Sunday, October 7, 2018

How are the Children? Mark 10:2-16

The commentator says, “the preacher may groan on discovering that the Gospel lesson for this Sunday includes the strict teaching of Jesus regarding divorce and remarriage.”  And I did out loud…very loud…Kathleen asked what was wrong…

Our Faith is a living tradition it is not stagnant, we take the Bible seriously but not literally…do not put a period where God has placed a comma…
This text is harsh and hard to hear and may even bring up some bad feelings for those who have gone through or are going through divorce yet


In this day and age of the me-too movement this is an important text…You see in those days a woman could not or rarely could care for herself she depended heavily on her husband and her husband’s family for she has physically left her family behind to join his

This was much more than metaphorical, for after the proposal and the contracts were agreed to a man would go back to his father’s house and prepare a room for him and his wife often adding onto the existing family home.  He would then bring her home where she would become an apprentice to her mother-in-law as she learned the new family’s traditions of worship, preparing food, caring for the house, and all of her husbands’ traditions that she would be expected to carry on and teach her daughter someday.

She had no freedom, no education, she was her husband’s property. Yet divorce was becoming easier in the first century as compared to the ancient old testament times…

“By the first century there had been some changes to the system of marriage and divorce payments,
which may have made divorce easier. The initial marriage present was reduced to a token amount plus a
promise to pay 200 dinars (a year’s pay), if the wedding was cancelled or later her husband divorced his wife. This was a considerable deterrent to divorce, but quite a modest payment compared with the arrangements in the old Babylonian period. Furthermore, this payment could be waived
for minor offences.
These are they that are put away without their ketubbah (divorce payment); a wife that transgresses the Law of Moses and Jewish custom. What conduct is such that transgresses the law of Moses? If she gives her husband untithed food or has connexion with him in her uncleanness, or does not set apart the dough-offering....And what conduct is such that transgresses Jewish custom? If she goes out with her hair unbound, or spins in the street, or speaks with any man.....Also if she is a scolding woman. And who is deemed a scolding woman? Whosoever speaks inside her house so that her neighbours hear her voice.’
Of course in these cases the woman could still keep her dowry, which would constitute some deterrent to divorce. Nevertheless apart from financial considerations there were few constraints on a husband’s right to divorce. For women the situation was different; it was unusual in the Jewish world for a woman to be able initiate divorce proceedings.
 In the first century though there were protests against this easygoing approach to divorce. The Essenes reproached the Pharisees for being seekers after smooth things, i. e. watering down the law’s demands. They argued on the basis of Gen 1: 27 that God intended monogamy, not polygamy. A view that did not become official Jewish teaching till the decree of Gershom in AD 1030.”[1]

So the men could have multiple wives.  Men could easily divorce a woman by handing her a piece of paper.  Yet a woman now divorced who may or may not have her dowry …even though tradition says she is free to marry again the likelihood of this happening was rare.  So unless she had a son to her support her she had no income, often would have to return home in shame to her parents but if they were deceased she would have nothing to return to no source of income and no way to care for herself.

Now remember these were the ways of the Jewish people…

“the Roman state had little involvement in such matters and separations were resolved in private by extended families.  From the second century before Christ, women were free to invoke divorces and could renounce the marriage at will. Financially, a divorced woman would be provided for by keeping the dowry paid upon marriage regardless of who invoked the divorce.

Such liberal attitudes did not survive the advent of Christianity, which placed the indissolubility of marriage at the core of its beliefs. Divorce was limited to occasions of grave offence by around the third century and generally prohibited in Western Europe by the end of the early medieval period. Civil courts lost their power to adjudicate matrimonial cases and canon law was paramount. The Roman Catholic Church also maintained that, upon marriage, husband and wife became one person in law, with the wife’s legal existence being suspended for its duration.”[2]

The important part of this scripture is that Jesus makes this a primary question about marriage and not about divorce. There were arguments among certain Jewish sects around the interpretation of divorce and the pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus in order to bring about controversy.

“The question ‘is it lawful?’ however gets turned on its head. Jesus pushes behind Deut. 24 to gen.,1-2 behind the stipulation of the law to the story of creation, behind the legality of divorce to the intent of marriage. What emerges is a life long joining of two persons in a profound union (‘one Flesh’) . Even Fathers and Mothers are to be left in the pursuit of this new relationship, attributed to no less than God. (Mark 10:9)”[3]

Jesus had just recently spoke of the family and how the coming trials would split families apart yet here he is placing the emphasis on a union that is beyond human laws, this is a Gift of Gods creation. Today with our understanding of how people are created and how people love and how people grow and change we can bless either a marriage and or a divorce.

We now understand and are learning that unions between people take on many shapes and forms. We are still learning just what that means it was only ten years ago, June 16 2008 that California allowed same sex marriage licenses which was then halted on Nov 5th the same year and it was not until June of 2013 that the nation would catch up.   As the man who wrote Hamilton so eloquently put it in his tony acceptance speech; “ Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.” Yet, sometimes our journeys require us to move on as we discover we have grown differently as opposed to together and that is ok.

Now, immediately following this talk on divorce and marriage Mark takes us to the story of Jesus blessing the children.  It is quite the contrast.  In all matter we must not forget the children.  Our Executive Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, Rev. Traci Blackmon, always asks this question, “How are the Children?”

Walter Brueggemann says this;
“Two parts of Jesus' angry retort to the disciples need highlighting.

1. ‘It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs’ (10:14). The disciples have bought into ancient society's valuation of children they are not important. Children have no status and no rights, and thus their presence is a nuisance. Jesus sees things differently. In fact, the rule of God belongs to persons like this-powerless, vulnerable, weak persons, who are often deemed a nuisance. In rejecting the children, the disciples have not just made a slight error of judgment-they have missed the whole point of Jesus' ministry.

 2. ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’ (10:15). Not only do the children serve as poignant examples of those for whom the rule of God is intended, but also their manner of receiving it becomes the model for adults. The weight in 10:15 clearly falls on the verb "receive," which rules out the sentimental drivel about the innocence or naivete of children, often offered as explanation of this verse. The text does not idealize any particular characteristic of children. Instead it talks about the receiving of the kingdom by powerless persons, who have no claims to stake out and no demands to make. The rule of God comes as pure, unadulterated grace, to hungry people at the crossroads and in the byways of life who are invited to attend a scrumptious banquet, and to children without status. They have no excuses to give, no dowries to offer, no bargaining chips. They are eager to be taken up into Jesus' arms and be blessed.

Now whether we are successful or unsuccessful at our marriages, whether we have managed to achieve the profound union God intends or from "hardness of heart" have wound up in a divorce court, the receiving of the kingdom like a little child still holds. We have no bargaining chips to trade in, nor does our history of failure disqualify us. It is just this incredible picture of otherwise rejected children welcomed and given a blessing that sustains both the happily partnered and the painfully separated.”[4] Or if I may add the painfully partnered and the happily separated.

Now today is World communion Sunday.  We celebrate the fact that all over the world people gather around a table and lift a sacred night into prayer, they share a cup and they share bread recalling Jesus’ love and gift of grace to us all.

Global ministries today asks us to pray for Mexico this day and though today we collect for our neighbors in need the prayers asked for today I had to share because today global ministries is asking for prayers for las Memorias.  Las Memorias is a mission partner in Tijuana.  Bob and I have visited there.  We saw a need and initiated a plan to get solar panels on the roof and the project took a few years, but it was completed last year.

But I want to share the words from someone who served there;

“Even though I am no longer serving at Las Memorias, I carry memories and lessons in my heart. This lesson of serving speaks to me of my being witness to service in action. People drawn into the Las Memorias community by a common condition, living with HIV/AIDS. As individuals come to us they are very sick and in need of much physical care. Some need to be fed, all need help with hygiene for they are too weak to stand in the shower alone. It is common practice for a person to recover to a point where they now begin to care for the new person who has come.

But it goes further than that. The whole community of Las Memorias functions on the little bit of service that each one can do. All the cooking, cleaning, painting, patient care, building… everything is done by the residents. Some may say that Las Memorias is held together by duct tape and prayer. I say it is held together by a deep ethos of service.

Jesus tells us whoever wants to be first shall be the slave to all… It is a call to get our ego out of the way. This does not make less room at the table. Living with our ego in check provides us the opportunity to experience the mystery of God at work in the world. There is room at the table for everyone.

Not everyone can go and serve like I did, but every little bit helps. More justice, more service, less ego, more giving… it all helps us to take part in World Communion Sunday and in service WITH our Mission partners and Mission Co-Workers. Your giving made my service possible… I thank God for each of you.

On this World Communion Sunday, oh God of love and mercy, may we open our hearts, not only, to the reality of your love for us as individuals beloved, but also, to your call to serve. As we come to your table to share this meal of bread and cup; open our hearts, our minds, our arms to the life-giving ritual where everyone in welcome.

Oh God of mercy and grace, open our eyes to the reality of service in your name is valuable even necessary as we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Oh God of Grace and wonder open paths before us, paths that lead us to see the value and dignity in those we serve more than seeking to be recognized for the service we offer.

Oh God of wonder and mystery, touch our hearts anew with the spiritual truth that, as we celebrate this World Communion Sunday, not only, do we share in communion meals around the world, but also, with the saints of old.   May it be so, Amen.”[5]

(Prayer and Mission Moment by Jerri Handy)

[3] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Pg. 539
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Pg. 540

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