Archive for October, 2018

Lord Have Mercy 10-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:46-52, I explore the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. This is Jesus’ final ministry act prior to his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem which marks the final week of his life. Jesus asks the same question that he posed to his disciples in the previous story. What do you want me to do for you?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lord-have-mercy-10-28-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

I have to say that I am a huge fan of spellcheck…because my spelling is horrendous.  When I’m typing quickly, its super common for me to look up at the screen and see those little red squiggly lines under all kinds of words…because I often tend to spell something phonetically, even when that’s not correct.

This even catches us in today’s lesson…do you think I’m in anyway capable of spelling Bartimaeus correctly?  Its funny though…because the opposite side of things is also true at different times…because sometimes English is hard.  There are some words that I’ve discovered over the years, that trip me up.  Words that I might even use in regular conversation…but when I encounter them on the page…I don’t know what it is.

Now this has happened a lot…but two in particular come to mind.  I was way too old…probably about 7 or 8th grade…before I stopped pronouncing the written word chaos as “chose,” and I was also very sheepish when someone pointed out to me…in my 20’s…that the written word segue was not some random word “seg-you.”

Interestingly enough, we’ve even got one of these words that used to trip me up within our liturgy…most of you are familiar with our flow of worship…how we feature the Brief Order on page 56…but then, typically we move back out of the order of worship found in the hymnal…but the very next thing listed within the traditional liturgy is something called the Kyrie…a call and response, often chanted, portion that sounds like (sing) “In peace let us pray to the Lord…Lord have mercy.”

I grew up with this Liturgy…and the name…kyrie is printed right at the start of this portion…but for many years I looked at it and pronounced it “kie-ree.” And I’m embarrassed to announce that I didn’t learn the correct pronunciation until I was in Seminary.

Now, since we’re talking about this, maybe you’re wondering where the name Kyrie actually comes from…and its from the original language. We sing it in English…but the phrase Lord have mercy comes from the Greek Kyrie Elieson…Kyrie means Lord, and Elieson means have mercy.

Admittedly…this is some of the fancy seminary type stuff that they taught us in school…and I’ve shared before that I’m not overly fond of the big fancy terminology and 50-cent words…so this is one of those things that I learned…but then sorta just tucked in the back of my mind and forgot about.

But then this week I was working with the translation of the gospel text, as I usually do during my background sermon prep work…and I started focusing in on the word for mercy that we hear pop up a couple times…and in looking at that specific word…I realized, once again…my tendency to not connect the phonetics of how a word sounds with how a word looks on the page…until I’d been working with “elieson” for a few minutes…and in another instance of healing from Mark’s gospel…I found a time when Jesus talks about showing mercy…and sharing with others what the Lord has done…and with that, since I have the tendency to think out loud when I’m alone in the office, I said to myself “mercy from the Lord…Lord have mercy…like Kyrie Elieson.” And then the next thought that came spilling out was “duh Scott…you’re a pastor…you really should have known that.” (pause)

Now…all of these thoughts about my personal difficulties with the English language aside…this is an idea that we find within the gospel today…the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. An outcast…a beggar…cast aside to the fringe of society because of his disability…a man who must sit by the roadside…utterly dependent upon the pity of others to throw him a coin or two, in order to survive. But for whatever reason…call it luck or happenstance or serendipity…he happens to be along the way that Jesus is traveling in this last moment before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the final week of his life.

This story concludes the middle section of Mark’s gospel…one that we’ve been in for the past several weeks…a time of transition when Jesus has moved away from his early itinerant ministry around the region…and he’s moving towards the inevitable conclusion in Jerusalem that will culminate on the cross and in the tomb…this central part of the gospel features his teaching and miracles and encounters along the way.

Now interestingly enough…that whole section started off with the healing of another blind man…who the crowds bring to Jesus…and Jesus heals him as well…though that was a bit of an odd situation as Jesus seemingly has to try twice in order to get the healing done correctly…as the first attempt results in the man seeing people walking around looking like trees.

But before we get to the Bartimaeus here at the end of the section…several chapters go by that include events we continue to talk about, even as recently as a week ago…the predictions that Jesus makes about his betrayal and arrest…his torture and execution on the cross, but also the fact that on the third day he will be raised.

We’ve talked about these as we’ve encountered them…and the strange responses that the disciples have had each time Jesus makes the prediction…how their expectations are on display…or their bickering and jockeying for positions of authority and prestige, particularly with James and John a week ago.

Admittedly, I had that moment in mind as I approached this week’s gospel…because there’s a pretty stark overlap between the two stories.  In both stories…the interested party…James and John last week, and Bartimaeus this week…approach Jesus wanting something. And Jesus poses the exact same question both times, because it would seem that he wants them to admit just what it is they want.

What do you want me to do for you?  Now the brothers…they were looking for status…namely an increase for them at the expense of others…but Bartimaeus…well, as we hear from the get-go…he’s looking for something entirely different.

Jesus, Son of David…have mercy on me…and as the people in the crowd try to hush him up…making a quick judgement that he’s not worthy of Jesus’ time or attention…he cries out all the louder…JESUS SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME. (pause)

Mercy…He’s putting it right there on front street…and he’s appealing to one that he believes is able to offer it.  Now with this, Jesus turns his attention to the man…and despite the grumbling going on in the crowd around him…Jesus calls him…here’s another thing we hear multiple times…three times, the “call” of the Lord is offered to Bartimaeus…who jumps up and comes to him.
What do you want me to do for you? Teacher, let me see.  Your faith has made you well…and instantly his eyes are opened…and Bartimaes can see…he’s freed of the thing that has kept him pushed to the margins…the thing that has kept him hindered on the outside…and as we hear…this blind man, follows Jesus along the way.

That’s an important final statement…that Bartimaeus becomes a follower…in fact in Mark’s gospel there’s no more important command that Jesus makes…than the one that we hear over and over again from the Savior…Follow me. Discipleship here in Mark’s gospel means following the one who has called us…following the one who offers mercy to those who are seeking it.

I can’t help but think that’s why Mark placed those two stories right next to each other….especially with the exact same question being asked by Jesus. The repetition to should make us perk up and pay attention. The disciples wanted prestige and didn’t get it…because prestige is not for Jesus to bestow.  But Bart asked for mercy…and it is given to him.

Now as I think about this particular call to follow Jesus…which we can also say is a call into discipleship…I can’t help but think that the Lord calls those seeking mercy…and mercy is received…and maybe Jesus’ final statement to Bart is also telling…your faith has made you well.  Faith…believing that the mercy of the Lord IS offered to you freely…that the promises of the Lord are real and that they are for you.

Now maybe you see where I’m going with this…because as I look down at this font, I’m reminded that in the waters of baptism, we are given a physical representation of this promise of God’s mercy offered to us freely.  In baptism the promises are spoken over us that we have already been claimed by God as beloved children…and that it is made possible the through the action of God in the life death and resurrection of Jesus…that whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…its already done.

Baptism is not something that we are doing…its not something that I’m accomplishing as pastor…or the individual is earning or that their parents are achieving on their behalf…the action that happens in Baptism is God’s claim upon the individual, which was made through Christ 2000 years ago…this just gives us something tangible to hold on to in our moments of doubt or fear that we experience at different times in our lives.

And in a few moments, Breckin is going to share in that promise…one made freely by God for all people…as we cry out Lord have mercy…and thanks be to God that the mercy of the Lord is already given. Amen.

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This Is Not Normal 10-21-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:32-45, I explore Jesus’ final Passion Prediction and the strange way that the disciples continue to react to it. It shouldn’t be normal…and in light of a tragedy in our community, it seems quite fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-not-normal-10-21-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Yesterday I spent I pretty big portion of the day in the car, as my family road tripped up to the central part of the state for the funeral of my wife’s aunt. As we were driving in the morning, both my wife and I commented that it was strange that there weren’t very many farmers out in the field yet…with the mild dry and breezy weather that we’ve had the past few days finally making harvest work a possibility.

But that was the case…very little activity in the fields as we traveled in the morning.  But then on the way home, it was the polar opposite. Combines in almost every field…the tell-tale presence of a large dust cloud as the crops are pulled out…and as we drove along, it crossed my mind “now that’s more like it….this is what I expect to see this time of year…this is normal.” Year after year of history all adds up for us to build these images of normal, as we witness or even experience those things that just end up being common.

Now that being said…I can’t help but think that today’s scripture reveals something else that is starting to become normal. Now, as I mentioned, I included an extra couple of verses in the reading today…because the setting is important.  For the third and final time, Jesus has shared the prediction of his pending passion…his betrayal and arrest…his persecution and torture…his death on the cross…and perhaps most importantly…the good news of the resurrection that he will also experience.

We’ve heard the other two predictions in recent weeks…as all three occur in a fairly brief portion of Mark’s gospel…now here’s the thing.  Jesus doesn’t deviate much in terms of the details that he shares each time…but the thing that’s starting to become familiar…that’s becoming…normal…is the reaction on the part of the disciples.

The first time Peter makes a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and Jesus responds “You betcha…now here’s what that means.” And Peter oversteps his bounds…rebuking Jesus, likely due to an misplaced expectation of just what the earthly Messiah means.

The second time around…Jesus predicts it again…and this time the disciples sorta clam up in front of him, but as they continue walking along they start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and Jesus has to stop and redirect them again.

And now today…he makes the same prediction for the third and final time…and this time, its James and John who come up to him with this off-the wall request…now…I can’t help but think that they know this probably isn’t the smartest thing to be asking for…so maybe, just maybe they have been paying attention to what happened the first two times…but they come up to Jesus and say “Teacher…we want you to give us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus…who probably already has a pretty good idea of what’s coming, poses quite the question back at them…What do you want me to do for you?

And with that…we hear this request to hold the places of honor, at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus when he comes into his glory. (pause)
Seriously…its bad enough that the disciples never seem to fully grasp what’s going on…and not only in these three instances…but honestly throughout the course of the gospels it constantly seems like they lack any shred of comprehension…like their boneheaded responses are just the normal thing that we come to expect from them.

But you know what…it shouldn’t be.  These 12 guys…these men who follow Jesus around to witness the ministry first-hand…never seem to get it…and what’s worse…in two out of the three passion predictions…it’s the big 3…Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John…who misread things…and honestly…the gospel of Jesus Christ…the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us through the incarnate word of God made flesh in Jesus…that’s WAY to big to get brushed off with these boneheaded responses of the disciples…maybe we think its normal…but it shouldn’t be normal. (pause)

Now with this…I need to switch gears…Friday morning, I walked into the office with an expectation in mind…but I was a little off…because as I had taken my kids to school, I had seen and heard several patrol cars as well as the firetruck and ambulance go flying up the hill out of town…and for some reason, the thought went through my head…this is a big one.

Admittedly…I was already a little edgy going into the day…many of you sitting out there probably know the significance of October 19th here in our community…but I sat down at my desk and started working…only to get a message a few minutes later with some of the worst news we can get.

There’s been a car accident…and a student from the high school has been killed…now at this point it was only a rumor…but one that prompted me to reach out to the principal up the hill…and to quickly receive confirmation that yes…that’s what happened…and with that I jumped in the car to go be present and help out at the school in any way that I could.

When I arrived, the students were all in their classrooms…and they were being told what had happened…and as I sat there in the commons, talking with a few of the administration, I knew what I was going to see next.  I was going to see students come back out into the hallways crying…I was going to see them utterly devastated…clinging to one another in the shock…some would continue to walk around the school with that shocked look on their face…some would call their parents and go home…and over the course of the next couple of hours, the school day would continue on as many of them defaulted back into the familiar…upset and shaken…and yet trying their best to go on with things.

And that’s exactly what happened…now here’s the painful thing about this…I knew what to expect…because this isn’t the first time I’ve been at that school when something like this has happened. 3 times in the past 4 years our high school has experienced the tragedy of the death of a classmate…a life lost far too soon…and this should not be normal.

(pause) Now please don’t think that I’m trivializing this in anyway…its heart breaking…utterly devastating…and I know enough of those kids up the hill to feel the anguish of having been through this, not just once, and not twice, but now three times.  And to know that as devastating as it might be for the school and the community…that there is a family who has now experienced the nightmare that you don’t wish on anyone.

And if you have heard the news report about the accident…you know how bad this is without me needing to say it…and I’ve had conversations with several different people in the meantime…conversations that pretty much end up saying “this doesn’t make sense?” or “I want to know why?” And usually once they say that, they follow it up with “and I know I can’t know, and that’s not right.”

There’s a lot of truth in that…when a tragedy like this happens…something that we can’t make heads or tails of…it usually leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths…and we’re either really sad or we’re really angry…and often we look for someone or something to aim that emotion at.

And as we consider that…maybe, just maybe…Jesus response to James and John is fitting today…what do you want me to do for you? The quick answer…is that we want God to take it away…to snap his fingers and make it just a bad dream that didn’t actually happen…but our broken reality has also shown us that this is not what’s going to happen…because Jesus did not come into our reality in order to serve as something of a magic lamp…to grant wishes to us…I can only think that Jesus had something much bigger and more profound in mind, not only as he predicted his passion…but as he actually experienced it.

Because in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…God was doing something about this broken reality that we live in…a reality that includes pain and suffering and death…whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…the promise of the gospel assures us that whenever death rears its ugly head…it doesn’t get the last word…God does…because God mourns this reality just like we do…and God knows that while it might feel normal…it shouldn’t.

This is the gospel…that while we were sinners, Christ died for us…and this is true whether we feel good about it or not.  I don’t know about you…but in light of this tragic death…just like the others like it that our community has experienced…sometimes these promises of the gospel feel kinda bitter…but the truth is that the promises don’t change based on how we feel. (pause)
Once more, our community has experienced a tragedy…and now together, we will all try our best to find the new normal going forward…and as we do, whether this feels trite right now in the moment, or if it is a comfort…we have a God who is walking this road with us…a God who has promised to never forsake us even in the times when we find ourselves hollering and screaming at him…God will take it…so if that’s what you need to do…if that’s what you need to feel…feel it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is not normal…nor should it be…but regardless of how we find ourselves feeling right here, right now…know that God doesn’t think its normal either…and even if it doesn’t feel like it, God HAS already done something about it. Amen.

What Is It Worth To You 10-14-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, Jesus encounters a man (who we know as the rich young ruler), and offers an invitation to discipleship.  The odd thing is that we don’t know if it works or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-it-worth-to-you-10-14-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There’s an exchange that goes on at my house with a pretty fair bit of regularity. I’ll be in the living room or sitting at the table, and my wife, who many of you know is a bit…vertically challenged…will say “Hey, can you come in here at help me with something?” Typically she means “There’s something on the top shelf and I don’t want to climb on the counters and you are just sitting there not doing anything anyway, so come get this thing from up there for me.”

More often than not…my response… “Maybe…what’s it worth to you?” Now she quickly puts me in my place, but you get the idea.  That things are often transactional…that if you want something, is there something you can offer for it.

This is an idea that I latched onto during my senior year of high school. As a senior, I had open campus during study halls, and could come and go from the school…and I pretty quickly discovered that many of the underclassmen wanted me to run to the store for them…to pick up a snack while they were languishing at school…it took me about 3 trips to figure something out.  That I was carrying an awful lot of change back to the school after 3 or 4 separate transactions…and so I told them, I’ll make the run for you, and I’ll bring back any paper money as change…but the loose change stays with me.  And let me tell you something…this transaction worked out pretty well. I’d drive the 3 blocks to the store, and I’d usually end up with 3 or 4 bucks worth of loose change by the end of the day.  They got something out of it…and I got something out of it. (pause)

Now I can’t help but think that this is the attitude…or perhaps it would be better to say, the expectation…of the man who approaches Jesus today. (pause)  Now Jesus is just setting out on a journey…he’s just been in a house, bear hugging children and blessing them…reminding his disciples that to receive the kingdom of God…to enter into it…one must be like a child. And with that he steps outside to continue along the way, when this random guy that we know virtually nothing about, kneels before him…calls him teacher…and asks what really seems to be…an honest question about the kingdom of God.

Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Again, we don’t know anything about this guy. Has he been following…listening…hearing the teachings and seeing the miracles…maybe, we don’t know.  Has he simply heard about Jesus and the general ideas of the gospel which Jesus is proclaiming…maybe, we don’t know.  In truth, as this random guy enters the scene…we literally know NOTHING about him. (pause)

But as we hear…Jesus begins to engage with the guy…now I can only think that there are some cultural expectations at play here. The guy must be Jewish…because Jesus turns the commandments on him. “You know the commandments.” And then he begins to list off the back half of the 10 commandments which are aimed at our relationships with others. Don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, honor your parents, and so on.

And the guy seems to indicate that he’s got those bases covered…oh yes Lord, I have kept these since my youth…I know that…I’ve done that…I’m good on that front…so what else must I do? (pause)
Now with a bit more back and forth, Jesus lovingly lays another stipulation on him. Sell your processions, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And it is only at this point that we learn this guys apparent economic status…that he has great possessions…as he walks away downcast and sad…grieving even.

With this Jesus turns to the disciples, and starts in on a bit more teaching…which at face value seems to be taking a shot at the rich…particularly as we hear him say “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  And then since the disciples are so confused…likely do to a cultural expectation that those with great wealth are the ones who have blessed by God…he says it again…”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch the difference?  There’s no mention of wealth in this second statement…simply an honest statement from Jesus on the difficulty of entering the kingdom…and the disciples pick up on it with their exasperated question “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus responds, for humanity its impossible, but for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Here’s the thing…there’s a subtle thread running underneath this whole story…and it all begins with the question that the man asks in the first place. What must I do to inherit eternal life?  If you know anything about inheritance, you know how it works…and that to inherit anything, you don’t do anything…but someone else has to die.

And the really interesting part of all this is what he is asking for…eternal life…as opposed to what Jesus talks about…the kingdom of God. (pause) Now maybe we tend to think of these as the same thing…and yes there’s overlap…but there’s a distinction…because eternal life points us towards…the eternal…its right there in the name right…and so I think its safe to say that whatever eternal life is…it lies on the other side of death…the age to come, heaven, whatever you want to call it…but the kingdom of God…as we hear from Jesus at the beginning of the gospel…the kingdom has come near.  Its already here…even though its also in the age to come.

Yes I know that’s a little confusing…but the promise that we have received is that the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that’s a point that Jesus makes as he addresses Peter towards the end of today’s passage.  Peter asks, we have left everything to follow you…and Jesus says yes you have…he also called them children if you recall…and then he says that whatever or whoever you have left behind, you will receive again 100 fold…as well as persecutions…here in the kingdom…and then eternal life.

Anyone catch that? Jesus is speaking about this now and not yet reality of the kingdom of God…a realty that takes root in how we live our lives right here, right now…and this…is what Jesus is getting at in his invitation of discipleship offered to the rich man.

What must I do to inherit eternal life…Nothing…that’s up to God…you can’t DO anything…but fortunately through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, that’s already taken care of…its already done.

But in the case of the here and now…as Jesus addresses this man…sell your processions…free yourself of whatever it is that you trust in…and give it away….stop thinking about yourself and let your life benefit someone else for a change…and then…follow me. This invitation has implications in the present life that the man is leading…and since his possessions are so great, he walks away in grief. (pause)

Now I’ll be honest…I always thought about this event as a failed invitation to discipleship…but what if its not. What if the man walked away in grief because he realizes what this will cost him, and he’s already made the choice to do it?

Discipleship has cost…its different for everyone, but its there.  This invitation to follow Jesus might just cost us everything…and we wonder, just what do we get out of it? That’s the transactional nature at work within us.

Well, that’s hard to say…sometimes all we can do is follow along and see where it leads.  Keep in mind, we don’t know what happens this guy…and we usually think this invitation is a failure…but there’s a chance that its not…because there are 2 more times when a random young man shows up in Mark’s gospel with no indication of who he is.  When Jesus is arrested, there’s a follower…a young man wearing only a simple linen garment, who leaves it behind and flees…and then at the tomb…there’s a young man dressed in white that address the women.

Its probably not the same guy…but what if it is? (pause) What if this guy did what Jesus asked…and followed? Might be hard to believe…but remember that for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Jesus has invited all of us into a life of discipleship…of being a Christ follower…and maybe what we take away from today is remember that in this life…in the now of the kingdom of God, that looks like putting our own stuff aside and thinking about someone else as we follow him…we won’t be perfect, and we’ll mess it up…but the invitation is still there…and that whole eternal life thing…that whole aspect of the kingdom that’s not yet…well, maybe we just need to let God handle that end of things…(pause)

And one final thought…regardless of if the encounter with the man was a successful invitation to discipleship or not…even before the invitation to follow is given…Jesus loves him. Did you catch that…Jesus looked at him, Jesus loved him in that perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and then Jesus made the offer to follow.  This guy is the only person in Mark’s gospel that we hear “Jesus loves” and we don’t even know if he followed or not.

But the promise of the gospel, is that we don’t have to do anything to be on the receiving end of that perfect, all in love of God for all of humanity that has manifest itself in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…and yet through him, the kingdom is given to us anyway. Amen.

Divorce Take 2 10-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:2-16, I talk about the painful reality of broken relationships, which has manifested in the reality of divorce. It is, however, not limited to this, and permeates all of our relationships.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/divorce-take-2-10-7-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God be yours now and forever. Amen

Today is a little strange…because my sermon prep process has gone a bit off the rails. I sat down on Friday to write the sermon for today, as I usually do…and after a lot of back and forth I wrote one.  Admittedly, there have been plenty of past weeks when I walked out the office on Friday not quite sure about the sermon that came out…but then went a head with it anyway.

Not this time.  This time I wrote about 3 different sermons all crammed into one…a batch of ideas that felt all over the map…and didn’t actually focus in on the truth that needs to be said.  So I scrapped it and started over, because I fear that my first pass would do a disservice to quite a few of you sitting out there today.

There are several different passages that come up in the Lectionary that rub me the wrong way, and I grimace when I open up the Bible on Sunday following worship to see what next week’s text is going to be…but then I get to work.  This one is different.  Today’s passage stinks.  I knew it was coming up, but when I saw it this week, knowing that I’ve tackled it a couple different times already…my first instinct was “nope…not this year.” And I planned on preaching out of Hebrews instead.

But then I went to text study on Tuesday…and I listened to the comments and conversation, particularly from one colleague who is currently in the process of divorcing…and I know this individual well enough to be able to read him…and to also be able to hear some of the things that he “wasn’t saying” if you know what I mean.

That conversation stayed in the back of my head throughout the week…likewise I also thought about conversations I’ve had with several of you over the years that have centered around this particular text.  And as I did, I kept thinking to myself…nope, skip it…don’t even reference it…just use the first two readings and skip the gospel.

But I knew in my gut that wasn’t right…and in further reflection I knew that if I skipped the gospel reading altogether, you would wonder why, and you would probably turn your bulletin over, and since Mark 10 is already printed…you’d read it…even if I didn’t.

And here’s the thing…when this passage comes up, you can’t not talk about it. Because the reality of divorce is too real.  Its not metaphorical…its not debatable…it’s a reality within our society, one that apparently has been around for at least 3500 years…and regardless of the differences that various societies and cultures have placed upon it, I’m guessing that its been equally painful for the people involved for as long as its been around.

And even if I can’t speak from personal experience, I know it’s a painful one for some of you out there…and I’m guessing that almost every single person sitting in this room today has been touched by it…and I don’t think any of us would deny that divorce carries stigma…particularly here in the church.

It might be viewed in a lot of different ways…but it seems that the sense of failure is pretty universal within it. Divorce marks a legal distinction to a failed relationship…and while I fully believe that there are marriages that should end…and that in many cases it is the best thing for everyone involved…I think we can all agree that its not a good thing…and that it hurts those involved in it.

This is a blunt reality…and these are blunt statements that I’m making…statements that seem to be mirrored in the extremely blunt statements made by Jesus today…statements around the legality of divorce…and statements that dredge up feelings of guilt when he brings the idea of adultery into the conversation.

Now we have the tendency to categorize bad stuff don’t we? Categories that, perhaps we use to justify ourselves…or make ourselves feel a little better.  Divorce is bad…and adultery is worse…but at least I didn’t kill anyone…I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do that. (pause)

This is evidence of the human condition…it is evidence of our brokenness…that we recognize our shortcomings and the things in our lives that just don’t feel right…and we want to try and feel better…and yet we don’t…and we see over and over again that this brokenness results in fractured relationships…and we also know that no relationship, no matter what form it takes, no relationship is safe from this truth of our broken reality. (pause)

Worse yet…it seems, at face value…that Jesus himself is condemning it here…and as a result, this passage, as well as the one from Genesis that we heard today, have been used to condemn and bully countless individuals…and maybe just maybe that in that pesky voice of doubt and fear that lives in the back of our minds, we say the exact same things to ourselves. (pause)

Here’s the thing…this situation is not limited to individuals who have either experienced divorce or those who look at their present circumstance and wonder if its an inevitability.  This tendency to see our own shortcomings and failures…as well as the ability to see the brokenness and failures of those around us…this is simply evidence of the greater underlying reality of sin that has permeated this life that we live.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…this breaks relationship…it rips apart the harmony that exists in true relationship…and that’s at the center of this entire thing.  Genesis tells us that all of humanity is created bearing the divine image of God…God who exists in divine relationship among the Creator God, the living Word of God, and the Spirit of God.

And when God placed humanity in the garden, whether that was an actual event or just a story that a culture told themselves thousands of years later…the story of the garden reveals that pretty much as long as humanity has been around, that harmony intended by God has been broken…and as a result our relationships suffer with God and they suffer with one another.

And I think that this is the point Jesus is trying to make when he starts talking about “in the beginning it was not so.” The intention of God, as we consider the creation stories…was for harmony between individuals…and I think that maybe, just maybe, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that in the kingdom of God, whenever that will be and whatever it is going to look like…that harmony will be restored and the brokenness that manifest in the death of a relationship in any form will no longer be a reality.

Jesus keys us into the fact that Moses allowed for divorce…just as our laws today allow for divorce, because broken human relationships are a reality…and if the scriptures tell us anything…its honest about this fact. (pause) And so, if you hear this text today and it stings? If it pulls up memories and thoughts of failure or judgement…or maybe it brings up that same old thought of “I should have been able to do more” or “what if I had tried harder,” and you aren’t hearing much else that I’m saying today…then please hear this…

The truth that the gospel reveals to us is that when it comes to the way our broken sinful selves manifests itself in ways that break the harmony that God intends for creation…you can’t do it…no one can…whether its divorce or something else.

None are righteous…not one…and yet God has come near to us anyway. That’s the gospel…that in whatever it was that God was up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in whatever it was that he meant when he said it is finished…the promise remains that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…and that even our brokenness will not hinder God from coming near to us and claiming us beloved children. (pause)

This passage stinks…period…but you know what…scripture often does…but let us remember that this same scripture reveals a God who can, who does, who already has created new life out of death…and that we are not only invited…but we are gifted this same resurrection…this new life…over and over again…and that even when harmony is broken, our God will always gather us up into a loving embrace and bless us, with unwavering love and grace and favor…just as Jesus did with the children at the end of today’s passage…made possible through the body and blood of Christ, which was broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins…body and blood that we will share in just a few moments…a physical embodiment of God’s grace and love for every single one of us. Amen.