World Communion Sunday
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
“Is it permissible for husbands to divorce their wives,” the Pharisees asked Jesus; once more determined to test his teaching and find some fault, one way or the other.
And of course, the presumption was most likely that Jesus would say “yes”, according to the law. But Jesus reframed the debate. As we look carefully into this passage, we must consider God’s intent from the very beginning. Like all laws and rules, the original commandments were given for the common good, so that people might live in healthy relationship with one another and experience “holy communion” in freedom together and with their God. The laws were never intended to be rigid and binding or taken in isolation but put together as a collective for the well-being of all.
Jesus said, “you are asking this question because of the hardness of your own hearts. You are asking because you want to be justified in your rigidity.”
And we still do that, my brothers and sisters, don’t we? We still use Scripture to isolate ourselves from one another. We want to prescribe the “good life” and to say that one size or one circumstance fits all; and I think we often buy into this in ways that we are not always conscious of.
To be married or single? With children or without? To have this or to have that? But there is no perfect life. There is no dream life. All people and all circumstances can be signs of God’s kingdom breaking in on us and the world. Make no mistake, there is no magic “happier than thou” moment or fix to this life. It is every day, wherever we are; however we are.
Now, for those of you just visiting, I want tell you that I am a divorcee and have been for 25 years now. No one sets out on their wedding day expecting to wind up in divorce court. As a matter of fact, it is probably unimaginable that the one you love and the one who claims to love you in that moment can ever be separated. Till death do us part, is what we say and mean with all good intentions and integrity.
Divorce defies all the dreams and hopes that we had imagined. Very few things, in my opinion, compare to the trauma and brokenness of love lost, and if there are children involved, it is all the more complicated.
I say that having survived breast cancer, the death of both parents and two sisters; having experienced all kinds of biases living in this skin for over 60 years. Few things compare to the death of dreams and hopes of committed love, and all that comes along with that.
And it does feel like a death – a real death – not just of the other person but of the institution that had been created; death of the relationship with in-laws and friends; death but without a dead body; no memorial service or time to grieve. There is no wake to gather with friends and family; no sympathy cards expressing the right sentiment. It feels like death with the person still alive and possibly contentious at times.
We know that it can also feel like death when we remain in relationships too long, beyond their time. It could very well be that there are two very wonderful people; two amazing sides or parties, but no longer good together. And the divide has become so vast that the very life; the core of who you are is being snuffed out; taken away. Dead. The parties can no longer exist together.
But like all death, we believe in the healing power of resurrection and we persevere in faith, knowing that healing and wholeness are possible. There is life after death; love after loss. Forgiveness is possible, even love of another sort. In faith, we can learn to love that person in a whole new way. It is possible.
I also want to say that in my mind, there is nothing more noble than 2 people setting out together, willfully giving themselves to one another in marital life. I am not saying that marriage is for everybody or that any of us are incomplete without a spouse or partner. But I am saying that to pledge one’s self to another through all the circumstances of life; better or worse, sickness and health, richer and poorer; through all the ups and downs, valleys and mountains, come what may; and to do that honorably is to be commended. It is holy work, noble and fine. And that kind of love must be re-created all the time. It is not a one-off and done. It must be nurtured and grown; not to be taken lightly, nor for granted.
Both must constantly be participating, because the person at the altar is not the same person you’re going to find 10 years down the road; at least I hope not, because that means that someone has stopped growing. You are not the same, and the other person is not the same. You are not the same person when you become a mother or father; or when one person loses their job and you really are “poorer”; or maybe both people lose their job; or there is a tragic accident or diagnosis of some sort.
The Church, capital “C” hasn’t done a very good job with these matters – on the front end, nor the back end. All too often people stay in loveless, abusive relationships because they think it’s God’s will. They are too afraid to try to make it on their own; afraid of the financial burden, stigmas, worry about growing old alone. Worried that they may not find even that small fragment of love ever again. It’s complex; as personal as each person involved.
We don’t talk very much about relationships in this way, except to tell people who they cannot marry; like our own wonderful United Methodist Church as it relates to the marriage of our gay and lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters. We have plenty to say about that – but only as a way of saying “no” – and it is likely that our denomination will undergo a “divorce” of its own on the matter.
I mean, my goodness, love is love. Have you ever been in love with somebody? Really crazy in love? It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? Crazy and mystical; wonderful and difficult – all at the same time. It’s difficult to understand; even more difficult to explain. It often makes no sense at all, but there it is; and when it’s right, Lord have mercy! It’s a great and wonderful gift in whatever forms presented; to love another and to be loved completely is the essence of our entire being.
And so, they ask Jesus from the husband’s perspective. And we have to look carefully here. Jesus responded, “what command did Moses give?” They answered, “Moses permitted a husband to write a decree of divorce and to put her away.” But Jesus said, “Moses wrote the commandment because of your hard heart.” Because you were not able on your own to treat one another with the kind of love, care, and civility needed. Therefore, a set of laws had to be created to guide your way.
Jesus offered this in the context of bringing little children forward and sitting them in their midst. The disciples didn’t want to hear it and began to shoo the children away, but Jesus said the kingdom of God is like these little children; innocent and vulnerable; open to the mystery and wonder of life and love. The kingdom of God is like these little children who know no laws, who haven’t learned how to hate, who will play with and engage each other without discrimination whatsoever. Have you ever noticed that about a bunch of 3 year olds? They don’t care a thing about who you are; they just dive right in and stay playing, laughing, engaging one another.
Wherever you are, whatever you are right now is enough. Live your own good life as you are and know that God’s will for you is to be whole, well, complete. The kingdom of God continues to unfold within you. The Creator continues to create through every circumstance. Healing happens; recovery and wholeness are possible. Thanks be to God.