Oh my, it’s been one of those weeks! Hugely significant things have been happening in our culture and society that have sent ripples into so many lives.
Now, I’m not going to get into the politics of the Kavanaugh hearings, though I will simply note that many of his established beliefs and judicial stances stand in stark contrast to the teachings and positions of the ELCA. But that’s maybe a topic for another setting on another day for those who are interested in discussing such things. We can make that happen.
Today I simply need to share with you a few of the crushingly sad things I have heard in these days as colleagues, pastors, women pastors in particular, have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of those who held power over them, pastors who were abused by seminary staff and professors in the early days of the ordination of women. And members of my own immediate family have joined their voices to the chorus of those who have been abused and mistreated, and have kept silent. And decades long members of this congregation have opened up to me about their own past histories of family members, and neighbors and others who mistreated them as children or as young women. And one thing keeps coming up – these people have been mostly silent about these stories for many years. But they’re speaking up now, because they’ve been triggered by the events of the past few weeks.
Now, we’ll probably never know exactly what happened to Dr. Ford, or to Ms. Ramirez, or to the many other women who still hide in the shadows, afraid to risk speaking up because far too often the victim ends up just being revictimized, as time and time again people are either not convicted, or if they are convicted are given ridiculously lenient sentences.
And I share this today because I see in all of these stories, and in our own cultural mess that surrounds them, that people, rather than being compassionate and open to hearing from those with different opinions, are instead suiting up in their partisan jerseys and toeing their particular party line. And all the while the little ones – the least and the last, those who have been victimized in the past, survivors of sexual abuse and misconduct, survivors of rape and domestic abuse, often as little children – are shamed into silence once again. And I see the emotional toll that such silence takes, the psychic toll that it takes on all involved in these tragic situations. And so today I want to say clearly and publicly to each and every one of you:
I hear you!
I believe you!
I support you!
And I lift these things up to you today as examples of disorder – that which is against God’s good created order…
In Genesis 2, we hear something that sounds rather shocking, as God makes a negative declaration. You see, over and over again in the first chapter, in the first creation story, as God creates the world in 6 days and rests on the 7th day, God looks at what God has made, God observes how the created order is supplanting the primordial disorder, the formless void into which God began to speak God’s creative word, and at each step God says: It is good. And in the end, God says: It is very good!
But now at the beginning of the 2nd creation story, God creates an earthling, or a dirt creature (that’s what Adam actually means, by the way) and God brings Adam to life, and then makes the negative declaration: It is NOT good for the dirt creature to be alone. In this second story, the way that God brings order to disorder is through relationships – the man is not complete until the woman is created.
Human beings are meant to be in relationship, and those relationships are meant to be life-giving, and affirming, and supportive, and compassionate (Which, by the way, literally means to suffer along with). I mean we all know that life is not always easy, and it’s sometimes crushingly difficult, and we need someone to come along side and to accompany us at such times.
It is NOT good for us to be alone…
Now, of course, we humans, being the sinful creatures that we are, we like to take the good things of God, things that are meant to be freeing, and life-giving, and to twist them into laws. We take the blessings of God, and weaponized them against one another. We take the blessing of intimate relationships, and we say that some are illegitimate while others are legitimate. We further disorder that to which God is trying to bring order.
So God creates humankind to be in relationship with one another, and we twist it all up. We are unfaithful to one another. We break covenant. We hear God’s word saying that no one can separate what God has joined together, and we respond: Ha! Just watch us! And we create divorce courts – Heck, we even turn it into reality television and sit back in the afternoons and laugh at the participants. It’s disorder, folks! Plain and simple, it’s disorder!…
Now, before I dig deeper into the Gospel text for today, let me say briefly and clearly that someone who is in an abusive situation, someone whose wellbeing is in jeopardy, be that physically or psychologically, is not required to stay in an abusive relationship, no matter what you think you’re reading here from Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Because the fact is that Jesus really isn’t dealing directly with divorce here, except in that divorce happens to be the particular topic his opponents have chosen to bring up on this particular day in the 10th chapter of Mark.
Jesus here is focused on the same thing Jesus has been focused on since the reading we heard a few weeks ago as the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest – which, by the way, is another form of disorder. Look, we are all created with equal value. Each and every one of us, every human being is created in the image and likeness of God! Period! EVERY HUMAN BEING! And it’s a sign of disorder to hold some in higher esteem than others, no matter what that value system is based on. Men do not have higher value than women, which Jesus establishes here in verse 12, as he turns things over on his opponents, saying: Whoever divorces his wife and remarries, commits adultery, and if she divorces her husband and remarries, she commits adultery. And we, of course, think this is about divorce, and remarriage, and adultery, because in our disordered state, as fallen beings, we’re always turned in on ourselves, we’re always looking for justification for our choices and actions, or we’re looking for black and white guidance as to who’s in, and who’s out, and based on what. We take the blessing of human relationship and we reduce it to laws, to rules and regulations, and we use those laws to batter, and condemn, and abuse one another, instead of appreciating the deeper point – that we are created to be in relationship with one another, in ways that are life-giving, and supportive, and affirming.
And so Jesus here gives the suggestion that a woman might divorce her husband, even though that wasn’t really a thing that a woman could do, not as a way of affirming the breaking of human bonds, but as a way of restoring equality of power and standing. If a man can do it, so can a woman…
Oh, but there’s a still better way, a higher calling, a higher standard for which we can strive.
And so Jesus welcomes the children again, like back in chapter 9, not because kids are cute and who wouldn’t want to cuddle them, but because they represent all of the world’s little ones – those who have no earthly power, no earthly standing, no earthly strength.
And he tells us that the only way to receive the reign of God, the only way to enter God’s eternal reign, is to receive it as a child – in utter and complete weakness…
And we remember that, in the larger context of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, where he will become weak for us, where he will give up his life for us, where he will become the little one abused, mistreated, falsely accused, and put to death by the powers that be so that we might become the welcomed ones, taken up in his arms and blessed by his love.
It is not good for us to be alone.
And so Jesus has come, as flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, to restore order to what we in our sinfulness have disordered, reconciling us to God and to one another by the cross.