Divorce and Grace

Mark 10:2-16 October 4, 2015
The Rev. George Glazier

Picture this: Sitting in my office are two people who are in love. They are holding hands and we have gathered for the second session of pre-marital counseling. We have talked about their lives, how they met, how they fell in love and we are beginning to talk about their expectations for their marriage. It is all cozy and soft and romantic up to this point. Then I ask the question: “What could happen that would jeopardize your marriage?” I go on to say: “I am not talking about divorce but I am talking about situations that could lead you to a divorce.”

Their reaction is like someone who has had a cup of cold water thrown in their face. What was cozy, soft, and romantic suddenly turns to uncomfortable, hard, too real. They are shocked. It is much the same way that I react to Jesus’ words about divorce in today’s gospel – shock.

So what is Jesus saying and why is he saying it?

Really I cannot go there yet. This is not an academic question for me. I am a once divorced, happily remarried man. The words of Jesus, even though I have studied them and I understand what he is saying, what I hear and still hear is condemnation. Woe is me.

There are some killer words and phrases in scripture that seem to pronounce a verdict on certain people. Or, they have been taken by the church or the society in such a way as to pronounce a verdict on certain people. Though the gospel is primarily about grace, love and forgiveness, this does not change the fact that for some people what is first heard is judgment. That is the way it is for me when I hear Jesus speak of divorce. So I have to pause.

Divorce in my experience was a kind of hell. I have had worse experiences but not many. It has had a negative impact on me and on my children. So I can understand those who want to take this passage as use it as some kind of firewall to stem tide of divorce. Jesus says NO to divorce. So don’t, ever.

But that does not work.

First, it ignores the fact that that couple in my office, along with all the other divorced people I have ever known, wanted to have a loving, lasting, happy marriage. But some made mistakes and at some point the mistakes overwhelmed the marriage and they had to accept divorce as an unwelcome but real fact of life. I have never met one single person (though I am sure they are out there) who took marriage so lightly that they assumed divorce would happen. To a person they all thought, as I thought, this will never happen to me, to us.

Second, this Jesus-says-NO-to divorce attitude also ignores that after the hell of divorce there can be an experience of grace, of God’s grace, when we enter anew, chastened by sorrow and failure, into a new relationship. I really did not fully understand the overwhelming sense of God’s grace until I met and fell in love with my wife, Pam. The negative impact of divorce was more than mitigated by the her presence in my life and in the lives of my children.

Finally this ignores the fact that adultery, addiction, abuse, and a host of other situations can, untreated or unacknowledged, can put an end to a marriage. There are responsible reasons for a divorce.

So, stuff happens. Grace happens … because God loves us and God, who has promised to never divorce us – though God certain has cause – can enter our lives through just about any experience, even divorce.

So what is Jesus saying? And why is he saying it?

He is saying what all lovers instinctively know whether they stand in the midst of love or in the ruins of marriage gone sour. He is saying that the intention of God, like the intention of all lovers, is to make marriage a joyful, life-long union in which the two people grow in grace and love, becoming fully the people God has created them to be.

This is why straight people marry. This is why gay people want to and should be married. This is why God blesses all those who are willing to make the commitment to be in, grow in and stay in marriage. The intention of people and the intention of God is the same in regard to marriage, at least at the beginning. But life can be hard, marriages can take a beating, some of them fail.

The context of this passage is Jesus answering a question from the Pharisees. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Or, I think the better way to frame it would be when is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. The first question is easily answered by Jesus or anyone quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The process whereby a husband can divorce a wife is laid out in this passage. Yet, one of the most disputed questions among rabbis in Jesus’ day had to do with the legitimate reasons a husband could divorce a wife. Some rabbis held that the only grounds for divorce were adultery. Some held that something as small as disrespect from the wife could justify a divorce.

So this is what the Pharisees are asking. They actually are having an academic discussion about the rules of divorce. The fact of divorce is never disputed. But Jesus will not enter into this academic discussion. He goes off on another tangent altogether. He goes to God’s purposes in marriage – life-long, loving, joyful union.

He then highlights and underscores the male prerogative in divorce as it was practiced in his day. Wives had almost no right to divorce their husbands for any reason. He holds this up and says in effect:

Moses allowed this for the hardness of hearts of you men.

As with other scriptures of condemnation, it is interesting how the church has taken this scripture to persecute those whose life situation was threatening to others. No medieval village wanted a lot of single, unattached divorce people, men or women, in its ranks. In a day when women were seen as property of either fathers or husbands, no place wanted women free and unattached. So, there are clear historical reasons that the church highlighted and underscored these words of Jesus, turning them into a prohibition of divorce rather than encouragement of a life-long union.

So, what about a new understanding in which we agree with the intention of God and the vast majority of those who enter into marriage: That marriage is meant to be life long, happy, and place where the two people can grow in love and grace. But we also agree with the fact of life that some, for many reasons, do not succeed in this. Our response to divorce is not condemnation or judgment but the response that Christians always are enjoined to make: to have mercy on those going through divorce and to assure them of God’s love and ours.

At the time of my divorce I was blessed to be a priest in the Episcopal Church that has been pioneering this attitude to divorce for 50 years. While some other branches of Christianity has stayed mired in a prohibition understanding of Jesus’ teaching, we have taking a more gracious and loving approach. I was blessed to be in a local church that gave me just those things – mercy and love – when I was going through my divorce. I did not expect such a gracious response because I underestimated the love of God and the love of church people. It was transformative for me and my life and I have seen it replayed again and again in lives of others.

How to tick off Jesus

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith

Sermon September 27, 2015, Mark 9:38-50

I am really glad the children are out for Sunday School during the reading of this Gospel. Jesus’ imagery about tying a millstone around someone’s neck and hurling them into the sea, or cutting off hands or feet, or plucking out eyes is pretty graphic stuff. I know we read a lot of the Gospel of Mark this year, but we don’t read it all. We could have left this part out.

I don’t like this reading because over 30 years ago I knew a young person who tried to pluck out his eye because he was afraid he would be sent to hell. And I have heard far too many Christians complain about other Christians they disagree with by quoting the passage about the millstone, as if it should be applied literally to their opponent.

To understand this lesson we need to remember that Jesus is using hyperbole. He is over-exaggerating to make a point. He does not want anyone to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck. He does not want anyone to cut off hands or feet. Or pluck out eyes. Remember, all the tools of rhetoric were established hundreds of years before Jesus. Our ancient ancestors were pre-technological. They were not dumb. In some ways, language was their technology and they pondered over every word and phrase to get just the right message across. And in this case the use of exaggeration by Jesus gets across the message that he is angry; very angry.

To give a modern example it would be like what my mother used to say when the three of us boys were acting up. She would say, “You boys better shape up or I am selling you to an orphanage.” We knew she was exaggerating. We knew she wouldn’t sell us to an orphanage. But we also knew she was angry.

So what is Jesus so angry about? In general he is angry that his disciples do not get it. He is talking about servanthood and giving his life for the world, and all they can think about is, “What’s in it for us?”

But the specific issue that sets Jesus off, the straw that breaks the camel’s back (to use another hyperbole) is the disciples resorting to us and them thinking.

“Master,” they say. “We saw somebody casting out demons in your name and since he wasn’t one of US we tried to stop him.”

I hate to admit it but it has taken me over 35 years to see this connection. I have read this passage dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and only this week does it finally dawn on me. Jesus is angry because his disciples can’t see the good that is happening outside their own little group and so want to stop it. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Are you nuts!? People are being healed. Demons are being cast out. Good things are happening. And you can’t get on board with that simply because the people doing it are not in our group!? You idiots ought to have a millstone tied around your necks and be thrown into the sea. Cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes for all the good you are.”

Now do you get the idea? He is ticked off and venting at his disciples for the stupidity of their “us” and “them” thinking.

Unfortunately we have been very fond of that kind of thinking in the Church. We are always quick to judge who has it right and how has it wrong, and name a “them” we would like to exclude. I know we have our disagreements but I try to remember that good things happened even with Christian groups with which I disagree. As you know I do not like fundamentalism. I do not think it is a proper way to interpret scripture. And if you read my column in the newsletter you know I am thrilled that fundamentalism is on the decline. Thank God. However, I know that there are countless fundamentalist churches where good things happen and where their pastors do great work. Demons are cast and people’s lives are made better. They are “us,” not “them.”

I do not like a lot of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. I think it subjugates women and I think the celibacy requirement for priests is kind of silly. It does not change the fact that there are many good Catholic churches with excellent leadership where people’s lives are changed for the better, and the demons that hold them down are cast out. They are “us,” not “them.”

I am sure these Churches have their own complaints about us as well. But we still strive to do good work, to make people’s lives better and cast out the demons that hold them down.  When we see our combined good work then there is no “them.” It is all “us.”

We could say the same about other religions, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, if they are working to make people’s lives better, to cast out demons that hold people down, then they are “us,” not “them.”

Now I am not so naïve to think we have no enemies. I will never sit down with the late Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church unless they make some changes. And ISIS is clearly the enemy of all who seek to do good through religion.  They represent all that can be horrible about religion: extreme fundamentalism that leads to killing and atrocities, all in the name of God.

Yes, there are those who are not us.  But most people of good will are closer to us than we think.

Sadly, the Pope’s visit last week contributed to even more “us” and “them” thinking, not because of what he said but the spin put on it by the media. On one side people said he spoke to “our” issues of sexuality and family. On the other side people said he spoke to “our” issues of immigration and climate change. I heard it all last week. I listened to all sides. I even listened to Rush Limbaugh. I wanted to hear what was out there. And it was all about choosing sides. Actually, the pope spoke to all kinds of issues on both sides of our political divide. Then he said that the leaders of the world need to work together for the benefit of humanity and the safeguarding of the planet. Work together. Do good. Nobody reported on that! The media was too busy picking sides. But I think the real story was his call for leaders to work together to create a better world. That’s news!

We are a long way form that. The “us” and ‘them” thinking is so dominant in our culture that when John Boehner stepped down as Speaker of the House he started singing “Zippity Do-Dah!” He was so glad to be out of that morass he broke forth in song.

And yet Jesus reminds his disciples and us that when we work together for good there is no “them” it is only “us.” And if we persist in this “us/them” thinking it only makes things worse. And it’s a really good way to tick off Jesus.

Let us pray:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

October Newsletter

Breastplate – October 2015

Check out these opportunities

Sunday School and Adult Forum begin this Sunday.

Adult Forum this week   Meet our new clergy, George Glazier & Steve Lane.

Server and Crucifer Acolyte Training Class on September 27 This class is for torchbearers in the 7th or 8th grade who would like to become crucifers and crucifers in the 9th grade or above who would like to become servers. Training will last approximately 30-40 minutes.

Dublin Food Pantry Each October St. Patrick’s staffs the food pantry on Tuesday’s during the morning. This is a great opportunity for 6 volunteers from 9am – 12pm. There is a sign-up sheet in the narthex.

It is time to sign up for Foyer Groups!   A wonderful fellowship opportunity with 8-10 adults throughout the program year. Stop by and visit the display in the narthex.

Sacred Circles This is the last week to sign-up. See that lavender insert in the bulletin.

Thank you for attending the OPEN HOUSE and for sharing your time and talent to the ministries that participated.

The Meaning of the Eucharist

A sermon, with visual aids, to describe the meaning of the Eucharist.

Life-Changing Opportunity

Change a life in just half an hour a week!

We need to increase significantly the number of St. Patrick’s people who meet each week with a first-grader at Daniel Wright Elementary School, just seven miles from church.

Many of these children come from families whose parents have moved to Dublin specifically so their child can attend Dublin Schools. The child you work with may well speak English in school and some other language at home.

This isn’t just something “nice to do.” Research data show clearly children who do not master English and Math early on in school struggle for years to catch up — and many never do.

You may well be instrumental in changing a child’s life, simply by showing up each week to help him or her with the challenges of arithmetic or reading. (You may find yourself changed, too.)

You’ll find a sign-up sheet on a clipboard in the narthex. Or you may email Laura Leach, our program coordinator, at lgleach@hotmail.com

Sacred Circles

The women of St. Patrick’s have expressed a desire to form Sacred Circles (Women’s Spirituality groups) that would be open to all the women of St. Patrick’s who want to participate.

The purpose of the groups would be to provide a community in which to share and navigate our spiritual journeys and what connects us to the divine, as well as deepen our spiritual quests as they are enriched by our Christian tradition.

We plan to explore the breadth of different prayer practices that re utilized by our group members. We’d like to meet monthly in small groups of no more than fifteen women, to maximize group cohesion and confidentiality. A system of rotating leadership will ensure that all group members have the opportunity to co-lead monthly sessions.

Ultimately, we hope that the Women’s Spirituality groups will deepen our relationships with God and with other women in the St. Patrick’s community, and include participation from women of all ages and backgrounds, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey.

Sign-ups begin August 30th and the groups begin in October. We will meet monthly.

If you are interested in joining a Sacred Circle, please select your preferred meeting time, and contact one of the coordinators listed below:

Tuesday nights, 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Sunday afternoon, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Tuesday afternoon, 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Coordinators:

Tracey Kubik
Kathleen Lamb
Catherine Loveland
Kim Nelson
Lisa Palchick
Val Pittsenbarger