Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
October 4, 2015 ― Mark 10:2-9
As the Pharisees came to “test” Jesus, to “entrap” Jesus, to “trip up” Jesus, they ask him their question and then sit back and wait.
When pastors read this passage from the pulpit, they feel like when they finish, the congregation is waiting, like the Pharisees, to see what they will say.
I know of no pastor who wants to preach on this passage. The few pastors whom I have known who have liked preaching on this passage, have liked it because their style of preaching was to marginalize people by shaming them, so as to gain power over them.
This passage has such power to marginalize people as outsiders. And when that happens, they leave the church feeling shamed and sinful. I don’t think that is what this text should do. Nor was it Jesus’ intent to use this question from the Pharisees to beat people up. Jesus was aspirational. He was more about building up, than tearing down. He was more about opening up, than boxing in.
One of the reasons this text has such potential to shame and marginalize people, is that everyone has experienced divorce is some way. Either they have been divorced themselves, or one of their children is divorced, or their parents are divorced, or someone in their family is divorced. Divorce has touched everyone and affected everyone.
I think many of you know that I come from a divorced family. My parents divorced at the end of my time in college, and I wish it would have happened many years before it did. It was not a fun, nor healthy, household to grow up in. Let’s just say the blessings of marriage were not part of my parents’ marriage. The only thing good that came out of it was me!
Joking aside let’s look into what Jesus says here.
First we need to recognize that what we know of marriage today is far different than what marriage was in a patriarchal society and culture. There’s just too much to talk about in a sermon than we would do in a Bible study.
What Jesus is doing here, is that he takes the Pharisees and us on a trip, from Moses, back to the creation stories; a trip from the specifics of Moses to the broader intent of God’s creation. On this trip, Jesus does a fascinating thing. He points out that while Moses only allowed men to divorce their wives, who treated women as less and lower than men, Jesus reminds everyone that God created men and women equal, and they should be treated as equal.
But Jesus refuses to get specific and down into case studies of divorce. Jesus actually gets less specific by going up to the 30,000 foot level. He simply says, Moses gave you that law to help deal with the reality of broken relationships, and that law treats women unfairly.
But let’s go back to the beginning, the basics. Let’s go back to our creation myths, to God’s original intent.
Jesus quotes a passage from Genesis 1 – the first story of creation; God created them male and female, creating them equal.
And then he picks a verse from Genesis 2 – the second story of creation; which says, male and female can find fulfillment in each other as they are joined together, and what God has joined together let no one separate.
This line comes from the beginning narrative of what we call the story of the Garden of Eden. Do you remember how this story ends? And remember, this is not a literal story. This is a symbolic story about our origins and what it means to be human. It ends in brokenness. We were created in the image of God, but we have NOT lived out that image in its fullness and depth. God created wholeness, and yet we still live in alienation. God created us to live with each other, and yet shame, and guilt, and wrongdoing are present in our lives.
How does the Garden of Eden story end? As you remember we are placed outside the Garden to the east, and Cherubim are placed at the gate of the garden with flaming torches to guard the tree of life.
This is the story of origins. This story tells us we live East of Eden.
When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce, Jesus takes us back to our story of creation: our story of origins, our story of original intents, and our story of life in the garden.
Jesus reminds us that Moses gave us a law because we live East of Eden. But Jesus calls us to live life in the Garden of original intent. The way of Jesus, is always a way of living out God’s original intents. But as you know we live somewhere East of Eden, and East of Eden there is divorce, and poverty, and violence, and a whole world of brokenness.
In this living East of Eden there is not one marriage that has been perfect. And sometimes marriages go so far East of Eden, they cannot be repaired, and it is best to part. Every marriage and every divorce is its own story of wonderfulness and brokenness, but none is perfect.
If you are married keeping working for a wonderful marriage taking up Jesus’ call to have that marriage be as close to God’s original intent as possible.
If you are divorced know that God’s grace is for everyone. Understand the reasons that led to the divorce, and if a new relationship happens, strive for God’s original intent, and the blessings of two becoming one.
But Jesus taking us back to God’s original intent is not just for marriage. Jesus is always taking us back to God’s original intent for God’s creation.
Take for example the tragic violence that has fallen on Roseburg, Oregon, this past week. A man enters a community college and opens fire, and killed nine men and women in the prime of their life. We are all grieved by the loss of life. We are all, once again, shocked by the violence and disregard for human life. As the gospel writer John would say, the darkness has overshadowed the light. When horrific tragedies like this happen we realize anew that we still live East of Eden. We still live in a world alienated and separated from the original intent of God.
In the Garden of Eden there is no violence, but what is the first story once Adam and Eve, have been sent “East of Eden?” It is the story of Cain and Able. It is a story of violence, a story of fratricide, a story of inhumanity, a story that doesn’t produce life but leaves us with the diminishment of life, and the reality of death. It is the first story of humanity, East of Eden.
As a story of origin it is trying to share where and why violence entered into human history. There is a reason that it is the first story East of Eden. The way humans treat each other poorly is part of our story from the very beginning and is still with us. The way humans treat each other poorly, by killing each other, diminishing each other, by marginalizing each other, by creating categories of “us and “them,” has only led to darkness, and further brokenness, distrust, diminishment, and dislike of the other.
The reality of life East of Eden is everywhere, and we all must not only acknowledge our responsibility, but also our calling from Jesus, to bring Healing Life to a broken world. As we watch and listen to Jesus we realize that his starting point was valuing all people as being created in the image of God. This meant that all people had eternal worth and value, and entitlement to the richness of life. And whatever caused you to be living East of Eden, Jesus offers forgiveness to tip the scales back toward life in the Garden of Eden.
As we have said in our liturgy. Jesus offered compassion, modeled love, and shared God’s grace. To whom? To us, who live East of Eden. You are forgiven. Now we live differently, living out God’s original intents toward each other and with each other.
As you know it’s not as easy as it sounds. Living out God’s original intents for creation has personal implications, societal implications, and global implications. Since we live in community with almost 7 billion people, living this way will be messy and, at times the path forward will not be clear.
Today is world communion Sunday, and today, for me, this meal reminds me of God’s original intents, the intent of unity, of love, and of peace. Today we will gather at the table with billions of God’s children, imitating the Great Feast that is to come.
I want to end this morning reflecting on the Cherubim with the torches outside the garden. Traditionally, this has been interpreted as a symbol of protecting the garden. In this week where the darkness of violence has taken center stage, I have been thinking of the cherubim being there with the torch of light. Not just as protecting the garden, but also as an offering, an invitation, an opportunity, for those of us East of Eden. Their presence there says, “No you can’t come back in the garden this way but here is a torch for you to take to find the way which lies in another direction.” It is an opportunity to take the light from the Cherubim of God, to take that heavenly light out into the world of darkness―to take the light of God out into the world to scatter the darkness―to take the light of God into the places East of Eden, until we find ourselves back in the Garden of Eden via another way.
And along the way, as we travel with that light from the Cherubim, we will figure out divorce, and violence, and poverty, and injustice. We will also discover that we have fully lived out the original intent of Peace and Wholeness, and that will become our new reality.
May it be so!