Category: Sermon

Fire and Water

Luke 3:1-22

blessings_watercolor_by_texas_artist_laurie_pace
“Blessings” watercolor by Laurie Pace

Once upon a specific time, writes Luke, the Word of God came to John in the wilderness. When the Word is upon you, you prophesize! And it was no different for John. He went into all the regions around the Jordan river, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John fulfilled the prophecies of the Prophet Isaiah, who heard the Word of God saying to prepare the way for God for ALL FLESH to see salvation.

“But we don’t need salvation,” said some. We were born from Abraham, we are the Chosen People. Today, it would be like saying – I don’t need to go to church to be Christian, or live a Christian life to be Christian – because I was born Christian in a Christian nation. I was baptized as a baby. Once baptized, forever saved. I never need to step into a church again. Courthouses can marry me and funeral homes bury me.

John replied, “God is able from stones to raise up children” – from the numerous stones all over the wilderness about them, from the field stones and river pebbles: God could make more humans. From dust like God did Adam or ribs like Eve. God can make more people.

John then foretells that God will destroy everyone — Christian or Jewish or not — who doesn’t produce good fruit. And those John speaks with panic – what should we do? How do we produce good fruit?

Should we go run away into the wilderness like John, away from society, and try to live pure? Should we go off and attempt to establish a faithful community by sword and war? Should we be the fire of God that burns the faithless?

What should we do?

“The first step of the redeemed community is for those who have to share with those who have not.” And John gives them concrete examples. If you have more than you need to survive – give your extras to those who don’t. Who needs two winter coats? Give one away to someone who needs a coat. Who needs two thanksgiving turkeys? Give one away to your food pantry. Whomever is using tax loops to avoid their fair share of taxes should stop. White collar crime is not victimless — the victims are everyone who suffers from the collapsed housing market or banks or economy. Whomever is in authority should use it for good, and justice – not use it to threaten people and make false accusations. Cops should be our security – not the force that oppresses people of color. Judges should be our law upholders – not the people breaking the laws. Presidents, Senators, House Representatives, and politicians of all sorts should be role models.

John focuses on individuals. The reign of God begins with individuals. With one person choosing to do good. Then another. Then another. Soon there are whole communities producing good fruit. But it begins with individuals choosing to confirm their faith by living lives that produce food fruit… good deeds, good relationships, good on heaven and Earth.

The people hear this, and get hopeful. Is John the messiah? The promised one who will change our society for the good? Who will right wrongs, bring about God’s reign, and bring wholeness to us all? Is John our savior?

No. John says. I am not. “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming;” he is so much more powerful I am not worthy to untie his shoes. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Again! Destruction! John likes to focus on it. John knows fire is coming, and he thinks of it as something that will destroy and remove the rot from his faith. He does not yet know of Pentecost and the holy fire God sends as the Spirit! Luke knows, we know – the Pentecostal fire alights us inside, burns in our hearts, drives out the rot, and sets us to living the lives God envisions for us. That unquenchable fire within us arrives with our baptisms and it flares up and down our whole lives – but cannot be extinguished for it is the Holy Spirit of God. The destruction is our old selves. Our old sins are cut away. New growth is welcomed in.

This new life calls us to good fruit. To integrity. Integrity is matching what one says is also lived and also believed. It is wholeness. A whole integer. It is the life of repentance John speaks of; the life of love of God and neighbor and repentance for the sins we do and that over take us.

It is a life that is congruent, not hypocritical, unified in the way we live our life, our priorities, our commitments, our personal relationships, our passion for peace and justice and our unplanned acts of compassion. ((cite: from the New Interpreter’s Bible’s Commentary))

It is the life that says ‘I am Christian’ and preaches love of neighbors, then does love for neighbors, out of belief God tells us to love one another. And when we fail to love, it is a life that is truly sorry and tries to make amends and love again.

It is a life that begins at any age, and continues our whole life through.

Today, we welcome Luke into our church family and have witnessed his baptism of water. Unseen, but felt, is the presence of the Holy Fire that now resides with him. Today we promised to be that community of integrity for Luke. Today we promised to be that orchard that produces many different types of good fruits. Fruits of love, of compassion, of peace. Fruits of wisdom and encouragement. Fruits of supporting his family and his walk in faith. Whether he is called by God to the wilderness or led to put down roots here… we are his family.

And family has a very important role to play in every child’s life. Every person NEEDS to hear from the adults around them, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We NEED to hear these words. NEED to hear it to grow into our best selves.

God the Father spoke them to Jesus the son – and Jesus was called into his ministry, his messiah-ship, his mission to bring salvation to everyone of every race and creed and gender and age and social standing.

We speak them to Luke – he is our beloved child, with whom we are well pleased. What great things God has already gifted him and will continue to gift him, and we will walk along side.

God speak these words to you – “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” You strive to produce good fruits and God encourages you to keep on keeping on. The fruits begin with individuals choosing to do good, to share, to welcome, to love.

The baptismal waters of life and the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit anoint you to do the good work of Heaven here on earth.

Go and be the church! Amen.

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The Home of God is Among Mortals

communion_of_saints-ira-thomas-catholic-world-art-690-609x388
Original artwork, “The Communion of the Saints, for All Saints” by Ira Thomas / http://www.catholicworldart.com. Courtesy Ira Thomas.

John 11:32-44
Revelation 21:1-6a

All Saints Year B

John of Patmos is given a revelation, a showing, from God – and it is so hard to describe. He grasps at ways to explain the wonder and love God shows him. He sees in the vision we read today beyond our now, our linear time, and into what was and is and will be. He steps out of time. He steps into God’s realm and way of viewing things.

Outside of time – this is how Jesus was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how the earth was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how John sees God has come to Earth and made God’s home among mortals – in Christ – and God dwells with us now – and God will continue to live with us into the remaking of all things.

It’s like… one of those old Magic Eye books. You look at it. Its chaos. It makes no sense. And then, all of a sudden, the veil is lifted and there is a 3D image. An image that has length and depth and height. Or an optical illusion of an old woman and a young maid.

For us, we experience a past, present, and future… but they are all the same to God who is working at all time to remake the world and bring about beauty and good. And John is gifted a little glimpse of this amazing goodness.

But if God is at all times, the Alpha and the Omega and everything between the beginning and the end… why didn’t God stop the evils we see around us? Murders. Abuse. Neglect. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died.” If there is a God, and God is present, why is there death? If Jesus can open the eyes of the blind, would it be easier to keep a man from getting so ill he died? If God’s eye is on the Sparrow, why isn’t it on my loved ones? If God can make all of the world with its infinite beauty… why can’t God inspire a bit more goodness into our hearts?

I don’t know. John of Patmos doesn’t know. The disciples do not know. It is a mystery.

A mystery of our faith.

What was, is, and will be.

WHO was, is, and will be.

Those we have lost, are still with us, and will be with us again in the future.

Jesus resurrects Lazarus, which leads those around him to plan to kill both Lazarus and Jesus. And Jesus says this is the Glory of God. The Glory of God is outside of time and able to accomplish all things. The Glory of God brings new life into the most stinking, stagnant graves and into the most dead — literally or not — people. The Glory of God is not in a heaven light years away, in the future — but was on Earth, is on Earth, and will be on Earth.

I don’t know how God is making all things new, wiping away every tear, removing death, and pain, and bringing about the Reign of God to all times and all peoples… but I know God is. And I know in the midst of it, God weeps with us, holds us, and love us – for God in Christ wept over Lazarus. God in Christ wept over Jerusalem. God in Christ feels and knows what it is to be us – and stuck in time.

John of Patmos had a vision of this companionship in Revelation.

Julian of Norwich saw this as God tenderly holding us like a mother, and cherishing us in the palm of her hand.

People – living and dead – have had visions and reassure us: God loves us. All is well. Somehow, outside of this 4D world that has length and width and height and time – and in the 5th Dimension… or whatever a lack of being controlled by time is. Somehow, God lives among us. Dwells with us. God is with us. God is wiping our tears. God is encouraging us. God loves us.

Mary and Martha have so many questions. I have so many questions! And God welcomes the questions, but says… we won’t know for certain until we can ask them to God face to face.

Until then, know…

All was well. All is well. And all will be well. Mysteriously.

Amen.

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?

Sermon:

Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.

We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.

But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.

We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.

But that’s the story of  a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.

We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.

Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.

This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.

Slave.

The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.

Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.

“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”

Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.

“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”

Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.

Slaves do not.

James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.

The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.

Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.

“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.

The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”

But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”

Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.

When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.

So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.

If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.

And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.

Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.

Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.

Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.

“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.

We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.

We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.

Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!

Made Free

44898913_347591266047355_59580177172135936_nRomans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Freedom is never wholly free. There’s conditions. Limits.

We say we are the Land of the Free in America because we are free FROM things our ancestors were not. Free from kings and queens; free from religious persecution; free to congregate, and so forth. But we’re not wholly free because full freedom is an illusion.

You’re not free to murder someone in America. There are consequences for breaking laws like that.

You’re not free from gravity no matter where you live on Earth.

You’re not free from the need to eat, to sleep, to breathe.

You’re not free in many ways.

I wish we were free-er in some areas. I wish we had the freedom of health care like Canada does. I wish we had freedom from racism, and sexism, and agism.

But I also wish we weren’t as free in other areas. The freedom businesses have to move companies here and there wherever labor is cheapest hurts us. The level of freedom given to pollution is a great peeve of mine. I’d like us all to care for our earth much better. And the freedom we give to cruelty, to indifference, and to apathy deeply hurts me.

Jesus’ phrase today, “The truth will set you free,” is not about whole freedom from everything and to do anything. It’s not about how freedom is the end and goal and holy purpose we Americans like to hold it up. Freedom has to be FROM or TO DO something. What does Jesus mean here?

That’s exactly what his fellows ask him, “What do you mean, ‘Be made free?'”

Freedom changes depending on who is hearing or viewing these words- and the text given to us has several lenses we can use.

First – “In this text Jesus is engaging the “Jews who believed in him.” Doesn’t that strike us as a bit odd? Were there many non-Jews who believed in him? Certainly, by the time of the gospel writer, there were Gentile Christians.” (( Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan)) No one sat down and wrote the Gospels as they were happening. They were wrote decades – even a century – after Jesus died and were based on oral traditions. So by the time we get this story in John there are Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and Roman Christians and so forth. Our first lens, therefore, is the author of the scripture – a Jewish Christian – writing about the past where Jesus the Jew spoke to other Jews about Jewish conflicts on Jesus’ identity.

John, the author, and his community “believed in Jesus, believed that he spoke the truth, and believed that their freedom lay in walking the way of Jesus. But for that they had been cast out of the synagogue. They no longer had their “place in the household.” Their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.” ((Hogan)). They lost their identity as Jews – for the synagogue and Jewish community kicked them out. They lost family. Friends. Property. Status. They were confused – how could our fellows not believe? How could they be slaves to the old way of thinking and not welcome in the Messiah?

So John wrote this story about when Jesus felt that same rejection. This is the second lens  – the one of when Jesus still physically walked the earth, this story is about the idea that the prophesied messiah had to come from a certain lineage. The Messiah had to be a descendant of King David – and Jesus is just some nobody from Galilee. This is why so many of our gospels have long lineage charts – trying to PROVE Jesus is related to David. And Romans makes a contorted argument that the high priest can be from this lineage instead of that. To us, today, we don’t really care. Then, at that time, this was a huge deal. John frames Jesus’ rejection in this issue.

But the message is the same whether Jesus says it to his disciples in the scene, or his disciples living decades later rejected from their communities, or the third lens which is us, today.

If you continue to abide in me, you have a place in God’s household.

It doesn’t matter if the synagogue or community or church have kicked you out. You’ve gained freedom – a lack of ties – but you’re not groundless. You’re grounded in me. One of mine. Still one of the Chosen People of God.

Think what this meant to Martin Luther! “Freedom was crucial for Luther. Where was the truth, freedom, new life to be found? Luther argued that it was not to be found in the medieval pietistic accretions, the indulgences, that marked the Christians life at that time. Rather it was found only in belief in Jesus Christ. (Hogan)

It didn’t matter that the church, the community, the country called for Luthers’ death, and excommunicated him. Said he was Satan or at least hell-bound. Said he was evil. He was free from the sins he saw gathered into the church at that time. He’d seen the truth of how money and power was being abused. And seen the truth that Christ, alone, is who saves. No church can say whether you are going to heaven or hell. Only Jesus can judge.

It was pricey freedom, again, but it reformed our faith – both those who remained orthodox to the church and those who formed the Protestant denominations. All sides experienced new life, and transformation, and a fresh breath from the Holy Spirit.

Our forebearers who came here were seeking freedom to worship and believe in God as they felt called. They, too, lost family and friends and land but remain in God’s household. They, like Luther, like the early Christians, like Jesus, heard the Spirit of God speaking a new truth – reinterpreting our old traditions in new ways for the context of now, today – and that truth set them free to follow the law of their faith.

We’re at just such a crossroads now. What has been for the last 501 years of the Reformation is not what will be. The truth of church as we know it – meeting on Sundays, in a designated building, passing on the music and songs and traditions of the last centuries – is not the truth of our youth.

And this is good.

Good!

The Holy Spirit is breathing upon our faith again. It is awakening us to a new revolution, a new way of being. It is taking our faith which has grown stagnant and blowing the doors open to set hearts on fire in a brand new way.

The comic “The Naked Pastor” drew a comic with Jesus standing with other Jewish rabbis of his time. And Jesus says to them, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

Yes! This is true in Jesus’ time, and in John’s, and in Luther’s, and in the formation of America, and now.

Scripture tells us how to love… but love is contextual and changes. No two people are alike. No two people love the same things. No two times are alike. And what was once very important – lineages, who is or isn’t related to a priest – later is no longer important. What once was not important –officials using marriage and sexuality to establish dominance – later becomes very important.

Those who are orthodox use scripture to determine what love means. Love means, according to scripture, marrying your dead brother’s wife.

Those who live into orthopraxis use love to determine what scripture means. Love is caring for one another. Marrying your dead brother’s wife was loving her by providing for her. Today, it is more loving to not marry her but to provide for her with finances, hugs, and a listening ear.

Each time our faith explodes into new life it is because orthopraxis – living love – challenges orthodoxy – traditional love. Each time we come to new truths for our faith it is because we realize how our needs have changed, and we see the truth, and Christ releases us to be free to love as Christ loves.

But it’s not freedom from everything or freedom to do anything.

It is freedom from stagnation and sin. It is freedom to love God, your neighbor, and yourself.

Can you feel the Spirit active in our faith? Can you feel the tension between those who cling to old ways of understanding scripture and those who welcome in new ways of interpreting scripture through love?

Can you feel the tension among Christians? That same tension Luther felt. The same tension Jesus awoke among Jews.

Something beautiful is being brought forth out of us. A new church. The next reformation. Out of these growing pains will rise new life to classical churches like our own – with pews and hymns and a building – and the new churches just beginning – on streets, and in coffee shops, and online. Maybe our own Saint Michael’s won’t be a place we go to – but a place that comes to us. A bus, that picks us up in our post-driving years. And we sing hymns on the way to get our weekly groceries together. And are a congregation the whole way there and back. I don’t know!

I do know it is a beautiful time to live! It is a marvelous time to be Christian! It is an interesting time – a painful time – a changing time – and a time where we have been placed to discern, to live, and to walk together into the liberating truths Jesus provides.

Go and be the church known for its love!

Amen.

Impossible but for God

Mark 10:17-31 america-wealth-distribution
Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading is one of those readings pastors are often told to “manage.” Manage it – don’t tell your congregation to be aesthetics and own no possessions. Don’t tell people to live in communes and hold all things in equal possession. Don’t advocate communism, or socialism, or speak of the writings of Karl Marx. No word of the groundbreaking work of Max Weber in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

Manage it, and don’t let the genie out of the bottle!

A lot of pastors listen to the advice and try to manage the story.

Have you been told the story before that there was a gate in Jerusalem named “Eye of the Needle.” After dark, the big gates were closed and this little gate left open. The only way to get a camel through it was to unload the camel of all their baggage. Then the camel could get through on his knees. Therefore, Jesus must mean that the rich can get into heaven on their knees once they’ve gotten rid of their riches that are burdens.

It’s a great story.

It’s also utterly false. A monk made this up in the 9th century. No such gate existed.

And most rich I know don’t feel burdened by their wealth. Do you feel too wealthy?

Managing Jesus with the gate story – makes the rich hopeful, does nothing for the poor. That’s not the way of Christ.

I’ve heard this story managed by explaining the word translated as camel was actually supposed to be the Greek word for cable – like a ship cable or very thick rope. Sounds awful hard to get that through a needle… but you could get part of it through, or a little bit over time, or even could get a bigger needle. Big, big needles are used to sew ship masts.

We could manage the story this way and argue that the rich slip into heaven with difficulty, but heaven grows to accommodate them. Or the rich leave behind all their extras when they die and just the soul slips through. Just the center piece of rope.

More hope for the rich. Again – nothing for the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ came preaching good news for the poor.

In the history of the church, the church once became more powerful and rich and influential than kingdoms. As the wealth became accumulated, popes and bishops and archbishops and even local clergy lived in homes better off than their neighbors. Monasteries became little kingdoms unto themselves owning large tracks of land with serfs – almost slaves – renting the land from them to scratch out a living. The more power and wealth was concentrated into the church, the more corruption and sin snuck in. Eventually, all you needed was money to be made a clergy member. No skills at preaching, no calling from God, no commitment to living Christian needed. Just money.

How did they manage this passage? By not reading it. By controlling who could read the Bible. By reading the Bible only in languages the common people didn’t understand. The King James Version, understandable to the common person, drew on a manuscript that had the added words, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”

Riches aren’t the problem. Trusting riches are. This is comfort for the rich… and again doesn’t help the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ decried the clergy who wore large tassels, spoke long prayers, and said ‘Thank God I’m not like that poor sinner over there!’

Modern pastors like to argue Jesus knew the particular weakness and sin of the rich man who came to him. So when Jesus tells him to give away his possessions to the poor, Jesus was hitting the man in his secret sin spot. This passage is managed by saying THAT RICH MAN, not me, has an issue with money. Jesus doesn’t ask me to share my wealth, but rather to give up whatever I treasure that separates me from following God. Maybe cursing. Maybe TV. Maybe road rage.

This is comfort for the rich, and doesn’t help the poor. Although it is good advice to get closer to God… Jesus doesn’t view God and you having an isolated, exclusive, relationship. God is found wherever two or three are gathered. God is in community. Giving up cursing is not good news to the poor, the captive, the slave.

Other modern pastors say the man was trying to EARN heaven, and Jesus shows how futile it is to earn heaven. No one could follow the commandments, or really give up all they own. Only the grace of God lets us in heaven. So why try to earn heaven? Just let go and let God.

But the belief in Judaism is that people really can follow the commandments. And Jesus looks at this man, and LOVES him. A rare use of love. Then Jesus invites this man to become a disciple – maybe one of the closest like Matthew or Mark or Peter. All the man needs to do is give all he owns to the poor, and follow Jesus. If this was just to show heaven cannot be EARNED, why does Jesus let the man go away grieving? Why not add, “You cannot earn heaven, but you can be given it?”

No. Jesus says: How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kindom of heaven.

The disciples are as upset as we are to hear this. Peter believes in the prosperity gospel. He believes that God favors those who help themselves – much as Benjamin Franklin would have us believe. Peter believes that God sends wealth to the righteous and moral and hardworking, and the lazy and sinful and immortal are poor. Peter points to this man who has followed ALL the commandments, and is clearly so blessed for this that he is quite wealthy, and Peter panics. If that holy of a man can’t get into heaven, how are we supposed to ever get into heaven? If the super rich priests in the temple can’t get into heaven – they who have nothing to do but pray and study God and don’t need to fish and hunt – if even they can’t get in… what about the rest of us?

We who curse? And sin? And forget to pray every day? We who don’t always have God’s blessing? Jesus – what about us? The poor?

The “first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The good news for the poor is that nothing is impossible for God. The very rich and the very poor, the very holy and the very sinful – God is able to bring anyone into heaven. Anyone into the reign of God.

For the wealthy, it is much harder than it is for the poor to live in this new reign. The wealthy have so much more to lose.

Homes.
Land.
Businesses.
Families.
Honorable names.
Comfortable lives.
Wealth.
Money.
Power.

The poor have much less to risk by following Jesus. The poor live into the realm of equality, of sharing equally, of treating all as equals much more easily than the rich who are usually born way, way more rich than others. Who are not used to viewing others as equals. Who would have to make drastic, drastic changes to live as equals with others. Changes that don’t feel fair.

Consider wealth in the USA. Wealth is calculated by your assets minus your debts. So let’s say you have a $250,000 house, but you owe $200,000 still to the bank. That means your wealth is actually only $50,000. Assets are things like your house, cars, bank accounts, retirement investments, and land. Debts are your student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and so forth.

Wealth distribution in the USA is easier with visuals. So let’s picture the USA as having only 100 people. And all their wealth together is 100 cherry pies. In an equal distribution, every person would have 1 pie. This is Jesus’ goal in the Bible. Everyone has enough. No one has too much. No one has too little.

But this world is not yet liberated from all sin.

In reality, twenty people take 90 pies for themselves in the USA, and leave 10 pies for 80 people. How do you think the 80 people will share their 10 pies?

The next 20 people take 8 of the 10 pies for themselves and pass on 2 pies. Just 2 pies for 60 people to share.

When we go back to thinking of these as dollars, when you reach the middle incomes of Americans to the bottom incomes, we are splitting 2% of the country’s wealth among us all.

60% of Americans – most of us – have only 2% of the country’s wealth.
1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth all by themselves. That is a greater wealth inequality than the 1% wealthiest in France, or England, or Germany, equal with Russia and worse than Zambia! While 1 person in our story has 40 pies…

20 people have no pies at all. The 20 people in the middle income bracket take the 2 pies left from the rich and divide the slices among themselves. The next 20 people have nothing. No investments and saved money, but also no debt. It all balances out. They can’t stop working or retire or they’ll sink into the next category…

20 Americans in our story not only have no pie to eat, they owe a pie. They have more debt that income.

There is enough pie here for everyone. Even if someone took more than their share of one pie, someone else could give up a slice. But instead, 1 person sits on fourty whole pies and 40 people sit with nothing.

1 in 3 households in America are considered impoverished right now. They’re struggling to pay utilities, food, for a roof over their head.

Angry, yes? Why isn’t the pie shared so at least everyone has a bite to eat?

Why isn’t it? Not knowing? Not caring? Fear of scarcity?

What did you answer? Because the hard reality is that if you’re earning $32,000 annually… you, yourself are in the world’s 1% of richest people. Every 8 of us here together, make as much as 3.6 BILLION people.

Globally, people don’t just struggle to have food… they die from lack of food. Globally, there is still enough pie… but we’re the ones sitting on a massive store of it.

It feels very unfair that we are sending money to foreign countries, yes? Why do we owe them? No one in this room personally hurt them. And we work hard for our money!

Why do we owe them? We don’t.

Who has worked for the money? You have.

We have an ingrained morality that those who work the most should have the most wealth. You don’t eat if you don’t work. Work will set you free. We also have an ingrained idea that those who are affluent are more moral than those who are poor. The poor must be thieves, and vandals, and lazy. The rich must be honorable, and build up society, and productive.

Jesus’ time had the same ideas about wealth — and Jesus challenged them. Jesus actually spoke more about wealth than heaven or hell combined. Think about Jesus’ parable of the servants sent out to the vineyard at different times. It’s not fair those who worked an hour get a full day’s pay. Think about Jesus feeding the 5,000 — and feeding again and again. Everyone was given food and everyone invited. No work required. Jesus also spoke blessings on the poor and curses on the rich. The realm of God is found among the poor – and the rich find getting into heaven as hard as passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Utterly impossible.

We ARE the world’s rich. We ARE here, asking Jesus, what can we do to be in the realm of God? What can we do to live more fully in line with what God envisions for the world? We ARE the rich man speaking with Jesus.

And Jesus says – give all you own to the poor and follow me.

… My heart aches for this man who came to Jesus. I’m him. I’m going to walk away sad because I own a lot. I’d rather give some of my pie and not all of it away. I’d rather those richer than me give up their pie.

I look at Saint Francis with amazement. He had this much wealth. And he literally took it all off – before his family and village – and walked out of town completely naked. He left his name, his great riches, his home, his everything to follow God.

I look at the disciples with amazement. They gave up their businesses, and families. Left their homes and left their reputations. They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

I’ve never made a great sacrifice like that to follow Jesus.

Family have told me not to feel the guilt and weight of my wealth. “You’ve given your life to being a pastor!” I hear in their words, “Then who can be saved?!” much like the disciples panicked.

And the answer is still the same: For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. And we who are first on this earth must accept that the reign of God is first among the world’s poor, belongs to the poor, and we are dependent on the poor to be taught how to live in harmony with each other, with the world, with God. How to live humbly.

In the letter to Hebrews, we’re told God knows all out thoughts and intentions. God knows when we try to be good. And knows when we do good deeds for wrong intentions. We “are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

What will we say when we’re caught holding 40 pies and billions of people starve?

What will we say when we’re standing before God and accounting the sins we committed, and the sins that over took us?

Or that we were born into?

Or inherited?

The author of Hebrews tells us to be honest with our accounting. Be honest with ourselves, and our God. This isn’t because God knows us inside and out, but because God KNOWS what it is like to be human.

God has come to us, and shared our common lot.

God, in Jesus, sympathizes, understands, our weaknesses.

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let us approach God, and confess we are sinners living in a sinful world – and find God’s grace – unmerited favor. Let us receive mercy – forgiveness for our intentional and unintentional sins. And let us be given the grace to help in time of need. Let us be given that Holy Spirit that say

Yeah. Things are awful. Unfair. Unjust.

Yeah. I’m just one person compared to all of this.

But you know what- I’m one person in Christ. And although this is too much for a mortal to fix, it isn’t for God.

With God, all things are possible.

We just need to dream bigger, work towards that dream of God, and live into God’s new realm now. We can do this by supporting efforts of wealth distribution: unions, farm co-ops, international and local charities, taxes on wealth and tax breaks on the poor – programs that are not fair… but that are just.

Go and be the church! Amen.
((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee96add9264b))

Rich & Poor

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

— we all have assumptions

It happened to me: I went into the grocery store, got myself some alcohol, went to the checkout line… and they didn’t ask for my ID. I officially look old enough to drink. At least, when Selena is with me. Alone, I still get ID. Just by having a daughter, people automatically assume I’m old enough to drink. I’m in the same clothes, look the same, same hair style… and yet… just her… and they say “Surely she’s an adult.”

When has it happened to you: How many gray hairs did you have when people began to ask if you wanted to use your Buck ID card, or view the Senior Portions menu, or sign up for your Golden Arch?

Sometimes this is based on our clothing. I once did a lot of urban exploring of abandoned buildings and climbing through them to take photos. If learned that if I did this is ratty jeans and a tank top, I’d get picked up by the cops for trespassing. But if I did it with a bright orange vest and hard helmet, no one would bat an eye. Once an officer stopped me to ask me to help get rid of the young adults in the ratty clothes! Based on the way I looked, others assumed whether or not I belonged in the building.

Have you been judged on your clothes? If not, try shopping once in your Sunday clothes, and another day in your barn clothes. You’ll see a difference! Covered in dust with cow or sheep paddies on your boots, people give you a wide berth. In your Sunday clothes, people want to stop and chat. Now… try wearing your Sunday clothes into the barn… everyone is going to think you’re some city-slicker and know nothing.

The obvious assumptions on looks occurring in our country are race assumptions. A black boy lawn mowing is considered profiling houses to rob, while a white boy is simply working a summer job. A Hispanic woman clearly speaks no English and is here illegally, while a white woman clearly must speak English and is a citizen. But we do other assumptions based on looks: An elderly person is slow of mind and out of touch with the world. A young person has no concept of community and is out of touch with morality.

We all make assumptions every day. It’s really how the human mind works.

This is natural to humans. We’re designed to look for patterns. From the womb we are learning the patterns of language. When we’re born, we learn what facial patterns means ‘My Mom’s Face’ and what part means ‘My Dad’s Face.’ Insight, and intuition, is leaps in logic regarding patterns. We see lots of little things and quickly pick up on the pattern and jump to a conclusion.

For instance… if I come home and see the trash scattered about the kitchen, and the dog looking guilty… I recognize this pattern. I can assume the dog likely got into the trash.

The problem with any assumption is that we could be wrong. Maybe the dog looks guilty because he thinks I’m going to blame him for what the cat did! And the cat is the one who got into the trash.

So assumptions aren’t evil. They’re pretty human. Actually…

— Jesus had assumptions

Jesus assumed he was sent only to his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. He also assumed the gifts and love of God are limited. The idea of a universal God, who loves everyone, is not a common idea in Jesus’ time. Every race had their own god. Every city has their own god. The gods fight each other, are envious and jealous, and definitely do not help those who don’t believe in them.

Jesus has left the Jewish area into the surrounding lands. He is in pagan, Gentile, non-Jewish land. He’s been rejected by his fellow Jews, even after he fed them miraculously. They cannot abide the scandalous things he is teaching. So out here, away from the synagogues, he seeks some alone time. But he couldn’t even escape notice in a foreign land.

Can you pick a worse person to approach Jesus the Rabbi? I don’t think so. We can assume since she is a woman, without a husband around, she is bad news for any Jewish man to speak with. We can assume since she is Syco-Phonecian she isn’t a follower of our God. She’s some heathen. And that heritage means we can assume she’s richer than Jesus, and part of the people who are oppressing Jesus’ people. She says she has an demon-possessed daughter. So we can assume she’s unclean from being around her daughter, too.

Then she touches Jesus’ feet.

Thereby, making him unclean.

If you had to pick THE most repulsive category of person to approach you, who would it be? What would they look like? What assumptions would you make? Would it be someone dressed in ISIS gear? Rainbow gear? A woman in a burka? Someone covered in swastika tattoos? A large young black man? Picture this person, picturing them approaching you when you want to be alone. Picture them TOUCHING you, and demanding of you, “Give me your money to heal my child!”

Our savior is God’s Divine Word made incarnate. Incarnate means in the flesh. Our savior is also human. Wholly divine, wholly human. And the human side of Jesus is repulsed, repelled, by this woman. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
He was sent only to Jews. There is not enough God to go around.

— sin is when these assumptions lead to assuming the worst of people, or God’s love of people

We’re so uncomfortable with Jesus’ response to this woman because we expect him to always be wholly divine and not human. But he is also wholly human. And, for a human, he gives a very, very restrained and mild answer to this woman compared to what most of us would do in his situation.
He doesn’t tell her no, never — he tells her no, not now.

But he calls her and her child dogs.

Jesus assumes Jews are the only Children of God.

And that God’s love is limited to only Jews.

That person we’re picturing in our heads who most repels us… how do we handle to hear them ask for help for their little child?

When someone calls something we said racist, or privileged, or ignorant… we usually take it very, very poorly.

— When we’re confronted with our assumptions, we usually get very defensive / angry

I think the church who read James’ letter got pretty defensive and angry when he called their favoritism out.

What was happening in James’ congregation happens now, today, all the time. We favor people who appear rich –whether or not they are– over those who appear poor –whether or not they are. Consider – I walk through the grocery store and see the cover of magazines featuring the rich, the well dressed, the beautiful. I don’t see regular people. I don’t see anyone with acne scars, wearing thrift-store clothes, or having to live by a tight budget.

When we brag about meeting someone, we brag about someone rich and famous… not about having met the guy who begs for coins at the intersection… or having visited our sibling in a nursing home.

When people visit our homes, our works, or our church… we make a quick judgment: what are their intentions? What kind of person are they? The suits and professionally dressed are welcomed. The tattoos and ratty clothes held in suspicion.

James tells us that this is evil. We have evil thoughts. We assume who people are based on their looks, and we use one anecdotal story to apply to all people who fit that look.

The person you pictured earlier as most repulsive… are you basing them on anecdotal, one-time occurrence and word of mouth stories? Have you actually known anyone like the person you were picturing?

I haven’t.

I have sinned and assumed the worst of others based on their age, or clothes, religion, or a single stance of theirs.

Consider the current rage over Nike’s endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick. People are so angry! Some stories claim Kaepernick is insulting the national anthem and soldiers by kneeling during it before football games. But that is not the true anger. That is the assumed anger. People are assuming the anthem and soldiers are what Kaepernick is protesting.

He’s actually protesting that assumption blacks are dangerous that leads cops to shoot and kill blacks proportionally far more often than whites… because we live in a culture of fearing blacks. He’s protesting that a white man can lie to the FBI, embezzle and rob millions of dollars from American citizens, and get off with 14 days in jail… but a black woman on probation votes, not knowing she was on probation still, and she is serving life in prison because of that vote. He is protesting that the negative assumptions our culture has results in real favoritism that truly harms – and kills.

Are you uncomfortable?

Are you uncomfortable when you’re told your assumptions, your culture, is wrong?

Are you uncomfortable by scripture instructing us to love everyone, including the people who wish us harm and stand against what we stand for?

Most of us get defensive. Angry. We close our ears, shut our eyes, and slam shut our hearts.

— But Jesus takes the woman’s challenge with humbleness and is open to changing his mind

This woman who approaches Jesus is opposite of him on so many things… but she is a person. A caring person. She asks just for the crumbs, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Just the crumbs are enough, and that’s all she asks. Not for life eternal. Not for being forgiven by God. She’s not asking for resurrection. She’s asking for a crumb: healing for her daughter. She knows the stories of all the other miracles Jesus has done. She knows and believes the stories of him being the Jewish messiah, the Jewish chosen one of God. And she’s not asking to be included into God’s marvelous plan… just for crumbs. And not even for herself, but for her daughter.

This woman presses against Jesus’ assumption that he is for Jews alone, and that God loves Jews alone. This woman challenges Jesus’ assumption on what is permissible and not. She is humane, she is loving, and she has insight into the true nature of God. That true heart of God is one that knows no ethnic, racial, or even religious boundaries. That true heart of God loves all of creation.

I think of the human Jesus reflecting on her words with astonishment. After he had done the divine miracle of turning a few loaves into enough for everyone, he had ordered every crumb picked up. And there was enough crumbs for baskets and baskets to be filled. God’s generosity and love for humanity is so grand that even after fully filling those who are present around God… there is still more food and provision for those who are far away. I picture the human Jesus realizing he has been sent not just for the Jews, but for the whole world — those who are faithful to God and those who are not. Sent to those who are saints and followers of the Law, and sent to those who are still sinners, and rejecting God. The generosity and love God has for us is such that even the crumbs from the feast God sets and invites us to are enough to feed the world new life many times over.

I picture the human Jesus coming to understanding he didn’t even realize what mission the divine Jesus is accomplishing in the world.

Humbled, corrected, enlightened, Jesus replies, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”

And then Jesus doesn’t return to Jewish lands. He continues through pagan, non-Abrahamic lands. And in this strange land he begins to invite all to the table of God — not with lectures, not with insisting on right doctrines, or right beliefs, not by making everyone prove their worth… No… he goes and shares to all regardless of who they are. He goes literally and figuratively opening ears and mouths until everyone was zealously proclaiming the good.

— We should be like Jesus and listen when our assumptions are challenged

God’s love is so generous was then, and now, incredibly radical and hard to wrap our human minds around.

James explains it in legal terms. We’re supposed to speak, and act, as those who are judged with the law of liberty. This law of liberty gives everyone a fair shake. It promotes mercy over judgment. It offers equality among us all. It says that the person who appears homeless is equal to the person who appears rich… and indeed, it just may be that the poor person is the kinder person because they’ve known greater hardship than the rich person, who is used to settling things with lawsuits and money than with mercy and humility.

We all make assumptions. We all make judgments. The Christian — the Christ-like way — to react is the way Jesus does. He learns from the encounter. He is open to learning from the stranger. He is open to learning more about God and the love of God whether that education comes from fellows of his faith, or not.

You’re making assumptions now, and people are making assumptions about you. That, in itself, is not a sin. The sin is when we begin to act on those assumptions and make distinctions among ourselves that are unfounded.

There are white-skinned illegal immigrants.
There are Spanish-speaking citizens.
A person that believes something called Conservative or Liberal does not have to be in all things Liberal or Conservative. We each have our own values and our own road that led us to believe in them.

The love of God is such that every person, every animals, everything here on earth and in the cosmos is loved abundantly.

The richness of God satiates all poverty we have of heart; and invites us to begin anew with one another again. May we hear that invitation and understand each other better.

May we, when we get furious over a challenge to our values, take a breath – step back – and examine how to learn the others’ perspective, and how to respond with the graceful love of God.

Amen.

Hardness of Heart

Genesis 2:18-24 'Things are going great with Mark although he can be a little possessive.'
Mark 10:2-16

Picture Jesus’ time: no female owns herself. She is the property of her father until he sells her into marriage. Then she is the property of her husband until he dies, and now she is the property of her son. If ever she has no man to claim her… she is free property. Anyone can take her. Make her a slave. Abuse her. Force themselves on her. Women weren’t their own people. Not fully human.

In the story of Naomi and Ruth, the women have lost all their men. Opah goes home- hoping her father or brother will take her in. Ruth refuses to leave Naomi as defenseless, unowned, widowed property. Ruth goes with Naomi to protect her. Boaz is a literal life-saver to the women because he orders the farm hands not to ‘bother’ Ruth as she picks up the dropped wheat to feed herself and her mother-in-law. Then he saves them again by marrying Ruth, and restoring Naomi and Ruth into a house where they always have protections.

Women were property. Like glorified prized cattle.

When King David sees Bathsheba, he wants her. So he arranges the death of her owner, her husband, so that he can take her as his own.

When King Herod sees his brother’s wife Herodias, he wants her. So he orders his brother to divorce Herodias — to throw his property to the curb — and then Herod takes her as his own property.

Moses told men they could throw out their women, divorce them, but if they did, they needed to give the women the protection of a piece of paper saying ‘I am divorced.’ so they could find a new man to take them in not as slaves, or as concubines, but as wives who are cared for and protected.

Nowhere but in Rome was there the tradition women could initiate divorce. Even then, the men retained the children and house in any divorce.

In ancient Israel however? Women weren’t allowed. They were property and did not own themselves or their bodies.

There were two major schools of thought regarding divorce at the time: the Hillel school who said you may divorce your wife for any reason at all – including things like she burns dinner or has gotten wrinkles. And the Shammai school who said you may only divorce your wife if she commits adultery. Both didn’t consider a wife able to divorce her husband. A husband could commit adultery and burn dinner and get wrinkles.

Keep all this context in mind when you hear Jesus speak against divorce. Also keep in mind that Jesus’ cousin, John, was murdered because he spoke against King Herod’s divorce.

This is why today’s reading is called a “test.” The Pharisees are not testing if Jesus knows scripture, but rather, testing to see if he would speak out about King Herod and get himself killed just like John the Baptists did. They are also testing to see if Jesus would support the Hillel or the Shammai school – and alienate one or the other set of scholars.

And Jesus replies to their test of ‘is divorce lawful?’ by saying: your hard hearts are why Moses said you can give a certificate to a woman and divorce her. Hard hearts separate us.

Jesus recalls Genesis, and that in the very beginning God created us to be in relationship. Remember that Adam was lonely. God offered Adam all kinds of animals, but Adam was still lonely. So God made Adam another human. This other human wasn’t called wife, or property – but someone God called an equal! “Helper” and “partner.” The two humans are happy as one another’s aid. Indeed, there was no concept of marriage for Adam and Eve because that’s a set of rituals and vows we made up. God sets us up to be in relationship – to be one another’s helpers and partners. Sometimes this looks like marriage, but sometimes it is friendships, and families, and communities, and sometimes it is two strangers.

Later, alone, Jesus is asked again about divorce. And this time, Jesus gives agency TO WOMEN – women, who have no status – and says it doesn’t matter if a man or a woman tosses out the other… the result is the same. Hurt. Broken community.

Jesus once again brings our attention to children. Consider children in divorces. At the time, children had no protections at all. If mom is out on the street without a male to protect her, give her food and shelter, how much worse is it going to be for the kids? If a dad has a hard heart, and tosses the mom out, how much evil has he done to the kin-dom of God? Jesus asks us to think about if our actions are promoting community.

In our community, our country, our faith, there is so much stigma against divorce. And it comes from these scripture passages we’ve read today. “They are no longer two, but one flesh!” “What God has joined together, let no one separate!”

And I agree with the passages, but not always as they are applied. I believe that yes – No King should force you to divorce your love, especially so that the king can then marry your love. No state should outlaw homosexual unions. Marriage in Jesus’ time and in our time is about a set of rights and privileges. Better tax rates. Who can visit whom in the hospital. Who is permitted to raise children and who isn’t. When people are in love, and God unites them as one – let no human separate them.

But the reverse is also true. No King should force you to marry someone. Oh we did arranged marriages a lot in the time of kings and queens! And no state should force you to marry the one who assaulted you, or is the parent of your child. Marriage never has the prerequisite of love and kindness. Historically, marriage is about money.

Sometimes, we join into a marriage with love and kindness, without a power focus, but it doesn’t stay that way. We are human. We are post Adam and Eve. The marriage can be a harm for the people in it and the community. Therefore, what humans have brought together – let God separate. Sometimes, divorce is the kindness thing that can happen to a couple.

And it will hurt. There’s never a good time for divorce. There will always be hurt, especially if there are children involved.

But only hardness of heart keeps a bad marriage from divorcing, and letting everyone nurse their wounds, seek healing, and begin life again. And only hardness of heart keeps good marriages from happening, and letting all celebrate the love God has given them.

Jesus’ time is not our time. But our issues are often the same. How do we navigate our human laws with divine will? How do we create a world where everyone is not alone, but in relationship with a helper — or two or three or a whole church-full of helpers? How do we lovingly care for those who are married, divorced, single, separated, partnered, widowed, with children or without children?

Who are our neighbors, and how to we serve one another as neighbors and invite one another into healthy, wholesome, helping relationships?

May we never let the hardness of our hearts get in the way of God’s will of love for all. Amen.