Let's Talk About Promises
In a week marked by a Nor’eastener and the possibility of a Hurricane I have to admit I was focused on God’s promise not to drown us again. But before we get to God’s promises we have to muck through this thorny lesson from the Gospel of Mark. In this day and age it feels jarring to hear Jesus talk about divorce is such absolute terms. So let’s listen again. “ Some Pharisees came to him and to test him they asked: Is it lawful for a man to divorce a woman? He answered them: what did Moses command you? They said: Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and 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. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate. When you divorce and remarry, you commit adultery.”
Well well well. You know in one church I went to there was this guy who was strongly against homosexuality. He kept saying: It goes against the Bible. But this fella had been married 3 times! I was so tempted to challenge him on that score except I knew how much pain there in behind any divorce. Very few people get married with an eye towards divorce. They get married thinking they have found the person who will grow old with them. There is hope and promise when people commit to getting married. Hope and promise are intertwined. And when that hope ends, when a marriage ends, there is internal and external chaos. Especially for women. And that speaks to the first point I want to make. Did you notice that the Pharisee asked: is it lawful for a man to dismiss and divorce a woman? That’s because women had so little power then and so few resources that it was only men, who by and large, did the divorcing. And when a man divorced a woman, she was often left homeless and destitute. Context in scripture is important. This is one of those times when it is really important. Divorce in Jesus’ time sometimes led to death. The culture was such that there were few resources for single women. In order to survive women had to be connected to a household, and households were usually headed by men. As I am sure all of you know Jesus often spoke out against those in power and took the side of the powerless. Did you notice he talked about hardness of heart? This is one more example of that. But he takes it further. There were a few women in Jesus’ circle who were women of means. They were unusual but they were there. And Jesus tells those gathered that when women or men divorced and remarried, they were committing adultery. Keep your promises. All of you. Don’t hurt your partner. Don’t hurt the one you promised to honor and love and care for. When you get married before God and family, don’t dissolve that. What God blesses, nobody should violate. When you do, you are violating God’s law. When we make promises to each other before God and family we should do that with humility and trepidation and a commitment to honor those promises before all else. That was the original context. What about now. What happens when no matter what you do, how hard you try, the marriage you are in isn’t working, is making you so miserable you feel you are losing your mind.
What then? What happens when the person you promised yourself to becomes abusive? Or is unfaithful? What then? This is where God’s promises come in. God has promised us that no matter where we are, or what is happening in our lives, God’s love is there for us and we can be restored in God’s sight. God has promised to love us and care for us no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey. We are welcome in God’s house. No matter whether we caused the pain that forced our marriage to end, or were victimized by it, God’s grace is available to us if we open ourselves to it. We have to open ourselves to it. It is still true that women suffer more when marriages end. Many of you already know that. It is also true that everybody suffers when marriages end. God knows that better than we do. A lot of suffering is hidden, or not apparent to our eyes. It is still critically important to approach marriage with maturity and humility, honesty and integrity. But if you are one of those 53% of adults in the US who have been divorced, please don’t let that keep you from a full relationship with God and a faith community. This is one of the knots I have with Roman Catholicism and other Orthodox theologies. If Jesus died to redeem us, and if God is love, why would you keep people from experiencing that redemption and love? That is exactly what Jesus mission was. To redeem and heal the wounded and sinful. Why would you keep divorced people from fellowship and the sacraments? And that brings us to another of God’s promises. Through Jesus, God has promised to walk with us through all of the valleys of our lives including those caused by us and those caused by other people. Through baptism, we dedicate our lives, or our children’s lives to God. And when we fail or are hurt by other’s failures, the sacrament of communion restores us to God and each other. God has promised us that. It is especially important for us to remember God’s promises in light of some of the challenges we have faced as a congregation and will continue to face in the months ahead. We are not alone. God walks with us through every situation. God walks with us through every valley and celebrates with us on every mountain top. I believe that in my core. If I hadn’t I would not have been able to make a career change at my age. We are God’s beloved you and I. We walk with God and God walks with us and we are indeed walking towards and in the light of God. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can separate us from that love. So let some of your prayers be laughter, even in the face of challenge. Let some of your prayers be celebration, even in the midst of transition. We are God’s people. Nothing can stop God. That was true from the beginning and continues to be true. So rejoice. And be glad and trust the restoration that is happening in your hearts and in the world. We may sometimes break promises. God does not. Our God is an awesome God.