The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s139g09 Sunday 27 4/10/09
'Moses allowed a man ..' Mark 10.4
I find it significant that the words about divorce and re-marriage are juxtaposed with the story about the children coming to Jesus and the man who wanted to inherit eternal life in both Mark and Matthew (19:3-22). It is also significant that Luke (here) omits the pronouncement on divorce and has the second two of these juxtaposed with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple instead. (18:9-24).
So each of these is about coming to God and the first of these is not primarily about divorce and remarriage. Perhaps this is more obvious when I realised that the question betrays no interest in the welfare of the woman. It is all about what Moses, and therefore God, allows.
So Jesus' reply stresses the relationship between the persons involved and his further explanation to the disciples again stresses that divorce and remarriage is not primarily a sin against God, but a sin against the other party.
The Pharisees wanted to know if divorce precludes communion with God and Jesus' reply is that the important thing is that it precludes communion between people. The disciples wanted to preclude children enjoying communion with Jesus and Jesus was indignant. All can come to God. The rich young man, on whom we will focus next week, wanted all the things he had done for God to grant him communion with God, and Jesus says that it is communion with others giving his riches to the poor and following Jesus who associated with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners that was important.
And so I can see why Luke omits the saying about divorce and includes the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple instead. The Pharisee thanks God that he isn't like other people, and he goes home unjustified, because it is precisely his communion with other people that is important. I can well imagine the Pharisee thanking God that he was not like other people like people who have divorced and remarried! There are parts of the Anglican Church who would not allow such to be included. Indeed they were commanded to refrain from receiving the Holy Communion in times past! There are parts of the Anglican Church where my licence as a clergy-person would have been immediately revoked when I was separated and divorced some years ago.
In our recent Synod we had a debate about a proposal to allow clergy to marry couples neither of whom are baptised. Formerly at least one had to be baptised. For me this debate betrays the old misunderstanding about what baptism and communion are. Baptism and communion are all about bringing us into communion with others, all others. Indeed they are efficacious sacraments that, when used inclusively as they are meant to be, brings us into communion with others, and others into communion with us.
The old misunderstanding of baptism and communion is that they distinguish us from other people, particularly the riff-raff and irreligious. But it is precisely the riff-raff and the irreligious with whom Jesus associated, and into communion with whom Jesus calls us also. When baptism and communion are used to distinguish us from the riff-raff and the irreligious they cease to be the efficacious sacraments that we proclaim they are - that they are meant to be but are not because of our own attitude and use of them. And just as baptism and communion bring us into relationship with other people, marriage brings two people into a special relationship with one another.
God travels with us all, precisely in the difficult times of life. Indeed I would want to say that in the years when my separation and divorce were happening, I was well occupied with other matters. It was not that the separation and divorce were not important, but my worth was being affirmed as they were happening. Hopefully this was also happening as evidently for my former wife.
To quote St Paul's lovely words: 'For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 8.38-39) These words mean nothing if they do not apply just as equally to those who haven't heard and taken them to heart as **we** have :-)! Indeed they loose their efficacy for us if we assume that they don't apply as equally to others as they do to us.
'Moses allowed us ..' Moses, after he had given the commandments to the Israelites, including the injunction 'You shall not kill' (Ex 20.13) ordered the Levites to 'Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbour.' (Ex 32.27) Three thousand died in that day, and it can be said that Moses was the proto-terrorist. St Paul followed his example until he met the Lord on the way to Damascus.
Using the words of scripture does not always work for peace. Just because the words are written down, does this mean that we are allowed to emulate the same actions, or are we better to learn more peaceful ways? Obviously the seeds of terrorism lie in the very words of scripture and our answer to this question means we join with the terrorists or we seek peace. We have to use our brains, which is we believe the distinctively human thing to do. Simple compliance with either natural impulses or external commandments does not make for our full humanity; either ours or anyone else's.
And even Jesus' own words can be used to exclude others, passages like 'no one comes to the Father but by me'. Jesus was not killed because he made such exclusive claims but because he associated with the riff-raff the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners and called the religious to do likewise. Again, most assuredly the witness of sacred scripture is that those who killed him used the excuse that Jesus made exclusive claims for himself for their actions, but it is no disrespect to scripture when we see the excuse for what it really is.
Jesus allows us to associate with others. No longer do we have to hold ourselves aloof. There is no glory in being a 'self made person' all alone. No longer do we have to pretend we are better than others, for it is in our fallen humanity that we become friends with others, not as we are able to dispense 'pearls of wisdom' to all and sundry at the drop of a hat. No longer do we have to worry about what name to call God, what particular form of worship to use, or the precise wording of our prayers. We do not have to worry about the orthodoxy of our belief, for the more important thing is that God believes in us, and in all people. God hears what is on our hearts. Jesus allows us to be ourselves and allows others to be themselves. Jesus allows us to fail, to be frustrated and anxious, and Jesus invites us into communion with those around us.
Finally I want to point out that surely Luke's replacement of the saying about divorce and remarriage in this chapter with the story of the two people praying in the Temple is deliberate and significant. Most often 'adultery' in the bible is a pejorative term for the apostasy of Israel, turning to other Gods. Luke's replacement could well be interpreted that it is adultery and apostasy to consider our faith making us distinct from others. Being true to our faith always means incarnation with others; it always has and it always will.
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