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Pastor Dena Williams
October 7, 2012 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 2:18-24 Psalm 8 Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 Mark 10:2-16 The Holy Gospel according to the Community of St. Mark in the 10th Chapter Glory to you, O Lord Mark 10:2-16 Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus asked them, "What did Moses command you?" The Pharisees 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." They went into the house, away from the Pharisees, and the disciples asked him again about this matter.

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Jesus 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 the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. The Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ Original Blessing Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. We’re traveling with him. So are his disciples. So are the Pharisees, the leaders of the temple, the ones who are afraid of this prophet, afraid of his power, his authority, his influence with the people. Today the Pharisees have come to Jesus to ask him a question. It is a loaded question. It is a question with an agenda.

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It is the kind of question we hear during political debates, a question designed to trip up the opponent. So the Pharisees question Jesus. Not just on any topic, but on a topic that has plagued the people of God since the time of Moses. Divorce. They hope Jesus will make a mistake, will speak a heresy, they hope Jesus will say something to cause a stir in the media, provide headlines for the morning paper. They could not pick a better topic. Jesus is a worthy opponent. He refuses to be drawn into a debate concerning the law. Jesus tells the Pharisees: Moses wrote this law because of your hardness of heart. Jesus explains what God originally intended. He explains the original blessing, from the time of creation, that marriage was meant to be: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” The Pharisees press harder; Jesus responds with these challenging words: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Not much wiggle room here, is there? The truth according to Jesus seems quite plain. In an ideal world, a perfect world,

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there would be no divorce. The two would become as one, forever. All marriages would be so— spouses, partners, are so in tune, so in love, so devoted to one another they become as one. The Pharisees knew, Moses knew, Jesus knew, and we know, we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world of imperfection, a sinful world, a fallen world, a world where relationships are broken, sometimes broken beyond our ability to fix or repair. And so . . . divorce becomes an imperfect solution in an imperfect world. Because it is an imperfect solution in an imperfect world we are called by God to do everything in our power to mend broken relationships. Jesus knew divorce is very serious. Jesus knew the pain and tragedy caused by dissolved marriages. He spoke sternly about marriage, sternly about divorce. His sternness calls us to seek solutions, other than the imperfect solution of divorce, when our marriages are in trouble. Will working with a marriage counselor, improve our communication? Will making changes in how we treat each other make it possible to preserve the original blessing of marriage? These are questions spouses are called by God to consider in serious, purposeful, intentional ways. Sometimes . . . in our imperfect world there is no good solution.

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Sometimes there is abuse or neglect or selfishness or infidelity or loss of affection that cannot be overcome in a marriage relationship. Then we seek a divorce. We admit to ourselves, to each other, and to God that we are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. We pursue an imperfect solution to our broken relationship and a marriage ends in divorce. There is always pain and sadness. Divorce is a human tragedy for everyone involved. For everyone involved, particularly for the children. The Gospel writer of Mark writes about divorce. It is no mistake that right next to the writings about divorce we find writings about children. We find a purposeful juxtaposition. When Jesus had answered the Pharisees’ questions, he went inside the house and the subject soon turned to children. How could it not? There were little ones underfoot, needing attention, wanting to be loved. The disciples shooed them away until Jesus protested: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” It is no mistake, that the writer of Mark has us consider divorce, then immediately causes us to consider the children. It may be that the discussion of divorce caused Jesus to take special notice of the children— little ones in need of special attention. Little ones, like all children, asking only to be loved and cared for. Divorce is harder, it affects more lives when there are children. It doesn’t seem to matter what age they are:

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little, like the ones in today’s story, or grown, with children of their own. The pain and sadness spread further to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins— entire families suffer when there are children involved in a divorce. Just as God calls us to diligently pursue options to that imperfect solution— divorce— God calls us to diligently address the needs of the children in a divorce: children who did not ask to be a part of a broken relationship. children who are not responsible for the brokenness, children who are caught in the middle of tragedy. Adults, parents, grandparents, and others are called to put aside their differences, to get past their anger, to cope with their disappointment in order to meet the needs of children, children innocently caught in the messiness. Children of divorce need the unlimited, unconditional, unbounded love of their parents, their extended family, friends, community, and congregation. Children receive God’s love from the people around them. Just as our God loves us, we are called to love all children, no matter what. That “no matter what” love needs to be expressed in caring, supportive ways. Love demonstrated in kindness and care, sharing, teaching, limit setting, and . . . forgiveness. We are all called to seek and give forgiveness in our relationships,

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if for no other reason, than for the sake of the children. Forgiveness. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” How do the children receive the kingdom? Children come, seeking love. They do not bring excuses, they do not formulate their defenses, they come to God openly, with a clean spirit, asking only our love and forgiveness. So we need to come to God, leaving behind our excuses, our defenses, our false pride. As adults, we are likely to hold up our sin to God, our sin of divorce, our sin of broken relationships, our sin of failure to love. We are likely to hold up our sin to God and defy God to forgive us. We want to rank our sins in order of “badness.” We believe God can forgive our small sins, but what about the big ones, the big ones like failed relationships, divorce, adultery. We don’t really believe God will forgive these sins. We cling to them, obstinately refusing to acknowledge God’s forgiveness. We need to come as a child. We need to come acknowledging our imperfection, seeking only to be forgiven and loved. In our imperfect world with its imperfect solutions, God promises to welcome us with perfect love.

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God calls us to seek and give perfect love in our relationships with others: our spouses or our partners, all the children among us, knowing we are imperfect, trusting in God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ, who perfectly loves and forgives us. I have a friend who was divorced twenty-five years ago. In the last twenty-five years he has found happiness. He has remarried, and raised children in a healthy family. He and his wife are devoted to one another. They have a loving, trusting relationship. I asked him about this Gospel. I asked him about the divorce he experienced twenty years ago. As he talked about that time in his life, he surprised me, he surprised himself. The pain of the memory brought tears to his eyes. The pain, after all these years, is still there. He said this, “I gained clarity about the text, “the two shall become one”, at the time of the divorce. I found myself in mourning because the person we were together died.” The person he and his spouse became together died in their divorce. My friend knows divorce is painful, tragic, and sad. He grieved the loss as a death. He experienced the loss of original blessing, the blessing of marriage. In the midst of tragedy, the tragedy of divorce, or death, that separates us in painful ways, my friend knows and we know we are loved children of God. We know God’s mercy is wide enough to save us. In our sorrow,

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Jesus takes us in his arms, lays his hands on us, and blesses us. God promises that nothing, not the end of relationship, not the end of life, nothing can separate us from the original blessing of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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