also St. Francis of Assisi: http://www.textweek.com/festivals/francis.htm
Job 1:1; 2:1-10 – God to Satan: Have you considered my servant Job? God allow Satan to inflict Job with sores.
Genesis 2:18-24 – Man names the animals. God forms woman from the rib of man to be his helper. For this reason a man…
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 – In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but in these last days…
Mark 10:2-16 – Legal to divorce? Little children come to Jesus. Accept the Kingdom of God as a child…
This week I’m going to talk about a really hot topic: divorce. Then I’m going to talk about a concept central to the Christian faith: Giving. We have the Rich Young Ruler, the Widow’s Mite, and a text on servant leadership.
We have eight Sundays between now and Advent: four in October and four in November. For those who use the three-year Revised Common Lectionary, it lays out about like this.
- October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
- October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
- October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
- October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.
- November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
- November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
- November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
- November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
October 7: Divorce
October 14: Rich Young Ruler
October 21: Servant Leadership
October 28: Reformation
November 4: All Saints
November 11: The Widow’s Coins
November 18: The Little Apocalypse
November 25: Christ the King
Perhaps a Thanksgiving service can be thrown in there for good measure.
This month you could forgo the gospel readings and preach on Job the first three weeks of October, leading up to Reformation Sunday. A three-week series dealing with theodicy, suffering and the like. Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the most difficult questions with which people of faith wrestle. If you preach on this, and publicize it in advance on the web, in the local paper, you will draw an interested crowd. Then you just have to figure out how to make sense of it all. Maybe Rabbi Kushner can help a bit.
You could tackle Hebrews the following three weeks leading up to Reformation Sunday. This text says that God “appointed” Jesus. He is a “reflection” of God’s glory. When he made purification for our sins, then he sat down at God’s right hand and “became” superior to the angels. A bit of adoptionism there? It may sound like it, but earlier the author made it clear that Jesus is the one through whom the worlds were made (1:3).
Hebrews 7:3 says, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” The Jesus of Hebrews was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (4:15). He destroyed the one with the power of death: the devil (2:14). “For a time” Jesus was lower than the angels too. He was crowned with glory because of his suffering and death. He was “made perfect” through his suffering.
If you are itching to preach a theological treatise, this might be the opportunity. Additionally, we get Hebrews 4 the following week (The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.) and Hebrews 5 on October 21 (He is able to deal with the ignorant and wayward. You are my son, this day have I begotten you.).
Or, this Sunday, you could address the issue of divorce. Sound like fun? In my experience, no matter what else happens in worship, no matter what you read, sing, or say, some people will hear one thing, and one thing only: Mark 10:11-12…
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
These are serious words. They were spoken by Jesus himself. We must ponder them carefully. If we gloss over them, people are left to their own imaginations, or the concepts and images given to them by the culture, or popular religion.
The church affirms that marriage is a lifelong covenant, not to be discarded thoughtlessly. Divorce tears up families. Often the children are the greatest casualties. On the other hand, the church has often upheld a strict understanding of divorce, even in the face of abuse. Children are also the greatest casualties of an abusive marriage. When the church insists on keeping such marriages together, it risks supporting such abuse.
There may be more going on here. In a society where men could divorce women with the stroke of a pen, but women could not divorce men, Jesus could be unveiling another dark truth. Could it be that Jesus is defending women in this text? Could it be that he is less interested in holding together abusive marriages than he is protecting the vulnerable who had no power, couldn’t vote, couldn’t inherit, owned no property and had no rights, who could be put away with the stroke of a pen?
Divorce in Jesus’ day was not something women could do, at least not easily. A man could “put away” his wife with a simple written statement. Women did not have this right. Was Jesus standing up for women’s rights? Did he recognize they were the vulnerable ones? Is it not typical of Jesus to be watching out for the least and the last? Considerations like this are often ignored. Nevertheless, they have serious implications for applying Jesus’ teaching today.
Many people in our society have felt the pain of divorce. It is not uncommon for half a confirmation class to come from blended families. Many of these families have only heard words of judgment from the church. Some left abusive relationships only to be denied communion in one church or given the cold shoulder in another. In the past, women were counseled to stay in abusive relationships and be “faithful” to an unfaithful spouse.
This might be a good Sunday to speak about the unspeakable, to do some Lutheran teaching on divorce, to lift up a theology of grace that addresses both law and gospel.
The French philosopher Voltaire pointed out that divorce has probably been around at least as long as the advent of formalized marriage. Even Moses allowed divorce. That is, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce against a woman. Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason. The Talmud gives a specific example: A man can divorce a woman if she ruins dinner. Some infractions required divorce, such as adultery. In some cases, it even called for the death penalty. The man simply wrote a certificate of divorce, handed it to the wife, and sent her away. In the Talmud, only the husband can initiate divorce.
Historically, married women had almost no rights vis-à-vis their husbands. In Victorian England, once married, a woman’s possessions belonged to her husband. A husband could beat his wife, just as parents were allowed to beat their children. Annulment by the church was a long, expensive process, inaccessible to the majority of poor peasants. A Victorian woman could file for divorce, but she had to be able to prove that her husband had committed adultery. If the court found that testimony unsatisfying, the divorce was denied and the results could be catastrophic for the woman. As a result, few were willing to even take the risk. Even today, in some societies, if a woman who has been raped reports it, and the courts find insufficient evidence, she can be charged with adultery.
Even Jesus allowed for divorce in certain circumstances. Matthew 5:32 and 19:19 allow divorce in the case of marital unfaithfulness. In my book, physical abuse is undoubtedly one form of unfaithfulness.
And yet, in this passage Jesus doesn’t seem to come down on divorce so much as remarriage. Privately, he says to his disciples, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” The sin here seems not to be divorce, but remarriage in the case of divorce.
Somehow this kind of rhetoric seems familiar. We have seen this kind of talk from Jesus before. Rhetorical overstatement seems to be Jesus’ homiletical forte. This is the Jesus who tells his followers to tear their eyes out if they cause them to sin, after all. Could this be another case of hyperbole?
Likewise, Paul seems to be prepared to allow remarriage in certain circumstances (I Cor. 7:15). If one is deserted by an unbelieving spouse, he seems to think one should not be penalized by being forbidden to remarry. If Jesus had meant remarriage was adultery, why would Paul allow this? Paul also allowed a woman to remarry if her husband died (I Cor. 7:39).
This all makes me wonder, “What is going on here?”
If one looks carefully at what is happening in the text, one immediately sees there is a polemic. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who have asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” They are asking him to uphold a Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of divorce, whereby a man can put away his wife for any reason. They are not (let’s be perfectly clear), asking if a woman can divorce a man. So, think about it for a moment: What would be their motive for asking this question in the first place?
Hear this: Jesus rejects the Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of divorce, perhaps because it is unfair, putting the woman in an unjust position. It makes her completely vulnerable to the will of the husband.
He substitutes their Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of marriage with a Genesis 2:24 understanding. This is not a one-sided relationship of power, but rather a mutual relationship whereby husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh. This theology said, in essence, to the Pharisees, “No, you cannot divorce your wife any time you wish.” By mentioning the unfaithfulness clause, he does, however, reinforce the one circumstance under which a woman can seek a divorce.
Leave and cleave are covenant terms. Marriage was a covenant. A covenant was a way of binding together people who were not related by blood. Covenants were sealed by oaths and acts. The marital bed was the act that sealed a marriage covenant. Covenants could also be dissolved by acts. Adultery was an act that dissolved, de facto, the marriage covenant. This dissolution is not God’s will, but once it has happened, it has happened. This does not mean a couple cannot stay together after an affair, but perhaps that another covenant, a new covenant, must now be made.
The draft of the ELCA’s Social Statement on Women and Justice says, on page 3:
Patriarchy is a social system dominated by men, identified with men, and centered on men’s actions, voices, and authority. In patriarchal systems, men are typically viewed as better than women, given more power than women, and have more authority than women. This patriarchal worldview harms women and girls.
Further ahead, on page 29, the draft statement says,
Patriarchy and sexism in the Christian Church have a long history. Although women were followers of Jesus and leaders both in Jesus’ lifetime and in the very early church, women were excluded and vilified as Christianity grew in status and wealth. Early church theologians were often misogynistic; they repeated the idea that women were “the devil’s gateway” and rebuked women as “a feeble race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence.” Throughout much of the history of the Christian Church, women were therefore excluded from Christian leadership, including ordained leadership; taught to be submissive in marriage, church, and society; and coerced to endure violence.
Sadly, this truth often gets ignored when listening to passages like those in today’s gospel reading. We operate in peril if we ignore the power dynamics going on in Jesus’ day, or ours. Over 28 million women are forced into sexual slavery. That figure includes forced marriage in many cultures.
I do not include all this intending it to be preached. Care must be taken, especially with impressionable children in worship. Know your context. But there may be pieces that prove helpful as the preacher crafts a message that people can actually hear – need to hear.
Lutherans have always recognized that we are a broken people who live in an imperfect world. In a perfect world, everyone would be faithful and all marriages would last a lifetime. This simply is not the case. Jesus was a friend of sinners. He approached the self-righteous with very hard words. Sinners, he approached with kindness and forgiveness.
As a church we are called upon to approach all people in all circumstances of life with love and humility. This is Jesus’ way of being in the world. We believe and teach that divorced persons are to be welcomed into all aspects of the church’s life, without judgment or recrimination. As Jesus said,
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7)
When you get the log out of your eye, you can start working on other people’s specks. Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.
Are you divorced? You are welcome here. Are you a sinner? You are welcome here. Have you made mistakes in life? You are welcome here. All are welcome, for, as Jesus said, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer for all people.” The church is not a club for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Welcome sinners, to this table. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.