Out Of Many, One

A sermon from the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 10-4-15

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

08 Jul 2006, London, England, UK --- Street Pastors Praying --- Image by © Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis

08 Jul 2006, London, England, UK — Street Pastors Praying — Image by © Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis

Pent19 / First Lutheran Church / 10-4-15 / John Stiles

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God, our First Love, in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say Come! Amen.

Did mom & dad fight when you were a kid? We all have our disagreements from time to time. And some fight more fairly than others. And yet, I can’t remember a more frightening time, as a child, than overhearing my parents fighting. Whenever they raised their voices, I knew it was bad. It didn’t happen very often, and they usually were able to make up afterwards. They had some ground rules: 1) Don’t take the car keys if you leave the house – just go for a walk; and 2) Never let the sun go down on your anger (that one wasn’t so easy). But in the heat of the moment, everything that makes for a stable home can seem, all of a sudden, terribly wrong – especially for children. I felt powerless. I wasn’t even sure what it was about, though it usually involved not listening or not caring. On a few occasions, I remember going into my room and pulling the covers over my head and just praying that they wouldn’t get a divorce. It was not good.

In our first lesson for today, these words echo from God at the dawn of creation, “It is not good – that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2) – which seems odd, because up to this point all God could say after making the seas and the mountains and the rivers and the trees is: “It was good.” And when God made human beings in the image of God – he said, “It is very good!” But here, (in this 2nd account of creation – yes, there are 2 creation accounts in Genesis) after creating Adam, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

So, God made all the animals to see what the man would name them, but there was not found a suitable helper for him. And when we hear the word ‘helper’ let’s remember that this wasn’t intended to be a subservient ‘maid’ for Adam, but a partner.  In fact, the word ‘helper’ is most often used in the Old Testament to refer to ‘God’ as a helper to those who call for help in prayer.  Even ‘man’s best friend’ couldn’t fill the void of human companionship. So, God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, took a rib from him and closed up the place with flesh. From the rib God formed woman and brought her to the man. “At last,” he declares, “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones!”

Even Jesus recalls this story, in our gospel for today, when he’s being tested by the Pharisees on whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. At first, he refers to the Law: “What does the law say?” They reply, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal to divorce his wife.” Which was true. Usually adultery was grounds for divorce – and very few women had the power or social standing to enact divorce in those days. But this law also made it possible for a man to divore his wife if the hot dish wasn’t quite done all the way through – really, any small offense could be used as grounds for this “loophole law.” It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t want to dismiss the Law, giving the Pharisees ammunition against him; but he also knows that John the Baptist was beheaded by speaking out on Herod’s marriage to his brother’s ex-wife.

So, he takes them down a much more narrow path – he interprets the law. “Moses gave them this law because of their hardness of heart.” Sometimes hearts go hard making marriage unbearable. Sometimes differences are irreconcilable. When abuse is involved, divorce sometimes becomes the lesser of two evils. But none of that changes the fact that God still looks down on our brokenness and says, “It is not good that these people should be alone.”

So Jesus bypasses Moses, going back even further – to Adam & Eve: “For this reason a man shall leave his parents and cling to his wife and the two shall become one.” This story isn’t just about marriage and divorce – it’s about how God intended the whole world to live: in community. And there are all different types of families out there – trying the best they can to live this out.

When our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and established these United States of America, their motto was a Latin phrase: E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of many, one”). Somewhere along the way, we seem to have flipped that around, asking: “What’s in it for me?” “Look out for number one” and that song Frank Sinatra immortalized: “I did it my way!”

And so, the church has much to offer this nation at a time when fear and despair threaten to drive us into hiding – or worse: into trusting the powers of this world to save us: wealth, political power, and military might. Whatever we put our ultimate trust in – that becomes our God. So we arm ourselves with even more handguns, as if that were the solution to yet another school shooting in our nation. Ten people dead in Roseburg, Oregon, and the very Sunday after this heinious crime – which has become all too commonplace in these United States – we have this lesson: “It is not good to be alone. Become like little children.”

Look at the pattern of how we, as a nation, have responded to school shootings – whether it be Columbine, Paduca, Sandy Hook, and now Roseberg. We’ve become more ‘alone’ – more divided into “us” vs. “them” – those who are “right” and “wrong” – about gun control – or mental illness. When, deep down, we know it’s just our hardness of heart that’s driving us apart.

Jesus spoke clearly to the Pharisees, underlining the importance of marriage, lifting up the importance of family and human community. But then… he put a child in the midst of them. A little child, saying, “You won’t receive this kingdom unless you become like this little one.”

Brene Brown put it this way: “When you are vulnerable, you are beautiful.” It’s not a child-ish faith God calls us to – as if we were naive pushovers, who haven’t got a clue – no, Jesus calls us to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Instead, we are to be child-like in our faith, fully trusting in God to guide us and save us. But being vulnerable is scary. We’re afraid of what might happen if we trust and get our feelings hurt / We may decide not to feel anything at all because it’s too painful.

The month of October is set aside each year for Domestic Violence Awareness. As you may know, a couple years ago, when I was in Oakdale, we had 2 murder-suicides, just 2 weeks apart – involving kids from the same school in our town. So we had vigils – we said our prayers – but then a few of decided to write some music and to record an album – and donate the proceeds to the family. As I close today, I want to end by singing the title track of that album – a song I wrote called: “We Are The Children” – because any time a child suffers, we feel it, as if we ourselves are those children. In Jesus’ time, children were powerless, at the lowest rung of society. And yet, he makes time for them. Even when his life was threatened and others were trying to trip him up on his way to the cross – Jesus makes time for me and for you – his children – he goes to prepare a place for us.

My parents had their own place, Grace Lutheran Church of Albert Lea, where they learned this lesson and went on to build a marriage and a home for 45 years, by the grace of God. Sure, they had their arguments, but they had something much more powerful – a place where the many became one – a church where, if one suffered all suffered with them, and when one was honored all rejoiced. We are that church – we are that Body of Christ. And we are the children.

Close by playing the song: We Are The Children.  Listen here:


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