Sermon on Mark 10:2-16 - Jesus, Divorce, Children, and God
Mark 10 is not fun. Its not easy. Especially in the beginning. It is a text that has caused immense distraction and hardship in the church for well over 1000 years because of misinterpretation. Misapplication. Or just down right sinful, godless, graceless division. Usually every year this text, whether from Matthew, Mark, or Luke comes up and every pastor wishes to preach on something else. A friend changed his sermon text this week because he didn’t want to preach on this. Which was probably wise on his part, since Dr. Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary wrote this week that - Pastor, this text must be preached. It cannot be read and unsaid. She is right.
I say she is right because I would ask you – show of hands – how many people in this room have been impacted by divorce in one way or the other? It could be your divorce. Your parents. Your kids. Your grandkids. Your friends. It is there in the ether. We have it and have felt the effects. Even in Jesus’ day, divorce was hurtful and divisive. Why do you think the story begins with the words – The Pharisees came to test him? Testing or tempting Jesus to have to make a claim about an issue that is so personal and yet so public, so difficult, so disheartening, because the Pharisees thought they could win.
They ask him – Jesus, tell us about divorce. What do you think?
Jesus asks them the right question – What did Moses say? Because they would want to go back to the giver of the Law for answers.
Well, Moses said that if we want a divorce we write these letters and get rid of our wives in that way.
You see the Pharisees thought they had him. If he said, divorce is wrong, they would have said – What about what Moses says? If Jesus said it’s fine, they could have come to this place in Genesis 2 and said, what about the creative work of God in marriage, Jesus? Joining of one flesh? Are you saying marriage commitment is pointless? It’s a catch-22, they think.
But Jesus sees through it all and goes to the very heart of the matter – Moses wrote this command to you because of the hardness of your hearts. Basically, Moses gave you this procedure because he knows you. He knows of the fallenness of humanity. He knows that sinners marrying sinners can be problematic. Relationships of today plagued by infidelity, abuse, addiction, loneliness, just like they were then. Moses wrote this command because of the hardness of our hearts. A place of rescue for those needing a safe passage out of something like domestic violence, but also a command that can unfortunately be an outcome of relationships that fall apart for any reason whatsoever.
And maybe that last part, the falling apart of marriages is a failure of the church. Of me. Not teaching on the Biblical understanding of marriage. The Christ-likeness in it. To talk about marriage as something more than just playing house or an alternative to living together. Jesus and Genesis both speaking of it as this mystical thing. A union never to be taken lightly. In which my wife and I are one in the same. What affects her, affects me. We are one flesh. Paul saying I must love her as my own body. That I must lay down my life for her as Christ did for the church. That a marriage relationship is one built by more than a license, rings or vows, but by a true and certain commitment on our part to look at one another and say – I am yours and you are mine, my Beloved. Because I look at my wife and know for certain I would be nothing without her. God creating one woman to complete all which I am lacking so that I may be whole. My marriage to her being a privilege I must cherish forever.
But this line Jesus walks is one that says, divorce is a reality, but is never good. It’s ripples always reverberate through the generations. It can become an answer of rest for some but always effects people we never think it would, in ways we never thought possible. But then the world, the church, we Christians so often see the effects and never think of the cause as much as we look at those it most closely injures and decide how we will treat them. The best would be to be there for the tears. To hold the broken. To bring mercy, forgiveness, love. That’s your job. The worst is when we judge a brother or sister in their relationships as failures. Marked with a scarlet D forever.
My parents got divorced when I was 3. I have very few memories of them being together. In some ways that’s probably good. But my dad was a pastor, still is a pastor, in the Nazarene Church. He got his license taken away because the church said you can’t be a pastor and be divorced. It shattered him. Like being divorced twice. So, he spent the next 30 years working as a pastor without the title. Without the pay. Dedicating hours to Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Doing the same stuff he always did, while also teaching kindergarten to pay the bills. A few years ago they gave him his license back because they made some changes to their rules. Good changes of course.
This last summer after years of work, six years of it, my dad was ordained. I can call him Rev. Daddy. But his time to get his ordination, the extra meetings, the quizzing on his current marriage to my stepmom, which they have been married for over 30 years now. He had so many extra hoops to go through. He must have been the first to have gone up for ordination with divorce in his history. It was as though he was this alien being that somehow the church has no clue what to do with. Set apart as ugly or dangerous or too sinful to preach the Gospel. I don’t know.
What I do know is this, the calling of the church is to be those who go about their life finding other broken sinners and bringing them to the one who heals the brokenhearted and frees the prisoner. The calling of the church is to be one who comes with the rescue that is Jesus and his blatant disregard for our legalism to freely give to you forgiveness and mercy unearned. To have the audacity to have forgiven sinners preach the Good News of Christ to other sinners. Those whose identities have changed, redeemed, bought with a price so precious you can’t replace it.
You see it at the end of the reading when this talk on divorce turns to children. Jesus had transitioned into a house and was seated now teaching and many followed him and brought their kids for blessing. The disciples thought they were saving their teacher from undue stress and shunning the kids from his mercy. Yet Christ says – “No. Bring them to me. For of such is the Kingdom.” The identity of Kingdom people being changed from uber-religiosity and legal perfection, to abject dependence. The identity of the Kingdom being transformed from a collection of the perfect, to a collection of the weak and vulnerable. Because at the cross, in the Gospel, where the identity of those broken by the brokenness of relationships between sinners, where one’s identity is seen in light of being a divorced mother of 2 or a divorced father of none, there in Jesus, the identity shifts from you and your sin to you and your Savior. A place where who you are in Christ is all that matters. Where God, looking upon the face of his child, you, sees his Son, Jesus Christ, his blood shed for you, and nothing else. Not your sin. Not your past. Not what people hold against you from 40 years ago. God sees you as Jesus, crucified, beaten, broken, and raised for the sake of the world. So the next time someone wants to define you by your past, define you by your relationships, say to them – I am a baptized child of God, drowned in Jesus and raised to new life. Thanks be to God. Amen.