St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-07-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-07-2018

It’s Easy to be Hard When it’s Hard to Understand

Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

There’s a cartoon that comes across my facebook feed every now-and-then called ‘Coffee with Jesus’. In it, the author will present the image of a 4-frame discussion between a human and Jesus. Just this week there was one that caught my attention; this time the human character is named Ann who opens the conversation saying “There are two kinds of people in the world, Jesus; those who understand and those who don’t.” Jesus responds “That’s a pretty broad brush there, Ann. Let me help you out. There are two kinds of people in the world; those who put people into two groups, and those who know that people are a little more complicated than that.” (Radio Free Babylon 10-03-2018)

Oh -how -true! Just look at the world around us and see all the examples of the human-limited mentality that tries to break people into two groups: Politically; those who understand what is best for our nation and those who do not: Legalistically; those who understand that all life is precious and those who do not: Economically; those who understand how capitalism works and those who do not. And on and on it goes…

And, with the title of the cartoon being “Coffee with Jesus” we can automatically turn to thoughts of how it can apply to matters of faith: Salvation; those who are saved and those who are not: Sin; those who understand righteousness and those who are doomed: Worship; those who understand how to do it right and those who do not. And on-and-on that goes also…

But, as the cartoon suggests, Jesus knows that there aren’t only two groups of people, “people are a little more complicated than that”. And, Jesus knows that this applies to faith also because faith is a little more complicated than that.

Case in point; today’s Gospel reading.

In the beginning of the reading, before the children come onto the scene, three issues are brought up that are hot-topics even today; those being divorce, adultery, and the definition of marriage. And a forth issue is brought in that might not be seen as a hot topic today but is important to Jesus; that being hardness of heart.

The Pharisees wanted to use legalism to “test” Jesus. But they were not “testing” his knowledge of the Law; they were trying to trap him in order to destroy him.

Remember, it was John the Baptist’s demise for speaking out against Herod for hard-heartedly marrying his own brother’s wife, Herodias, who had hard-heartedly “divorced” her husband so she could “legally” marry Herod. Herodias didn’t like that, she held a grudge; she was continuing in her hard-heartedness and carried that all the way to effecting her own daughter; convincing her to give up the possibility of a fortune in exchange for the, useless to her, head of John. And, of course, we all know how that hardness of heart affected John. The same could happen to Jesus if the Pharisees were able to get Jesus to say something directly against the king and his wife.

 

 

Still, in the face of this “test” Jesus stands his ground. He doesn’t avoid the question, he doesn’t dance around the issue with legal hairsplitting, but he also doesn’t give them an absolute, yes or no answer. By asking the Pharisees “what does the Law of Moses tell you” he is creating an opening for his conversation about the intent of the law regarding divorce. And he continues that conversation by saying it is because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment for you.

With this, Jesus isn’t avoiding a yes or no answer; he is giving a yes and no answer. It’s not a matter of the legality of divorce, nor the morality of divorce; it’s about the hard heartedness that gives reason for divorce.

You see, God and Christ know that people are a little more complicated than to be able to be set into two groups; one being right and the other wrong; in this case one being those who divorce and those who do not. For this understanding, Jesus opens the opportunity for conversation.

With his words about hard heartedness, combined with the back story of Herod and Herodias, Jesus is addressing the self-serving reasons for divorce and remarriage such as the gain of power and wealth.

With bringing up the Law combined with hardheartedness, He is acknowledging the need for the option of divorce when one member of the union, who is not fulfilling the commitment of marriage to love and support one another, refuses to change their ways.

It is God’s desire for a marriage to be the binding of two people in a committed, loving, mutually supportive relationship that lifts both into fullness of life however they may define joy and fulfillment.

But it is not God’s desire for either or both, and especially not the children if there are any, to endure the suffering and torment of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a member who is hardheartedly, selfishly refusing to recognize the mutuality of the relationship.

 

I guess that’s a lot said about a few verses on divorce, but the conversation Jesus started isn’t over yet.

 Jesus spends a few lines explaining himself to the Disciples, bringing adultery into the conversation and then, as we see it in the text, suddenly, without any transitional lines, there are children on the scene.

Children, in Jesus’ time much as they are today, had no or at best little agency of their own; they were not much more than property of their parents. With this thought in their minds, the Disciples want to stop them; they try to separate those who cannot understand from those who can understand. But this isn’t the way Jesus sees it, in fact he becomes “indignant” and orders that that separation be stopped. There isn’t even division of age or intellect permitted in God’s Kingdom.

Now, recognizing all these complicated expansions of the story that grew from a simple question about the legality of divorce, just imagine how it applies to the rest of Christ’s message.

Yes, it’s all complicated: life is complicated; the Bible is complicated, God and Christ are complicated, even us mere people are complicated. And all of these are too complicated to be divided into two groups, those who understand and those who do not understand.

 

When we do try to divide things and people into those two groups we become hardhearted, ridged, resistant to the changes Christ is trying to make in our lives. We lose sight of the possibilities for growth in faith, the unending possibilities of new fulfillment in our lives and the lives of those around us, we cease to be active in what should be an unending quest for greater understanding. All all too often we make these mistakes because it’s easier to be hard than to push ourselves toward better understanding.

In the end, it is not our degree of understanding that will determine our entry into or exclusion from the Kingdom, we rely on the Grace of God for that; and we are assured of that Grace when we keep our hearts softened, malleable, as re-formable as a child’s in the hands of God; Father Son and Holy Spirit; allowing their full understanding to do in us, for us, what we cannot.

Amen

 

Job 1:1, 2:1-10
1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.
2:2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
2:3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”
2:4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
2:5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
2:6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
2:7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
2:8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
2:9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.


Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,
1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.
1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.
2:6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?
2:7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,
2:8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,
2:9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Mark 10:2-16
10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.
10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’
10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.
10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;
10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
10:14 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.
10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.