“The Good News in a Tough Gospel” October 7, 2018
“The Good News in a Tough Gospel”
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
A baker was asked to print 1 John 4:18 on a wedding cake. He forgot, and instead printed John 4:18. Now 1st John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;’ a wonderful sentiment for a wedding cake. John 4:18, on the other hand, reads, “For you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband.” Now that would be awkward.
And speaking of awkward, let’s face it, our Gospel text today was kind of tough to take. You know, every Sunday I have the honor and privilege to read from one of the 4 Gospels. And every Sunday when I have finished reading that Gospel text I offer up a call to the congregation: “The word of God for the people of God,” to which you hopefully will reply, “Thanks be to God.” But today after reading from the 10th chapter of Mark, I have to say that was kind of tough. We have talked in the past about preaching from the lectionary. The lectionary, otherwise known as the Revised Common Lectionary, is simply a collection of scripture suggestions for every Sunday of the year with suggestions for special days as well. Think of Good Friday, Ash Wednesday…that sort of thing. Now like I said, they are suggestions, but I have committed to taking these suggestions seriously for a few reasons. For one, they were compiled by a large group of priests and pastors and scholars with the intent that the whole bible will be preached and not just the parts that are…well, not so tough. There are some that choose to ignore the lectionary completely and some that will read the scripture presented and then proceed to preach on something completely different. Which brings us again to the 10th chapter of Mark with the understanding that all around the world on this day there are hundreds of thousands of worship leaders who are struggling with the question, “What do we do with this?” Let’s revisit it again: (vs 2) Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Keep in mind that the operative word here is “tested.” They weren’t asking his opinion, they weren’t seeking advice – no they were looking to trip him up. Keep it in mind that John the Baptist didn’t hesitate to tell Herod that it was wrong, bad, and icky to be marrying his brother’s wife and look what happened to him. So that’s how it all begins. But Jesus replies, as he often does, with a question saying (vs 3) What did Moses command you? The Pharisees said, Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away. As best we can figure, this is a reference to the writings in Deuteronomy 24 which does make a reference to writing this certificate but also makes it clear that you can’t remarry this woman sometime in the future. I found this all very strange; why in the world would this have to be written into law? Then I read vs 5 as Jesus said to them, It is because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law. It is because of your hardness of heart.
Then Jesus speaks of the fact that God created male and female to be together. By design, this union – this marriage – is meant to be that two individuals become as one. It is beautiful, compelling, and life changing and no one should tear it apart. But unlike God, we have limits. We have limits to how much we can endure from a spouse who is abusive, who suffers from addictions, or considers us lesser, in some way. We have limits to the lengths that we can love someone who cannot love us in return. We have limits and sometimes we have to face the fact, as woman in AA once said, “You may not be able to save the alcoholic that you love, but you can certainly save yourself.” And yet, here’s the thing – Jesus is saying to us that God is different. There appear to be no limits to the love of God. Is this not a message that is behind today’s scripture? Could this be the Good News in this tough Gospel? “But for your hardness of heart” did Moses even have to come up with some kind of law on this thing called divorce. And Jesus says simply, “From the beginning it wasn’t so.” This was not the way God intended it to be.
We are flawed, we are broken, we have limits. And because of our flaws and brokenness and limitations, we can lose sight over time of the beauty and the glory and joy that comes from this incredible creation: that of a man and a woman who truly become as one. This is the Good News in this tough Gospel. This is not so much about the law and our hardness of heart, as it is about the true nature of God. This is about the fact that when we suffer, God suffers and when we rejoice, God rejoices.
I have officiated my share of weddings. As tradition demands, I begin the ceremony standing up front next the groom. It’s a special moment for both of us. While everyone in the room is craning their necks looking for the entrance of the bride, I get to stand next to a man who has made a conscious decision to give himself to another. It’s not something that men are known to be very good at, but yet, here we are. The true nature of God is that he brings people together. And God desires that people, having been once brought together, ought to stay together.
You know, we read this passage as it applies to us: that is, we shouldn’t divorce; we ought to welcome little children. But maybe what we are seeing here is the great difference between God and ourselves. I’ll close with the words of Will Willimon, “So I am saying that today’s gospel is not that severe, bad news of setting the moral standards so high that there is no way that we can ever reach the bar. I am saying that today’s gospel is the good news that in spite our inabilities, our limits and failures, God is limitlessly loving and always faithful. Let us cling to that in our limits to love, in our broken promises, let us cling to that.” And last but not least, I can’t resist sharing that I read recently that 4,153,237 got married last year. I don’t mean to cause any trouble, but shouldn’t that be an even number?
AMEN & SHALOM