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October 4, 2015. Pastor Penny preaches on Jesus’ comments on divorce and remarriage in Mark 10, and how the church today is able to understand these, as well as same-sex marriage, as being life-giving.


*** Transcript ***


We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Well, I read that many people came to the opening of IKEA last Wednesday. Did any of you brave the crowds? No? Yes? Was it good? Exciting? The text this morning, the gospel reminded me of another crowd, long ago, that gathered in a field in New York state. And they came, not to buy things, but some of them at least came to discover peace. It was three days of peace and music. And some of you know, the name of that music festival was Woodstock, in 1969. One singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell — who actually wasn’t there, but talked to people who were — wrote a song that kind of epitomizes why some of the people came to Woodstock. The song is named “Woodstock,” and it’s about a man who heads to Woodstock because he’s on a spiritual journey. She has quite a few references in her song to biblical things. The refrain goes like this (and of course, this is the ’60s you have to understand): “We are Stardust / We are golden / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.” And the garden, of course, that she was referencing was the garden that we hear about in the Old Testament lesson today: the Garden of Eden. And we hear about it at a golden moment (to use her word) in creation, when Adam has just been created and God is looking for an equal partner, and none of the animals are an equal partner. And so God creates Eve. And we kind of get an idea of what God’s intention for the world was, and the reason for Creation. In Adam’s exciting remarks, his exuberant remarks, “At last, here is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” That that was what God wanted: unity, peace, that the world would be life-giving.


Well, of course, we know it wasn’t long before Adam and Eve divorce themselves from the garden through their sinfulness. And we see the result of that in the gospel lesson today, where we kind of walk in on a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees, who had hard hearts. They were trying to trick, or tempt, or get Jesus to stumble, with a question: “Is it right in our religion for a man to divorce a woman?” Now, these were men who had supported the Old Testament institution of divorce all their lives. And in this institution, only a man could file for divorce. It wasn’t even “filing.” Only a man could divorce his wife because his wife was his property, and once he decided he was tired of her — and it could be a very small reason — it was totally up to the man. It could be that she burned his dinner too many times. He could simply say, “That’s it. We are no longer married.” And when he threw her out of the home, the children stayed with him. And when he threw her out of the home, she had no obvious source of economic support in those days.


Jesus, knowing what a cruel thing this was for women, and always championing the vulnerable, said, “No it is not right. Yes, I know Moses told you you could do it, but that was just because your hearts are so hard.” And then to make the point even stronger he said, “And if you insist on doing it with this mindset and remarry someone, you are committing adultery.”


Well now it’s very difficult to take Jesus’ words and apply them to life today, because life today is different. Not that human nature is different. But marriage is different. Divorce is different. And by the grace of God, we are different from the Pharisees to whom he was speaking. In Jesus’ day, marriage was more between two families than between two people. It was an arranged marriage. The couple may not even know each other. But families wanted to make sure that children were produced and that the community was stable and flourished. And the spheres of men’s and women’s lives were very separate from one another, so that a woman wouldn’t find the same support and comfort from her husband as we do today. She would look for her emotional support and for her enjoyment and joy in her siblings, maybe in other women, in her children. They were the ones who supported her. So, marriage was very different from marriage that we understand, where two people are attracted to each other, they fall in love, they become good friends. And I think sometimes we expect an awful lot from marriage. Maybe too much. Maybe they were smarter back then. But we think in terms of our spouse maybe being our best friend, or even a “soul mate.” So marriage was very different back then than it is now.


Thankfully, divorce is very different today than it was back then. Today, either a man or woman can initiate the process of a divorce. And after being divorced, both people care for their children and both people take the economic consequences of their divorce. So it’s shared evenly. But the most important difference for our understanding Jesus’ words, is that by the grace of God we are different from the hard-hearted Pharisees. Not because we are not hard-hearted — we too are selfish and sinful and can be very stubborn — but because we know it and we admit it and we confess it, as we did this morning together aloud, and as we do privately in our prayers to God. We confess our hard-heartedness, we admit it. That means that we know that as this little rabbit was dependent on its owners, we know that we are dependent on God. We can’t get out of our trap of sin. We know that the words to the refrain that Joni Mitchell wrote really aren’t true, because we can’t get ourselves back to the garden. Only God can. And God has, through Jesus Christ. And we heard that beautiful reminder in the words of Hebrews in the second lesson, that Jesus purified us all by tasting death for all of us, and now is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.


So we see that things are different, and that we are different and that is why the church comes to these words with the understanding that sometimes, we don’t apply the exact teachings. We always look at the big picture. We know that the word of God is a living thing, and it is alive for each generation. So we aren’t so worried about the specific teachings. What we look at is the overarching hopes and dreams and values and goals that God has for us, and we can see them clearly in every reading and in the life of Jesus, that we would be loving people, forgiving people, life-giving people to those around us. And it is for this reason that the church feels that it’s confident that Jesus would say today that as Christians who understand this, as Christians who are repentant, that it’s advisable at times to get a divorce for the life of everyone. And that because in our society marriage is such a strong source of support and joy and peace, that Christians should consider remarrying after divorce. It would also be life-giving.


You see, that’s the way we approach the Bible. Knowing that it gives life looking at the big picture. And that’s the way we’ve been able to understand this teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage. That’s the way we’ve been able to understand Paul’s words about women keeping silent in the church. And because of that also, and because we know so much more now about gender differences, the church has said that in the case of same-sex gender couples, gays and lesbians, that it is life-giving for them also to be married. And we know how Jesus championed the cause of those most vulnerable. And often, those are the people most vulnerable in our society today.


Long ago we divorced ourselves from the garden. And God mourned our loss. God mourned the loss that we suffer and the loss that God suffered. And so God gave us the life-giving word. Jesus mourned our loss and gave us himself. And so now, through the eyes of faith, as we look to the future we see another garden, a new Eden, a new paradise. And by the grace of God, when we look at this garden we see that the gates are wide open to welcome us in.




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2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-16, Hebrews 1:1-4, 5-12, LGBTQ, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, same-gender