Read the Bible passages.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
One of the growing ways to find a romantic partner is to use an online dating service. The point of these services is to help you connect with someone you’d have a good chance of being compatible with. One of the big ones, Match.com describes itself with this ad, Looking for someone who loves sushi, the Mets, or runs marathons? We provide a variety of powerful search tools to help you find people based on their interests, background, age, location, and more—and it’s free…
An easy way towards love, right? Sounds like an obvious way to weed out all the options that won’t match. But in the days before computers, it was a little harder. And in the days before dating was ever invented… well, even God wasn’t so great at the matchmaking business.
When we open Genesis 2, we find God trying to make a match for the human God has created.
If Genesis 1 is perfectly measured by the refrain, “it was good,” then Genesis 2 is a cacophony of discord that moves out from, “it was not good.”
This second creation story describes a God who gets down and dirty in the mud, fashioning and forming like a child on the lakeshore. God’s created, but as God pauses to look at creation, God cannot say, “it is good.”
This earthling is alone within creation, and God sees this aloneness is not good. The earthling needs a partner.
But there haven’t been compatibility studies, there aren’t personality tests, and no time to decide favorite pastimes, so God doesn’t really have a whole lot to go on. The way the story’s told, God pokes around in the dirt some more, thinking a good partner might be strong, with a trunk to help clear and pull as the earthling worked the garden. But, while the elephant might be really helpful, it just doesn’t work out between the two of them. God tries again. This time, God fashions a partner with a better emotional intelligence, loyal, and cuddly. What emerges may become man’s best friend, but the dog still isn’t everything the earthling is looking for.
So, God does something new. God pulls out from the human another person. Now there are two, and the first recognizes in the other the connection that’s been missing.
After this division, the one is not alone, is in relationship.
Genesis is an origin story, meant to answer the question of why we live in relationship, in community. There are days when I might wish Adam would have called it good when God showed up with the cat or the dog. Human relationships can get so messy!
They are not all that the Match.coms of the world would have us believe, with a kiss and a ring and a happily ever after.
Living in relationship, living in community with other people, is not easy work.
As we move forward into Mark, we’re met with the reality that human community hasn’t lived up to the “it was good” standard. The glaringly obvious example in this passage is divorce, but there’s more to the text than that.
This scene is introduced, “Now the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus.” Their entrance is a sign of discord in community. Already we see that community is pulled apart by those who want to use their power against others.
They’ve come up with a question they hope will stump teacher Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
For those of us who think things have all gone bad in the last generation, this text reminds us that divorce was just as much a given back in Jesus’ day, and even in Moses’ day, that it is today.
The answer to the Pharisees questions is, yes, it is lawful- because as Jesus says, Moses, the teacher of the law, said it was lawful. But Jesus doesn’t start describing when it’s ok, or what conditions must be met. Jesus pushes back against the law. He says that allowing divorce was a result of their hardness of heart, their inability to live in relationship. Divorce is a symptom of the greater problem: brokenness and selfishness at the heart of all people, which is carried into all relationships and strains them.
Now, just as much as we might be surprised to learn that divorce was a thing way back then, it’s also important to keep in mind that marriage and divorce were also very different in Jesus’ time than they are today. Marriage was primarily an economic arrangement, one in which the woman was completely dependent on the man. If a man chose to divorce, he could cast his wife off, and thereby would cut her off from any economic security she might have had. She would be impoverished. It wasn’t an opportunity for people to go their own ways and lead full lives after the end of their marriage, but would destroy the wellbeing of the one most vulnerable in the relationship- the wife. So when Jesus speaks against divorce so strongly, it’s important to remember that he’s speaking against something that would severely injure one party more than the other.
I can’t imagine there are any of us who have not been affected by divorce. It’s not an end anyone plans when they enter a marriage. It’s not something any of us hopes for as we send our congratulations in a wedding card. I wonder if we, as a community, might not do more to prevent divorces from happening. As a church, we need to do more to walk with each other to support the promises and commitment of marriage,
especially in a world that tells us we should always be fulfilled, always get what we want. But we cannot fall into the trap of the Pharisees, and be so concerned with judgment that we lose sight of the real needs of people. Sometimes, divorce is the right, if painful, choice. Today, those who are being hurt by their partners are more free to leave, more able to be ok on their own. We are called to walk with those whose marriages are dissolved, so that they can work towards healing by being grounded in God’s unconditional and unending love for them. We can look out for those most affected by divorce, especially the children who cannot know all of what is going on around them.
When Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s question, Jesus is most concerned for the vulnerable. For Jesus, relationship is about community- and in God’s community, the least powerful, the most vulnerable, are the ones who must be cared for first. Remember, this whole section of Mark opened with Jesus talking about his death for others contrasted with the disciples’ arguing for greatness as they jostled for status. Jesus closed that conversation by putting a child in their midst. Now he turns from questions about divorce to another scene with children. He has to yell at the disciples because they are still pushing children away. They are still looking at community as a stratified hierarchy in which some are valued more than others. In Jesus’ community, even the snot nosed kids throwing a fit on the floor have a valued place next to Jesus.
Relationship in community is about more than marriage, much more than one man and one woman facing the world alone together. We are not whole unless we are all together- arranged in a matrix of many different types of relationships, with the most vulnerable embedded within as valued members. We’re created to be in relationship with each other- and not just spousal relationships, but as children, friend, neighbor, prayer partner, fellow resident of this beautiful earth.
Jesus is the base for that kind of relational community. Here at church we practice the kingdom of God, living into the community Jesus founds. This is why it is so necessary for us to be a place where all people are welcomed and valued, old and young, rich and poor, differently abled, and differently gifted. Whenever we push someone out, for whatever reason, we destroy our purpose as the community of Christ. This community is not whole without you. Here at Cross, we can never be completely whole, except when we recognize ourselves as members in the greater community of God, with brothers and sisters worshipping down the street and around the world, through the ages past and future.
We are humans because we were created out of the humus, the dirt, but we are persons because we are beings in relationship. Being in relationship is our birthright, as those created in the image of the Triune God. God comes to us, drawing us into relationship, pouring love on us, so that we can be in relationship with all the others God loves.
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