Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pentecost 19B sermon by Deacon Pam: How hard is your heart?

Proper 22 Lectionary: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

When Mother Valori asked me to switch Sundays with her, I thought "Yeah!I've won the lectionary roulette! I won't have to preach on 'cut off your hand, cut off your foot'...Then I realized "Divorce! I got divorce!"

As I prepared for today, as I read through commentaries and lectionary discussions and sermon helps, I was struck by how many of them advised that I run, not walk, away from this lectionary, saying things like:

"Most will try to avoid preaching on this Gospel lesson, and who can blame them; we know you don't want to talk about this lesson from Mark, talking about this teaching on divorce is fraught with difficulties and the potential for misunderstanding." But at the same time some of those same folks said "but you must, you must, especially if the lessons are read aloud in your church-you must."

So what's with these seemingly divergent thoughts?

I think in part the writers felt it had to be addressed because it's difficult to put something like that out there and not say something about it. It's similar to part of the Gospel from last week that I've already mentioned-the part about cutting off your foot or your hand - it's not a lesson you can ignore or skip over. Whether you like it or not, you going to have to deal with it.

I think the writers were also thinking about the typical church family. Think about Redeemer for a second.

Some of us are married, some are divorced and some are divorced and re-married. Some of us are single and long to be married. Some of us, because of sexual orientation, can't get legally married-or divorced-in most states, yet have the same relationship issues as any married couple. Some of us dealt with it in our families of origin as children when our parents decided to divorce. It would be hard to find someone that doesn't have some relatable experience, whether in one's own life or that of a friend or family member.

And it is important to talk about it because of how this passage has been used by the church to judge those who have gotten divorced. I have certainly thought a great deal about people I am familiar with, people I know and care about, who have been wounded, have been marginalized, often in God's name, because of divorce.

Divorce was an issue in Jesus' day as well. Keep in mind that marriage, and divorce, have changed a great deal and looked much different then than now. Some religious leaders taught it was legal for a man to divorce his wife only in cases of infidelity; others felt is was lawful for almost any reason. While we don't know definitely if it was what they believed or if they just wanted to 'set him up' so to speak, the Pharisees who approached Jesus to test him were referencing the latter teaching.

They were referring to a passage in the 24th chapter of Deuteronomy that states if a woman does not please her husband, if he finds something objectionable about her, he could write a certificate of divorce and send her away. Notice the man can divorce his wife; women were not allowed to divorce their husbands under Mosaic law.

It is thought by some scholars that when Jesus mentions women divorcing their husbands in his later discussion with the disciples, he was either referencing Roman law or, the explanation I prefer, he was upending culture and law and making women equal with men.

Divorce in Jesus' time was devastating for women; at best, as this law demonstrates, women were treated as second class citizens and at worst, as something less than a human. They were treated like possessions, acquired by their husbands through the legal contract of marriage. They were powerless and they were always the victims of divorce. Because women were largely dependent on their husbands, divorce left them with almost no economic options.

Jesus' answer back to the Pharisees is less about the legality of divorce and much more about the attitude and state of their heart. He points out that while they are correct about the letter of the law, the law is not reflective of the will and heart of God but is rather a concession by Moses to human failings and human desires.

Jesus' teaching was designed to protect the "least of these" in a system where they were dismissed for the slightest provocation and to point to the real problem - hardness of the human heart. If their hearts weren't hard, Jesus is saying, there would be no need for a law permitting them to send their wives away when they became too old or sick or feeble.

And while we can be quick to feel righteous and think how terrible this practice was, we can be guilty of the same thing - in our intimate relationships, in our families, with our friends and with those in the world about us. How many people have we dismissed - perhaps in our hearts and minds, perhaps overtly - because we found in them something we didn't like, something we found objectionable, something we found displeasing. Hardness of heart wasn't just a problem in Jesus' day and isn't an issue only in marital relationships!

Think about all the things that are reflections of our own hardness of heart...

Are we insensitive to the needs of others? Do we justify not helping because we feel we've given enough and it's time for them to do it themselves or turn to someone else?

Do we fail to love and show hospitality out of prejudice and fear toward those who are different from us?

Are we carrying around resentments and anger that are killing us, poisoning our relationships and eroding our trust because we refuse to forgive someone who has hurt or disappointed us?

Have we turned a deaf ear and closed our hearts to the thoughts and ideas of those who have a different point of view? Have we allowed them voice and a place at the table with us?

Have we narrowed our vision of what God asks of us? Do we refuse to open our hearts and minds, to step into the fuller life and deeper love to which we are called? Do we criticize and find fault with the ministries of others, perhaps out of fear God might be calling us to do more as well?

It is easy to pass judgment, isn't it? And it's so easy, so tempting, to let our hardness of heart, and that of those around us, go unchallenged.

Judging the decisions others have made and especially using those decisions against them, whether we are talking about divorce or something else, is not what God calls us to do.

Jesus stood with and for those on the margins - women, children, the sick, the mentally ill, the poor, the hungry, the other, the alien. As his followers, that is our call as well - to soften our hard hearts and to show through our words and our actions that we believe the kingdom of God belongs to all.

Let us pray.

O God,
take away our hardness of heart,
our disappointment, our despair, our greed, our aloofness, our loneliness,
our hatred and our fear.
Help us to see our own errors
and not to judge those around us.
Open our eyes which are often blind to the needs of others.
Strengthen us and fill us with your love;
teach us
to use our power with care.
Bring new life where we are worn and tired and
forgiveness where we are are wounded.
May your thoughts become our thoughts,
and your ways become our ways.

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