Dates: September 30th and October 3rd, 2021
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm: Psalm 8
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4;2:5-12
Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
Passages like the ones this morning are never easy ones. Divorce is a topic that has affected many lives, and often leaves unhappy reminders in its wake. I wanted to start the sermon today recognizing that, and naming the reality that sometimes there are Bible passages that have historically been used to instill shame, hurt, and blame on people. And I know that in this sermon I can explain the context of the time and give facts about the original languages, but none of that will change how these passages may have hurt you or someone you know in the past. If you are someone that has been hurt by this passage, I want you to know, before I start anything else in this sermon, that your experience and feelings are valid, and that I am sorry that these words were weaponized against you.
When we look at the Genesis passage and the passage from Mark, the heart of the message today comes down to—God made us to be in relationship with one another. In the creation narrative from chapter 2 of Genesis, God says it is not good that the human should be alone, and so God makes another human, a companion in the world. And there is an explanation that this relationship not be broken, because we are meant to live in relationship with one another. Broken relationships, though common in our world, are not what God intended for us when the breath of life was breathed into us at creation.
Now, during Jesus' time, there were two schools of thought for rabbis, and that often divided the Jewish people. On the topic of divorce, both sides allowed divorce for reasons of “uncleanliness,” but their definitions of uncleanliness varied widely. On one side, it merely meant acts of sexual immorality, such as cheating on your partner. The other school taught that uncleanliness from a woman could be any number of things. William Barclay explains some of these reasons for uncleanliness like this, “it could mean if the wife spoiled a dish of food, if she spun in the streets, if she talked to a strange man, if she spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s relations in his hearing, if she was a brawling woman (who was defined as a woman whose voice could be heard in the next house). Rabbi Akiba even went the length of saying that it meant if a man found a woman who was fairer in his eyes than his wife was.” Those are two very different ideas for what could constitute a divorce in the eyes of these rabbis.
If we pair this context with the fact that the Pharisees are at the point of actively trying to give the empire of Rome and the Jewish people a reason to not follow or trust Jesus, we notice that they are not looking for a real answer at all. Verse 2 says the Pharisees went to “test” Jesus, because they knew there were two different groups of thought, and if they could get Jesus to choose a side, then maybe he would alienate those who disagreed with him. But Jesus answers their sly question by responding with two opposing views present within their own scripture. First, he asks about divorce under Moses, which was allowed, and then quotes the passage in Genesis that we just read today, which says there is no separation of what God has bound together. Jesus's point to the Pharisees is that the question they are asking can be answered in multiple ways by scripture, and they are focusing on the wrong question.
Instead of focusing on testing Jesus to trick him into saying something about divorce that might distance him from some of the growing Christ-followers, they should be focusing on the ways that divorce is harming the community, and supporting those in the midst of these broken relationships, rather than knowing when to properly tell them that they are acting unlawfully. And all of this is only to give us context as we consider what divorce looks like in our lives here and now in 21st century United States.
The patterns of marriage and divorce during the times of the Bible were vastly different than what that means in our current culture. And so let me be clear that divorce is not an unfaithful option when relationship covenants have been broken in a marriage. The two biggest examples of this breaking of relationship might be infidelity and any type of abuse, but there are others as well, and those going through a divorce do not have to explain themselves or defend themselves. People who are going through a divorce do not owe those outside of their relationship an explanation. They are seeking unbroken, fulfilling relationships in their lives, as God intended for humanity. Rather than questioning the reasoning behind someone's choice, it is our call as the body of Christ to support those in the midst of a divorce or other types of broken relationships by showing love and compassion through the unbroken relationships in our lives. God calls us to be in relationship with one another, and that does not only include romantic or marital relationships. We are called to have healthy, unbroken relationships with one another as siblings in Christ, as friends and family, in moments of joy and sorrow, sickness and health, prosperity and want, etc.
Which brings us to the end of the Gospel passage today, where Jesus lifts up the children being brought to him, and explains that they are the example for how we enter the kingdom of God. Have you ever seen children form relationships? They often form them so quickly, and someone can go from acquaintance to best friend in days. And I think this is how we are called to be in relationship with one another as people of God. Always seeking ways that God is filling us through the relationships in our lives, pursuing healthy relationships that remind us that we are not alone, and that together is how we were created to be. Does that mean that there will never be broken relationships? No. Does that mean we will never argue or disagree? No. What it does mean is that God formed us right from the beginning to be in relationship with one another, to not be alone. When other relationships have been broken in the life of someone among us, we as the church get to say to that person, you are a beloved child of God, and we will support you through this. May God continually guide each of us into relationships that are supportive, reliable, and life-giving. May we seek those relationships, and may we be those relationships. Thanks be to God.