up front because I had said I would follow the lectionary. I would never choose this passage. This is a no-win passage for preachers.
“Preacher, what did Jesus say about divorce?”
It feels like a set-up, a trick question.
In fact, that is exactly what it is. The Pharisees set Jesus up. It isn’t as if they don’t know the laws inside and out regarding divorce. They aren’t asking Jesus to clarify the law for them. So why ask Jesus? The only reason is to trap him, to play “gotcha” to get him to say something that will get him in trouble with someone depending on his answer.
John the Baptist just a few chapters earlier in Mark lost his head over divorce. Herod had married his brother, Philip’s, wife, whose name was Herodias. John the Baptist called Herod out on that. Here is the text from Mark 6:
“For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herod throws a party. A girl dances for Herod. He is smitten. Tells her he will give her anything she wants. The girl’s mother happens to be Herodias. She tells the girl to tell Herod to serve the crowd John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Herod does it.
This question from the Pharisees to Jesus is embedded in the fate of John the Baptist. Maybe they can get Jesus to publicly condemn Herod, too, and thus let Herod take care of Jesus for them.
It never ends well to talk about divorce. No matter what you say, people think you are taking sides or judging, or not judging enough. The wisdom is this for preachers: talk about divorce, lose your head.
This is definitely not a text I would have chosen. Preachers are more than preachers. We are ministers. We know people and their lives and we know about marriage and divorce not because we know any great wisdom but because we know people and we know brokenness.
Some biblical scholars have thought this passage has to do with patriarchy, and it likely does. Ched Myers in his powerful commentary on Mark called Binding the Strong Man, points out what we can see in the text. The Pharisees ask Jesus whether or not it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife?
Jesus responds not by Mosaic law, but by going back to Genesis. He recalls the passage of God creating male and female. This is a passage of equality. How it should be. Male and female become one body. The law is about a property exchange. A man can divorce his wife, but not the other way around? A man grants a certificate of divorce so that he can exchange her for another model. According to Ched Myers, that is what Jesus is criticizing, the patriarchal aspect of what marriage had become, an exchange of property.
The Father giving away the bride to the husband is exactly that. Those who do that ritual in a wedding ceremony do it from emotional connection, but that tradition comes from a property exchange. The daughter who is property of the Father is given to the Husband to be his property.
When Jesus is alone with his disciples, he says,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Jesus here is perhaps recognizing women’s agency.
More recent commenters since Ched Myers say that Jesus is reflecting Roman law, where women could divorce husbands as opposed to Jewish law where they could not. Because Jesus is referring to Roman law, the Jesus Seminar was divided whether or not Jesus said this. It is multiply attested on one hand. On the other hand, private conversations between Jesus and his disciples don’t go back to Jesus. Also, since Jesus repeats Roman Law, it could be a later addition by Mark on the lips of Jesus reflecting Roman family practice.
I should use this opportunity for an advertisement. We are hosting a Jesus Seminar on the Road featuring experts in this very thing, family practice in the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus. It is called One Big Happy Family? Here is the blurb:
“The early Jesus movements emerged as the Roman empire came under one-man rule. With Caesar Augustus, power relationships started changing at every level, from the administration of a vast empire, to the family form on which it was built, and even to understandings of what it meant to be a self. Early Christ groups and others responded in myriad ways. How are their forms of resistance relevant today?”
Unfortunately, I am going to miss this as I am going to be leaving for Iraq the day before it starts, but I hope you will consider attending all or part of this. And invite your friends.
Back to our text. Was Jesus making a new rule? No divorce for anyone ever? The church ran with that and the sad result was that on top of the pain of broken relationships, the church added a level of judgement, sanction, and shame.
I have a hard time imagining that is at all what Jesus meant.
So what is this about?
I don’t think this passage is about divorce between two people at all. I think it is about what it means to be human and what it means to be one body and the reality of brokenness. It ends with a passage about Jesus and children to show what it really means to care for what matters.
We tend to interpret Genesis and this passage about two people being married and getting divorced and then making rules about it. It is bigger than that. Jesus quotes Genesis to say something about human beings. We are not independent from one another. We are not independent from creation itself. That is our error in thinking that we are.
We are one body. All forms of brokenness whether between a married couple or within families, communities, religions, culture, nations, whatever, all of it, result from breaking apart the one body. We cannot exist without each other no matter how different we think we are from each other. It doesn’t matter if you are from Kenya or Kentucky, we are one body.
To deny that we are one body, to make any kind of division, that is to put oneself above the body is adultery. It isn’t just a metaphor that we are one body; we are actually, intimately, and intricately connected, bound to one another. Our future, our destiny, is tied up with every other future or destiny. Our future is as one body. We live or die as one. We make it or break it as one body.
Not only that, but the human body, is intimately and intricately connected to the ground from which our brief span of consciousness has been blown into us. We are Earth. We are Earthlings along with every other Earthling. We are one body with creation. It is adultery to think and act as if we are not, as if other mammals and birds and insects and trees and mountains exist for us, for our pleasure, for our extraction, for our consumption. Our future is as one Earth body. We will live or die as one. We will make it or break it as one body.
There is no certificate of divorce that can disconnect us from the Human Body and the Earth Body. We don’t get to do that. We are in this together and pretending otherwise is nothing but adulterated fantasy. It is a betrayal of the body. Living as if we can be disembodied is in fact, betrayal, adultery.
I was deeply touched last week by the sermon by Kathleen Dean Moore. I also interviewed her for Progressive Spirit and I have been thinking about what she said all week. There are a number of things I have been thinking about that she said, but one in particular is that we can assure a horrible future for our children if we continue to do what are doing. But she added, we are doing even worse.
I said during the prayer time that I am 57 and my granddaughter is two. What will the world be like when Pippa is 57, in the year 2073? I don’t think the odds are good of two-year olds even making it to 57. That is of course unless we begin to act and think as what we were created to be, one body.
In the passage for today, Jesus embraced the children, scolding those who would keep them from coming to him. This is what it is about, he is trying to tell them. It isn’t about you or your career or your house or your retirement or whatever it is you think is important. It is about these children who will receive what they get.
Jesus said, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God like a child, you will not enter it.”
What does that mean? It means that first and foremost, children are recipients. They are vulnerable. They are not agents about whatever kingdom they receive. They get what we adults give them. They will get in 2073 or any other date in the future, what the human body gives them today. Do we live as one body as if that matters?
It also means that we, too, must recognize that we receive the kingdom of God as vulnerable children. The kingdom of God goes back to Genesis chapter one. Male and Female. Humankind. One body. Unless we receive that, in our bones, in our ethics, in our art, in our music, in our work, we will lose our opportunity and squander it on individual ego fulfillment.
Can we recognize that we need each other? We need a new/old morality, an ethic, a definition of the human that is not a consumer, that is not divorced from Earth and from Life, but is one flesh with all.
We are one body. We are a broken body.
Our hearts, as Jesus told the Pharisees are hard. But they can be melted.
We need to melt not break our hearts.
Nothing can be more energizing than discovering that life is so much more important than the crap we are sold. To have a purpose. To have a sense of urgency. To be aware. To awaken not only to the brokenness of the world but to signs of its healing.
I am going to Iraq because I was offered a trip. I was offered the trip because I showed some interest in Shia Muslims and what their lives are like in the United States but also in places like Iran and Iraq and other places throughout the Middle East. Shias have been bearing witness for a long time. They have suffered for a long time. They have been oppressed for a long time. They have been falsely accused, mocked, vilified, killed, martyred, and treated as enemy and terrorized by powerful forces in the Middle East for a long time.
These powerful forces raising mayhem in the Middle East act as if they are not part of the one body. As if they are better, more important, more chosen, more deserving of whatever we can extract and grab to make our machines work for us, “our group.” That is adultery.
We are one body.
We are one flesh.